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Jesus Christ versus George W. Bush.

Category: Phantom of the Opera News
Article Date: July 7, 2004 | Publication: MSNBC | Author: Michael Ventre
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In real life, the two are reportedly close. But when the Academy Awards roll around next year, they will likely be pitted against each other in the race for Best Picture. Given their respective clout, that promises to be quite a donnybrook.

At the halfway point of 2004, the only two feature-length motion pictures generating the kind of buzz that merits Oscar consideration are Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” and Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Both have received largely favorable reviews, although the latter was more uniformly hailed by film critics than the former. Both have been popular sensations, with “Passion” holding this year’s box office crown thus far with over $450 million worldwide.

And both are about something, which helps with Academy voters. “The Passion of the Christ” is a graphic and powerful look at the life of Jesus leading up to the crucifixion. Gibson pulls no punches, or lashes of the whip, in illustrating the sacrifices Jesus made for his believers. The film turned off many, but it moved many more, becoming the Hollywood breakout success story of 2004.

Right behind is “Fahrenheit 9/11,” in which Moore makes his case that the Bush administration lied to the country about the real reasons for the war in Iraq. It appears to be playing to packed houses not only in Democratic blue states but in Republican red as well, selling out in places like Fort Bragg, N.C. Going into its third weekend of release, it has amassed over $61 million.

Ordinarily, a documentary wouldn’t have a prayer in the Best Picture derby. While docs have always been eligible for the top award (as long as they satisfy the other requirements, like being feature length, getting a theatrical release, etc.), none has ever been nominated. If a documentary does happen to catch fire, as “Bowling for Columbine” did two years ago, it usually has its best shot at an Oscar in the Best Documentary Feature category.

“Fahrenheit 9/11” may be the rare exception. Remember that Harvey and Bob Weinstein had to form a separate company to distribute the film along with Lions Gate after Disney’s Michael Eisner shunned it. Given the brothers’ notorious lust for Oscar glory, they will pull out all the stops if they think “Fahrenheit” as a shot at Best Picture, if for no other reason than to shove it in Eisner’s face. Also, the DVD of “Fahrenheit” is now set for a fall release, so there will be ample opportunity for Academy voters to view it. It’s conceivable that “Fahrenheit 9/11” could be nominated in both categories, Best Picture and Best Documentary Feature.

But it’s early yet, and while Jesus and George won’t be forgotten when Academy voters mark their ballots, they undoubtedly will have challengers. There are two other films released in the first half of 2004, both sequels — “Shrek 2” and “Kill Bill Vol. 2” — that have outside shots, depending somewhat on how hard their backers push them, and how thick the field is. To paraphrase an old saying, “Hell hath no fury like studio marketing departments around Oscar time.”

Here is a look at some possible candidates for Best Picture of 2004 chosen mostly from upcoming releases. They were selected because they appear to have an Oscar pedigree, but remember, appearances can be highly deceiving, especially in the movie business. What reeks of prestige on the outside might be rotting on the inside, so tread carefully:

“The Manchurian Candidate”: This has a couple of demerits working against it already. The Academy rarely recognizes thrillers as worthy of Best Picture nods. And this is a remake of the 1962 John Frankenheimer classic, which was based on the Richard Condon novel, and remakes also are usually snubbed. But if there is such a thing as a highbrow thriller, this is it. The cast is top notch, led by Oscar winners Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep and Jon Voight. It is directed by another Oscar winner, Jonathan Demme. It just could defy the odds against its genre.

“Alexander”: It can be argued that the last time Oliver Stone did a costume epic was “JFK,” if you consider what Tommy Lee Jones and Joe Pesci wore as New Orleans party boys. But “Alexander” goes back even farther in history. This sweeping saga chronicles the life of Alexander the Great, who was on top of the world at age 32. Stone is an Academy favorite, having won as Best Director for “Platoon” in 1986 and “Born on the Fourth of July” in 1989 as well as grabbing a Best Adapted Screenplay statuette for “Midnight Express” in 1978. But since “Nixon” in ’95, he’s hit a cold spell, and time will tell if he can summon the old magic.

