Any other year, and fans of the Academy Awards would be buzzing today about the twin nominations for Cate Blanchett, about the first-time nominations for two aging veterans in the twilight of their careers, and about the wide-open race for the best picture Oscar, where it's truly anyone's guess which movie will win.
But the talk so far this year isn't so much about who will win the Oscars as it is about who will watch them. Thanks to the Hollywood writers' strike, now well into its third month, it appears likely the Feb. 24 awards show will have to go on unscripted. And with most Hollywood actors and actresses unwilling to cross a writers guild picket line to attend the ceremony, it appears we could be in for an Academy Awards telecast largely devoid of the glitz and glamour that annually make it one of the year's highest-rated TV programs.
Yesterday, the nominations set up a series of intriguing and emotional contests. Blanchett pulled off a rare double play, earning nominations for both actress (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) and supporting actress (I'm Not There). The last actor to pull such double-duty was Jamie Foxx, nominated in 2005 for both Ray and Collateral.
But even that's not the whole story. As an actress, Blanchett was singled out for reprising the character -- England's Queen Elizabeth I -- that earned her a nomination in the same category 10 years ago, for Elizabeth. And for supporting actress, she was nominated for playing a man, a singer clearly intended to be Bob Dylan.
History suggests that Blanchett could be in for quite the evening. The last time an actor was nominated for reprising an earlier nominated role, Paul Newman won the Best Actor Oscar for 1986's The Color of Money (a role he originated in 1962's The Hustler). And the only person ever nominated for playing a character of the opposite sex, Linda Hunt in 1982's The Year of Living Dangerously, also won. No actor or actress has ever won two Oscars in the same year.
Age had its day in the supporting actress and actor fields. Both Ruby Dee, 83, and Hal Holbrook, 82, were nominated, she for American Gangster, he for Into the Wild. Either would be the oldest winners ever in their respective categories.
The race for Best Picture enters the home stretch with no clear favorite. Atonement, the Golden Globe winner for best drama, was nominated, but neither of its stars, Keira Knightley or James McAvoy, made the cut in the acting categories, considerably dimming the film's luster. Critical favorites No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood also were nominated, as were Juno -- earning the annual spot that always seems to be reserved for a comedy -- and Michael Clayton. (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which won the Globe for best comedy or musical, didn't make the list).
All that makes for plenty of intrigue and potential Oscar history. But the pall cast by the writers' strike overshadowed everything yesterday.
"I think the only way there will be an Oscars is if the strike gets settled," said Scott Rudin, producer of No Country for Old Men and executive producer of There Will Be Blood.
For their part, officials with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which has been handing out Oscars since 1929, insist the show will go on, strike or no strike. "We're going to have a show, and we're going to give these incredible artists what they're due," said academy president Sid Ganis.
But what sort of show? Gil Cates, who will be producing his 14th Oscar Awards telecast, hinted in an interview last week that the academy may count on the glamour of past ceremonies to carry the day. "There are enough clips in 80 years of Oscar history to make up a very entertaining show. We'd have a lot of people on stage," he said.
One thing the Oscar folks know they don't want to do is replicate the Golden Globes. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association answered the actors' boycott of its ceremonies by coming up with a televised "press announcement" that featured a pair of Access Hollywood hosts feigning enthusiasm over results that had been revealed earlier in the evening.
With 32 days to go before the Oscars telecast, things are looking only slightly upbeat. The Directors' Guild reached a settlement with the producers last week, after only five days of negotiating, and the striking writers and producers held informal talks yesterday, with an eye toward getting back to formal negotiations for the first time since December.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Select list of 80th annual Academy Award nominations announced yesterday.
Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood.
George Clooney, Michael Clayton; Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood; Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd; Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah; Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises
Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age; Julie Christie, Away From Her; Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose; Laura Linney, The Savages; Ellen Page, Juno.
Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men; Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild; Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War; Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton.
Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There; Ruby Dee, American Gangster; Saoirse Ronan, Atonement; Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone; Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton.
Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; Jason Reitman, Juno; Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton; Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men; Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood.