By David Germain
"No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood" led with eight Academy Awards nominations each Tuesday, among them best picture and acting honors for Daniel Day-Lewis and Javier Bardem — but it remained in doubt whether any stars would cross striking writers' picket lines to attend the ceremony.
"No Country for Old Men," a crime saga about a drug deal gone bad, and "There Will Be Blood," a historical epic set in California's oil boom years, will compete for best picture against the melancholy romance "Atonement," the pregnancy comedy "Juno" and the legal drama "Michael Clayton."
Awards shows have become casualties of the strike by writers, whose union leaders say they will not allow members to work on the Oscars. Nominees already are saying they would stay away in support of writers if the strike lingers until Oscar night Feb. 24.
"I wouldn't do that. I couldn't. I come from a tradition of not crossing picket lines," said Tom Wilkinson, a supporting-actor nominee for "Michael Clayton."
"Atonement" and "Michael Clayton" trailed with seven nominations each, including best actor for George Clooney in the title role of "Clayton." The lead players in "Atonement," Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, were shut out on nominations, however, with teenager Saoirse Ronan the only performer nominated for that film, for supporting actress.
Past Oscar winner Cate Blanchett had two nominations, as best actress for the historical pageant "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" and supporting actress for the Bob Dylan tale "I'm Not There."
On strike since Nov. 5, the Writers Guild of America refused to let its members work on the Golden Globes, which prompted stars to avoid the show in solidarity. Globe organizers were forced to scrap their glitzy telecast and instead announce winners in a swift, humdrum news conference, without anyone on hand to accept the prizes.
If guild leaders follow through and refuse to let writers work on the Oscars, it would leave nominees and other celebrities forced to choose between attending the biggest night in show business on Feb. 24 or staying home to avoid crossing picket lines.
"I would never cross a picket line ever. I couldn't," said Tony Gilroy, a directing nominee for "Michael Clayton." "I'm a 20-year member of the Writers Guild. I think whatever they work out is going to be one way or the other but no, I could never cross a picket line. I think there's a lot of people who feel that way."
Viggo Mortensen, who received a best-actor nomination for his performance as a Russian mob member in "Eastern Promises," said he would not go if the strike is still on.
"But I have a feeling they'll solve it," he said. "I hope they do. I'm sure my mom would like to see my on TV and so forth. But if there's a strike I'm not crossing the line."
The acting categories generally played out as expected — with a few surprises, including best actress nominee Laura Linney for "The Savages" and best-actor nominee Tommy Lee Jones for "In the Valley of Elah." Neither performance had been high on the awards radar so far this Oscar season.
Best actress looks like a two-person duel between Julie Christie, an Oscar winner for "Darling," as a woman succumbing to Alzheimer's in "Away From Her" and Marion Cotillard as singer Edith Piaf in "La Vie En Rose." Both won Golden Globes, Christie for dramatic actress, Cotillard for musical or comedy actress. Yet they face strong competition from Blanchett, Linney and relative newcomer Ellen Page as a whip-smart pregnant teen in "Juno."
Day-Lewis, an Oscar winner for "My Left Foot," grabbed another best-actor nomination as a flamboyant oil baron in "There Will Be Blood," for which he could emerge as the favorite.
Along with Day-Lewis, Clooney, Mortensen and Jones, the other nominee was Johnny Depp, who won the Globe for musical or comedy actor as the vengeful barber in "Sweeney Todd."
With a Golden Globe and universal acclaim for his performance as a relentless killer, Bardem looks like the closest thing to a front-runner this Oscar season, which is unusually wide open for best picture and other top categories.
Bardem and Wilkinson are up against Casey Affleck for "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," Philip Seymour Hoffman for "Charlie Wilson's War" and Hal Holbrook for "Into the Wild."
Joining Blanchett and Ronan in the supporting actress category were Ruby Dee for "American Gangster," Amy Ryan for "Gone Baby Gone" and Tilda Swinton for "Michael Clayton."
Snubbed along with Knightley and McAvoy was "Atonement" director Joe Wright. Besides Gilroy, the directing nominees were Paul Thomas Anderson for "There Will Be Blood," Ethan Coen and Joel Coen for "No Country for Old Men," Jason Reitman for "Juno" and Julian Schnabel for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."
The Coens and Anderson also were nominated for writing the screenplay adaptations of their films.
The wide-open awards season had left the field up in question, and some other notable prospects were shut out, including past Oscar winner Angelina Jolie for "A Mighty Heart," Helen Bonham Carter for "Sweeney Todd," and Emile Hirsch for "Into the Wild." Sean Penn also missed out on a nomination for directing "Into the Wild," as did Eddie Vedder, who was shut out in music categories.
The fairy-tale comedy "Enchanted" had three of the five best song nominations.
Michael Moore — who castigated President Bush over the Iraq War in his best-documentary acceptance speech for "Bowling for Columbine" in 2003 — is back in Oscar contention with his health-care documentary "Sicko."
War-on-terror documentaries dominated the category, with "Sicko" up against "No End in Sight," "Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience" and "Taxi to the Dark Side."
Even if the strike lingers, Oscar organizers insist their show will go on, with or without writers.
"We're dealing with contingencies but we're thrusting ahead. The point is, we're going to have a show, and we're going to give these incredible artists what they're due," said Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
A glimmer of hope arose late last week as the Directors Guild of America reached a deal with producers for a new contract. Many in Hollywood are counting on that deal to help resuscitate negotiations between writers and producers, who walked away from the table Dec. 7.
If the two sides settle their differences in time for the Oscars, the ceremony would become a dual celebration, honoring the best in Hollywood from the previous year and the end of a season of labor discontent that idled TV shows, delayed some movies and threw thousands of production workers into unemployment.
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