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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 January, 2004, 17:51 GMT
Oscar's year of global surprises

By Ian Youngs
BBC News Online entertainment staff

There was no room for Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in this year's Oscar nominations.

Whale Rider's Keisha Castle-Hughes
Keisha Castle-Hughes became the youngest ever best actress nominee
In their places were Keisha Castle-Hughes, Djimon Hounsou, Ken Watanabe and Shohreh Aghdashloo.

Who? You may well ask.

This year's nominations have seen several international actors get recognition ahead of Hollywood A-list names.

Another shock saw Brazilian drama City of God earn four nominations - including best director - after failing to be nominated for best foreign language film last year.

And Cold Mountain, which led the nominations for the Golden Globes just a month ago, failed to make it onto the best picture shortlist.

"They have moved away from big starry nominations," according to Ian Freer, associate editor of Empire magazine.

Djimon Hounsou
Djimon Hounsou has starred in Gladiator, Amistad and In America
"And I think it makes it much more interesting - it spices it up a bit."

Keisha Castle-Hughes is a 13-year-old New Zealand actress who earned a nomination for best actress after impressing audiences in independent film Whale Rider.

She was discovered by the same agent who spotted Anna Paquin - who went on to win the best supporting actress Oscar aged 11 for The Piano in 1993.

Also in the best actress category is English actress Samantha Morton for In America. Her inclusion was not widely expected despite previous acclaimed roles in Minority Report and Morvern Callar.

And her In America co-star Djimon Hounsou, 39, from Benin in west Africa, is nominated for best supporting actor.

He found fame after moving to Paris aged 13, sleeping rough and being discovered by a fashion designer, and becoming a male model.

Shohreh Aghdashloo
Shohreh Aghdashloo fled Iran during revolution in 1979
But he is not a film newcomer, having starred in Amistad, Stargate and Gladiator.

Up against him for best supporting actor is Japanese star Ken Watanabe - who got a nomination while his Last Samurai co-star Tom Cruise missed out.

He is well-known in his home country but the Oscars have only nominated one other Japanese actor in the awards' 76-year history.

Another surprise international inclusion is Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, who rose to prominence opposite Sir Ben Kingsley in The House of Sand and Fog.

Edward Lawrenson, deputy editor of film magazine Sight and Sound, pointed out that some global actors were nominated for roles in US films.

"It's great to see global film stars there - but you should bear in mind that these aren't from world cinema movies," he said. "But it's an encouraging sign."

City of God
City of God missed out on a best foreign film nomination last year
One world cinema movie that did perform well, City of God, is in an unusual situation.

It was the Brazilian entry for best foreign language film at last year's awards - but there was a surprise last year when it failed to get nominated.

It was not eligible for the other categories at that time because it had not been on cinema release in the US.

But it got that release in 2003 - and has been rewarded with four nominations, the same number as Lost In Translation and The Last Samurai.

"It's a very international list and I think that's terrific. It's a sign perhaps that Hollywood mainstream movies didn't deliver the goods last year," Mr Lawrenson said.

Video ban

But with strong showings for films like City of God, In America and Whale Rider, fears that independent films would be overlooked this year seem to have been proved wrong.

Some independent producers were worried a ban on sending preview videos and DVDs to award voters would count against them because fewer voters would see their films.

Oscars members were made exempt from the ban - but the controversy could have made voters more aware of the independent films in contention.

"All publicity in the run-up to the Oscars is good publicity, so the ban can't have done them any harm," said Mr Lawrenson.



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