Not since “Chinatown” (1974) has a film about the corrupt past of Los Angeles been turned out with the buzz of “L.A. Confidential.” Home-turf Oscar appreciation could be bestowed on the classic’s spiritual offspring, adapted by Brian Helgeland and director Curtis Hanson from James Ellroy’s best-selling novel of crime and punishment in ’50s-era Los Angeles.
While Roman Polanski’s neo-noir thriller netted a statuette for screenwriter Robert Towne and garnered nine other nominations, the total for “L.A. Confidential” could also reach big figures if it receives a best picture nom — a rule-of-thumb key to double-figures.
Hanson, who has noodled in the crime-action-noir genres for more than a decade – including edgy outings such as directing the Rob Lowe-starrer “Bad Influence” and performing scribe duties on the legendary Sam Fuller’s fine, but besieged anti-racism pic, “White Dog” – finally cooked up a mainstream film about violent cops and exotic racketeers.
Behind-the-camera figures who helped color and spruce the finished 1950s period canvas have become clear nominations candidates: first and foremost Hanson, who also produced with Arnon Milchan and Michael Nathanson, in both the directing and writing (sharing with Helgeland) categories as well as cinematographer Dante Spinotti, who’s done acclaimed work from Olmi’s “Legend of the Holy Drinker,” to Michael Mann’s “Last of the Mohicans” and Oscar-winning composer Jerry Goldsmith.
The Warner Bros. film could mark the third time that a Milchan-shepherded production gets a best picture nomination following Garry Marshall’s “Pretty Woman” and Oliver Stone’s “JFK.” The “L.A. Confidential” ensemble provided opportunities for Kim Basinger and Danny De Vito to excel in roles with new twists on their old specialties.
But the star-power that the film afforded the three leads — Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe as homicide detectives — could net any of the trio a nomination, most likely in the supporting category.
While Crowe lit into the opportunity to heave the furniture around as the volatile Bud White, Pearce anchored the film and Spacey showed resourcefulness as the department’s star-struck special adviser to a “Dragnet”-style TV drama.
Classic Oscar credentials: 6 (Big sweeping period canvas of pre-smog City of Angels)
Cause celebre: 0 (Corruption in L.A. is business as usual.)
Vanity element: 4 (Warners needs a hit, respect, something)
The David vs. Goliath syndrome: 8 (Early release, Aussie actors, noir pic)
The feel-good movie of the year factor: 3 (Spacey and De Vito added much-needed humor)
The unavoidable, inexorable buzz pic: 6 (Inside L.A.)
Idiot savants have more fun: 0
Timing is everything: 4 (Fall OK, but marketing now being questioned)
OQ total: 31