Actresses, screenwriters highlight Jewish Oscar nominees

los angeles | Actresses Natalie Portman and Sophie Okonedo, British director Mike Leigh and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman headed the list of Jewish Oscar nominees announced this week.

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 modern relationships 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, home of her physician father.

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

Also nominated in the same category is British actress Sophie Okonedo for “Hotel Rwanda,” about the genocidal massacre of almost a million Rwandan Tutsis by their Hutu countrymen in 1994. Okonedo is the daughter of a British Jewish mother and a Nigerian father.

Leigh, a native of Salford, England, and best known for his penetrating working class dramas, was nominated for directing “Vera Drake,” focusing on a warm-hearted backstreet abortionist.

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.”

Composer Thomas Newman was nominated for the original score of “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.”

Germany’s “Downfall,” dramatizing the last 10 days of Adolf 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.

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

J. celebrity columnist Nate Bloom and film reviewer Michael Fox contributed to this report.

Tom Tugend

JTA Los Angeles correspondent