The Academy Awards will be presented at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26. Documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman, 87, is an honorary Oscar recipient this year. The Oscar was presented to him last November.
Best picture, actors
The best picture Oscar goes to the film’s producers. Here are the nominees with a Jewish producer: “Arrival” (Shawn Levy, 48, and David Linde, 56), “Fences” (Scott Rudin, 58), “Hacksaw Ridge” (David Permut, 62); “Hell or High Water” (Julie Yorn, 50), “La La Land” (Marc Platt, 58, and Gary Gilbert, 52) and “Moonlight” (Jeremy Kleiner, 41).
Lead actor: Andrew Garfield, 33, “Hacksaw Ridge.” Last year Garfield firmly established himself as an A-list dramatic actor, and we’ll be seeing him in films for a long time to come. Lead actress: Natalie Portman, 35, “Jackie.” It’s unlikely Portman, who won this Oscar in 2011 for “Black Swan,” will take the top prize again. Voters figure she’s already won, she’s youngish, and there’s no tidal momentum for “Jackie” now. Meanwhile, the odds favor universally acclaimed French actress Isabelle Huppert (“Elle”). Like Portman, she was in every scene in her film. Unlike Portman, she has never won an Oscar and she’s 63. As noted in this column, Huppert has a Jewish father and a Jewish husband, but was raised Catholic and is loathe to talk about her father’s background.
The best original score nominees are Nicholas Britell, 36, “Moonlight,” and Justin Hurwitz, 32, “La La Land.” Britell, 36, is a Juilliard graduate, whose first film work was an original composition for Portman’s first directorial effort, the short film “Eve” (2008). Since then, he has contributed considerable original music to “12 Years a Slave,” scored Portman’s first full length-film (the Israel-set “A Tale of Love and Darkness”) and scored “The Big Short.” He also produced the 2014 film “Whiplash” — incidentally, a film that made director-writer Damien Chazelle a star who was able to get financing for “La La Land,” which almost certainly will rule the musical categories.
I’ve learned more about Hurwitz’s family since he won the Golden Globe for best score and best original song. He grew up mostly in Wisconsin and graduated from a suburban Milwaukee high school. His father, Kenneth Hurwitz, a writer, and his mother, Gail Hurwitz, a registered nurse, live in the Bay Area. Gail, a California native, comes from an old Sephardic family and she wed Justin’s father in a Los Angeles Sephardic synagogue.
Justin met Chazelle when both attended Harvard. He scored the music for the two “La La Land” songs nominated for best original song: “City of Stars,” which won the Golden Globe, and “Audition.” The lyrics were written by nominees Benj Pasek, 31, and Justin Paul. Pasek comes from a religious family.
Director/original screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan, 56, is the only Jewish nominee in these categories (“Manchester by the Sea”).
He was raised in Manhattan by his Jewish stepfather and Jewish mother, both psychoanalysts. His late father was Irish Catholic. Lonergan (who says he’s an atheist) told the New Yorker that he was about 8 when he realized that not everyone was Jewish. Most of his works have featured Jews from the milieu in which he grew up (the 1996 play “This Is Our Youth” and the films “Margaret” and “You Can Count on Me”). “Manchester” is his Irish-side film.
Animated film, feature length: Osnat Shurer (“Moana”). Shurer, 46, the film’s producer, was born and raised in Israel and served in an IDF intelligence unit. She lived for a long time in the East Bay while working for Pixar. Documentary, short length: “Joe’s Violin” (directed by Kahane Cooperman, 52; co-produced by Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen). Cooperman, long a Jon Stewart “Daily Show” producer, became head of the New Yorker magazine’s video wing a few years ago. She heard a 2014 radio story about a Holocaust survivor who had donated his violin in response to a radio appeal for such donations. Cooperman tracked down the survivor, Joseph Feingold, now 92, and made a New Yorker film (available on YouTube) about his life and the life of the poor Bronx girl who received his violin. Also in this category: Dan Krauss, 40ish, the director of “Extremis,” a Netflix original about the grim realities of end-of-life care that was filmed at Oakland’s Highland Hospital. Krauss is a U.C. Berkeley professor.