Columbia’s December release “Finding Forrester,” is the kind of kinder, gentler picture that usually pops up in December to warm the hearts of Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voters. The fact that the film stars three Oscar winners — Sean Connery, F. Murray Abraham and Anna Paquin have each won a statuette for supporting actor or actress — and is directed by former Oscar nominee Gus Van Sant — should increase the chances of the pic being a strong contender.

Leading off the all-star hopes is the legendary Connery, who produced and stars as a reclusive novelist who helps a brilliant young writer develop his talent. While best known for action films, Connery has always been popular with H’wood voters, and he has the Oscar for his supporting role in “The Untouchables” (1987) to prove it. His performance as the codgery William Forrester, who finds friendship again late in life, is strong enough to make him a top candidate for an actor nom.

Actor:
Sean Connery
Supporting actor:
F. Murray Abraham, Rob Brown
Original screenplay:
Mike Rich

Rob Brown makes an impressive debut as Jamal, a basketball-loving teen writer from the Bronx who befriends the legendary Forrester. Brown gives intelligence and quiet believability to the sort of underdog role that Academy voters love. That this is his debut role also makes him a potential Academy favorite, as it did for co-star Paquin, who won at age 11 for “The Piano” (1993).

Screenwriter Mike Rich who wrote the script while working at an Oregon radio station, already has Academy credentials. “Forrester” won him the Don and Gee Nicholl Fellowship in 1998, a program run by the very Academy that may reward him again with an Oscar nom.

The academic underdog story is familiar territory to director Van Sant, who was nominated for the similarly themed “Good Will Hunting” in 1998. While Van Sant didn’t take home the statue that year, the film did net an Oscar for supporting actor Robin Williams, whose role is similar to but smaller than Connery’s; a best actor nom for Matt Damon; and an original screenplay Oscar for Damon and Ben Affleck.

Of the supporting roles, Abraham gives the strongest performance as a professor who doubts his student’s academic honesty. He plays a poignant villain, as he did when the Academy gave him the best actor statue for 1984’s “Amadeus,” bringing dignity to an essential role that easily could have been overplayed.

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