WALK THE LINE: A Best Actor nomination is a sure thing for Joaquin Phoenix, who plays - and sings - Johnny Cash.
By HANNAH BROWN
Now that Thanksgiving is over, the end-of-year movie season is officially on in the US. What that means is that the bulk of the movies that end up being nominated for Oscars will be opening in the next few weeks. Of course, early predictions are usually wrong. Last year, none of the movie magazines or Oscar Web sites predicted nominations for Million Dollar Baby, the female-boxer movie directed by Clint Eastwood that had all the appropriate kitsch elements to ensure it would be enshrined in the Oscar pantheon. This time last year, all eyes were focused on Martin Scorsese'sThe Aviator and the Ray Charles biopic, Ray. Keeping that in mind, here are a few early ideas for who will grab nominations this year.
Munich, Steven Spielberg's look at the Mossad operation to take out the terrorists who committed the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics, is likely to be one of the Best Picture nominees. Although Spielberg started shooting on July 1, he promises it will be ready for its scheduled December 23 opening. It stars Eric Bana and Daniel Craig (the new James Bond), but also features many Israeli actors in supporting roles, including Gila Almagor, Ayelet Zorer, Hiam Abbass, Sharon Alexander, Guy Amir and Mosco Alkalai.
Another probable nominee is Walk the Line, a biography of country singer Johnny Cash, directed by James Mangold. Joaquin Phoenix, who does his own singing in the role, is a lock for a Best Actor nomination, and it's likely that his costar, Reese Witherspoon, who plays June Carter Cash, will get her first Best Actress nomination. Remember, Oscar loves real people, especially tortured and then triumphant people like Cash, who struggled with drugs and did jail time before becoming one of America's favorite entertainers.
Brokeback Mountain, the film by Ang Lee about a decades-long love story between two gay cowboys, is the kind of faux-courageous story Oscar voters love. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as the two cowboys have won raves.
Rounding out the serious-issue front are Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck. Syriana is about the oil industry, and features the intertwined stories of a Pakistani oil-field worker in a Gulf country who turns to Islam and terror, a CIA operative, and an economist who works for a sheikh in an oil-rich nation. It's written and directed by Stephen Gaghan, who wrote the enormously successful Traffic, which explored the drug industry in the US and Mexico. It won't hurt Syriana that the CIA op is played by George Clooney and Matt Damon has the role of the economist. Clooney also has a small part in Good Night, but more important, he directed it and Oscar loves actors-turned-directors (such as Best Director Oscar winners Robert Redford, Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson, Warren Beatty and Clint Eastwood). Good Night is an earnest black-and-white tribute to broadcaster Edward Murrow, who took on red-baiting senator Joseph McCarthy. It's hard to imagine that this film won't find favor.
But if the Academy decides to go with a movie that is slightly less edifying, it may choose the remake of The Producers, starring the duo that was such a hit in the Broadway production, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick (who happens to be Sarah Jessica Parker's husband). The buzz for this movie is very strong, especially for Uma Thurman's performance in a supporting role.
Other movies with that special blend of the politically correct and the trendy so beloved by the Academy include Transamerica, which stars Felicity Huffman of Desperate Housewives fame as a transsexual who is reunited with a son she never knew she had. This being a movie, she takes off on a road trip with him. Charlize Theron, the svelte blond actress who transformed herself into a bloated, homeless, alcoholic, lesbian hooker and serial killer (try saying that three times fast) and won a Best Actress Oscar is back in another bid for serious attention as a coal miner who is sexually harassed by her colleagues in North Country - which, of course, is based on a true story.
Another true story, this one about a writer writing about a true story, is Capote, about how Truman Capote researched and wrote his bestseller, In Cold Blood. Philip Seymour Hoffman, who has received critical acclaim for his portrayal of the gay Southern author, surely has a Best Actor nomination in his future.
The most hyped movie of this holiday season is without a doubt the new King Kong, directed by Peter Jackson, the man who made the spectacularly successful Lord of the Rings series - but don't expect it to lead Oscar nominations, except in technical categories. At first, I couldn't imagine why anyone would bother with another Kong remake, especially after the lame Seventies version which is best remembered today as the screen debut of Jessica Lange. Since then, photos from the new Kong and the trailer have been released and it looks great. (You can see it on the movie's Web site, www.KongisKing.net, which also includes a production diary and lots of other features.) The new computer-generated image (CGI) technology allows for a much more realistic Kong than ever before. Jackson, who works well with actors as well as technology, has assembled an interesting cast - Naomi Watts, Jack Black and Adrien Brody - and has an interesting vision for the movie. He's gone back to the period of the original film, so that when Kong rampages, he invades a stylized Thirties New York City.
All of these movies should be in Israeli theaters by the beginning of January.