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'Hugo,' 'The Artist' Lead Oscar Nominations


The Oscar nominations were announced this morning, and leading the pack with 11 nominations is the 3D movie "Hugo." It's about a Paris street urchin who befriends one of the inventors of cinema. "Hugo" was nominated for best picture, best director and best adapted screenplay, among others. NPR's Neda Ulaby joins us to talk about the Oscar nominations, and good morning.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: What else was nominated for best picture?

ULABY: Besides "Hugo," best picture nominees were "Moneyball," "The Descendants," "War Horse," "Tree of Life" - that was the surprise - "Midnight in Paris," "The Help," "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" - another surprise - and "The Artist." And we've got a clip from "The Artist" to play for you right now.

That was a joke. "The Artist" is a silent movie, and it's all about the decline of silent film. But, for real, here's a little of the soundtrack from the film.


MONTAGNE: Which, by the way, functions as narration in this movie.

ULABY: Absolutely. It's bouncy. It's fun, and it really sort of brings you into this era that Hollywood adores - at least it adores this year, between both "Hugo" and "The Artist."


MONTAGNE: And Neda, you mentioned a few surprises just now. Does that have anything to do with the Academy's new rules about picking the best picture this year? This year's new rules, not last year's new rules.

ULABY: Right. Right. It's been a little crazy recently. It used to be that only five movies got nominated for best picture. Then the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences changed it to 10. This year, they've changed the rules a little bit so that people's first choice got a lot more weight. And what means is that a lot of Academy members picked "Tree of Life" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" as their number-one movie - favorite movie of the year. It also means that we've ended up with nine best picture nominees this year.

MONTAGNE: OK. So this year's most competitive category, I must say, has got to be for best actress.

ULABY: Best actress. Here's who we have. We've got Michelle Williams from "My Week with Marilyn," Viola Davis, "The Help," Rooney Mara - dark horse - "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," Glenn Close, "Albert Nobbs" - that's the movie where she plays a woman passing as a man in Ireland - and, inevitably, Meryl Streep. And we've got a clip of her from "The Iron Lady."


ULABY: This is Meryl Streep's 17th Oscar nomination. She does get nominated with the regularity of a metronome. But it should be noted she has not actually won an Oscar since 1983, "Sophie's Choice." So even though there's a lot of speculation that Viola Davis has this category wrapped up with "The Help," Streep's a contender. You can't cut out Streep.

And, you know, they changed the rules - what we were talking about earlier - to attract more audience members to the Oscar telecast, but I've got to say, if they really wanted to attract a bigger audience, they should include an animal category - at least this year. We had those wonderful dogs in "Beginners" and in "The Artist," the horses of "War Horse," and the orangutan in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."

MONTAGNE: Last question: Any surprises?

ULABY: I was surprised "The Help" didn't get nominated for its screenplay, adapted from the best-selling novel. And even though I was not the biggest fan of "The Help," I thought Tate Taylor would get a best director nomination. The other directors were Michel Hazanavicius for "The Artist," Alexander Payne for "The Descendents," Woody Allen for "Midnight in Paris," Martin Scorsese for "Hugo" and Terrence Malik for "The Tree of Life." The other big surprise for me was best actor. Mexican actor Demian Bichir was nominated for his wonderful performance in the movie "A Better Life," along with - for their movies, George Clooney in "The Descendents," Jean Dujardin in "The Artist," Gary Oldman, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and Brad Pitt, "Moneyball."

MONTAGNE: Neda, thanks much.

ULABY: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Neda Ulaby. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.