Arts & Culture Jewish Actor, Director Named Among Year’s Oscar Nominees

An Israeli born-actress who studied at Hebrew University and a British director who spent time in a Zionist youth movement headed this year’s list of Jewish Oscar nominees. In addition to Natalie Portman and Mike Leigh, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman also received a nod.

And a short documentary about Sister Rose Thering, a Roman Catholic nun who has devoted her life to fighting anti-Semitism, won a nomination as well.

The diminutive Portman, born in Jerusalem and the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, was nominated for best supporting actress for her role in “Closer,” a look at love and betrayal in contemporary London.

Discovered at the age of 11, she made her Broadway debut in the title role of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and shot to movie fame as Queen Amidala in “Star Wars: Episode One — The Phantom Menace.”

When asked in an interview to name her favorite country, Portman opted for Israel — her father, a physician, is Israeli.

Portman earlier won Golden Globes top honors in her category, crediting “Closer” director Mike Nichols for her winning performance in an emotional acceptance speech.

Leigh, best known for his penetrating working-class dramas, was nominated for directing “Vera Drake,” focusing on a warmhearted back-street abortionist.

He was a longtime member of Habonim, a labor Zionist youth movement, and has spoken fondly of his time there.

Kaufman was nominated in the best original screenplay category for the romantic comedy “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” His most notable past credits include “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation.”

“Sister Rose’s Passion,” a short film by Oren Jacoby and Steve Kalafer, is about the life and work of the nun, a professor emerita at New Jersey’s Seton Hall University, where she helped establish the school’s graduate department of Jewish-Christian studies. Thering, who has gone to Israel more than 30 times, is a strong and vocal supporter of the Jewish state.

Germany’s “Downfall,” dramatizing the last 10 days of Hitler’s life in a Berlin bunker, was one of five finalists for best foreign-language film. Neither Israel’s “Campfire” nor the Palestinian “The Olive Harvest” made the cut.

One of last year’s most controversial pictures, Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” struck out in the major categories, but is in contention for original score, cinematography and makeup.

Veteran director Sidney Lumet will receive an honorary Academy Award for his life work at the Feb. 27 Oscar fete in Hollywood’s Kodak Theater.

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