Oscar 2005: Best Picture

As of November 1, some of the most interesting films of the year have been independent or semi-independent, such as Ang Lee's “Brokeback Mountain” or David Cronenberg's “A History of Violence,” made by Focus Features and New Line, respectively. Both films, which had successfully played the global festival circuit, find their respective auteurs in top form.

Lee, who was previously nominated for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” for which he won the DGA Award, has masterfully expanded Annie Proulx's unorthodox gay-cowboy novella into an epic-scale romance, and had coaxed at least two great performances, from Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams.

The critically acclaimed “History of Violence” may finally confer an Oscar nod on Cronenberg, who has never been nominated, despite having made such masterpieces as “The Fly” and “Dead Ringers.” Viggo Mortensten, who played the lead in “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, never got credit for his contribution to Peter Jackson's epics. Now, perfectly cast in the contemporary Western morality tale, Mortensen may finally get recognition from his peers for his subtly haunting performance as a man tormented by his dual identity and violent past.

Then there are smaller-budget indies about topical issues, such as Paul Haggis' “Crash” (Lions Gate), an ensemble piece about contemporary race relations; Bennett Miller's bio of the flamboyant writer “Capote” (Sony Classics), during the time he wrote his innovative novel “In Cold Blood,” and George Clooney's stylized political expose “Good Night, and Goodbye” (Warner Independent Picture).

Clooney has proven his star status and box-office clout in several commercial hits, “Ocean's Eleven” and “Ocean's Twelve” among them, but his directorial debut, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” was under-whelming to say the least. The political topicality of Clooney's sophomore effort, about journalist Edward R. Murrow and hateful anti-Communist Senator Joseph McCarthy, is definitely a plus. Clooney's role in “Syriana” should elevate visibility in the industry, especially if the latter is successful.

This Oscar race may see an all-time record of three musicals vying for the top prize. Already touted this year's “Ray, James Mangold's biopic of musical legend Johnny Cash, “Walk the Line,” is sure to get some acting nominations, but it may also land a spot in the Best Picture category, especially if the other contenders don't perform. Joaquin Phoenix was nominated for Supporting Oscar for “Gladiator.” Biopictures are favored by the Academy, and showbiz bios even more so. Playing legendary musician Johnny Cash might earn Phoenix his first Best Actor nomination, just as “Ray” did for Jamie Foxx last year. As June carter, Reese Witherspoon, who is the best thing in the film, should receive her first, Best Actress nomination.

“Walk the Line” may be joined by one or two high-profile musicals, both based on Broadway stage hits. In a major change of pace from his Harry Potter movies, Chris Columbus' AIDS musical, “Rent,” which boats most of the original Broadway cast, opens on Thanksgiving. “The Producers,” based on Mel Brooks' 1968 cult movie that was made into a long-running stage musical with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. As a genre, musicals usually don't do much for their performers, and “The Producers” may also suffer from having two male leads, unless the studio relegates Matthew Broderick to the supporting league.

The Academy loves comebacks, and this year may see former perennial nominee, Woody Allen, who has not made a good movie in a decade (since “Bullets Over Broadway”), in the run for “Match Point,” his morality tale that alludes to Dostoevsky's seminal novel, “Crime and Punishment,” and also recalls Allen's own “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The first Allen film to be set and shot in London, “Match Point” stars Scarlett Johansson, his new muse (Johansson is also in his new picture), surrounded by an impressive British cast.

No one has seen yet “Munich,” but its subject matter, the tragedy of the 1972 Olympics in which Israeli athletes were assassinated, and its director, Spielberg, has Oscar written all over it. Industry mavens already compare the drama's importance to that of “Schindler's List,” which swept the 1993 Oscars. Eric Bana excelled in a supporting role in last year's “Troy,” and hopefully will not suffer from the commercial failure of “The Hulk.” Bana is guaranteed critical attention and can only benefit from the status of Spielberg's film.

Action-adventures and thrillers have been underrepresented in the Oscar contest, but this year may prove the exception to the rule if the timely political thriller, “Syriana,” with an all-star cast, and Peter Jackson's “King Kong” deliver the goods. It's noteworthy, that neither the 1933 nor the 1976 versions of “King Kong” have received major nominations, but this is a spectacle made by Hollywood's hottest director, on the heels of making a landmark trilogy, “The Lord of the Rings,” which in 2003 swept 11 Oscars out of 11 nominations!

Rob Marshall didn't win the Director Oscar for “Chicago,” but the musical won Best Picture and other awards, so naturally there's high anticipation for his adaptation of “Memoirs of a Geisha,” based on the original, best-selling book, which has been in the works for a long time.

Finally, there is often room for one literary adaptation of a classic, the Merchant-Ivory kind of film (“Room With a View,” “Howards End”) or the “Little Women” type of prestige fare. This year, Joe Wright's ebullient adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice,” with Keira Knightley in a star-making performance, may occupy the desirable spot.

Frontrunners: Movies to Watch

“Brokeback Mountain”
“Good Night, And, Good Luck,”
“A History of Violence”
“King Kong”
“Match Point”
“Memoirs of a Geisha”
“Pride and Prejudice”
“The Producers”
“Walk the Line”


“Cinderella Man”
“The Constant Gardener”
“Hustle & Flow”
“The New World”
“The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada”