‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” kudo chances

After years of ignoring Clint Eastwood, the Academy has warmed up to the action icon this decade and bestowed him with Oscars for best picture and best director of 1992 for “Unforgiven,” acknowledged his producing career with the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1994 and provided nominations for “The Bridges of Madison County.” All of which bodes well for the Oscar-nomination possibilities of his atmospheric murder thriller “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”

“Midnight,” a multilayered community set piece adapted from a best-selling novel and set in Savannah, Ga., has the advantage of a late-year release, and the Eastwood pedigree, replete with the usual band of Clint-crew professionals, including cinematographer Jack N. Green, editor Joel Cox, production designer Henry Bumstead and composer Lennie Niehaus — all of whom have been nominated or won Oscars on other Clintpix. The picture’s focus on gay culture, Southern style, by the eternally macho Eastwood could earn PC points in some quarters of the Academy membership

Kevin Spacey plays a well-heeled socialite whose secret gay affair with his live-in brash street punk (Jude Law) becomes a scandal when he’s charged with shooting the kid in his own mansion.

Spacey, the supporting actor winner for “The Usual Suspects,” could get his first best-actor nod, either for this film or for “L.A. Confidential,” where his performance as a vain police detective is borderline supporting. Likewise, John Cusack, who stars as the investigative reporter in “Midnight,” earlier this year won critical kudos for his performance in “Grosse Point Blank.”

The double attention could produce a nom for either actor. Jack Thompson plays the good-ol’-boy district attorney while Irma P. Hall is an aging voodoo priestess and the gregarious The Lady Chablis, a Savannah transvestite, plays herself.

The boss’s daughter, Alison Eastwood, last seen as daddy’s girl in “Tightrope,” is all grown up now and makes an impression as Cusack’s love interest.

If the Academy warms to “Midnight,” one or two of these players could get nominated in the sweep. The score has an extra spin on it for Oscar attention: Savannah was famed composer/arranger Johnny Mercer’s hometown and Eastwood used Mercer House in Monterey Square for antique collector Spacey’s elegant home.

OSCAR QUOTIENT

Classic Oscar credentials: 1 (Oscar doesn’t like mysteries)

Cause celebre: 0

Vanity element: 5 (Mayor of Carmel)

The David vs. Goliath Syndrome: 1

The feel-good movie of the year factor: 0 (Already nicknamed “Midnight in the Garden of Dull and Boring”)

The unavoidable, inexorable buzz pic: 0

Idiot savants have more fun: 0

Timing is everything: 5

OQ total: 12

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