EW's 10 best bets for Best Picture Oscar. From ''Fahrenheit 9/11'' to ''The Passion of the Christ'' take a look at eight other possible Oscar nominees for 2004

By Dave Karger
Updated August 07, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: The Aviator: Andrew Cooper

EW’s 10 best bets for Best Picture Oscar

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Thanks to the ”Passion of the Christ,” this Oscar season started way back in February. Now, with the year more than half over and a handful of performances (Jeff Bridges in ”The Door in the Floor” and Meryl Streep in ”The Manchurian Candidate”) beginning to amass awards buzz, studio strategists are logging hours like a Kerry/Edwards aide. ”Right now there’s a lot of jockeying for position, both with release dates and trying to figure out who the real contenders are and who the pretenders might be,” says Lions Gate Films Releasing president Tom Ortenberg, who’s prepping Best Picture campaigns for ”Fahrenheit 9/11” and October’s ”Stage Beauty” (with Billy Crudup and Claire Danes).

But it’s never too early to start spinning! ”This year looks more likely to include films from categories that are not traditionally included,” says Warner Independent president Mark Gill, pointing to ”Fahrenheit” and his company’s foreign-language entry, ”A Very Long Engagement,” both of which will make Best Picture pushes. ”Are there fewer big-studio movies that feel like they’re major contenders?” asks Gill. ”Yes. If you consider that a weak year, then so be it.” Weak or not, there will be five Best Picture nominees. With six months to go before the big night, here’s our alphabetical list of the 10 best bets.

Could be a contender…if its epic scale, formidable battle scenes, and tragic personal tales — fashioned by 11-time nominee Oliver Stone — remind voters of ”Gladiator.” Unless…by shying away from the title character’s homosexual affairs (as the movie’s rumored to), it attracts more controversy than praise.

Could be a contender…if voters appreciate that Martin Scorsese has gone violence-free. Leonardo DiCaprio is said to be a revelation as tycoon Howard Hughes. Unless…it feels more like an encyclopedia entry on Hughes than an actual movie.

Could be a contender…for its pedigreed lineup of director Mike Nichols (1988’s ”Working Girl”) and cast members Julia Roberts, Jude Law, and Natalie Portman. Unless…its partner-swapping plot strikes voters as too much of a downer.

Could be a contender…with its stunning script by two-time nominee Charlie Kaufman (”Adaptation”) and knockout performances by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. Unless…its March release and middling box office ($34.1 million) erase it from voters’ minds. (An end-of-year DVD release could help.)

Could be a contender…if already strong support among the actors’ branch of the Academy grows even stronger in the wake of the election. Unless…Moore’s publicity parade grows tiresome by January. And no documentary has ever reached the big dance.

Could be a contender…thanks to its whimsical style and sweet performance by Johnny Depp as ”Peter Pan” author J.M. Barrie. Unless…Miramax mounts an ultra-aggressive campaign that smacks of ”Chocolat” (though that one worked).

Could be a contender…with a cast full of past nominees (including Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, and Willem Dafoe) working under the weird and watchful eye of ”The Royal Tenenbaums”’ Wes Anderson. Unless…the Academy still finds Anderson too weird and continues to relegate him to the screenplay category.

Could be a contender…if the Che Guevara biopic rides its festival buzz to a bushel of critics’ awards. Unless…the movie ends up getting submitted in the foreign-language category.

Could be a contender…if the $370 million blockbuster’s devoted following convinces the rest of the Academy congregation that beneath ”Passion”’s lightning-rod exterior lies a miraculous achievement with a real directorial vision. Unless…they toss the movie a bone in the form of a Best Actor nod for the long-suffering Jim Caviezel.

Could be a contender…since it marries ”Amelié” director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s fanciful flourishes with a serious WWI-era story and features two-time winner Jodie Foster speaking impeccable French. Unless…it gets overshadowed by ”The Motorcycle Diaries.”