‘The Ice Storm’ kudo chances

This dysfunctional family drama set in suburban Connecticut examines the sexual revolution of the swinging 1970s. Directed by Ang Lee, this independently financed film from Fox’s Searchlight division has all the earmarks of a major studio production, particularly its literate screenplay by James Shamus and a stellar, theatrically trained cast including Kevin Kline, Joan Allen and Sigourney Weaver — all of whom have either been nominated for or won Oscars in the past. The parallels to such best picture winners as “Ordinary People” and “Terms of Endearment” are clear.

Besides the top category, director Lee has an equally strong shot at being among the best director finalists, especially since many feel he was unjustly left out when his “Sense and Sensibility” copped a best picture nomination two years ago. Just as that literary adaptation won in the screenplay adaptation category, Shamus’ adaptation of Rick Moody’s novel has an excellent chance of finding its way onto the best adapted screenplay list. Shamus’ Cannes Film Festival win for best screenplay also gives him an edge.

Frederick Elmes’ cinematography could be recognized, but the category is likely to be overcrowded with more conspicuously photographed films — period pieces such as “The Wings of the Dove,” “Seven Years in Tibet,” “Kundun” and “Titanic.” If Elmes, who has done memorable work in such films as “Eraserhead” and “Blue Velvet,” breaks through, it would be his first nomination.

The film’s score by Canadian Mychael Danna may be too subtle to catch the music division’s ear, though he has another contender this year, the haunting “The Sweet Hereafter.”

“Ice Storm” also has the potential to pull down nominations in several acting categories, particularly the supporting actress area, where both Weaver and young Christina Ricci look strong. Weaver has been nominated in the past in the supporting category for “Working Girl” and as best actress for “Gorillas in the Mist” and “Aliens.” There is also a chance the Academy’s acting branch might decide to vault her into the best actress category.

Allen and Kline both have a shot in the leading acting categories. Allen’s chances are enhanced by the fact that she’s been nominated for the past two years in a row for “Nixon” and “The Crucible” as supporting actress. This is her opportunity to rise into the leading actress field and Fox Searchlight is likely to push her in that category and Weaver for supporting actress.

As for Kline, he’s a double threat. Couple this role with his comedic turn in “In & Out” and there’s no denying his acting versatility. Since he’s already been Oscar-honored as supporting actor for a comic role in “A Fish Called Wanda,” this could be an opportunity for Oscar to recognize Kline’s serious side and his leading man abilities.

OSCAR QUOTIENT

Classic Oscar credentials: 0 (No sweeping vistas, epic scope)

Cause celebre: 4 (Family dysfunction)

Vanity element: 0 (No mega-players)

The David vs. Goliath syndrome: 8 (Serious underdog)

The feel-good movie of the year factor: 0 (Seen it?)

The unavoidable, inexorable buzz pic: 2 (Cannes wins)

Idiot savants have more fun: 1 (Son is wacko)

Timing is everything: 6 (Late year entry)

O.Q. total: 21

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