Hollywood is in full swing of the annual film awards campaign season. The Academy Award nominations are looming with the end-of-year critics choices, Golden Globes, and guild contenders (such as the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild) narrowing the field considerably. (The Globes take place on Sunday, January 16, and the Oscar nominations are announced on Tuesday, January 25.)
In Hollywood, apart from the two most significant films of the year, Fahrenheit 9/11 and The Passion of the Christ, it has been the year of the biopic: The Aviator, Kinsey, Ray, and Finding Neverland will all probably be in contention on Oscar night. Smaller films of note touched on other culturally divisive issues: Vera Drake on abortion, Kinsey on the issue of American sexuality at mid century, and the gems Million Dollar Baby, Sideways, Finding Neverland, and Closer on fractured personal relationships.
The current buzz:
The Aviator (Miramax)
Martin Scorseses eagerly anticipated biopic based on the famed Howard Hughes starring Leonardo DiCaprio opened to generally good reviews, has the ingredients of an Oscar best picture contender, and should generate good box office to solidify its frontrunner status. (Hughes bisexuality was not dealt with in the picture.)
Sideways (Fox Searchlight)
The independent film and critical champion of 2004. Multiple Golden Globe nominations including Best Musical or Comedy will no doubt boost its chances for an Oscar nomination in this category.
Million Dollar Baby (Warner Bros.)
Clint Eastwood directs and co-stars in this story about a female boxer trying for her shot. Golden Globe nominations and critics' favor, plus support from guild nominations, make this movie a serious contender.
This biopic about the life and career of the late blues/soul singer Ray Charles has maintained its momentum since the early autumn. Good guild support and its inclusion by the Golden Globes (Musical/Comedy) should propel it to an Oscar nomination in this category.
Kinsey (Fox Searchlight)
Biopic based on the life of a pioneer in the area of human sexuality research whose 1948 bestseller Sexual Behavior in the Human Male was the first major work addressing sexual behavior in America. This film got the most buzz out of the Toronto Film Festival and is one of the best reviewed films of 2004. Liam Neeson, as Kinsey, and Peter Sarsgaard, as his bisexual researcher, were singled out for praise.
Finding Neverland (Miramax)
Biopic on the writer J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan) is Miramaxs other contender in this category. The famed Oscar-campaigning company is seeking to get back to its previous record of having an annual Oscar nomination in this category after being shut out for last years Cold Mountain.
Hotel Rwanda (United Artists)
The critics are hailing this film about the Rwandan Genocide of 1994; it has been gaining momentum as the conscience film of the year. It remains to be seen if this will turn out like The Pianist, which came within striking distance of the big prize in 2002 by not only securing a nomination for Best Picture but winning three major Awards.
LongshotsFahrenheit 9/11 (Miramax/Lions Gate) and The Passion of the Christ (Newmarket)
Both were big box-office winners in 2004, but with the U.S. presidential elections over, they might be seen as too divisive for the taste of Academy members.
Bill Condon (Kinsey)
A previous Oscar winner for Best Original Screenplay (1998s Gods and Monsters), the openly gay Condon is back this year.
Martin Scorsese (The Aviator)
This movie might finally bring him that Best Director Oscar that has eluded him for the last three decades.
Mike Nichols (Closer)
Nichols might still get a mention here, even if the film fails to bag a nomination in the Best Picture category. Reviewers were effusive in their praise for his work.
Alexander Payne (Sideways)
The director of the years critics favorite and winner of several of the precursor awards. A nomination by the Directors Guild of America (DGA) would solidify his status.
Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby
He's been an Oscar winner before (Unforgiven) and has a legitimate possibility of upsetting Scorcese in this category.
Jamie Foxx (Ray)
The current frontrunner as the best performance in any film this year.
Johnny Depp (Finding Neverland)
After last years surprise nomination for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Depp cements his reputation as one of the most interesting actors of his generation. This could be his year.
Liam Neeson (Kinsey)
A previous nominee for Schindlers List (1992), Neeson plays the title role in the aforementioned biopic about the life of Alfred Kinsey. Hollywood loves this genre. The subject matter courted some initial controversy and liberal-leaning Academy members might use this as payback for the Rights victory in this years presidential election.
