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'Chicago' leads the parade

"Chicago" waited 27 years to make the transition from stage to screen, but finished strong, winning 13 nominations Tuesday as the 75th annual Academy Awards nominations were revealed. After last year's best-picture nod for "Moulin Rouge," the movie's front-runner status signals a rebirth of the movie musical.

"Gangs of New York" won 10 nominations, and "The Hours" won nine, in a list that even honored sentimental favorite "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" by naming the first-person screenplay by its star, Nia Vardalos.

There were surprise omissions (Richard Gere of "Chicago") and inclusions (Queen Latifah of "Chicago"). Meryl Streep's 13th nomination passed Katharine Hepburn's long-standing record of 12 (although she didn't score a double, while Julianne Moore). And Michael Moore, whose "Roger & Me" inspired reform of the documentary section, was nominated for "Bowling for Columbine," the year's most popular doc.

Everybody expected "Chicago," "Gangs" and "The Hours" to be named for best picture, and they were. "The Pianist" was not a big surprise, but in a way "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" was, since it seemed like last year's news. Some felt a dark horse like "Adaptation," "Far from Heaven" or even "Greek Wedding" might sneak in.

The day's big winners: "Chicago," Miramax's Harvey Weinstein, and foreign filmmakers. including the exiled Roman Polanski, whose "The Pianist" was named for best picture, actor and five other categories. Two highly-regarded films that were not even nominated by their own countries in the foreign film category won Academy favor: Spain's "Talk to Her" won Pedro Almodovar nominations for best director and original screenplay, and Mexico's "Y tu Mama Tambien" was named for its screenplay by director Alfonso Cuaron and his brother Carlos.

For Weinstein, the announcements were sweet revenge after a savage New Yorker profile suggested he was all but washed up. His productions "Chicago" and "Gangs" totaled 23 nominations, Salma Hayek was named for best actress for "Frida," Michael Caine for best actor for "The Quiet American," and Miramax was even a co-participant on "The Hours," and Harvey and brother Bob were co-executive producers of "The Lord of the Rings."

There were some new names on the list. Queen Latifah has one number in "Chicago," but it was a show-stopper. John C. Reilly, Hollywood's favorite lousy husband, was named for the same picture, as was the singing, dancing Catherine Zeta Jones.

Christopher Walken, a favorite in the business, was honored for a strong performance as the young con man's father in "Catch Me If You Can." Diane Lane overcame the jinx on movies that open early in the year by being named for "Unfaithful," from last May. The relatively unknown Adrien Brody cracked the best actor circle with "The Pianist." Chris Cooper's work as a gap-toothed swamp rat in "Adaptation" tickled the Academy.

And then there were the familiar names Hollywood loves to celebrate. Miss Streep, of course. Jack Nicholson, who got his 12th nomination as a retired insurance exec in "About Schmidt," and Kathy Bates, who popped into a hot tub with him. Paul Newman, nomination No. 10 as a mob boss in "Road to Perdition." Nicole Kidman, probably the favorite for best actress, in "The Hours," and Julianne Moore and Ed Harris for their supporting work in the same picture. Michael Caine, whose "Quiet American" was almost shelved after 9/11, got his sixth nomination. Nicholas Cage, who played twin screenwriters in "Adaptation." Other repeating nominees were Daniel Day Lewis, who tapped his glass eye with his knife in "The Gangs of New York." And sweet Renee Zellweger, who would kill to become a star, in "Chicago."

Martin Scorsese, arguably America's best director, got his fourth nomination for direction, and this time is favored to win. Possible upsetter: First-timer Rob Marshall, whose "Chicago" may sweep everything ahead of it. No competition in this race: Stephen Daldry ("The Hours"), Polanski, Almodovar.

Oscar has a history of nominating non-existing screenwriters, especially during the blacklist period, but this is the first time the Academy nominated someone it knew didn't exist: Donald Kaufman, the fictional twin brother of Charlie Kaufman, who adapted "Adaptation." Nia Vardalos' nomination for the original screenplay of box office champ "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is a nod to her one-woman show, which started the whole phenomenon rolling.

In the competition for best animated feature, the Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki was named for "Spirited Away," the category also includes "Ice Age," "Lilo and Stitch," :Spirit" and "Treasure Planet." The foreign film nominees include Mexico's "The Crime of father Amaro," which has inspired protests by some Catholic groups, China's "Hero," Finland's "Man Without a Past" by the quirky Aki Kaurismaki, Germany's wonderful "Nowhere in Africa" (which tells the story of refugees from Nazism who settle in Kenya, and is largely in English) and "Zus & Zo," from the Netherlands.

This year, documentarians picked the documentaries, with a committee headed by the distinguished Frida Lee Mock and Michael Apted. Their choices: Moore's "Bowling For Columbine," "Daughter From Danang," which told the story of an American-Vietnamese girl who searches for her birth mother; "Prisoner Of Paradise," about the German Jew Kurt Gerron, forced to make a pro-Nazi film while a death camp prisoner; the charmer "Spellbound," about spelling bees, and "Winged Migration," a birds'-eye view.

The cinematography category is interesting in that all five nominees recreate or call upon classic techniques. Ed Lachman's work in "Far from Heaven" is intended to look precisely like a studio picture from 1957. The late Conrad Hall's "Road to Perdition" was painterly in its use of a dark palate and precise light sources. Michael Ballhaus, on "The Gangs of New York," and Pawel Edelman, on "The Pianist," used sets and matte drawings, along with computer effects, to create period pictures. And Dion Beebe's "Chicago" returned to the classic tradition of the set-bound musical.

Performances of the songs should be interesting this year, especially if Eminem can be recruited to repeat his work in "8 Mile," Bono performs "The Hands that Built America," from "Gangs of New York," and Paul Simon does "Father and Daughter," from "The Wild Thornberrys Movie.

Other nominees: "I Move On," from "Chicago," and "Burn it Blue,"from "Frida."

This year's Oscarcast begins at 7:30 p.m. Central time on WLS/Ch. 7 (ABC), hosted by Steve Martin. The Academy has already announced that the ceremony will be held whether or not America is at war. If we are, look for fireworks as presenters and winners express political views pro and con.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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