Only two years ago, “Shakespeare in Love” and “Elizabeth” were competing for best picture. Well, if you buy the premise of the Academy favoring lush period pieces set in Europe — especially those that capture the essence of larger-than-life artists and writers such as Milos Forman’s “Amadeus” (1984), the Sydney Pollack-helmed “Out of Africa” (1985) and Vincente Minnelli’s van Gogh biopic “Lust for Life” (1956) — then “Quills” stands an excellent chance of capturing serious attention.

Fans of helmer Philip Kaufman will point out that the director was robbed at the 1984 Oscars, when “The Right Stuff” received nine nominations

Picture:
Producers Julia Chasman, Peter Kaufman, Nick Wechsler, Sandra Schulberg
Director:
Philip Kaufman
Actor:
Geoffrey Rush
Supporting actor:
Joaquin Phoenix
Supporting actress:
Kate Winslet
Adapted screenplay:
Doug Wright
Music:
Stephen Warbeck
Costume design:
Jacqueline West
Production design:
Martin Childs

but not one in the directing category. Kaufman was nominated, for adaptation, for “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” in 1989.

Doug Wright, who penned the “Quills” script, based on his own play, also has a good chance of getting noticed.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voters could find the film’s themes of artist’s responsibility and freedom of speech quite timely at a time when both major political parties have engaged in criticizing Hollywood content.

Australian thesp Geoffrey Rush has found that playing slightly off-kilter characters have turned him into an Academy favorite and his turn as the wildly eccentric Marquis de Sade in “Quills” could land him his third nomination.

Winning best actor for the 1996 pic “Shine” and receiving a supporting nom for “Shakespeare in Love,” Rush delivers a performance that voters could find enticing. Since he’s playing the outlandish marquis, he doesn’t really hold anything back in the picture.

But Rush plays second fiddle in the cast when it comes to Oscar wins. Michael Caine has two Acad trophies on his mantle: one for 1999’s “The Cider House Rules” and another for best supporting actor in Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters” (1986). He also has been nominated three previous times for actor for “Educating Rita,” “Sleuth” and “Alfie.”

Playing a villain in “Quills” is a distinct departure from his “Cider House” character and Caine’s presence as the marquis’s nemesis showcases the actor’s depth. And the fact that he’s always been a sentimental choice of actor’s themselves is worth noting, too.

Supporting actor Joaquin Phoenix’s toughest competitor may be himself. Oscar voters will have to rate his performance as a priest in “Quills” vs. his turn as the cruel Roman leader in “Gladiator.” Of course, he could be nominated for both, but that’s highly unlikely.

Kate Winslet, who gives a supporting role as the marquis’ secretive assistant in helping him to get his writings published, has twice been up for noms — supporting, “Sense and Sensibility,” and lead, “Titanic” — but has yet to give an acceptance speech.

In perfectly re-creating 19th century Paris, production designer Martin Childs may win his second Oscar. He won previously for “Shakespeare in Love.”

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