By EW Staff
Updated January 07, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST
Finding Neverland: Clive Coote

Best Picture 2005: Oscar’s likely contenders

In the last eight years, Best Picture races have had one thing in common: a front-runner. In most cases, that film ended up winning the prize (The Return of the King, Titanic, The English Patient), and in one memorable year, it didn’t (Saving Private Ryan). But this go-round, there’s no one entry with genuine movie-to-beat buzz. Which is precisely what makes this category exciting.

The field is wide open, but three potential nominees feel like sure things. The Aviator is the kind of sprawling epic the Academy often favors, buoyed by its beloved director, Martin Scorsese, and impressive cast, led by likely acting nominees Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett. On the other end of the spectrum is Sideways, an intimate character piece with no big-name stars that’s dominated the critics’ awards, winning nine prizes so far. The latecomer to the party is Million Dollar Baby, the boxing tale that pairs previous winners Clint Eastwood and Hilary Swank to dramatic effect. Though audiences are still beginning to discover the film, which packs a surprising emotional punch, Academy members have been talking about it for weeks.

Should 2005, in fact, turn out to be the year Miramax gets divorced from the Weinsteins, Harvey is on track to have quite the last hurrah: His company’s cry-o-pic Finding Neverland could very well join The Aviator (a co-production with Warner Bros. and Initial Entertainment Group) in this category. Predicting the final nominee, however, is a bit tougher. The politically charged Hotel Rwanda is gaining steam since its late-December release, but it may have a better shot in the Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay races. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Collateral both have strong critical support and potential acting nominees, but they’ve been out of theaters for months. The adult dramas Closer and Kinsey both feature fine acting, writing, and directing, but they are in danger of turning off as many people as they turn on. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera has impressed musical fans — if not movie critics — with its sumptuous design, which means it’ll be a shoo-in…for a Best Art Direction nod. Pixar’s lauded smash The Incredibles will try to avoid being ghettoized in the Best Animated Film category, while Michael Moore didn’t even submit Fahrenheit 9/11 in the documentary race, a move that could leave him completely empty-handed. A rash of prestige foreign-language entries — The Motorcycle Diaries, House of Flying Daggers, and A Very Long Engagement — may split the art-house vote, while Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ has been virtually shunned by the entire awards community so far. So what’s left? In a word, Ray — a big-studio release, powered by a phenomenal lead performance and filled with social significance, that may end up carrying the torch for 2004’s many strong biopics.

A Very Long Engagement

  • Movie
  • Jean-Pierre Jeunet