People always say the Academy Awards are all about politics. Well, this year that’ll be particularly true, since so many of the season’s top Oscar contenders have a strong political bent. Here’s who will likely be pressing the flesh between now and the big night on March 5.
Several films at the top of Oscar watchers’ lists aren’t even completed yet: Munich, Steven Spielberg’s examination of the aftermath of the 1972 Olympics massacre, only finished shooting in September, while the ensemble drama Syriana, a tough look at the oil business, just wrapped in the edit suite. Although festival prizewinners Brokeback Mountain and Good Night, and Good Luck take place decades ago, their themes resonate especially strongly in today’s political climate, and the charged dramas Jarhead and The Constant Gardener are also sure to have voters talking…and disagreeing. Two visually oriented directors whose last films made the shortlist will try to accomplish that feat again: Rob Marshall (Chicago) brings the popular novel Memoirs of a Geisha to the screen, while Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line) tackles the tale of Pocahontas in The New World. Meanwhile, festival darlings Walk the Line, Capote, A History of Violence, and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada will try to ride their solid buzz through the winter. Rent and The Producers aim to become the first musical to land in this category since Chicago, while lighter fare like Pride & Prejudice and Mrs. Henderson Presents may appeal to voters looking for a break from all the seriousness. Woody Allen’s Match Point is said to be his return to form, while fantasies like King Kong and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe will hope to follow The Lord of the Rings’ lead. And campaigners for the summer entries Crash and Cinderella Man will work overtime to remind voters that the films were in fact released in 2005.
They split the big prizes at this year’s Venice Film Festival. Now filmmakers Ang Lee (nominated once before for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and George Clooney (who’s never even attended the Oscars) could stand side by side as Best Director nominees thanks to their work in the acclaimed Brokeback Mountain and Good Night, and Good Luck, respectively. Awards-show mainstays like Munich’s Steven Spielberg (five directing nominations, two wins) and Match Point’s Woody Allen (six nominations, one win) will try for a return engagement, as will more recent winners like Jarhead’s Sam Mendes, Cinderella Man’s Ron Howard, and King Kong’s Peter Jackson. A trio of directors who have scored one nomination but didn’t win — The New World’s Terrence Malick, Memoirs of a Geisha’s Rob Marshall, and The Constant Gardener’s Fernando Meirelles — could make the list again. Many of the contenders — Walk the Line’s James Mangold, Capote’s Bennett Miller, The Producers’ Susan Stroman, and A History of Violence’s David Cronenberg — are shooting for the first nomination of their careers. Then there are the guys who’ve had Academy recognition in other categories but not as directors: Tommy Lee Jones, a past Supporting Actor winner for The Fugitive, won raves at Cannes for shepherding The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada; Stephan Gaghan, who picked up a screenplay trophy for Traffic, wrote and directed Syriana; and Million Dollar Baby screenplay nominee Paul Haggis pulled similar double duty on Crash.