Race for Academy Awards begins with lack of favorites

Category: Phantom of the Opera News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: September 12, 2004 | Publication: New York Daily News | Author: Jack Mathews
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A year ago, it was appropriate to compare the 2003 Oscar season to a horse race. We'd already seen one contender, and its name was "Seabiscuit." As Labor Day 2004 looms, we still haven't seen a movie that's likely to make the best picture ballot. Fans of "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "The Passion of the Christ" may hope -- and pray -- but those unlikely blockbusters will have to settle for their millions.

There have been some performances by lead actors that will be remembered come Oscar time: Jim Carrey in "The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," Jeff Bridges in "The Door in the Floor" and Kevin Kline in "De-Lovely." Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in "The Passion of the Christ," may be that film's best chance of getting a major nomination.

Among potential best picture nominees, the eye is immediately drawn to films by directors who've been there before. That puts Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator," starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, and Oliver Stone's "Alexander," a sweeping epic about Alexander the Great, at the top of the list. Joining them is Joel Schumacher's film of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera." Fans of the stage show are furious that Michael Crawford has been replaced by Gerard Butler, 33. But the movie looks fabulous in the trailer, and the story sells itself.

Already generating awards buzz is Mira Nair's period drama "Vanity Fair," which has thrust Reese Witherspoon's performance as Becky Sharp into the Oscar spotlight.

Johnny Depp, coming off his first nomination for "The Pirates of the Caribbean," may be in for another for Marc Forster's "Finding Neverland," in which he plays "Peter Pan" author J.M. Barrie. Kate Winslet, as a dying woman whose sons inspired Peter Pan's Lost Boys, will be a contender, as well.

Also showing the right stuff on paper is Mike Nichols' "Closer," adapted from a play, about two sexually entangled couples. It has been compared to "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Nichols received his first Oscar nomination for his film of that play 38 years ago.

"Shakespeare in Love" won Oscars for its director, John Madden, and its star, Gwyneth Paltrow. They have reunited for "Proof," adapted from David Auburn's play about a woman reconciling her talent with that of her father (Anthony Hopkins), a math genius. Don't bet against this literary property, with Oscar-friendly stars, entering the field.

Could this be the year that Jennifer Lopez gets her first nomination? She co-stars with Robert Redford in two-time Oscar nominee Lasse Hallstrom's "An Unfinished Life." It's about a down-on-her-luck single mom's efforts to make peace with her father-in-law.

Wes Anderson's "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou," a quirky sea adventure starring Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, is another Oscar contender.