Theaters gear up for Oscar race

Category: P.S. I Love You News | Posted by: maryp
Article Date: December 7, 2007 | Publication: The News Tribune | Author: SOREN ANDERSEN

You survived the deluge of Thanksgiving-time movies. Now get ready for the Christmas crush.
The stars will be out in force in the weeks leading up to Santa’s arrival. Will Smith, Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Nicolas Cage, Hilary Swank, Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig all have new movies coming out, and most of these luminaries will have their eyes on the prize, a fellow called Oscar.

There will be sci-fi. There will be costume drama. There will be international intrigue. There will be comedy. There will be blood.

Actually, “There Will Be Blood,” featuring another astonishing Oscar-worthy performance from the always astonishing Daniel Day-Lewis, playing a cutthroat California oilman, is not scheduled to open in the Tacoma area until after the first of the year. That’s thanks to the studio practice called platforming, where Oscar hopefuls first see the light of a theater bulb in New York and L.A. right at the holiday and reach the rest of the country after Jan. 1.

The true cutthroat, however, is the one Depp plays in “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” who gives customers fatally close shaves. Yipe.

Other likely Oscar contenders getting the platform treatment are “The Bucket List,” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as terminal-cancer patients intent on living life to the fullest before they kick the proverbial bucket, and “Atonement,” a movie in the mold of “The English Patient,” starring Keira Knightley and James McAvoy as a couple torn apart by false accusations.

Not all pictures due before the end of the year are vying for Oscars. Some, like the adventure-packed “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” and the Loch Ness Monster kiddie movie “The Waterhorse,” are simply vying for fannies in the seats.

The 10 pictures most likely to succeed in the next few weeks are:

“The Golden Compass” (Today)

Star power: Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig.

The story: In a parallel Earth, a feisty young girl travels from London to the frigid Arctic to save a friend. Along the way, she encounters and befriends an armored fighting bear, a cowboy balloonist and a fiercely protective witch. Chasing her is an icy mystery woman played by Kidman.

Oscar/blockbuster potential: Based on the first novel of Philip Pullman’s best-selling “His Dark Materials” trilogy, this fantasy adventure seeks to tap into the same vast young audience that has embraced Harry Potter and “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Pullman’s series, while popular, doesn’t have the same cultural resonance as the Potter books. And Kidman isn’t exactly a box-office magnet. Also, Catholic League president William Donohue has attacked “Compass,” sight unseen, for having atheistic overtones. The outlook on this one is therefore cloudy.

“I Am Legend” (Dec. 14)

Star power: Will Smith.

The story: Here there be monsters. “Here,” in this case, is New York City, depopulated by a terrible plague. The sole survivor is played by Smith. Monstrous creatures want his blood. They’re not getting it without a fight.

Oscar/blockbuster potential: Smith is box-office gold. Let the cash register symphony begin.

“Alvin and the Chipmunks” (Dec. 14)

Star power: Jason Lee, Alvin, Simon and Theodore.

The story: ALVINNNN! Quit whiffing that helium, round up your brothers and get back in the studio. We’ve got a movie to make. It has something to do with the ’munks wanting to have a recording career.

Oscar/blockbuster potential: You’ve got to be kidding.

“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (Dec. 21)

Star power: Johnny Depp, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, director Tim Burton.

The story: My, what a nice, shiny razor you have there, fella. And so sharp, too. What’s that? Tilt my head up a little bit? Like thi …! In 19th-century London, a vengeful barber sets out to get even with the man who committed terrible crimes against him and his family. Various others also feel his wrath – and his steel. And when he’s done with them, they wind up baked into meat pies. Tasty.

Oscar/blockbuster potential: We’re talking dark. We’re talking bloody. We’re talking Depp, wielding the cutlery. We’re talking Burton, behind the camera. We’re talking a property that in its original incarnation as a Stephen Sondheim stage musical garnered a ton of awards. The outlook for nominations seems high.

“National Treasure: Book of Secrets” (Dec. 21)

Star power: Nicolas Cage, Helen Mirren, producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

The story: Cage returns to the role of treasure hunter Benjamin Franklin Gates in this sequel to his 2004 hit. This time he’s digging into a mystery surrounding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Oscar/blockbuster potential: Cage runs hot and cold as a box-office star. But whenever he teams up with berproducer Bruckheimer, he generally strikes gold. With Bruckheimer again shaping the picture behind the scenes, expect a satisfying thrill ride.

“Charlie Wilson’s War” (Dec. 21)

Star power: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The story: Hanks stars as a Texas congressman who uses back-channel methods to help the CIA funnel weapons to Islamic rebels fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The blowback from that is still being felt today because the defeat of the Soviets gave rise to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden; based on real-life events.

Oscar/blockbuster potential: Movies about the war on terror and the war in Iraq have been faring poorly at the box office this year, but with Oscar winners Hanks, Roberts and Hoffman in the cast and with Mike Nichols, another Oscar winner, in the director’s chair, nominations seem highly likely.

“P.S. I Love You” (Dec. 21)

Star power: Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler.

The story: Swank plays a grieving young widow who learns that her late husband (Butler) has left her a kind of written road map consisting of 10 messages to lead her out of her sorrow. Get out your handkerchiefs.

Oscar/blockbuster potential: It’s a tearjerker, which generally means Oscar will give it a pass, though it does seem to have a “Ghost”-ly vibe. And the presence of two-time Oscar winner Swank in the lead conceivably could attract nominations and audiences.

“Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” (Dec. 21)

Star power: John C. Reilly, producer Judd Apatow.

The story: He’s a rocker, he’s a lover, he’s a doper, he’s an amalgam of everybody from Johnny Cash to Bob Dylan. His rise, his fall, his songs: This film has ’em all.

Oscar/blockbuster potential: John C. Who? Can’t quite place him, even though he was nominated for his role as Mr. Cellophane in “Chicago”? You know his work, though. He’s a character actor’s character actor who’s played second bananas in everything from “A Prairie Home Companion” to “Boogie Nights.” This is his first time out as a lead, so the strength of his box-office magnetism is very much open to question. However, the picture has a high probability of hitting the holiday sweet spot because of Apatow’s involvement as producer. At the moment, there’s nobody in Hollywood who’s hotter. After the successes of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up” and “Superbad,” he’s the new gold standard for comedies about schlubby heroes.

“The Water Horse: Legend of the DeeP” (Dec. 25)

Star power: Emily Watson, impressive computer-generated special effects.

The story: Rubbery skin. Flippers for feet. Strange little Shrek-style ears. Awww. Isn’t he cute? Not really, but it’s the big, soulful eyes and the clumsy-puppy mannerisms that figure to capture hearts in this kids’ movie about a little baby whatsis that grows up to be the Loch Ness Monster.

Oscar/blockbuster potential: Nil, as far as Oscars go, unless the special effects are truly special, in which case a nomination in that category might be a possibility. Otherwise, its makers have to hope that in a crowded holiday schedule, families will be charmed by a winsome, uh, monster. Sounds like a tall order to me.

“The Great Debaters” (Dec. 25)

Star power: Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker.

The story: After playing a baddie in “American Gangster,” Washington shifts gears to star and direct this true-life story of an inspirational debate coach at a black university in the South during the 1930s.

Oscar/blockbuster potential: Never underestimate the box-office appeal of two-time Oscar winner Washington.