Released: June 3

U.S distrib: Universal

Oscar alumni: Brian Grazer (producer, “A Beautiful Mind”); Ron Howard (producer, director, “A Beautiful Mind”); Akiva Goldsman (adapted screenplay, “A Beautiful Mind”), Russell Crowe (actor, “Gladiator”); Renee Zellweger (supporting actress, “Cold Mountain”); Daniel Hanley (editor, “Apollo 13″); Mike Hill (editor, “Apollo 13″)

They call boxing the sweet science, but the very same phrase could be used for overseeing a successful Oscar campaign.

As far back as Wallace Beery’s 1931 actor win for “The Champ” (three noms, one win) through Brando’s 1954 knockout for the ages in “On the Waterfront” (12 noms, eight wins), with stops at “Raging Bull” (eight noms, two wins) and “Rocky” (10 noms, three wins) to last year’s “Million Dollar Baby” (seven noms, four wins), Oscar seems to like being in the ring.

The riches-to-rags-to-riches biopic chronicles James J. Braddock, a Depression-era fighter with a heart of gold and a will of steel. Braddock, played with quiet elegance by Oscar winner Russell Crowe, seems as close to a sure thing as anything else this season. Variety’s Robert Koehler called it “an exquisite ode to a working-class hero.”

Crowe is only one-fourth of the reunited Ron Howard, Brian Glazer, Akiva Goldsman (with co-writer Cliff Hollingsworth) quartet that brought home eight noms and four statuettes for 2001’s “A Beautiful Mind.”

Renee Zellweger took home the 2003 supporting trophy for “Cold Mountain,” and her turn as Braddock’s loyal wife, Mae, might have a shot at getting noticed. Paul Giamatti, who plays Braddock’s confidant and corner man, Joe Gould, was overlooked for both “Sideways” and “American Splendor.” He might fare better in a film that he doesn’t have to carry on his shoulders.

The Depression era is tailor made for Hollywood, and lenser Salvatore Totino and production designer Wynn Thomas deliver a richly hued re-creation of those lean, mean times.

If there are any drawbacks, it would be the film’s summer release date and perhaps a sense of deja vu too soon after last year’s “Million Dollar” success and the Acad’s desire not to laud ring-based pics two years in a row.

Then again, in Oscar as in boxing, anything can happen.

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