The Kite Runner

The Contenders

Release date: Dec. 14 Distributor: Paramount Vantage

One of the biggest literary successes of recent years, Afghan-born author Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 novel about his pre-9/11 homeland is destined to be one of the most discussed adaptations this Oscar season, whether the talk is about how faithful it is to the book, its message of courage and redemption, or its unusual position as a major studio film populated by Muslims who aren’t terrorists.

Outside of the foreign-language award, Muslim stories rarely crack the big Oscar categories, and with a hot director in Marc Forster (“Finding Neverland”) working on arguably his biggest canvas yet, the time seems right for a breakthrough — and Academy voters tend to acknowledge sweeping stories set in remote lands. Reviewing for Variety, Alissa Simon called it a “poignant, intimate epic.”

Outside the possibilities of picture, director and adapted screenplay (David Benioff), there are plenty of chances for recognition in technical categories, from regular Forster collaborator Roberto Schaefer’s expansive, detailed cinematography to Alberto Iglesias’ vivid score to Carlos Conti and Karen Murphy’s design work that shows the devastation of a once-vibrant Kabul after the Taliban have taken over.

The actors — which include non-professionals — may not be marquee names, but the heartbreaking performance of Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada as the young servant boy Hassan (though controversial enough in the story’s particulars to reportedly warrant fears for his life in Afghanistan) could make him a sympathetic figure for voters. And Iranian actor Homayon Ershadi brings the kind of weary gravity and unforced honor to his role as the anguished lead character’s proud father that could land him a supporting actor nod.

See photos, trailer and more on ‘Into the Wild’

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