And the nominees are ...
Hollywood is betting three films and one actor will dominate when the movie industry rises at dawn Tuesday to discover the players nominated to take the field in the 2005 battle for the Oscars.
In an annual ritual that has the media hordes descending bleary-eyed on the headquarters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the names of the nominees are read out for television cameras at 5:30 a.m. PT so the news can catch commuters on the way out the door on the East Coast, where it is three hours later.
Jamie Foxx’s electric performance as soul singer Ray Charles in “Ray” and films about an ambitious female boxer, two losers looking for love in California wine country and a billionaire aviation visionary with a passion for movie stars and washing his hands all loom large in Oscar nominations.
The guessing around town is that the Martin Scorsese epic biography about Howard Hughes, “The Aviator,” Clint Eastwood’s dark and tear-stained boxing drama “Million Dollar Baby” and Alexander Payne’s heartbreaking comedy “Sideways” will lead the pack in nominations, with each expected to win six or more nominations in the major categories.
On Saturday night, the Producers Guild of America named “The Aviator” its best picture of the year. In 11 of the past 15 years, Producers Guild of America members have honored films that went on to win the best-picture Oscar — including last year with “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”
Foxx may pull off an Oscar acting double if he gets nominated for best supporting actor for his role as Tom Cruise’s taxi-driving captive in “Collateral” as well as for best actor in “Ray.” Actors have been nominated in both categories before, but it is rare.
Some film experts dismissed 2004 as a poor year for films in general but an outstanding one for male actors.
Right now, the town is in love with Foxx. His heartfelt acceptance of a Golden Globe award for acting last Sunday had people cheering and giving him a standing ovation.
In an unusual tribute, Chris Rock, the comedian who will host the Oscars on Feb. 27, told a New York Times interviewer that if Foxx did not win, “I’m gonna talk about it on the show. ... Jamie Foxx is not going to walk out of that place without an Oscar.”
Competitive raceWhile critics hail his performance as Ray Charles as nothing short of a cinematic transformation, no actor is an island and Foxx will have plenty of competition for the best acting Oscar.
Among the possible contenders are Spanish actor Javier Bardem for his performance as a man paralyzed from the neck down in “The Sea Inside,” Don Cheadle as the hotel keeper out to save lives in an ethnic slaughter in “Hotel Rwanda,” Johnny Depp as Peter Pan’s creator in “Finding Neverland” and Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes in “The Aviator.”
Also seen as possible nominees are Paul Giamatti as the wine-loving teacher in “Sideways,” Clint Eastwood as the trainer in “Million Dollar Baby” and Liam Neeson as the pioneer sex expert Alfred Kinsey in “Kinsey.”
The best picture and best director categories might end in a classic “High Noon” showdown between two of the town’s major filmmakers, Eastwood, who directed “Million Dollar Baby” and at age 74 seems to be getting better with each film, and Martin Scorsese, creator of “Raging Bull,” “Taxi Driver” and “Mean Streets.”
While his works may be studied in film schools, Scorsese has never won a best director’s Oscar or a best picture one.
The other films vying to be nominated for the best-picture Oscar are the year’s most controversial political movie “Fahrenheit 9/11,” drama “Finding Neverland,” “Hotel Rwanda,” ”Sideways,” “Ray,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and ”Kinsey.”
In the best actress category, it might again shape up as a battle between Annette Bening, for her performance as the actress with an ego and heart as big as Buckingham Palace in “Being Julia,” and Hilary Swank, who plays the gritty boxer dangerously searching to “be someone” in “Million Dollar Baby.”
The two faced off in the 2000 Oscars when Swank, in an upset, won for her portrayal of a woman living as a man in “Boys Don’t Cry.”
Other possible best actress nominees are British actress Imelda Staunton,” as the kindly abortionist in “Vera Drake; Kate Winslet, as the disappearing love interest in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” Catalina Sandino Moreno, as the drug mule in “Maria, Full of Grace” and Emmy Rossum as the love interest in “The Phantom of the Opera.”