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World Trade Center

The Contenders

Release: Aug. 9

Distributor: Paramount

Oscar Alums: Oliver Stone (adapted screenplay, “Midnight Express”; director, “Platoon,” “Born on the Forth of July”), Nicolas Cage (actor, “Leaving Las Vegas”), David Brenner (editing, “Born on the Fourth of July”), Scott Millan (sound, “Ray,” “Gladiator,” “Apollo 13”)

Over the last decade, the critics have not been kind to Oliver Stone. The ambitious “Alexander” might have resulted in the most savage drubbing of his career, and no amount of post-release tinkering could reverse the view by many that Stone had lost his touch as a filmmaker.

Then along came “World Trade Center,” a potentially hot-button 9/11 story that might have been akin to giving matches to a pyromaniac. Instead, what Stone delivered was a triumph of restraint, a word the director is loath to acknowledge as a requirement for sound filmmaking.

Stone sidestepped politics to focus on two Port Authority firefighters who selflessly entered one of the twin towers on a rescue mission, before needing to be rescued themselves. Key critics were rhapsodic in their praise. “(Stone’s) not interested in the attack itself, but in the response to it, and he doesn’t exaggerate or hype anything,” wrote the New Yorker’s David Denby. Time’s Richard Schickel called the pic “a powerful movie experience, a hymn in plainsong that glorifies that which is best in the American spirit.”

The director himself has pointed out that “WTC” is only the fourth film on which he worked with a studio from beginning to end, after “Wall Street,” “Born on the Fourth of July” and “Any Given Sunday.” The first two films alone accounted for nine Oscar nominations, including a director statuette for Stone for “Born” — one of three Oscars won by the filmmaker to date.

As for “WTC’s” Oscar nominations possibilities, the pic’s screenplay, written by feature tyro Andrea Berloff, has been singled out for its ability to probe, realistically and poignantly, the hearts and minds of blue collar heroes in the face of death, and how their families pull together to prepare for the seemingly inevitable.

And the word “restraint” could also apply to the usually mercurial Nicolas Cage in one of the two leads (the other is Michael Pena). “Cage and Pena do an extraordinary job of illuminating the inner turmoil of these extraordinary men,” wrote Newsweek’s David Ansen.

Plaudits also have been earned by production designer Jan Roelfs, who did an uncanny job recreating the twisted wreckage of ground zero. Seamus McGarvey’s evocative cinematography could be noted by kudo voters as well.

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