- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, challenging conventional notions of Tinseltown as a knee-jerk liberal monolith, snubbed “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Michael Moore’s hostile documentary on President Bush, in this year’s Oscar nominations, which were announced yesterday in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Mel Gibson’s visceral re-enactment of the Crucifixion, “The Passion of the Christ,” earned just three nominations in minor categories, including best cinematography. The independently released feature had stunned the film world with its breakout worldwide box office success.

In the major Oscar categories, there were fewer surprises.

Three biographical features — “The Aviator,” “Finding Neverland” and “Ray” — were nominated for best picture, along with director Alexander Payne’s unsentimental buddy movie “Sideways” and the boxing tear-jerker “Million Dollar Baby.”

“The Aviator,” which recalls the youthful Howard Hughes, led all contenders with 11 nominations, including director Martin Scorsese and cast members Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett and Alan Alda.

“Finding Neverland,” starring Johnny Depp as author James M. Barrie at the time he wrote “Peter Pan,” and “Million Dollar Baby,” directed by and co-starring Clint Eastwood, shared the runner-up spot with seven nominations each.

A finalist for best direction, a category he won in 1992 for “Unforgiven,” Mr. Eastwood also placed himself and two other cast members, Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman, in the acting races.

Perhaps overreaching in the wake of a Cannes Film Festival grand prize and the phenomenal summertime success of “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Mr. Moore declined to submit the paperwork that would have made the film eligible as best documentary feature.

He had won the category two years ago for “Bowling for Columbine” and used his acceptance speech to berate the president soon after American troops invaded Iraq.

While spurning a likely nomination for best documentary, Mr. Moore waged a fruitless campaign to land “Fahrenheit” a best picture nod.

Frank Pierson, Academy president, declined to comment on what Mr. Moore’s reaction would be, telling reporters: “I’ll have to call him and ask.”

Although Mr. Gibson’s equally contentious “The Passion of the Christ” failed to secure nominations in major categories, it made the finals for best makeup and original score, in addition to cinematography. In contrast to Mr. Moore, Mr. Gibson declined to make a major lobbying effort for Oscar recognition.

“Hollywood has had three months to weigh its role in the election,” reflected Andrew Breitbart, a frequent contributor of movie commentary to the Drudge Report. “They went out on a limb for the Democrats and became more partisan than ever before. Arguably, Moore lost the election for them. They don’t want to see it sawed off again. They would gain nothing by reaffirming him. This is a billion-dollar industry dominated by liberals who would now prefer to play it conservative and forget about the messy politics of 2004. By ignoring both Michael Moore and Mel Gibson, they can neutralize controversy and get away from the red state/blue state memories.”

When finalists in the major categories were announced by Mr. Pierson and actor Adrien Brody, some radio and TV commentators were quick to jump to the conclusion that “The Passion of the Christ” had been snubbed. A prodigious international success, “The Passion” was financed and made entirely outside the Hollywood orbit. Both the content and the marketing of the film defied conventional approval within the film industry.

These maverick features about the film prompted Barbara Nicolosi, executive director of the Act One training program for writers and executives in Hollywood, to say that Mr. Gibson was locked out of the major categories such as best film and best director for religious reasons.

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