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Buzz? More like a murmur
Film industry begins talking Oscars
HOLLYWOOD, California, (CNN) -- By this time of year, while most of the country is thinking about turkey and pumpkin pie, some people are talking about the Academy Awards, and who will take home the Oscars next year.
But so far, this year is lacking films that have generated overwhelming Oscar buzz among critics and Hollywood insiders.
There's no "American Beauty" on the table yet. The next "Braveheart" has yet to appear. There's not even a successor to "Shakespeare in Love."
"It (the Oscar buzz) is so spare that people are going back to movies earlier in the year," says Anne Thompson, the West Coast editor of Premiere Magazine. "They're saying that 'Gladiator' and 'Erin Brockovich' are looking like very strong players in the Oscar race."
"Gladiator" is led by Russell Crowe and supported by Joaquin Phoenix. DreamWorks SKG, the studio that won last year with "American Beauty," will push hard for its sword-and-sandal saga.
Over at Universal Pictures, studio executives are making as much noise at they can for "Erin Brockovich." The story of a saucy whistleblower, the film stars the equally saucy Julia Roberts.
"We're going to be crowing at the top of our lungs for people to pay attention," says Kevin Misher, production president at Universal Studios. "I mean, it's got Julia Roberts, and people should pay attention."
Women other than Roberts are getting noticed, too:
Frances McDormand as the strong-willed mom in the ode to '70s rock 'n' roll, "Almost Famous."
Juliette Binoche as the tempting chocolate shop owner in "Chocolat."
Joan Allen as a senator accused of sexual impropriety in "The Contender."
Laura Linney as a compassionate sister in "You Can Count on Me."
Ellen Burstyn as a mom addicted to diet pills in "Requiem for a Dream."
Officials at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science should start polishing the statuette for Burstyn, said Jared Leto, her "Requiem" co-star.
"She's so heartbreaking in this movie," Leto said. "I don't think they make enough awards to give her."
Not to be out-buzzed, Paramount is campaigning for "Wonder Boys," released earlier this year. The film stars Michael Douglas as an ultimately likeable college professor who sleeps with the chancellor, struggles with writer's block and smokes a little illegal weed.
"We feel his pain and yet he consistently makes us laugh," says the film's director, Curtis Hanson. "You can imagine how exciting it is to have so many people consistently say that this is the best work he's (Douglas) ever done."
Off screen, Douglas just married Welsh siren Catherine Zeta-Jones; rejoiced at the arrival of their newborn son, Dylan; and has watched as "Wonder Boys" has picked up momentum. "Traffic," his next film, in which Douglas plays America's new anti-drug czar, also is generating Oscar talk.
Critics believe the paucity of sure Oscar bets is opening possibilities for all sorts of films and stars. Denzel Washington as a fiery and unifying high school football coach in "Remember the Titans" is getting some mentions. Blue-collar dancer "Billy Elliot" is in step with some scribes, while "Croupier" a stylish tale of a casino dealer/writer in London, is the bet from several insiders.
Jim Carrey? Certainly, he's a fan favorite, and well-liked in Hollywood circles because he prints so much money at the box office, but here's a not-so-gentle reminder: Oscar has a thing against comedy and comedians. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" is popular, but expect star Carrey to undergo his annual operation -- Oscar bypass surgery.
Carrey was cut out of the race for both "Man on the Moon" (1999) as Andy Kaufman and "The Truman Show" (1998) as the unwitting subject of constant TV surveillance. He may be out of the running again as the star of the Dr. Seuss classic.
Countless Oscar hopefuls will hit movie theaters in the next five weeks, which may best explain why the Academy Award buzz has been barely above the hum of a brand-new refrigerator. Still, some servings are generating some mention:
The Coen brothers' "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" a chain-gang comedy with George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson.
"Proof of Life," a hostage thriller starring Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan made during their off-screen drama.
"Quills" with Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis de Sade.
"Finding Forrester" with Sean Connery as a wise mentor.
"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," a martial-arts epic directed by Ang Lee.
"Cast Away," starring Tom Hanks as a shipwrecked loner who's almost always on the screen.
Don't forget, Hanks has been nominated four times. In "Cast Away," Hanks is directed by Robert Zemeckis, his partner in "Forrest Gump" (1994), a role for which Hanks won the Oscar.
Perhaps the upcoming "All the Pretty Horses" with Matt Damon has the most impeccable pedigree; it's sired from the award-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy. What's more, the epic tale, winding from Texas into Mexico, required a spare, dusty, raw directing touch. Billy Bob Thornton, as rough around the edges as they come, stepped in to take the reins.
But there is more to come than just pretty horses, a castaway, the winsome Julia Roberts and the rugged Russell Crowe to consider; other Oscar contenders will emerge in the coming weeks.
Tinseltown movers, shakers and actors, please don't feel compelled to page your publicist at the spa if you feel slighted by no mention in this space: There's still plenty of time left by year's end to get people talking about your movie.
On Tuesday, February 13, the Academy will end speculation and gossip at the Academy Awards Nomination announcement by naming names.
'Wonder Boys' gets a second chance
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