Javier Bardem (Mar Adentro or The Sea Within)
With critical acclaim for his role as a euthanasia crusader, Bardem is likely to find himself in the nominees circle come January, especially as the film is almost a certain nominee and a likely winner in the foreign film category.
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Aviator)
Critics are saying that this performance as Howard Hughes reestablishes DiCaprio as an actor to be taken seriously.
Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda)
With the current buzz on this film and his performance in particular, Cheadle might well turn out to be this years Adrien Brody, a surprise winner in 2002.
Paul Giamatti (Sideways)
A well-loved performance in the most critically acclaimed movie of the year.
Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake)
She should be the frontrunner for a nomination by virtue of winning the most critics awards to date but there is a feeling that she might eventually lose out to Annette Bening, who is a Hollywood insider, overdue for notice, and American. Guild support as well as attendance of the various awards ceremonies might raise her profile with Academy voters.
Annette Bening (Being Julia)
Pundits believe this year is finally hers despite the fact that she might be the sole nominee from her film, which received lukewarm reviews. Academy voters respond favorably to older actresses playing grand dame roles.
Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby)
Critics are favoring a rematch of 1999 when Swanks performance in Boys Dont Cry stole the thunder from Benings acclaimed role in American Beauty.
Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
She is always a favorite at the Academy Awards, with three nominations before the age of 30.
Emmy Rossum (The Phantom of the Opera)
She might be the sole beneficiary from this film, which failed to live up to critical expectations but is expected to have a better reception at the non-American box office.
Best Supporting Actor
Thomas Haden Church (Sideways)
There is strong support for his performance as a down-and-out actor.
Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby)
There is big buzz for this long overdue actor playing an old, washed-up boxer.
David Carradine (Kill Bill Vol. II)
An early contender who has been helped by a Golden Globe nomination.
Clive Owen (Closer)
Has the best notice from the altogether strong cast of this bleak movie. Strong Guild support will help his nomination chances.
Peter Sarsgaard (Kinsey)
Many people felt that Sarsgaard should have been nominated last year for Shattered Glass. This year, he gives a sensational supporting performance as a bisexual young man completely comfortable with his desires in 1940s middle America.
Best Supporting Actress
Virginia Madsen (Sideways)
Widespread critical support coupled with a Golden Globe nomination might obtain a first nomination for this current frontrunner.
Laura Linney (Kinsey)
The Academy always loves to reward the supportive and long-suffering wife, and Linney also benefits from another acclaimed performance in this years P.S.
Cate Blanchett (The Aviator)
Playing Oscars favorite winner, Katharine Hepburn, might propel Miss Blanchett to an Oscar nomination in this or the lead category.
Meryl Streep (The Manchurian Candidate)
Critics hailed her Hillary Clintonesque performance in an average film, and it is never safe to bet against Meryl, who already holds the record for most nominated performer ever with 13 nods.
Natalie Portman (Closer)
Another contender from Mike Nichols acclaimed adult drama about relationships.
Likely contenders include:
Openly gay Pedro Almodovar for Bad Education
Openly gay Bill Condon for Kinsey
Mike Leigh for Vera Drake
Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
John Logan for The Aviator
James L. Brooks for Spanglish
Allan Knee and David Magee for Finding Neverland
James L. White for Ray
Keir Pearson and Terry George for Hotel Rwanda
Likely contenders include:
Sideways, written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, based on the novel by Rex Pickett
The Motorcycle Diaries, written by Jose Riviera, based on the diaries of Che Chevara
The Phantom of the Opera, written as a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on the novel by Gaston Leroux
A Very Long Engagement, written by Jean Pierre Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant, based on the novel by Sebastien Jaspirot
Million Dollar Baby, written by Paul Haggis, based on the novel Rope Burns by F.X. Toole
Finding Neverland, written by David Magee, based on the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee
The Door in the Floor, written by Tod Williams, based on the novel A Widow for One Year by John Irving
Closer, written by Patrick Marber, based on his own play
Best Animated Feature
The Incredibles (Walt Disney Pixar)
Shrek 2 (Dreamworks)
A Sharks Tale (Dreamworks)
The Polar Express (Warner Bros.)