Potentials reflect anything-goes era

A look at the Academy Award’s top honor over the past decade pretty much annihilates any notion of a best-picture template.

There’s Elizabethan romance (“Shakespeare in Love”), contemporary dramedy (“American Beauty”), sword-and-sandals epic (“Gladiator”), underdog triumph (“A Beautiful Mind”), splashy musical (“Chicago”); special-effects fantasy (“Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”); op-ed screed (“Crash”); character-driven chamber piece (“Million Dollar Baby”), genre thriller (“The Departed”) and dystopian meditation (“No Country for Old Men”).

In this anything-goes era, a film like “The Dark Knight” could break the moratorium on comic book superhero adaptations as best pic bait, while “Wall-E” could be the one animated feature (other than “Beauty and the Beast”) to crash the top category.

“Titanic” proved that box office behemoths are not necessarily frowned upon by Academy tastemakers. As the year’s reigning B.O. champ, “Dark Knight” also wields the added benefit of uniformly superior reviews.

Last year’s paucity of big-studio entries left many wondering if the majors had abandoned the Best Pic business. This year could beg the same question, “Dark Knight” and “Wall-E” notwithstanding. But there are two films that have prognosticators’ tongues wagging: Paramount’s heart-tugging “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and Fox’s large-scale romance “Australia,” which has the epic sweep, period costumes and A-list stars that intimate the Oscar-winning “Out of Africa.”

Then there are the dramas by Oscar-winning filmmakers (Clint Eastwood’s “Changeling,” Ron Howard’s “Frost/Nixon,” Sam Mendes’ “Revolutionary Road”), perennial critics’ faves (Gus Van Sant’s “Milk”) fast-rising helmers (Joe Wright’s “The Soloist”) and the love ’em-or-hate ’em stylists who were lionized on the fest circuit (Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler,” Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire”).

Regardless of how things shake out in February, there’s something for everyone in this year’s crop of top contenders.

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