Kudo hopefuls crowd calendar

Second half of year full of docs, biopics

A correction was made to this article on July 5.

The year is half over, so in theory, the Oscar slots should be half filled. But not surprisingly, the race is just starting.

It’s time to put aside thoughts of summer tentpoles and look forward to earnest topical movies, works from heavy-hitters like Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese and Steven Soderbergh and a slew of biopics (including the second annual Truman Capote film).

The first half always yields a few contenders — last year at this time, Variety said the strongest possibilities for some sort of Oscar consideration were “Cinderella Man” and “Crash” (a prediction that turned out to be an understatement).

The past six months have yielded a few wildcards. It’s hard to imagine another film this year as affecting as Universal-Working Title’s “United 93.” The first question: Can Acad voters ignore the emotions bouncing around inside them and fully appreciate the film’s directing, editing, cinematography, music, etc.? The bigger question: Will voters who may have resisted it on the bigscreen watch it on DVD? (The disc bows in September.)

DVD could also play a factor in the chances of films that were admired but underseen, such as “Akeelah and the Bee,” from Lionsgate (a company that proved with “Crash” that it knows how to run a savvy campaign).

Other first-half films offered some notable contributions, such as the work of Meryl Streep in Fox’s “The Devil Wears Prada” and the visual effects/tech work in “X-Men 3,” “Superman Returns” and, yes, even “Poseidon.”

And there have been hits on the festival circuit, such as Pedro Almodovar’s Cannes favorite “Volver,” which Sony Pictures Classics will release in November.

Such pics as Sony’s Sofia Coppola-directed “Marie Antoinette,” Paramount Vantage’s “Babel” and Fox Searchlight’s “Little Miss Sunshine” have also drummed up some interest at fests.

Also standing out so far this year are the documentaries — the category, considered a snooze-athon 10 years ago, has recently become one of Oscar’s most interesting races. Already opened are Lionsgate’s “Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man,” Miramax’s “The Heart of the Game,” Paramount Vantage’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” Sony Classics’ “Sketches of Frank Gehry” and “Who Killed the Electric Car?” and IFC Films-Weinstein Co.’s “Wordplay.”

The next six months offer another slew of docs that sound promising. But if great documentaries are spread throughout the year, why aren’t fiction films?

Which brings us to the next six months.

In addition to the already released “United 93,” hot-button pics this year will include Paramount’s Oliver Stone-helmed “World Trade Center” (bowing in August) and MGM’s Iraq-themed “Home of the Brave” (December).

As usual, the year-end sked is jam-packed with bios and based-on-fact pics. Warner Independent’s October release “Infamous,” about Capote, is getting good buzz; also upcoming are Fox Searchlight’s “The Last King of Scotland,” with Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin, and Focus’ “Hollywoodland,” the Allen Coulter-directed story about the death of “Superman” actor George Reeves. Both are set for September.

November has Miramax’s Clifford Irving bio “Hoax,” with Richard Gere, and Picturehouse’s “Fur,” with Nicole Kidman as Diane Arbus. December will see the MGM-distributed Weinstein Co. release of Beatrix Potter bio “Miss Potter” and Miramax’s Stephen Frears-helmed “The Queen,” with Helen Mirren as Britain’s monarch and legit thesp Michael Sheen as Tony Blair.

There could also be a “Good” race, with Fox’s “A Good Year,” Universal’s “The Good Shepherd” and Warner Bros.’ “The Good German.” The first reunites Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe after “Gladiator”; “Shepherd,” a look at the CIA, is Robert De Niro’s second turn at bigscreen directing; and “German” is the latest Steven Soderbergh-George Clooney collaboration.

Other potential contenders, month by month, for all categories:

July: Buena Vista’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.”

August: Universal’s “Idlewild,” a musical starring the Outkast duo.

September: Sony’s “All the King’s Men” and Universal’s Alfonso Cuaron film “Children of Men.”

October: Buena Vista’s Christopher Nolan period piece “The Prestige”; Focus’ Phillip Noyce film “Catch a Fire”; Lionsgate’s “Trade,” starring Kevin Kline; Iwo Jima-based “Flags of Our Fathers,” directed by Eastwood (from DreamWorks-WB); New Line’s “Little Children” (the first film from Todd Field after “In the Bedroom”); TriStar’s all-star “Running With Scissors,” toplining Annette Bening; WB’s Scorsese-helmed “The Departed” and Darren Aronofsky’s “The Fountain”; and two from the Weinstein Co., Anthony Minghella’s “Breaking and Entering” and the John Madden-helmed “Killshot.”

November: Fox Searchlight’s “The History Boys,” based on Alan Bennett’s Tony-winning play, and Mira Nair-directed “The Namesake”; Sony’s Marc Forster-helmed Will Ferrell vehicle “Stranger Than Fiction”; and the Robert Kennedy-themed “Bobby,” a Weinstein Co. film to be released by MGM.

December: Buena Vista’s Mel Gibson pic “Apocalypto”; Fox Searchlight’s “Notes on a Scandal,” with Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench; DreamWorks/Par’s “Dreamgirls”; Lionsgate’s “Pride,” with Terrence Howard and Bernie Mac; New Line’s “Nativity,” from Catherine Hardwicke; Picturehouse’s Guillermo del Toro pic “Pan’s Labyrinth”; Sony’s Nancy Meyers film “The Holiday” and the Will Smith starrer “Pursuit of Happyness”; WB’s Ed Zwick-Leonardo DiCaprio pic “Blood Diamond”; and Warner Independent’s Somerset Maugham adaptation “The Painted Veil.”

There also are pics without a specific release date, including Sony Pictures Classics’ “Curse of the Golden Flower,” from the Zhang Yimou-Gong Li team, and Searchlight’s “Margaret,” from Kenneth Lonergan.

And there undoubtedly will be late additions: Two years ago, WB made a last-minute decision to release “Million Dollar Baby” in December.

Unlike most major studio pics, docs and toons don’t wait until the fourth quarter but spread their riches throughout the year. So far we’ve had Disney-Pixar’s “Cars,” DreamWorks’ “Over the Hedge” and Fox’s “Ice Age 2.” They will be joined by such pics as DreamWorks Animation-Aardman’s “Flushed Away,” Miramax’s “Renaissance,” Sony’s “Monster House” and “Open Season,” WB’s “Ant Bully” and “Happy Feet” and Warner Independent’s “A Scanner Darkly.”

The next six months will see some films from directors whose work is guaranteed to be interesting and sometimes (but not always) kudos fodder: Woody Allen’s “Scoop” (Focus releases in July); Brian De Palma’s “The Black Dahlia” (Universal); Milos Forman’s “Goya’s Ghosts”; Barry Levinson’s “Man of the Year” (U); and David Lynch’s “Inland Empire.”

And then there’s Christopher Guest. Many in Hollywood are devoted to his films, so it’ll be interesting to see what the industry — and Oscar voters in particular — think of his Warner Independent pic “For Your Consideration.”

Happy Oscar-hunting, folks.

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