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Oscar buzz begins on festival circuit

With nearly six months until Hollywood’s biggest party, everyone already is thinking about the Academy Awards. Not many will admit that the thought of winning an Oscar crosses their mind, though.
/ Source: The Associated Press

With nearly six months until Hollywood’s biggest party, everyone already is thinking about the Academy Awards. Not many will admit that the thought of winning an Oscar crosses their mind, though.

“Pass,” Oscar winner Cate Blanchett said with a laugh, declining to discuss the awards prospects for “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” the follow-up to 1998’s “Elizabeth” that earned the actress her first nomination.

Surely people who haven’t won an Oscar must fret over their chances?

“No,” said Brad Pitt, a nominee for “Twelve Monkeys” who delivers a potent performance as the legendary Old West outlaw in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. “And I don’t read the tabloids, either.”

Both Blanchett and Pitt’s movies are playing the Toronto International Film Festival, which (with its Telluride and Venice counterparts) marks the unofficial start of awards season by showcasing prestige productions looking to catch some early Oscar buzz.

Whether any festival entries will maintain awards momentum through nominations day on Jan. 22 and the 80th Oscars ceremony on Feb. 24 remains to be seen. The idea for studios and publicists is simply to trot out the films, get the stars and filmmakers to mug for photographers at red-carpet premieres and hope the critics say nice things such as “Oscar-worthy performance” or “serious best-picture contender.”

Other Toronto films that will get the once-over by awards watchers include “Michael Clayton,” with Oscar winner George Clooney in a sober legal drama; director Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild,” the real-life tale of a fiercely independent young man (Emile Hirsch) who came to a tragic end in Alaska; “The Brave One,” with two-time Oscar winner Jodie Foster delivering a chilling performance as a woman who turns vigilante after a violent ordeal; “Sleuth,” an update of the 1972 romp that earned Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine best-actor nominations, the new version starring two-time Oscar winner Caine in the Olivier role and Jude Law in Caine’s part; and “In the Valley of Elah,” a murder mystery set among returning Iraq war veterans that stars Oscar winners Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron and Susan Sarandon.

Everyone thinks about OscarsActors brush aside Oscar questions, not wanting to appear covetous of that little golden statue. Clooney, a supporting-actor winner for “Syriana,” said they all think about the Oscars, though.

“Every actor in the world would be lying if they denied that somehow in their head they had always wanted to win an Oscar,” Clooney said. “The funny thing is, once you’ve won one, you actually have beaten your expectation of what you thought you’d achieve. I’ve got a statue sitting at home somewhere in a room. ...

“Now I just keep doing things I want to do and if they work out and people want to be nice at the end of the year, that’s great. But any kind of pressure to chase something has long, long left me, which is nice.”

Oscar candidates have emerged from films released early this year, notably best-actress winner Julie Christie, who delivers a powerhouse performance in “Away From Her,” which arrives on DVD Tuesday. So far, no slam-dunks have materialized such as last year’s top acting winners, Helen Mirren for “The Queen” and Forest Whitaker for “The Last King of Scotland.”

At this point, many potential Oscar contenders remain under wraps, so it’s impossible to assess likely front-runners. December releases on the awards radar include “Charlie Wilson’s War,” a foreign-policy drama starring Oscar recipients Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman from best-director winner Mike Nichols, and Tim Burton’s musical “Sweeney Todd,” with past nominees Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.

Other upcoming films with awards possibilities, at least on paper, include Robert Redford’s war on terrorism saga “Lions for Lambs,” with Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep; Ridley Scott’s crime tale “American Gangster,” starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe; Francis Ford Coppola’s first film in 10 years, “Youth Without Youth,” a thriller set just before World War II; the Gabriel Garcia Marquez adaptation “Love in the Time of Cholera,” with Javier Bardem, Fernanda Montenegro and Catalina Sandino Moreno; and the drama “Things We Lost in the Fire,” with Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro.

Bardem also gives a deliciously cold-blooded performance as an unstoppable killer on the trail of lost loot in the Coen brothers’ Toronto entry “No Country for Old Men.”

‘You just do the best you can’Because of the pedigree of the talent involved, many films land on awards lists sight-unseen, only to drop out of the picture once they premiere.

“Often, before anyone even sees a movie, people put it in that category, and then when they see it, they end up disappointed,” said Foster, a best-actress winner for “The Accused” and “The Silence of the Lambs.” “I keep it out of my mind.”

“In the Valley of Elah” was written and directed by Paul Haggis, whose ensemble drama “Crash” premiered at the 2004 Toronto festival and went to win 2005’s best-picture Oscar.

Haggis has become a fixture at the Oscars, earning a directing nomination for “Crash” and three-straight writing nominations, for “Million Dollar Baby,” “Crash” and “Letters From Iwo Jima.” A nomination for “In the Valley of Elah” would make it four in a row.

“Or not,” Haggis said. “There’s a lot of great films this year, and you just do the best you can and hope the film itself first of all isn’t going to be embarrassing. I just want people to come to the film and be able to sit through it and think that they got their 10 dollars worth out of it. At this point, I can think no more than that.”

“In the Valley of Elah” star Jones — a supporting-actor winner for “The Fugitive” who also stars in “No Country for Old Men” — said he dreads awards season because of the demands his handlers try to place on him.

“If I did everything that’s requested of me in terms of public relations, I would not have a day off between now and the middle of November,” Jones said. “If I did everything they’re asking me to do, it would wreck my health and my marriage.”