December 13, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

There are few super roads to Oscar glory than the biopic — and none more fraught with danger. Remember A Beautiful Mind? That 2001 Best Picture winner ran into a buzz saw of pre-ceremony controversy (lots of it, no doubt, generated by competing studios) because it sometimes took liberties with, well, the biographical part of the picture. This year, with a veritable who’s who of real-life figures parading into multiplexes, charges of historical revisionism will undoubtedly be raised?such as those pedophilia rumors haunting J.M. Barrie that barely made it into Johnny Depp’s Finding Neverland. Which is why we decided to do a little early Oscar season digging, to locate some interesting additions and subtractions.

BEYOND THE SEA Kevin Spacey plays doomed 1950s crooner Bobby Darin.

Reality Check Darin’s wife, Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth), is portrayed as having a bit of a drinking problem, but there’s no mention of other problems, like anorexia and molestation by her stepfather. Also missing from the Darin/Dee love story: the divorce.

Why the Changes? ”I was creating a celebration shaped around Bobby Darin’s life,” says Spacey, who also co-wrote and directed the film. ”There is no question that Sandra Dee’s story could be its own movie, but I wasn’t setting out to tell that story. I hint at her difficulties, but I wanted to make a romance.”

THE SEA INSIDE Javier Bardem plays Spanish quadriplegic poet Ramón Sampedro, who politicked for his own assisted suicide in the ’90s.

Reality Check In one important emotional scene in the movie, a frustrated Sampedro weeps in front of his family. Never happened. What did happen — and what’s not in the movie — is the political turmoil that Sampedro generated with his suicide campaign in his predominantly Catholic country.

Why the Changes? ”Ramón’s family said he never would have broken down in front of them,” says coscreenwriter-director Alejandro Amenábar. ”But I convinced them that without the scene, Ramón’s character is like a rock — he doesn’t evolve.” Amenábar makes no apologies for going easy on the politics, either. ”I insisted on the human side of the debate,” he says. ”I think this is why the film hasn’t been attacked.” Not so far, anyway.

RAY Jamie Foxx as R&B legend Ray Charles.

Reality Check While writers Taylor Hackford and James L. White didn’t shy away from showing Charles’ unsavory habits — like heroin abuse and serial philandering — they did shy from an R rating. That meant no injected needles, heavy sex, or overly nasty language. Also missing: Charles’ first wife, Eileen, and 9 of his 12 kids.

Why the Changes? ”The financers of the film insisted on a PG-13 rating,” explains Hackford. ”It restricted me in terms of nudity and language. I thought I couldn’t do it, but Ray convinced me. He said, ‘I didn’t say motherf—er in 1956, and I didn’t say it in the early ’60s. It wasn’t what we did then.”’ As for the missing wife and kids: ”If I’d wanted to do all of Ray’s women, we’d have been there for years.”

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