'Return of the King' leads race with 11 Oscar nominations

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Middle-earth crowned its monarch. Now, Academy Awards voters seem ready to crown "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" as the first fantasy to win best picture.

The final chapter of Peter Jackson's trilogy, based on J.R.R. Tolkien's classic set in an imaginary world of hobbits, wizards and elves, took a leading 11 Oscar nominations Tuesday, among them best picture and director.

Key acting nominees included Golden Globe winners Bill Murray as a washed-up actor in "Lost in Translation," Diane Keaton as a down-on-love playwright in "Something's Gotta Give," Charlize Theron as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in "Monster" and Sean Penn as a vengeful father in "Mystic River."

The Napoleonic era naval adventure "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" received 10 nominations, including best picture and director for Peter Weir.

The other best-picture nominees were the quirky Tokyo tale "Lost in Translation," the somber vengeance story "Mystic River" and the uplifting horse-racing drama "Seabiscuit."

The most notable snubs were for the Civil War saga "Cold Mountain," which failed to get nominations for best picture, director Anthony Minghella or lead actress Nicole Kidman, last year's best-actress winner for "The Hours." The film had scored well in earlier movie honors.

The biggest surprise was 13-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes. For her performance as a Maori girl bucking tribal tradition in "Whale Rider," she became the youngest person ever to be nominated for lead actress.

"Lost in Translation" earned nominations for directing and original screenplay for Sofia Coppola. She was only the third woman ever nominated for director, after Lina Wertmuller for 1976's "Seven Beauties" and Jane Campion for 1993's "The Piano."

"It's pretty unbelievable. I'm happy to be in good company," said Coppola, the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola and the first American woman nominated for director.

Besides best picture and director, nominations for "Return of the King" included original score and song, visual effects, film editing and adapted screenplay. The film was shut out in acting categories, though.

With their strange creatures and mythical settings, fantasy flicks have had a hard time gaining favor with Oscar voters. No such fantastical film has ever won the top Oscar, yet universal acclaim and success at previous awards have positioned "Return of the King" to break that barrier.

The Oscar ceremony will be held Feb. 29.

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