The Contenders

Release: Dec. 8

Distributor: Weinstein Co./MGM

Oscar Alums: Anthony Minghella (director, “The English Patient”), Sydney Pollack (picture, director, “Out of Africa”), Juliette Binoche (supporting actress, “The English Patient”), Gabriel Yared (score, “The English Patient”)

As long as British filmmaker Anthony Minghella has tackled complex, sweeping literary adaptations, his movies — “The English Patient,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Cold Mountain” — have been rewarded with kudos. The test for this 1997 director winner, however, will be whether he can sway voters with “Breaking and Entering,” a contempo tale of intersecting lives in London. Pic is already shaping up to be a late-season stealth entry, powered by intelligence and emotional reach.

Minghella’s original story –his first since 1991′s “Truly Madly Deeply” — is a twisty tale of foreignness, gentrification and family, in which an environmentally conscious architect (Jude Law) with a distant Swedish-American partner (Robin Wright Penn) and a daughter with developmental problems enters into an eye-opening relationship with a Bosnian refugee (Juliette Binoche), whose wayward son has been burglarizing Law’s business.

Issues of responsibility, personal growth and the steely bonds of parents and children interweave in a story that could be a welcome respite for Academy voters indifferent to more conventionally epic, expensive or glitzier awards-season films.

Last year, the Academy responded to “Crash’s” melodramatic take on the Los Angeles melting pot, and “Breaking’s” look at London’s multiethnic society may earn Minghella an original screenplay nod.

While Law has been pegged for nominations twice before in Minghella’s films, he may face an uphill battle securing an actor slot due to the usual wealth of male candidates and a decidedly reactive role. Binoche, on the other hand, as in her award-winning turn for Minghella in “English Patient,” is hard to forget: a fierce mother, vulnerable lover and suspicious immigrant struggling to make the right choices regarding her and her son’s lives.

There could also be a first nom on tap for the other mother in Minghella’s parenting-themed scenario, the perennially overlooked Wright Penn.

Worth noting, as well, is the subtly effective score, which frequent Minghella collaborator Gabriel Yared composed with Underworld.

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