Oscar buzz generates confusion in Hollywood

Mon Dec 10, 2007 10:23pm EST
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By Steven Zeitchik

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - In an awards race more uncertain than any in years, the last few weeks have brought a radical re-drawing of the map. Dark horses have emerged as favorites, darlings have lost some of their promise, and unknowns have risen, fallen and risen again.

But as Oscar prognosticators take in the latest world order, they're asking a question increasingly common in this era of endless, breathless awards-season blogging: Is this current picture finally an accurate representation of the race or just one more snapshot that could change overnight?

Over the last two days, the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. anointed two pictures, "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood" as front-runners with their respective best picture nods. The former has had Oscar buzz practically since Cannes, of course, but even rival executives admit the groups gave an important boost to the still-unreleased "Blood" and its star, Daniel Day-Lewis.

Other movies seem to be gaining a head of steam at just the right time, with the industry now anxiously awaiting the Golden Globe nominations on Thursday.

Fox Searchlight's pregnancy comedy-drama "Juno" has gone from an uncertainty to a bona fide contender. Focus' "Atonement" encountered dueling downbeat/upbeat reviews in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times -- overall, RottenTomatoes.com says 86 percent of its reviews have been positive -- but they don't seem to have slowed its momentum, at least based on descriptions from those at several screenings. Early entry "Michael Clayton," several veteran award-watchers say, is on the cusp of a comeback.

Even a movie that few have seen, Denzel Washington's period race movie "The Great Debaters," could pick up velocity as the Weinstein Co. makes clear it's laying down its chips on the Christmas Day release. The company has taken out full-page ads in the Los Angeles Times, and an endorsement from Oprah Winfrey should keep the movie on the public and Academy radars.

On the other side of the equation, early favorites like "American Gangster" will now have to withstand the upstarts that have emerged in recent weeks. Preliminary hopefuls like "In the Valley of Elah" and "Reservation Road" are no longer the focus of conversation.

The challenge for a movie like the December 21 release "Charlie Wilson's War" is that despite the Oscar pedigrees of all involved (Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, director Mike Nichols), even before the film is unveiled to the public and much of the industry, a number of online pundits have been putting out lukewarm word.   Continued...

<p>Actor Daniel Day-Lewis arrives for the premiere of the film "There Will Be Blood" in New York, December 10, 2007. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>