Who would you vote for, if you could vote?

Cash, Kong and Capote May Join Oscar List
LOS ANGELES ó The theme for Academy Awards night is a costume ball, but the following costumes are already spoken for: geisha, giant ape, country crooner, 18th century British belle, transsexual and gay cowboy.
A wealth of performance-driven films, costume pageants and visual spectacles are in the Oscar hunt, among them the cowboy romance “Brokeback Mountain”; the great-ape flick “King Kong”; the Oriental pageant “Memoirs of a Geisha”; the Jane Austen adaptation “Pride & Prejudice”; and the road-trip chronicle “Transamerica.” Then there are three films centering on illustrious figures in the 1950s and ’60s, the Johnny Cash saga “Walk the Line,” the Truman Capote drama “Capote” and the Edward R. Murrow story “Good Night, and Good Luck.”
Other films jockeying for attention include the colonial epic “The New World”; the gangster tale “A History of Violence”; and two dramas dealing with Middle East turmoil, the oil-industry thriller “Syriana” and “Munich,” about the massacre of Israelis at the 1972 Olympics.
After last season’s showdown between eventual Oscar champ “Million Dollar Baby” and runner-up “The Aviator,” clear frontrunners have yet to merge for the March 5 Oscars. The nominees will be announced Jan. 31.
In the best-picture race, Steven Spielberg returns with “Munich,” his most serious film since Oscar winner “Schindler’s List” and runner-up “Saving Private Ryan.” It recounts an Israeli assassination squad’s manhunt for Palestinians suspected of plotting the massacre of 11 athletes and coaches at the 1972 Olympics.
Yet “Munich” could be a tough sell for Oscar voters, a disturbing reminder of unresolvable conflicts in the Middle East. Critics speculated that Spielberg was too pro- Israel to make a fair movie, but along with angering Muslims, “Munich” could vex Jews for its depiction of Israel’s Machiavellian machine of vengeance and the human face put on the assassins’ Arab targets.
Still, this is a Spielberg film, and a very good one.
Peter Jackson delivered a best-picture winner two years ago with “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” the most otherworldly film ever to win the top Oscar.
Can Jackson do it again with the return of “King Kong,” his three-hour remake of the 1933 adventure about a 25-foot gorilla who falls hard for a perky blonde?
Classic that it is, the original “King Kong” earned no Oscar nominations. But like “The Lord of the Rings” films, all of them best-picture nominees, Jackson treats his primate story with utter seriousness, capturing a sense of tragic love that leaves a strong dramatic impression amid the film’s amazing visual effects and action sequences.
Terrence Malick, the reclusive director whose 1998 war saga “The Thin Red Line” was a best-picture nominee, is back with “The New World,” a work of high art on the big screen.
Malick’s portrait of colonial leaders John Smith and John Rolfe and their romances with Indian princess Pocahontas is a hypnotic feast of sight and sound with almost a silent-movie feel, much of the conventional dialogue replaced by poetic voice-overs.
Other leading best-picture candidates include “Brokeback Mountain,” “Walk the Line,” “Pride & Prejudice,” “Syriana,” “Cinderella Man” and “Memoirs of a Geisha.”
A year ago, Jamie Foxx had an early lock on the bst actor prize for his remarkable emulation of Ray Charles. This time, Joaquin Phoenix has a good shot for his portrayal of another beloved musician, country maestro Johnny Cash.
Phoenix illuminates the gloomy corners of Cash’s life and the singer’s sheer joy in music, life and love as his long courtship with soul mate June Carter unfolds. And Phoenix does a fine job doing his own singing, something Foxx didn’t do.
Philip Seymour Hoffman bursts into the Oscar forefront in the title role of “Capote.” Hoffman uncannily replicates the effete mannerisms of Truman Capote and presents a remarkable portrait of an artist torn between human affection and the call of his art as he crafts his true-crime book “In Cold Blood.”
George Clooney of “Syriana” and Colin Farrell of “The New World” are being pushed by their films’ distributors in the supporting-actor field, but they could end up drawing votes in the lead category from the actors branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which will choose nominees.
Other top possibilities: Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in “The Producers,” David Strathairn in “Good Night, and Good Luck,” Viggo Mortensen in “A History of Violence”; Russell Crowe in “Cinderella Man,” Eric Bana in “Munich” and Heath Ledger in “Brokeback Mountain.”
In the best-actress race, Felicity Huffman won an Emmy in September for “Desperate Housewives.” Now she’s a key Oscar prospect for “Transamerica,” in which she undergoes an extraordinary metamorphosis as a man preparing for the final surgery to become a woman.
A rush of twentysomething actresses are in the running for their first Oscar nominations: Keira Knightley in “Pride & Prejudice,” Reese Witherspoon in “Walk the Line,” Ziyi Zhang in “Memoirs of a Geisha” and Claire Danes in “Shopgirl.”
The directing prize could go to past winners Steven Spielberg for “Munich,” Ron Howard for “Cinderella Man,” Woody Allen for “Match Point” or Peter Jackson for “King Kong.”
Other prospects: Ang Lee, “Brokeback Mountain”; Terrence Malick, “The New World”; Stephen Gaghan, “Syriana”; James Mangold, “Walk the Line”; Joe Wright, “Pride & Prejudice”; Rob Marshall, “Memoirs of a Geisha”; Susan Stroman, “The Producers”; David Cronenberg, “A History of Violence”; Fernando Mereilles, “The Constant Gardener”; Stephen Frears, “Mrs. Henderson Presents”; Bennett Miller, “Capote”; Tommy Lee Jones, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada”; and Paul Haggis, “Crash.”