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Holiday Sneaks

Chamber of questions

Can the Oscar wannabes compete with the high-profile franchise films? Read on.

November 03, 2002|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

The holiday season is upon us, and in Hollywood that means the rush is on to roll out the year's final slate of potential blockbusters, Oscar hopefuls, family comedies, sci-fi thrillers and a flurry of independent dramas. With that in mind, here are the big questions looming over the season:

Will the holiday season supply an Oscar front-runner for best picture?

This year, the buzz is more about performances than films. That said, the holiday season in recent years has been the launching pad for Academy Award winners such as "A Beautiful Mind," "Titanic" and "The English Patient."

With no one film dominating the debate so far, holiday season arrivals will receive special attention. New films that bear watching for best picture: the lethal-ladies musical "Chicago"; Martin Scorsese's 19th century epic "Gangs of New York"; Steven Spielberg's retro chase saga "Catch Me if You Can"; the effects-driven fantasy sequel "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"; the stylized '50s drama "Far From Heaven"; Denzel Washington's directorial debut, "Antwone Fisher"; Roman Polanski's Holocaust drama "The Pianist"; and Stephen Daldry's cross-generational female drama "The Hours."

Comment: If Polanski won, would he show up for the Oscars?

Will moviegoers play therapist to the dysfunctional male characters whose boring lives or fragile grips on reality are a theme of many of the season's films?

In "About Schmidt," Jack Nicholson plays a buttoned-down widower whose calm demeanor masks a seething anger at his humdrum existence as he drives a Winnebago through America's heartland. In "Adaptation," Nicolas Cage plays a screenwriter who worries about getting fat, losing his hair and not getting a girl, while his dumb twin brother breezes through life and even sells his first screenplay without effort. In "Spider," Ralph Fiennes' character is an acute schizophrenic who is released from a mental hospital after many years. In "Analyze That," the sequel to the hit comedy "Analyze This," Robert De Niro returns as a Mafioso in need of therapy again from his stressed-out psychiatrist (Billy Crystal).

Comment: Can "Analyze Everybody" starring Dr. Phil be far behind?

Can "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" or the latest James Bond thriller "Die Another Day" out-gross "Spider-Man," which took in $114.9 million on its opening weekend?

"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" has all the earmarks of being a blockbuster to rival its predecessor, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," which debuted last year with $90.3 million, but box-office experts say most sequels have trouble outperforming their predecessors. Still, there are plenty of little witches and goblins who can be counted on to flood their local megaplexes on opening weekend.

As for "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" and "Die Another Day," look for huge openings, which one would expect from two popular franchises that last time out grossed $850 million and $352 million, respectively, worldwide.

Comment: These three films will eclipse "Spider-Man" provided Harry confronts Bond in a game of midair Quidditch somewhere over Middle Earth.

Will James Bond come to the rescue of MGM?

MGM fell on its face with a string of big-budget flops like "Bandits," "Rollerball," "Hart's War" and "Windtalkers" before the hit urban comedy "Barbershop" revived the studio's fortunes. Look for "Die Another Day," the 20th installment in the Bond saga, to be a blockbuster, if for no other reason than Oscar winner Halle Berry plays the newest Bond girl..

Comment: If Bond isn't a hit, look for a sequel to "Hannibal" in the executive suites of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Kirk Kerkorian will serve up brains for lunch.

Will "Gangs of New York" finally be ready for release Dec. 20?

If the film is half as gripping as what went on behind the scenes of Martin Scorsese's epic about gang warfare in mid-19th century Manhattan, then moviegoers could be in for a ride.

Many wonder what the matchup of the colorful, scrappy Scorsese and tempestuous Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein will create. Production costs soared above $100 million and the film arrived a year late. Even with bankable stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz and Daniel Day-Lewis, the film -- about 2 hours, 40 minutes -- needs to gross about twice its budget to break even.

Comment: Weinstein wants to see the Academy Awards stage part of next year's show in the Big Apple. Should that fail, perhaps he can stage a "Gangs of New York Awards" at Radio City Music Hall, handing gold-plated "Harveys."

Will Denzel Washington, who won the Oscar for best actor in "Training Day" earlier this year, make Academy Award history by winning best director for "Antwone Fisher"?

The true test for Washington will come if the Directors Guild of America nominates the actor for its DGA Award. The winner of that award almost always goes on to win the Oscar for best director.

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