Oscar actresses make history

PIYA SINHA-ROY
Last updated 05:00 12/01/2013

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Oscar presenters, pundits and fans may struggle to pronounce Quvenzhane Wallis' name, but they are going to be hearing it a lot in the next six weeks.

The 9-year-old breakout star of independent film Beasts of the Southern Wild was among the handful of new faces who will compete against veterans for an Oscar statuette next month.
 
Wallis, whose first name is pronounced "kwa-ven-jan-eh," became the youngest best actress nominee in the academy's 85-year history for her portrayal of Hushpuppy, a fierce young girl living in the swamps of Louisiana in Beasts.

"Thank you to all you Oscar folks, from me, my mom and my dad ... Beast it!," Wallis said in a statement.

Beasts producer Michael Gottwald, whose film was nominated for best picture, told Reuters he knew audiences enjoyed Wallis' performance in the film, but was surprised by the academy's warm response.

"Of all the nominations, that may be the most special because it's historic and we looked at her after looking at 4,000 girls for that part ... she had never been on any sort of ride like this before, so that's a real unique honour," he said.

Wallis will be competing against veteran French actress Emmanuelle Riva, who at 85 years old became the oldest lead actress nominee for the harrowing French language drama Amour.

Lincoln and Les Miserables were expected to be nominated, but mythological indie drama Beasts and Amour were two surprises in key categories, including best picture, directing and screenplay.

Director Benh Zeitlin, a first-time filmmaker, and Amour's Michael Haneke will vie for best director honours against Steven Spielberg for Lincoln, Ang Lee for Life of Pi and David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook.

Oscar-winning filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow, Tom Hooper, Quentin Tarantino and Ben Affleck were overlooked in the director category.

"I feel like my house just crashed on the yellow brick road and everything just turned colour ... it's a beautiful thing for independent filmmaking and for creative freedom everywhere," Zeitlin said.

CHASTAIN RETURNS TO RED CARPET

Jessica Chastain, 35, who was an Oscar nominee last year, will return to Hollywood's Dolby Theater on February 24 after she received a best actress nomination for her role as a dogged CIA agent in Osama bin Laden-thriller Zero Dark Thirty.

Bradley Cooper, 38, best known as the star of raunchy comedy The Hangover and People Magazine's 2011 Sexiest Man Alive, will walk the red carpet after landing his first best actor nod for his role as a bipolar teacher in quirky crowd pleaser Silver Linings Playbook.

"To be a part of this group of actors who have put forth incredible performances this year. ... It's a moment I'll cherish and never forget," Cooper said in a statement.

Broadway star Hugh Jackman, 44, got his first Oscar nomination after shedding weight to play petty thief-turned-do-gooder Jean Valjean in Les Miserables.

Two-time Oscar-winner Robert De Niro scored his first Academy Award nod in 21 years for his supporting role as an eccentric father in Silver Linings Playbook.

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After landing her first Oscar nomination for best supporting actress in 2010 for Animal Kingdom, the academy included Australian actress Jacki Weaver, 65, in the supporting actress category on Thursday for her portrayal of De Niro's long-suffering wife in Silver Linings.

"To be nominated twice now is incredible," Weaver said.

OSCARS FUN FACTS:

GOLDEN AGE: At 85 years old, Emmanuelle Riva of Amour is now the oldest best actress nominee, while 9-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis of Beasts of the Southern Wild is the youngest in that category. The oldest nominee across all acting categories remains Gloria Stuart, who was 87 when she received a supporting actress nod for 1997's Titanic, and the youngest is Justin Henry, who was 8 when he was nominated as supporting actor for 1979's Kramer vs. Kramer.

VETERANS DAY: Nine of the nominees, including all of the supporting actor nominees, are previous winners: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones of Lincoln, Denzel Washington of Flight, Alan Arkin of Argo, Robert De Niro of Silver Linings Playbook, Philip Seymour Hoffman of The Master, Christoph Waltz of Django Unchained and Helen Hunt of The Sessions. Jessica Chastain, up for Zero Dark Thirty, is the only acting contender who was nominated last year.

ALL IN THE FAMILY: Thomas Newman's nod for original score for Skyfall is his 11th and brings the total for members of the musical Newman family (Alfred, Lionel, Emil, Thomas, David and Randy) to 87, more than any other clan. With his original screenplay nomination for Moonrise Kingdom, Roman Coppola becomes the sixth member of the Coppola family (Carmine Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola, Talia Shire, Nicolas Cage and Sofia Coppola) to receive a nod, for a family total of 24.

RECORD BREAKERS: Some nominees are smashing records. Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy share the record for the most best picture nominations for individual producers with eight each. With his best picture nod for Argo, producer George Clooney joins Warren Beatty as the only powerhouses to have nominations for best picture, directing, writing and acting. Michael Kahn is now the most-nominated film editor, having received his eighth nomination this year for Lincoln.

INTERNATIONAL FLAVOR: Amour, which is nominated in five categories this year, is the fifth film to be nominated in both the best picture and foreign language categories. The others were Z, which won the foreign language trophy in 1969; The Emigrants, a foreign language nominee in 1971 and a best picture nominee in 1972; Life Is Beautiful, which won the foreign language award in 1998; and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the foreign language winner in 2000.

-with AP

- Reuters

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