In this year’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards, all bets are off; at least until studios play the cards they’ve been holding out for in December.
This lat month can make all the difference for the 2001 awards and studios know that releasing a film in the last month of the year keeps it fresh in the Academy voter’s minds.
According to ABC online, among the potential breakouts in the crop: Billy Bob Thornton's adaptation of All the Pretty Horses, starring Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz; Cast Away, starring two-time best actor winner Tom Hanks; Proof of Life, with Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe, who might have two shots at Oscar with last spring's Gladiator; Chocolat, featuring Juliette Binoche and Judi Dench and directed by Lasse Hallstrِm; and Finding Forrester, starring Sean Connery.
Early on, Julia Roberts' Erin Brockovich and Gladiator were primary competitors. Movies expected to knock them out of the running, such as Robert Redford's Zen-golf The Legend of Bagger Vance, the Oscar-touched triple threat of Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment in Pay It Forward, Cameron Crowe's rock journalism paean Almost Famous, Sixth Sense auteur M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable and naval biopic Men of Honor, all failed to resonate at the box office or with critics.
The lack of competition could leave openings for smaller movies that wowed audiences at this year's festivals. The independent feature You Can Count On Me, which split top honors at the Sundance Film Festival and recently opened to rave reviews, might slip in as a best picture candidate, and star Laura Linney has had the five-letter word attached to her name.
The feel-good British tale Billy Elliot, another festival favorite that has found big audiences in limited release, could follow the route of The Full Monty, which grabbed a surprise best picture nod three years ago.
Other standout performances include Ellen Burstyn in the Darren Aronofsky drug drama Requiem for a Dream and pop singer Bjork in Dancer in the Dark, somber films that Academy voters might have found too off-putting in other years. Likewise, the comically savage Marquis de Sade film Quills and its four stars, Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Michael Caine and Joaquin Phoenix, could benefit from the dearth of more conventional Oscar movies.
Studios are revving up Oscar campaigns for an anything-could-happen season.
Paramount took the unusual step of re-releasing Wonder Boys, an acclaimed film that bombed early this year, hoping to boost the nomination odds, particularly for star Michael Douglas. DreamWorks scheduled a DVD release bash for Gladiator, featuring a screening of the film and an appearance by director Ridley Scott in the lush theater at Academy Awards headquarters. Ain't It Cool News also reported the studio has hopes for Chicken Run, which seems like a long shot for best picture.
Disney will trumpet Remember the Titans for nominations across the board, in addition to the Coen brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou?, a wildly inventive flick that in any other year would likely be too bizarre for serious Academy consideration.
Fine Line Features will push the lauded performance by Javier Bardem in Before Night Falls, an arthouse film about Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas. USA Films has nomination hopes for the big-ensemble drug-trade drama Traffic, made by Erin Brockovich director Steven Soderbergh. Sony Pictures Classics' best hope is for the rousing, Mandarin-language epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which gets a limited release this month.
Miramax, always a scrappy Oscar combatant will throw its awards-marketing savvy behind the as-yet-unveiled Chocolat and All the Pretty Horses.
And MGM, which has had a virtually empty film slate this year, will slip in the intriguing mining adventure The Claim just in time for awards eligibility. The movie adapts Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge to a California gold town and features some notable performances.
With the disclaimer that many of these would not make the grade in better years, here are some possible contenders in top categories:
Audience pleasers currently out front include Erin Brockovich, Gladiator, Almost Famous and Remember the Titans.
Inside.com, which claims to have formulated a handicapping "statistical model based on the Academy's voting record," currently lists indie favorite Billy Elliot at the top of its list. Others in the indie running: You Can Count on Me, ,Quills and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
This category is crowded with contenders who have won Oscars for better roles in better films. Among them: Denzel Washington, Remember the Titans; Kevin Spacey, Pay It Forward; Geoffrey Rush, Quills; Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr., Men of Honor; and Michael Douglas, Wonder Boys.
Mark Ruffalo delivered one of the year's most earnest performances in You Can Count On Me. Ed Harris is blistering in Pollock, which he also directed. Chow Yun-Fat is terrific as a weary warrior in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Newcomer Jamie Bell is sweetly affecting as the title character in Billy Elliot.
Kevin Costner may have hopes for Thirteen Days, but he's upstaged by co-star Bruce Greenwood as President Kennedy. Then there's that brooding turn by Russell Crowe in Gladiator. And Oscar favorite Tom Hanks could return to the podium for his physically grueling turn in Cast Away.
Other possibilities: Sean Connery, Finding Forrester; Javier Bardem, Before Night Falls; Peter Mullan and Wes Bentley, The Claim.
And if 20th Century Fox can get enough Academy members to view the gritty Vietnam film Tigerland, relative unknown Colin Farrell might attract notice.
Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich tops most lists, but beyond that, it's anyone's guess who might beat out the year's favorite heroine.
Bjork seemed to truly become the tragic Czech immigrant with a passion for movie musicals in Dancer in the Dark. Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn was gut-wrenching as a pill-popping game-show addict in Requiem for a Dream. Michelle Rodriguez became a darling of the Sundance Film Festival for her smoldering film debut in Girlfight.
You Can Count On Me produced a career performance from Laura Linney, who could emerge as Roberts' main competition.
Past winner Helen Hunt in Pay It Forward and two-time Oscar nominee Joan Allen in The Contender also have awards prospects. Cate Blanchett, another past nominee, might have a shot for the psychic thriller The Gift.
Other possibilities: Michelle Yeoh, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Sarah Polley, The Claim; Gillian Anderson in The House of Mirth.
Best Supporting Actor:
Skip the nominations and give the statue to Willem Dafoe, who is mesmerizing in Shadow of the Vampire as a bloodsucker pretending to be actor Max Schreck on the set of the silent-film classic Nosferatu.
Last year's winner, Michael Caine, is back with a nasty turn in Quills. In Pay It Forward, 12-year-old Haley Joel Osment proves that last year's Oscar-nominated performance for The Sixth Sense was no fluke.
Other possibilities: The top of Inside's list, Albert Finney, Erin Brockovich; Jeff Bridges and Gary Oldman, The Contender; Billy Crudup, Almost Famous; Joaquin Phoenix, Quills; Tobey Maguire, Wonder Boys; Benicio Del Toro, Traffic; Will Patton, Remember the Titans; Steven Culp, Thirteen Days.
Best Supporting Actress:
Oscar-winner Frances McDormand in Almost Famous and two-time nominee Kate Winslet in Quills lead a not very inspiring field of contenders in this category.
Other possibilities: Julie Walters, Billy Elliot; Kate Hudson, Almost Famous; Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock; Zhang Ziyi, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Nastassja Kinski and Milla Jovovich, The Claim.
In the director race, Steven Soderbergh could start clearing space on his mantel for Erin Brockovich and Traffic. Assuming he's nominated, it will be for Erin Brockovich.
The prospects include past nominees: Gus Van Sant for Finding Forrester; Ridley Scott for Gladiator; Joel Coen for O Brother, Where Art Thou?; Curtis Hanson for Wonder Boys.
Other possibilities: Ang Lee, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Philip Kaufman, Quills; Michael Winterbottom, The Claim; Kenneth Lonergan, You Can Count On Me. – Albawaba.com.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)