Think it’s too early to start talking about Oscar? Evidently, you’re new in town.Award consultants have been hired and studio execs are mulling campaigns as they size up the competition. Since the year hits the halfway point June 30, and because recent Academy Award races have seen a lot of heavyweights from the first six months, it’s not too early to evaluate 2002 so far. The January-June period has offered some serious contenders — particularly in the toon and foreign-lingo races. It’s possible we’ve already seen all three feature-animation nominees: 20th Century Fox’s “Ice Age,” Disney’s “Lilo & Stitch” and DreamWorks’ “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.” And while IFC’s “Y Tu Mama Tambien” and USA Films’ “Monsoon Wedding” are not eligible in the foreign-lingo category, both have potential in other races, particularly writing and direction. Beyond that, it’s hard to say. Every year, two or three films drive the Oscar race. Though the eligibility period is now half over, there are no films that are ready to assume that mantle. Some of the following films seem to be good possibilities for Oscar consideration; others seem less likely. But it’s worth remembering that a lot of people were skeptical of the chances of “Gladiator,” “Erin Brockovich” and “Moulin Rouge” — all of which were early-year bows — until the year-end crop fizzled. THIS YEAR, POSSIBLE CONTENDERS include Universal’s “About a Boy,” Warner Bros.’ “Insomnia” and Fox’s “Minority Report.” And the acting so far is strong: Diane Lane in Fox’s “Unfaithful”; Hugh Grant and Toni Collette, “About a Boy”; Al Pacino, “Insomnia”; Dennis Quaid, Disney’s “The Rookie”; and Ellen Burstyn in WB’s “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.” Among arthouse-niche entries, the work from writer-director Todd Solondz on Fine Line’s “Storytelling” was notable, and IFC’s “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” has a lot of fans. However, many believe the race for the 75th Academy Awards won’t get into high gear until July 12, when DreamWorks’ “Road to Perdition” bows. That pic is earning Oscar buzz in a number of races, and past summers certainly have offered some Oscar biggies, including DreamWorks’ own “Saving Private Ryan” and Disney’s “The Sixth Sense.” Last month, the Cannes Film Festival helped start buzz for pics that will open later in the year: New Line’s “About Schmidt,” Revolution’s Paul Thomas Anderson pic “Punch-Drunk Love” (distribbed by Sony), Universal Focus’ Roman Polanski film “The Pianist,” UA’s Mike Leigh “All or Nothing” and foreign-language offerings from Sony Pictures Classics: Russia’s “Cuckoo,” Italy’s “Respiro” and Finland’s “The Man Without a Past.” Cannes further whetted people’s appetites for Martin Scorsese’s long-in-the-works “Gangs of New York” from Miramax. OF COURSE, THIS SEASON always brings titles that have strong potential in the tech categories: Sony’s “Spider-Man,” Fox’s “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones” and “Minority Report,” MGM’s “Windtalkers” and Universal’s “The Scorpion King.” As usual, the fourth quarter will see the launch of a lot of kudos hopefuls. In addition to those mentioned, they include Disney’s “Moonlight Mile,” “Veronica Guerin” and Spike Lee’s “25th Hour”; DreamWorks’ “Catch Me If You Can” (Steven Spielberg); Fox’s Steven Soderbergh-helmed “Solaris”; Fox Searchlight’s Denzel Washington-directed “Antwone Fisher” and untitled Jim Sheridan project; Lions Gate’s “Confidence”; Miramax’s “Chicago” and “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”; “The Hours,” from Paramount and Miramax; MGM’s “A Few Good Years” (starring the Kirk Douglas clan); Sony’s “Adaptation” (Meryl Streep, Spike Jonze) and Sony Classics’ Almodovar pic “Talk to Her”; U’s “Red Dragon,” “Emperor’s Club” and Curtis Hanson-helmed “8 Mile”; UA’s “Nicholas Nickleby”; and Warner Bros.’ “White Oleander” and “Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets.” And can “Two Towers,” the second installment of New Line’s “The Lord of the Rings,” duplicate the ring-a-ding-ding Oscar attention of the first? While all of those sound like shoo-ins, every studio knows a film can look great on paper but not so good on the bigscreen. And Oscar forecasts are always thrown off by last-minute scheduling shifts (“Gangs,” “Perdition,” “The Hours” and “Adaptation” all were tentatively skedded for December 2001, while “Black Hawk Down” was a late addition). OF COURSE, THERE’S ALWAYS a downside to all this speculation. Many studio reps were horrified at the thought of next year’s awards season (“Didn’t we just have the Oscars?,” moaned one). And a studio marketing rep complained that advance Oscar buzz puts unfair expectations on a pic: “People should see a film and enjoy it without thinking of awards.” They’re right. But in Hollywood, thinking of a film without thinking of awards is like ignoring the question of box office. It’s not likely to happen.
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