Led by Spielberg’s ‘Munich,’ Jewish flavor permeate Oscar nods

By Tom Tugend, JTA

LOS ANGELES — Two films that have encountered fierce controversy in the Jewish community and Israel received Oscar nominations this week.

“Munich, ” director Steven Spielberg’s take on the Israeli hunt for the killers of its athletes at the 1972 Olympics, did better than expected with five nominations.

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These include best picture, best director, adapted screenplay by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth, film editing and original musical score.

Some members of the Jewish community have criticized the film for factual inaccuracies and moral relativism, while others have found its examination of the individuals carrying out Israeli policy both moving and compelling.

Picked among the top five foreign language film entries is the Palestinian film “Paradise Now ” by director-writer Hany Abu-Assad, which follows two suicide bombers from Nablus on a mission to blow up a Tel Aviv bus.

Although the sympathies of director Hany Abu-Assad lie clearly on the Palestinian side, he avoids a simplistic tirade. With excellent acting and a tight, tense plot, the film tries to give an insight into the motivations of the terrorists, their sense of humiliation under Israeli occupation, their fanaticism as well as their doubts and misgivings.

Immediately after the nomination, the Israel Project released an article by the father of an Israeli suicide bombing victim that criticizes both the film and the nomination.

“Nominating a movie such as ‘Paradise Now’ only implicates the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the evil chain of terror that attempts to justify ” suicide bombings, Yossi Zur writes.

Nominated in the same category is Germany’s “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, ” about an anti-Nazi resistance cell in Munich during World War II.

Joaquin Phoenix, whose mother was born into an Orthodox New York family, received the nod in the best actor category for his portrayal of country music legend Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line. “

Jake Gyllenhaal, who also has a Jewish mother — screenwriter Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal — was nominated for best supporting actor in the gay cowboy saga “Brokeback Mountain. “

Rachel Weisz is in contention for best actress in a supporting role for her performance in “The Constant Gardner. ” The London-born actress’ Jewish father and mother fled Hungary and Austria respectively in the 1930s in the face of the rising Nazi menace.

Woody Allen was named for “Match Point ” in the original screenplay category, as was Noah Baumbach for “The Squid and the Whale. “

“Capote ” scored an adapted screenplay nomination for Dan Futterman.

Regardless of who walks off with the golden statuettes at the March 5 ceremonies, two Jewish personalities will have key roles, in front and behind the curtain.

Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” fame will serve as Oscar host, while veteran producer Gil Cates will captain the 78th Oscar telecast for the 13th time.