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December 19, 2002 2:00 AM
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Oscar Light Maybe Be at the End of the Tunnel for Handful of Specialty Releases

Oscar Light Maybe Be at the End of the Tunnel for Handful of Specialty Releases

by Eugene Hernandez


Dennis Quaid and Julianne Moore in Todd Haynes' "Far From Heaven"

Photo © 2002 Focus Features


If early signs are any indication, the upcoming Oscar race will be quite a
battle. And this fight will certainly feature a number of acclaimed films
from the specialty divisions of the Hollywood studios. "Far From Heaven,"
"Roger Dodger," "Gangs of New York," and "Talk to Her" are among the
Indiewood and specialty films that are receiving major attention alongside
such artful studio fare as "About Schmidt" and "Adaptation." The race will
tighten a bit today when the Golden Globe nominations are announced.

One president of a studio specialty division called indieWIRE to
aggressively advocate that we cover one of his contenders more
substantially, saying flatly this week, "I think you should be
following this Oscar race a bit more closely." Similarly, over the last
few weeks, a number of publicists have contacted indieWIRE to encourage
coverage of films or actors that they hope will receive end of the year
acclaim. Finally, specialty divisions have invited indieWIRE editors to
numerous advance screenings of anticipated holiday releases. Oscar
season is certainly underway. A full page, heavier stock advertisement
for a would-be nominee is prominently featured every day on the cover
of Variety, while numerous contenders have hit the road to participate
in this year's campaign technique of choice, the Q&A session.

While many in the indie community seem to feel that there is too much
focus on end of the year honors and Oscar campaigns, the distribution
companies are taking this very seriously and are clearly feeling very
competitive. No doubt last year's awards-season success of Lions Gate's
"Monster's Ball" is one success story worth considering. The film
earned nearly $10 million after Halle Berry won the Oscar for best
actress. In fact, it made more than $25 million once the spotlight
intensified following the Oscar nominations. Obviously numerous other
specialty distributors have found a box-office upside tied to Oscar
contenders. Witness Miramax's success with "In the Bedroom" last year
or Sony Pictures Classics' previous achievement with the phenomenal
performance of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Numerous other examples
exist over the past decade.

This year, key awards from critics' groups underscore the films competing
for Oscar attention. Focus Features is in the pole position with Todd
Haynes' "Far From Heaven."
Since winning an acting award in Venice in
September, Julianne Moore has picked up other prizes, receiving the Gotham
Award
and critics acclaim. The film dominated the New York Film Critics
Circle
awards this week and is a clear front runner in all major
categories.

Pedro Almodovar's "Talk to Her" from Sony Pictures Classics was a big
winner at the European Film Awards this month, with Almodovar a viable
best director nominee (the film is not eligible for the best foreign
language film Oscar since it was not chosen to represent Spain this
year). Campbell Scott has emerged as a potential acting nominee this
month, with critical acclaim and Artisan's "Roger Dodger" being named
the best first film by the New York Critics (and Campbell Scott garnering
attention in the male lead category from the Independent Spirit Awards).
Miramax is backing Daniel Day-Lewis as a best actor candidate for "Gangs of
New York," while Michael Caine is also a contender for "The Quiet American,"
and Salma Hayek is on the radar for "Frida." Fox Searchlight has Denzel
Washington
and newcomer Derek Luke in "Antwone Fisher," Jennifer Aniston in
"The Good Girl," and Robin Williams in "One Hour Photo." Other performances
to keep an eye on are as underdog contenders are Samantha Morton for
Cowboy's upcoming "Morvern Callar" and Nia Vardalos in the runaway hit, "My
Big Fat Greek Wedding"
from IFC Films, or perhaps Catherine Keener in Lions
Gate's "Lovely & Amazing"
(that film is the leader in Independent Spirit
Award nominations) or Maggie Gyllenhaal in "Secretary." A documentary to
keep an eye on is Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine" from United
Artists.
The controversial hit has generated a lot of attention since
its debut at Cannes. The awareness has resulted in a large box-office
haul and could place it on a nominations list.

This morning's Golden Globe nominations in Los Angeles set the stage
for the holiday season moviegoing season and clears the way for the
road to the Oscar nominations on February 11. [Eugene Hernandez]

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