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Collateral

Released: Aug. 6

U.S. distributor: DreamWorks

Oscar alumni: Robert Fried (exec producer, short film, “Session Man”); Lois Burwell (makeup, “Braveheart”)

While Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese are synonymous with Gotham on film, Michael Mann is perhaps the pre-eminent chronicler of L.A.

Sure, “Collateral” features megastar Tom Cruise and scorching hot Jamie Foxx, but it’s really the City of Angels that deserves top billing in this DreamWorks pic. Early positioning by the studio at the L.A. Film Festival had Cruise and Mann talking shop at the Pacific Theatre and screening clips of favorite L.A. films (Cruise picked “Sunset Boulevard,” Mann “Touch of Evil.”)

Local knowledge may well resonate with voters — a majority of whom live in Southern California and have previously awarded Oscars to films in which Los Angeles plays a central and vital role.

Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown,” which received 11 noms (and a screenplay win for Robert Towne), and Curtis Hanson’s “L.A. Confidential” (nine noms, including wins for screenplay and supporting actress Kim Basinger) are examples of pics where characters and landmarks share the spotlight with the actors.

Same for “Collateral.” Mann, who exposed the fringes of East L.A. in shortlived CBS series “Robbery Homicide Division” and memorably captured Downtown and Malibu in “Heat,” returns for a nocturnal visit in “Collateral,” a taxibound tour of LAX, Koreatown, Pico Rivera and the freeways that connect them.

Mann is a three-time nominee for “The Insider” and his direction on “Collateral,” with all location scenes shot under the cover of darkness, is a triumph of style and tone. The fact that the film just passed the $100 million B.O. mark doesn’t hurt.

Cruise has been Oscar-nommed three times, for “Born on the Fourth of July,” “Jerry Maguire” and “Magnolia.” Here he’s cast against type as a hitman — a bad-guy turn that could work in his favor (see Daniel Day-Lewis in “Gangs of New York”) or backfire (Tom Hanks in “The Road to Perdition”).

This diversion into decadence may open voters’ eyes as well, as the actor hopes to sway those who believe Cruise’s characters are too cocky and one-dimensional.

Foxx, whose lead turn in “Ray” could get a majority of awards attention over his role in “Collateral,” will vie for supporting. That shouldn’t hinder his chances, though, as being nominated for both lead and supporting has been accomplished several times in the past. Just two years ago, Julianne Moore was up for both in “The Hours” and “Far From Heaven.”

To give the film the appropriate nighttime feel, Mann’s d.p. shot with innovative hi-def equipment, with Paul Cameron handling the prep work before Dion Beebe (Oscar nominated for “Chicago”) came on during the shoot.

Film editor Paul Rubell is a Mann collaborator who earned an Oscar nom for “The Insider,” while composer James Newton Howard has five nominations on his resume, most recently for “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”

Also worth noting are makeup artists Kenny Myers and Lois Burwell, who gave Cruise an older, more mature look, including a salt-and-pepper mane. Burwell has an Oscar on her mantel for her work in “Braveheart” and was nominated for “Saving Private Ryan.”

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