Though Oscar night is still eight months away (March 5, 2006, to be exact), studio awards strategists are already preparing their plans of attack. They’d better get busy: Since the first half of the year didn’t yield much in the way of true contenders, almost all Best Picture nominees should come from the final five months of the year. As usual, one or two films may appear out of nowhere (nobody was talking about Million Dollar Baby or Sideways last July), but here, in alphabetical order, are the likeliest candidates at this early date.
ALL THE KING’S MEN
Could be a contender… if the political drama directed by Steven Zaillian (a past Oscar winner for his Schindler’s List screenplay) elicits topflight performances from Academy faves Sean Penn, Kate Winslet, and Jude Law. Unless… a remake of a Best Picture winner seems like too obvious an Oscar ploy. (Dec. 16)
Could be a contender… since Annie Proulx’s unorthodox gay-cowboy love story has landed in the careful hands of director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). Unless… hardcore fans of the short story complain that the romance between Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal is too tame. (Dec. 9)
Could be a contender… since the droll-and-droller combination of director Jim Jarmusch and star Bill Murray can get a jump on Oscar campaigning, thanks to an early rollout (hey, it worked for Murray in Lost in Translation, a September release). Unless… voters find it too strange and small. (Aug. 5)