The main problem for “Donnie Brasco,” as with every film released prior to the summer of 1997, is just being remembered. That said, this drama based on a true FBI sting operation with some rather pointed moral implications has excellent potential in several of the top six categories, including best picture. Whereas it may be difficult for it to snag a slot in the top five, perhaps its director Mike Newell would seem to be due for a directing mention, especially since his “Four Weddings and a Funeral” was nominated for the top prize, but he was overlooked for helming it.
Of all the categories, best actor would be the one in which the title would be most likely to materialize. Former Oscar winner and eight-time nominee Al Pacino received some of his best notices as the hapless aging hit man, probably his strongest since winning for “Scent of a Woman.” Pacino has been nominated for best actor in “…And Justice for All,” “The Godfather Part II,” “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Serpico.” As supporting actor he was in the running for “The Godfather,” “Dick Tracy” and “Glengarry Glen Ross.” That many nominations over a 25-year period always augur well for yet another mention, particularly backed up with such sterling reviews.
As the eponymous Mr. Brasco, Johnny Depp was also singled out for praise as undercover FBI agent Joe Pistone and has long been due for Academy mention, especially since the Hollywood Foreign Press has already rewarded him with three nominations for his work in “Edward Scissorhands,” “Ed Wood” and “Benny & Joon.”
Among the other acting categories, Anne Heche, it should be remembered, is not just someone’s girlfriend, but as Brasco’s long-suffering wife redeemed what could otherwise have been a two-dimensional role. But it would be hard to pick one of the several fine supporting actor performances from Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby and James Russo, which means they could cancel one another out.
Based on “Donnie Brasco, My Undercover Life in the Mafia,” the screenplay is by Paul Attanasio, who was among the missing when the nominations for “Quiz Show” were announced, even though the film copped a best picture nomination. He did, however, win the British Academy’s award for his work and the London Film Critics’ citation for both “Quiz Show” and “Disclosure.” Perhaps this time around the former film critic will get lucky.
As for Peter Sova’s cinematography, his fine work has so frequently been passed over (“Diner,” “Tin Men,” “Good Morning Vietnam,” etc.) that a nomination may again elude him. Patrick Doyle’s score may also be forgotten amidst the plethora of period tunes which populate the movie.
Classic Oscar credentials: 2 (Two top stars)
Cause celebre: 2 (Since “On the Waterfront,” Oscar likes urban snitches)
Vanity element: 0 (Least vain pic of the year)
The David vs. Goliath syndrome: 10 (Early year come from behind)
The feel-good movie of the year factor: 1 (Fuggedaboutit)
The unavoidable, inexorable buzz pic: 2 (Remembadapic)
Idiot savants have more fun: 0 (Even a “Fredo” is MIA)
Timing is everything: 0 (In Oscar terms, pre-summer is ancient history)
O.Q. TOTAL: 17