“Proof”: John Madden and Gwyneth Paltrow have a thing going. Their collaboration on “Shakespeare in Love” won Paltrow an Oscar and got Madden nominated. Now they join forces with another Oscar winner, Anthony Hopkins, in the screen adaptation of David Auburn’s hit Broadway drama about a genius mathematician and his daughter. Because of its well-established stage chops, this picture already comes with the kind of Oscar dressing that gets buzz going well before the movie’s release date. You don’t have to be a genius mathematician to add up everything it has going for it.

“Ray”: Formerly known as “Unchain My Heart,” this is the long-awaited biopic of the late Ray Charles. Jamie Foxx is said to have submitted a marvelous performance in the Taylor Hackford-directed film, which had been in development for about 16 years. Ray gave his blessing to this before his recent passing. The picture certainly can stand up on its own, but it also will undoubtedly be helped with voters by sentiment for one of the legendary figures in American music.

“An Unfinished Life”: In terms of subject matter, this smells like Oscar bait. It’s one of those emotional dramas where family members who couldn’t stand each other get together and find out they really can stand each other if they just work at it, and boy, it’s worth it because family is really important. The good news: It’s directed by two-time Oscar nominee Lasse Hallström, and the cast includes Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman. The bad: J-Lo is in it. Because there is always a chance she could get divorced and remarried again by the time this movie is released, voters may be turned off.

“Beyond the Sea”: Another anticipated music biopic, this one is about singer Bobby Darin and his relationship with Sandra Dee. It’s directed by Kevin Spacey, who stars as Darin. The major drawback to this trip down memory lane is hoping people forget the fact that Darin was 24 when he met the 16-year-old Dee, and they were married soon after. Spacey turns 45 this month and Kate Bosworth, who plays Dee, is 21. This is where makeup comes in. A big plus is that the script was co-written by Paul Attanasio, who received Oscar noms for “Quiz Show” and “Donnie Brasco.”

“Sideways”: Alexander Payne is deceptively smart, and his pictures are even smarter. Coming off “About Schmidt,” Payne tells the story of a writer named Miles who teams up with his buddy Jack for a jaunt to California’s wine country where they iron out their troubled personal lives. One of the problems with this release could also be considered a positive. On one hand, the cast is very low-key, the biggest names being Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen. That might make it less likely people will see it. Then again, if it creates any buzz at all, Academy members love to reward sleepers.

“Closer”: Anything directed by Mike Nichols gets mandatory Academy attention – except, of course, “What Planet Are You From?” which, to my knowledge, he still hasn’t apologized for. This is the story of two couples who get torn apart when a spouse from one and a spouse from the other become a thing. The cast is exemplary, led by Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Jude Law and Clive Owen. Nichols won for Best Director in 1968 for “The Graduate,” but none of his films have taken Best Picture. So he’s due.

“The Life Aquatic”: Bill Murray teams up with director Wes Anderson for the third time in yet another unique and quirky adventure. This time Murray plays a European oceanographer. After “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Lost in Translation,” the mere presence of Murray — once revered in slobdom for eating a candy bar after a swimming pool had been drained in “Caddyshack” — ensures Oscar consideration for a film. Who would have guessed?

“The Aviator”: Martin Scorsese is highly respected in Hollywood, even though he has been nominated four times for Best Director but has never taken home the hardware. Scorsese has also presided over four Best Picture nominees — “Gangs of New York,” “Goodfellas,” “Raging Bull” and “Taxi Driver.” With “The Aviator,” he may have a fifth. Boasting a stellar cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett, it chronicles the rich life of Howard Hughes, and it is just the kind of sumptuous period filmmaking and juicy subject matter to make Academy voters drool.

“The Phantom of the Opera”: This is somewhat of a longshot, since it is directed by Joel Schumacher. Yet “Phantom” has its roots in a respected and popular stage production. And when “Chicago” won as Best Picture, it helped to energize musicals. You can be sure that the production design will be magnificent, and that the music will delight audiences. Those are hard to ruin. It will be character development and narrative drive that may decide whether Schumacher’s “Phantom” enjoys a little glory after a life of anguish.

Thanks to Goddess Debbee for the article!

 


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