“Once” is such a longshot…but it would be a worthy candidate!!

Pre-fall premieres shift Oscar race
The last three months of 2007 will bring many of the powerhouse movies hoping to compete at the coming Academy Awards, but no one can rule out the back nine anymore.
Movies released in the spring, summer and early fall have claimed many of the top prizes the past two years, obliterating the latecomers’ traditional dominance.
Most of last year’s big winners óThe Departed, The Queen, Little Miss Sunshine and The Last King of Scotland ó were already in theaters by this time.
“That’s dramatic evidence of how early the race has pushed up the awards calendar. It forces us to pay special attention to what’s already out,” says awards expert Tom O’Neil of
One reason for the shift is that early debuts allow studios to blanket voters later with DVDs without fear of piracy for a new film.
Best-picture winner The Departed opened Oct. 6 last year, and the critically heralded George Clooney thriller Michael Clayton chose that spot to premiere this year. A number of powerhouse films will soon follow: No Country for Old Men, Charlie Wilson’s War and Sweeney Todd among them.
Lead actor: Men had meaty roles
The lead-performer races also would look dramatically different if the latecomers of winter were taken out of the equation.
Among the beneficiaries might be Don Cheadle, for his role as 1960s radio host Petey Greene in Talk to Me, as well as Chris Cooper for his quiet performance as a true-life FBI traitor in January’s Breach.
“Cheadle is one of those great actors, very contained and serious and stoic, and for this one he was willing to let loose. It’s funny, but also outrageous and uninhibited. He’s long overdue,” says Barry Koltnow, veteran Hollywood correspondent for The Orange County Register.
As for Cooper, a winner for Adaptation: “Breach is the kind of movie voters like when they’re not thinking epic,” Koltnow says, though the film is unlikely to get a major (and expensive) push from its studio, Universal. “It doesn’t have a chance, but it’s one of the better movies of the year so far.”
Other actors worthy of consideration: Tommy Lee Jones as the military father investigating his soldier son’s murder in In the Valley of Elah. “It’s a smoldering, volcanic performance from a man they like,” says O’Neil of
Sasha Stone of says Christian Bale could snag a lead-actor bid for his rancher in the Western 3:10 to Yuma or his U.S. pilot shot down in Rescue Dawn.
“Both performances help him with the nomination, but 3:10 to Yuma for sure is his best chance,” she says. “It’s a genre movie, but it could sneak up and prove to be an award movie by the end of the year.”
Lead actress: Look to earlier films for female nominees
Female contenders from the past nine months have a strong chance this year because pundits see few flashy roles for women in the as-yet-unreleased films. That bodes well for Jodie Foster’s vigilante in The Brave One, as well as Angelina Jolie’s take on Mariane Pearl in the docudrama A Mighty Heart.
“They thought they could cash in on (Jolie’s) tabloid prominence and rolled out too big with a movie that had limited appeal as a topic, so it was a disaster at the box office in mid-summer, but they are not giving up the Oscar hope,” O’Neil says.
Julie Christie stands a strong chance for her role as a woman slowly forgetting her husband as she enters the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in the heartbreaking Away From Her. “She’s one of those actresses, like Judi Dench or Helen Mirren, who is so iconic that she can’t be ignored,” Stone says.
Another likely actress contender is Keri Russell for her cynical, pregnant piemaker in Waitress. “It’s from Fox Searchlight, and they are incredibly good at pushing their movies,” Stone says of the studio behind last year’s Little Miss Sunshine and The Last King of Scotland. “They’re pushing hard on Waitress.”
O’Neil adds La Vie en Rose, starring Marion Cotillard as singer Edith Piaf. It’s a tiny film, but he believes voters make room for non-commercial films. “They hold on to the box office week after week after week,” he says. “And they find their audience.”
The latecomers: Films, actors who now reign could be deposed
Soon these films will have to make way for November and December ó and Oscar bids from Cate Blanchett, Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Johnny Depp.
Blanchett’s Nixonian histrionics as the aging 16th-century British monarch in Elizabeth: The Golden Age, a sequel to her 1998 breakthrough, are catching attention, even if the film itself is not. She also stands a chance for her portrayal of an androgynous Bob Dylan in the surreal biopic I’m Not There, which has played well at recent festivals.
There is much anticipation for director Mike Nichols’ Charlie Wilson’s War, a biting drama starring Hanks as a Texas congressman who starts secretly funneling U.S. money to the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, with Roberts as a socialite who helps him. Philip Seymour Hoffman co-stars as a colorful rogue CIA agent.
Also, Johnny Depp is likely to be a fearsome opponent when Tim Burton’s musical Sweeney Todd, about a serial-killing London barber in the early 1800s, makes its crimson splash on the big screen.
Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe in the crime saga American Gangster also are expected to entice Oscar voters, though it has only played at a few private screenings. Meanwhile the lighthearted teen pregnancy comedy Juno, starring Ellen Page and Jennifer Garner, also has created a stir on the festival circuit.
And among the scores of films set to premiere between now and the end of the year, there could always be a few surprises.
Best picture: Out early, but still hot
Looking back from early autumn presents a number of other noteworthy contenders, including the military crime saga In the Valley of Elah and the back-to-nature tragedy Into the Wild, both September movies.
Here are three offbeat choices hoping to make the cut: Once, Eastern Promises and Hairspray.
Though they may be long shots, the respective studios already have launched campaigns to win over the hearts and minds of voters for the Oscars, Golden Globes and the many assorted critics and guild awards.
“Hairspray had some of the best reviews and some of the strongest box-office numbers, and it’s from a Broadway show that won the Tony for best musical,” says O’Neil. “It’s a proven award winner. And it’s frothy and silly on one hand, but it also has a serious theme about racism.”
Once, another music-themed movie, this one a bittersweet romance about street musicians, also could sneak into the top five as the academy’s nod to scrappy, art-house filmmaking. “It has a really strong, beating heart, and that’s the thing that gets them,” says Sasha Stone of “Picking a movie like that makes the voters look good because it’s so original.”
Both films also are likely to get a bump from the Golden Globes, which has a separate category for musical/comedy, thus giving them an extra chance to compete with the straight-up dramas.
Awards voters also like their occasional grit ó consider Million Dollar Baby and The Departedó which gives a shot to the Russian Mob thriller Eastern Promises.
Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn in TheLord of the Rings) delivers a strong performance as a smooth, smirking gangster who is simultaneously magnetic and repulsive. That gives it a memorable edge, says The Orange County Register’s Koltnow, who blogs at “He justifies your confidence in the character. You don’t know why you liked him, but you prove to have good instincts. Nothing makes academy voters feel better than feeling smart.”