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Pundits begin Oscar countdown

The year is half over, but in terms of awards, the fun is just beginning. Only a few serious award contenders have so far emerged, such as “Cinderella Man” and “Crash”; the bulk of hopefuls arrive, as usual, in the second half of the year. Making the current kudos race more interesting are two major quirks: the slight shift in Oscar scheduling and, more significant, a reshuffled deck of players. Miramax has always been a major force in awards campaigns, and this year, there will be the revised Miramax as well as the Weinsteins’ as-yet-unnamed company. And as old stalwart Fine Line steps back, Picturehouse – the new HBO-New Line venture – moves into the spotlight, under the stewardship of Bob Berney, an Oscar vet who propelled “Monster” and “Whale Rider,” among others, into kudos land. As for timing, the 78th annual Academy Awards will be held March 5 – a week later than usual. It’s impossible to calculate whether timing affects the outcome, but awards campaigns have a certain rhythm – campaigners need to carefully time screenings to give voters enough time to see the film, but try to make sure that enthusiasm doesn’t peak too early. This year will be interesting because any change in that rhythm can alter things. Then there’s the Steven Spielberg factor. Like his double whammy in 1993 with “Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List,” this year’s two-fer of “War of the Worlds” and the as-yet-untitled Munich Olympics project – set to open in December for DreamWorks-Universal – could both get major consideration in all categories.

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