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IN CONTENTION TOM O'NEIL

World Of Worthy Films

December 19, 2007|TOM O'NEIL

CRITICS' reviews, box-office performance, industry screenings and early awards have helped whittle the list of Oscar best picture contenders. Though that means the top race is clearer, unpredictable turns are still ahead. The coming guild awards and Golden Globes will have a sizable effect on which five films emerge as nominees on Jan. 22.

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BEST PICTURE

FAVORITES

"American Gangster"

"Atonement"

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"

"Into the Wild"

"Juno"

"The Kite Runner"

"Michael Clayton"

"No Country for Old Men"

"Sweeney Todd"

"There Will Be Blood"

SPOTLIGHT: Oscar voters sometimes nominate foreign-language films such as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Il Postino" in the best picture race to prove how highbrow they can be. This year "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is a compelling choice for two reasons. It's a poignant, skillfully crafted tale of an almost totally paralyzed book editor that earned real-life artist Julian Schnabel the best director prize at Cannes and it has some key members of Steven Spielberg's team behind it (producer Kathleen Kennedy and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski).

POSSIBLE

"Charlie Wilson's War"

"The Great Debaters"

"Hairspray"

"3:10 to Yuma"

SPOTLIGHT: The last time a movie like "The Great Debaters" was nominated for best picture was 1989, with "Dead Poets Society." Some Oscar pundits wonder if Hollywood -- and the whole world, for that matter -- hasn't become too cynical in the 21st century to rally behind a movie with the same, gung-ho message for students: Hey, kids, learning is not only fun, it can change your life!

LONG SHOTS

"Before the Devil Knows You're Dead"

"Enchanted"

"Gone Baby Gone"

"Once"

"The Savages"

"Zodiac"

SPOTLIGHT: Big, feel-good musicals used to be nominated often, including many from Disney, including "Mary Poppins" and "Beauty and the Beast." "It's obvious, but inescapable: 'Enchanted' is as good as its name," cheered the Los Angeles Times review. Moviegoers and even cranky film critics have been spellbound so far. Oscar voters next?

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

FAVORITES

Austria, "The Counterfeiters"; Stefan Ruzowitzky, director

Brazil, "The Year My Parents Went on Vacation"; Cao Hamburger, director

Czech Republic, "I Served the King of England"; Jiri Menzel, director

Cuba, "The Silly Age"; Pavel Giroud, director

France, "Persepolis"; Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud, directors

Germany, "The Edge of Heaven"; Fatih Akin, director

Italy, "The Unknown"; Giuseppe Tornatore, director

Kazakhstan, "Mongol"; Sergei Bodrov, director

Korea, "Secret Sunshine"; Chang-dong Lee, director

Lebanon, "Caramel"; Nadine Labaki, director

Romania, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days"; Cristian Mungiu, director

Russia, "12"; Nikita Mikhalkov, director

Spain, "The Orphanage"; J.A. Bayona, director

SPOTLIGHT: "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" seems like the front-runner since this drama about illegal abortions in Communist Romania earned the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and the European Film Award for best picture, but is it Oscar-friendly? Academy cineastes may be turned off by its minimalist camera work and lack of a mood-guiding music score.

POSSIBLE

Australia, "The Home Song Stories"; Tony Ayres, director

Canada, "Days of Darkness"; Denys Arcand, director

Chile, "Padre Nuestro"; Rodrigo Sepulveda, director

China, "The Knot"; Yin Li, director

Denmark, "The Art of Crying"; Peter Schonau Fog, director

Finland, "A Man's Job"; Aleksi Salmenpera, director

Hong Kong, "Exiled"; Johnnie To, director

India, "Eklavya -- The Royal Guard"; Vidhu Vinod Chopra, director

Iran, "M for Mother"; Rasoul Mollagholipour, director

Ireland, "Kings"; Tom Collins, director

Israel, "Beaufort"; Joseph Cedar, director

Japan, "I Just Didn't Do It"; Masayuki Suo, director

Luxembourg, "Little Secrets"; Pol Cruchten, director

Mexico, "Silent Light"; Carlos Reygadas, director

The Netherlands, "Duska"; Jos Stelling, director

Norway, "Gone With the Woman"; Petter Naess, director

Poland, "Katyn"; Andrzej Wajda, director

Portugal, "Belle Toujours"; Manoel de Oliveira, director

Puerto Rico, "Love Sickness"; Carlitos Ruiz, Mariem Perez, directors

Serbia, "The Trap"; Srdan Golubovic, director

Singapore, "881"; Royston Tan, director

Sweden, "You, the Living"; Roy Andersson, director

Switzerland, "Late Bloomers"; Bettina Oberli, director

Taiwan, "Island Etude"; Chen Huai-En, director

Uruguay, "The Pope's Toilet"; Enrique Fernandez, Cesar Charlone, directors;

Vietnam, "The White Silk Dress"; Luu Huynh, director

SPOTLIGHT: It may seem odd that a film produced in a U.S. territory competes for best foreign-language film, but "Love Sickness" features Spanish dialogue and is, technically, set outside the 50 states. A Puerto Rican film was nominated once before: "What Happened to Santiago" lost to Italy's "Cinema Paradiso" in 1989.

LONG SHOTS

Argentina, "XXY"; Lucia Puenzo, director

Azerbaijan, "Caucasia"; Farid Gumbatov, director

Bangladesh, "On the Wings of Dreams"; Golam Rabbany Biplob, director

Belgium, "Ben X"; Nic Balthazar, director

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