American master Martin Scorsese journeyed to France, putting Hollywood’s newest technology to work for his dazzling 3-D re-creation of 1930s Paris in "Hugo." French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius came to America, reviving old-time Hollywood with his charming resurrection of early cinema in the silent film "The Artist."
The two films now head a 21st century Academy Awards show whose top nominees offer loving looks back to the infancy of moviemaking, when flicks really flickered and cutting-edge visual effects amounted to actors jumping out of the frame while the camera was stopped so they would seem to magically disappear.
Scorsese’s Paris adventure "Hugo" led contenders Tuesday with 11 nominations, among them best-picture and the latest directing honor for the Oscar-winning filmmaker.
Hazanavicius’ "The Artist" ran second with 10 nominations, including honors for the director and Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, the stars of the film that could become the first silent movie to win the best-picture prize since year one at the Oscars.
Also nominated for best picture: Alexander Payne’s family drama "The Descendants"; Stephen Daldry’s Sept. 11 tale "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"; Tate Taylor’s Deep South drama "The Help"; Woody Allen’s romantic fantasy "Midnight in Paris"; Bennett Miller’s sports tale "Moneyball"; Terrence Malick’s family chronicle "The Tree of Life"; and Steven Spielberg’s World War I epic "War Horse."
Arguably the world’s most passionate moviemaker for preserving old films and the heritage of cinema, Scorsese tried his hand at 3-D filmmaking for the first time on "Hugo" and crafted a look with such depth that the images are almost tactile.
"Hugo" follows the adventures of a boy and girl caught up in a mystery surrounding French silent film pioneer George Melies (Ben Kingsley), who stretched the boundaries of cinema with fantastical short movies in the early 1900s.
Today’s digital technology made it possible for Scorsese to create his elaborate illusion of long-gone Paris. But the process he describes sounds as experimental and innovative as the work Melies did a century ago.
"It was harder to do because every time we put the camera in a position I wanted, we discovered new ways to do things or wrong ways to do things. We were, in a sense, constantly breaking new ground," Scorsese said. "We had to rediscover how to make movies every day, every setup."
Among the nominations for "Hugo" are adapted screenplay, cinematography, musical score and visual effects.
"The Artist" is a throwback to black-and-white silent days as a superstar of the pre-sound era (best-actor nominee Dujardin) falls on hard times when talking pictures arrive, while a rising star (supporting-actress nominee Bejo) becomes guardian angel for the former screen idol.
"Who knows? It might be possible that he’s set off a chain reaction, and we’re off for 100 years of silent movies," Dujardin said. "I would love it. It’s really fun for an actor. It’s very playful, and it’s pure emotion. In the end, you only see what is essential. You take away the intellect, and what’s left is life."
Along with his directing honor, Hazanavicius was nominated for original screenplay on "The Artist." The film’s other nominations include musical score, cinematography and costume design.
While "Hugo" and "The Artist" are testaments to early filmmaking, another key nomination is a tribute to the big-screen’s most famous sex symbol, Marilyn Monroe, a superstar who was never nominated for an Oscar. Michelle Williams earned a best-actress nomination as Monroe in "My Week with Marilyn."
"I would like to think that the recognition our film has received by the academy is a testament to Marilyn’s legacy," Williams said.
Williams’ competition includes Meryl Streep, who extended her record for most acting nominations to 17 with a best-actress honor as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady."
Also nominated: Glenn Close for the Irish drama "Albert Nobbs," Viola Davis for "The Help" and Rooney Mara for the thriller "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."
Dujardin, the Golden Globe winner for best actor in a musical or comedy, will be up against Globe dramatic actor recipient George Clooney for "The Descendants," in which the Oscar-winning superstar plays a down-to-earth role as a dad in crisis.
While Dujardin and Clooney were almost assured of nominations, there were big surprises across-the-board, with longshots making the cut and favorites getting skunked.
Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock’s "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," which got mixed reviews and has not been much of a factor at earlier Hollywood awards, was a very unexpected best-picture nominee. Co-star Max von Sydow was a surprise nominee for supporting actor.
Malick’s "The Tree of Life" also had been considered a bit of a best-picture longshot. The movie, which won top honors at last May’s Cannes Film Festival but was a love-it-or-hate-it drama among audiences, also picked up a directing nomination for Malick.
Melissa McCarthy, a supporting-actress nominee for the wedding romp "Bridesmaids," is a rare funny lady competing at the Oscars, which seldom honor performances in mainstream comedies.
"I think it’s a big coup for all of us," McCarthy said. "If you get the right thing and the right people, you can still make a really good movie that’s still a comedy."
Demian Bichir also was a surprise nominee as best actor for "A Better Life," an immigrant drama that few people have seen. Bichir said he had been ill the night before and learned he was nominated when his girlfriend called with the news.
"I thought it was part of my hallucinations from the fever," Bichir said. "A nomination helps. I feel a lot better already."
Along with Bichir, Clooney and Dujardin, the best-actor contenders are Gary Oldman for the espionage tale "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and Brad Pitt for the baseball story in "Moneyball."
Pitt’s third Oscar nomination came for a film that he fought to make after it went on the back-burner amid screenplay and director changes.
"This one is more satisfying than ever," said Pitt, who also shared a best-picture nomination as a producer on "Moneyball." ”This movie was dead in the water two and a half years ago."
Among those with strong prospects that came away empty-handed were Leonardo DiCaprio for "J. Edgar," from perennial Oscar heavyweight Clint Eastwood, whose latest film did not score a single nomination.
While Spielberg’s best-picture contender "War Horse" picked up six nominations, the Oscar-winning filmmaker missed out in the directing category, a prize he has won twice. His first cartoon feature, the Golden Globe-winning "The Adventures of Tintin," also did not make the list for best animated film.
The animated films that did make it: "A Cat in Paris," ”Chico & Rita," Kung Fu Panda 2," ”Puss in Boots" and "Rango."
Besides von Sydow, supporting-actor nominees are Kenneth Branagh for "My Week with Marilyn," Jonah Hill for "Moneyball," Nick Nolte for the extreme-fighting drama "Warrior" and Christopher Plummer for the father-son story "Beginners."
Plummer won at the Globes for his role as an elderly dad who comes out as gay. At 82, Plummer would be the oldest acting winner ever at the Oscars; Jessica Tandy now holds that position for her best-actress win in "Driving Miss Daisy" at age 80.
Joining Bejo and McCarthy in the supporting-actress field is Octavia Spencer, whose Globe win as a fiery maid in "The Help" positions her as a possible front-runner.
Spencer’s "The Help" co-star Jessica Chastain also is nominated, along with Janet McTeer for "Albert Nobbs."
Winners at the 84th annual Oscars will be announced at a Feb. 26 ceremony aired live on ABC from Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre, with Billy Crystal returning as host for the first time in eight years.