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Chicagoans Graham Moore, Charlie Siskel thrilled with Oscar nominations

HOLLYWOOD — When I reached Chicago native Graham Moore early Thursday — to congratulate the University of Chicago Lab School grad on his Oscar nomination for adapted screenplay for “The Imitation Game” — the young writer was very playful.

“Is something going on? What’s up this morning?” the 33-year-old quipped. Quickly, of course, the former Hyde Parker admitted he was thrilled with his first Academy Award nomination.

Most important to Moore was the attention “The Imitation Game” was bringing to the story of Alan Turing, today recognized as one of the father’s of the modern computer age and responsible for breaking the Nazis’ “Enigma” code — saving many lives as it helped to shorten World War II.

“Just getting to be involved in telling Alan Turing’s story on screen has been the most fulfilling experience of my life. To get this recognition for it is unimaginable. I feel like every day we can talk about Alan Turing on television and in print is a good day. So grateful to the Academy for having the opportunity to spread the word about him. … He was a uniquely compelling and fascinating man — and I’m just the guy who was lucky enough to get to write about him for the screen.”

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On a lighter note, Moore revealed “The Imitation Game” director Morten Tyldum was still unaware of the nomination at the moment we were speaking. “Morten is actually on an airplane right now, which is kind of funny because I was with him yesterday. … When he lands in London in about an hour he will get a very happy surprise when he turns on his phone!”

Moore revealed he watched the live announcement at his house (5:30 a.m. Los Angeles time) with a couple of the film’s producers and a few neighbors. “We’re making lots and lots of coffee and eating bagels.”

Moore added, “If you think we’re excited [about the nomination], you can imagine how excited my mom is!” the newly named Oscar nominee said confirming he plans to take his mother as his date for the Oscars on Feb. 22.

Moore’s mom is well known in her own right. She is Susan Sher, first lady Michelle Obama’s former chief-of-staff, now back as a top University of Chicago honcho and overseeing the site selection process for President Obama’s presidential library.

Also on the phone early Thursday was Charlie Siskel, the Emmy-winning filmmaker who, along with fellow Chicago-area native John Maloof, was nominated in the best feature documentary category for directing “Finding Vivian Maier,” the compelling film about the long-unknown North Shore nanny who took thousands of amazing photographs.

Siskel, the nephew of the late film critic Gene Siskel, was happy to talk about the various Chicago connections to his documentary — beyond Maier herself.

“It absolutely is a Chicago story, through and through,” said Siskel. “Between John [Maloof] growing up in the city, and me growing up in the suburbs — where it turns out Vivian was a nanny, basically in my backyard on the North Shore — it’s Chicago all the way. Then there’s the fact that John and I came together through [actor and comedian] Jeff Garlin — another Chicago guy.”

Asked what he would have loved to have asked Vivian Maier, if would have had the chance, Siskel turned philosophical.

“Vivian loved cities. She obviously started out in New York, but this woman was a true artist, one who had to support herself as a nanny in the suburbs. On every opportunity, she wanted to get back into the city to take pictures and find those little hidden corners of urban life. That, too, is what makes this such a Chicago story.

“If I could have met Vivian, I would like to know — now — if she would be happy with this film and our having her work shared with the world.”

Siskel is convinced Maier would be happy about that.

“I think she would be happy finally having her work … reaching the public. I think that is the audience she always intended should ultimately see her work. I think those are the people she had in mind as she was taking those pictures,” added Siskel, who believes “artists don’t only make work for themselves,” sharing a quote from the famous French artist Degas — believing Maier would have agreed with his point of view:

“Art is not what you see, it’s what you make others see.”