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Oscars Promise to Be a Diverse Departure

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

For some more now on this morning's announcements from Los Angeles, our resident film critic Bob Mondello is here. Hello Bob.

BOB MONDELLO: It's good to be here.

NORRIS: Now, there are a lot of familiar names in many of these categories, but also some names that might not be completely familiar to our audience. For instance, who is Rinko Kikuchi?

MONDELLO: Well, exactly, she's a young actress from Japan. She is a terrific actress, but she's made 13 films in Japan, most of which have not been released in this country. So nobody had really heard of her until she appeared in "Babel," and she's splendid in the picture. She plays a deaf girl. And she's really, really a knockout. But, yeah, you're right. Most people outside of Japan had never heard of her until this time.

NORRIS: And also in that Best Supporting Actress category, another actress from the same film.

MONDELLO: Yes, Adriana Barraza from Mexico. And that's an example of, you know, all the different names that you hear this year. There are a lot of foreign sounding names. I guess that starts with Scorsese. Doesn't it?

NORRIS: Yes. Yes.

MONDELLO: Who isn't particularly. And interestingly, in the category which is usually filled with foreign names, the foreign film category, foreign language film category, there's a very familiar American name. Clint Eastwood is the director of one those pictures. So it's sort of a more eclectic grouping of films than we've had in most years.

NORRIS: Overall, there's a good deal of diversity. You see that in the big categories, the Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, also in the director's category and screenwriting category.

MONDELLO: Well, that's true. If you take the acting categories, there are 20 slots. There are five black actors, two Hispanic actors and an Asian actor in that group alone. So that almost half of the performers are non-white, which is a real shock. Ordinarily in those categories, you get one person. It's a very diverse group, much more so than the usual.

NORRIS: Any big surprises for you?

MONDELLO: Well, there was one. Again, in the foreign film category, I was really expecting "Volver," the Pedro Almodovar picture, which is just wonderful. I mean, I would say it's the best foreign film this year. And it didn't get nominated at all. Penelope Cruz got nominated, but it didn't, so that's a very strange thing in my opinion.

NORRIS: Now, we mentioned Martin Scorsese, nominated yet again for Best Director. He's made so many memorable films but he hasn't bowed out on stage yet to pick up a golden statue.

MONDELLO: It is true. As a matter of fact, I think he's tied now with Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Altman, and a couple of other directors for the most nominations without winning. And if he loses again, he will be indisputably the person who has been nominated for the most directing nominations without winning.

NORRIS: No one wants that distinction. They sure -

MONDELLO: It's a terrible thing. No, exactly.

Well, you know, it's also true of Peter O'Toole. Right now, he's tied with Richard Burton. I think they both have seven nominations without winning. If he loses this one, he will have eight nominations without winning, which would be a sad thing because Peter O'Toole is really great. On the other hand, that's an amazing category.

NORRIS: Bob, we heard so much about "Dreamgirls" going into the nominations, and yet "Dreamgirls" is not included in the category for Best Film or Best Director. Bill Condon was left out of there also.

MONDELLO: Yeah, that's interesting.

NORRIS: What happened?

MONDELLO: Well, I think that we weren't the only ones who had heard an awful lot about "Dreamgirls" and who had maybe gotten a little tired of hearing about it. I think if you're in Hollywood, maybe it's possible to have overkill on a picture like this. I think it's clear that the Academy thought that "Dreamgirls" was a lovely film. It got nominated for eight Academy Awards, after all.

But other pictures have had that happen and not been nominated for Best Film, too. "Close Encounters" did it. And so did "They Shoot Horses, Don't they?" which got nine nominations and still did not get nominated for Best Picture. In this case, three of the nominations for "Dreamgirls" went for Best Song. And I think there's a real good possibility that they will knock each other out. In which case, one of the other songs, either the ones from "Cars," which is a bouncy little thing by Randy Newman, or conceivably the song from "An Inconvenient Truth," a documentary that is not about music, might conceivably win. It's by most average, it's possible.

NORRIS: Well, with those three nominations from "Dreamgirls," I guess we're going to see a lot of big flashy numbers -

MONDELLO: I should think they will be -

NORRIS: At the Oscars -

MONDELLO: - extremely (Unintelligible). And that will be great fun.

NORRIS: Thank you, Bob.

MONDELLO: Thank you.

NORRIS: NPR's Bob Mondedllo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.