'Ray' Raises the Curtain on Oscar's Stage

Category: Phantom of the Opera News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: October 28, 2004 | Publication: Reuters | Author: Bob Tourtellotte
Publication/Article Link:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When the movie "Ray," about legendary singer Ray Charles, hits U.S. theaters on Friday, "Georgia on My Mind" won't be the only thing Hollywood is thinking about. The battle for Oscars (news - web sites) nominations will take center stage as well.

"Ray" is the first of the award season's major movies to roll into theaters backed by a big campaign for the film industry's top honors, the Academy Awards (news - web sites), which are handed out in February.

Early buzz is that comic actor Jamie Foxx is a shoo-in for a best actor nomination for playing the musician who overcame blindness, heroin addiction and poverty to lay the foundation of soul music and become one of America's most beloved entertainers.

Oscar handicappers say they expect the best actor race to be the most competitive. But for now, all the talk is mere speculation because as the movies play over the next four months, this year's contest will change many times.

"This is the fun part of the race, speculating wildly," said Tom O'Neil, host of award show tracker GoldDerby.com.

This week, Foxx wins the attention. In a recent interview, he said he sees his role as a culmination not only of years of stand-up comedy and acting but also learning to play piano and singing in gospel choirs.

"If I hadn't taken piano, I couldn't have done the 96 music cues. If I hadn't been a musician, I couldn't have played the songs. If I hadn't had the acting.... you wouldn't get to Ray Charles, and not just the singer, but the man," he said.

Most of "Ray" covers the decades in which Charles rose to fame with hits like "I Got a Woman" and "Hit the Road Jack." He crisscrossed genres from jazz and rhythm and blues to country and western and he mixed sexual lyrics with a gospel sound.


But Charles abused drugs and kept a string of mistresses, and "Ray" does not shy away from his dark side.

EARLY OSCAR BETS

Voters at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (news - web sites), which awards the Oscars, have recently favored unflinching performances like last year's best actress award winner Charlize Theron, who played a serial killer in "Monster."

That should help Foxx's position. But other actors in biographical films figure into the competition including Liam Neeson as sex researcher Alfred Kinsey in "Kinsey" and Mexico's Gael Garcia Bernal playing a young Che Guevara in "The Motorcycle Diaries."

Also touted as possible nominees are Leonardo DiCaprio playing young Howard Hughes in "The Aviator," and Johnny Depp playing "Peter Pan's" creator J.M. Barrie in "Finding Neverland." Both are backed by Oscar powerhouse Miramax Films and its boss Harvey Weinstein.

Also on the early lists are Jude Law in the upcoming thriller "Closer," Kevin Bacon in "The Woodsman," Don Cheadle for "Hotel Rwanda," Paul Giamatti in "Sideways," Javier Bardem for "The Sea Inside" and Christian Bale in "The Machinist."

"BABE DU-JOUR"

The best actress race appears wide open with several veteran leading ladies vying for the Oscar, but O'Neil noted that in recent years Oscar voters have favored younger actresses whom he called Hollywood's "babe du jour."

That title could belong to 26 year-old French actress Audrey Tautou for "A Very Long Engagement," Zhang Ziyi, 25, in Chinese film "House of Flying Daggers" or last year's "Lost in Translation" breakout star, Scarlett Johansson, 19, in "A Love Song for Bobby Long."

Among the veterans are Annette Benning as a 1930s stage diva in "Being Julia," Britain's Imelda Staunton as an abortionist in "Vera Drake," Julia Roberts in "Closer," Kate Winslet in "Finding Neverland," Cate Blanchett for "Aviator" and Laura Linney in independent film "p.s." and in "Kinsey."

Among the yet-to-be released movies that experts think could be competing for best picture Oscars are Oliver Stone's "Alexander" about the conqueror, James L. Brooks' tale of modern domesticity "Spanglish," Wes Anderson's offbeat "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" and Joel Schumacher's "The Phantom of the Opera."

Schumacher said the musical movie goes far deeper into the characters than the stage production on which it is based, and the film sets are elaborate and costumes extravagant.

"Part of what we owe the audience is the shameless and swooning glamour of Paris in the 1870s," Schumacher said.

Shameless? Swooning? Sounds like Hollywood at Oscar time.