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Mystic River

Release date: Oct. 8
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Prior Oscar winners: Clint Eastwood (producer, director, “Unforgiven”), Marcia Gay Harden (“Pollock”), Brian Helgeland (co-scribe, “L.A. Confidential”), Henry Bumstead (art direction, “The Sting,” “To Kill a Mockingbird”); Joel Cox (editing, “Unforgiven”)

The film that generated the widest support at this year’s Cannes Film Fest, where many expected it to take the Palm d’Or over Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant,” “Mystic River” has generated some of the strongest reviews of Clint Eastwood’s directorial career. It also has caused many to re-evaluate the filmmaker’s work, in much the same way that 1992’s “Unforgiven” — which earned Eastwood Oscars as director and producer — did. Some reviewers have hailed the pic as Eastwood’s best yet.

“Mystic,” which involves the consequences of a childhood abduction involving one of three boyhood friends and how that event colors later acts of violence, was adapted by Oscar-winner Brian Helgeland from Dennis Lehane’s novel.

Sean Penn’s Jimmy, an ex-con whose daughter is murdered, setting the film’s inexorably tragic events in motion, was praised by N.Y. Times critic A.O. Scott as “not only one of the best performances of the year, but also one of the definitive pieces of screen acting in the last half century, the culmination of a realist tradition that began in the old Actors’ Studio and begat Brando, Dean, Pacino and De Niro.” Known as an actor’s actor, Penn has never won an Oscar but has been nominated three times. “Mystic” could constitute his fourth, and strongest, bid.

Eastwood, on the other hand, is a veritable cinematic icon, and has been decorated by arguably the two highest distinctions in the biz: the Acad’s Irving Thalberg Memorial Award and the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award. And with a newfound rep for cinematic artistry without sacrificing budget and time constraints, Eastwood is a fave among industryites who appreciate those who play by the rules.

Helgeland could capture his second adapted screenwriting nom, while the supporting players Marcia Gay Harden, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne and Tim Robbins — in perhaps his most demanding role — will surely benefit from a major Oscar push by Warner Bros.

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