Holiday season signals Hollywood's push for prized, profitable Oscars

Category: Phantom of the Opera News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: November 19, 2004 | Publication: The Salt Lake Tribune | Author: Sean P. Means
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While most people this week are thinking about how to cook the Thanksgiving turkey - or where they stashed the Christmas decorations - Hollywood is thinking about Feb. 27, 2005, the night the Academy Awards are handed out.
Much of what Hollywood thinks is worthy of an Oscar will be coming to Utah theaters between now and Christmas - or, in some cases, in January after a qualifying run in New York and Los Angeles.
Of course, not every movie this season is an award contender, because Oscar isn't the only gold valued by Hollywood. (In other words, Wesley Snipes' fans shouldn't hold their breaths that a nomination for "Blade: Trinity" is forthcoming.)
Here's a breakdown of the Oscar race, and the holiday movies that figure to play a big part in it:

Bigger is always better: David Poland, the Internet movie journalist who edits the industry clearinghouse Movie City News, last week made this bold prediction: "The only movie that can keep 'The Phantom of The Opera' from winning Best Picture is 'The Aviator.' "
Few people in Hollywood have seen either movie yet (Poland has seen "Phantom"), but the two films have the things Oscar voters love: lavish production design, costumes galore, period details and epic storylines.
"Phantom" has the big-musical buzz the way "Chicago" did two years ago - even if the idea of using "Oscar winner" and "Joel Schumacher" in the same sentence is considered, in some circles, a sign of the Apocalypse. (Some of us are still upset that Schumacher destroyed the Batman franchise by putting nipples on the Batsuit.)
"The Aviator," starring Leonardo DiCaprio as billionaire Howard Hughes, provides both Hollywood-insider stuff - Jude Law as Errol Flynn! Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn! - and another chance to give Martin Scorsese the Oscar win that has long eluded him.

Good things, small packages: Critics everywhere (including one inside the paper you are now holding) have lauded "Sideways," the latest introspective comedy by Alexander Payne ("About Schmidt"), with Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church as buddies touring California wine country and learning a lot about themselves and each other. It's a long shot that "Sideways" could place actors in all four categories - Giamatti and Virginia Madsen as leads, Church and Sandra Oh in support - but Oscar could do a lot worse.
"Spanglish" is another comedy-drama that might draw some Oscar noise because of its pedigree: It's written and directed by James L. Brooks, the man who gave us "Terms of Endearment" and "As Good as It Gets." This tale of a modern couple (Adam Sandler, Téa Leoni) who hires a Spanish maid (newcomer Paz Vega) could at least get a nod for Cloris Leachman's supporting turn as Leoni's boozy mom.
Other smaller films aiming to crack into the Best Picture race: Bill Condon's "Kinsey," about the controversial life of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey; Mike Nichols' quite-adult sexual drama "Closer," boasting a powerhouse cast of Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen; and Wes Anderson's oceanography comedy "The Life Aquatic," starring Bill Murray.

Let us now play famous men: The Best Actor category could easily fill its ranks with guys playing real-life figures: DiCaprio in "The Aviator," Liam Neeson in "Kinsey," Colin Farrell as Alexander the Great in Oliver Stone's "Alexander," Johnny Depp as author J.M. Barrie in "Finding Neverland," Kevin Spacey as singer Bobby Darin in "Beyond the Sea," Javier Bardem as a quadriplegic right-to-die advocate in the Spanish drama "The Sea Inside," Sean Penn as an aggrieved salesman in "The Assassination of Richard Nixon" or Don Cheadle as a hotel manager who saved a thousand Tutsis from genocide in "Hotel Rwanda."
(And that's not counting the front-runners whose movies are already out, like Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in "Ray," Gael Garcia Bernal as Che Guevera in "The Motorcycle Diaries" or Jim Caviezel as Jesus in "The Passion of the Christ.")

Also for Best Actor: Gerard Butler, for donning the mask in "The Phantom of the Opera," is a contender. So is Kevin Bacon's strong portrayal of a reforming pedophile in the Sundance hit "The Woodsman." Further down the list may be Jim Carrey for two films, either for the multiple comic roles in "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" or as the morose boyfriend in this spring's mindbender "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."

And now the ladies: It's considered a weak field for Best Actress nominees this year, so anything is possible. The one thing everyone in the Hollywood buzz mill seems to agree on: British actress Imelda Staunton is a lock for a nomination, for portraying a kindly neighborhood abortionist in Mike Leigh's "Vera Drake."
A possible double contender is Kate Winslet, who could get a Best Actress nod as Carrey's mercurial girlfriend in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and a supporting nomination for "Finding Neverland."
Other Best Actress possibilities coming soon: Annette Bening as a stage diva in "Being Julia"; Emmy Rossum ("The Day After Tomorrow") as the ingenue in "The Phantom of the Opera"; Hilary Swank as a female boxing phenom in Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby"; and Audrey Tautou as a woman seeking her lost love through World War I in "A Very Long Engagement," reteaming with her "Amelie" director Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

Mel vs. Michael: A side controversy this Oscar season - and an echo of our past election season's Red State/Blue State division - concerns the year's most controversial movies, Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" and Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11."
Conventional wisdom holds that Moore's chances for an Oscar ended the minute John Kerry conceded Ohio. If Kerry had won, the gossips say, Hollywood could honor "Fahrenheit 9/11" as the movie so important it influenced an election. But Moore's factions may market "Fahrenheit" as a last chance for Hollywood liberals to vote against George W. Bush.
The conventional wisdom around "The Passion of the Christ" is that the industry isn't going to reward Gibson, either for perceived hints of anti-Semitism or his pre-release belittling of Hollywood. But Oscar voters can't ignore $370 million in ticket sales, so expect some nominations (Caviezel's performance, Caleb Deschanel's cinematography, maybe art direction) for people not named Mel.