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The Aviator

Release date: Dec. 17

Distributor: Miramax

Oscar alumni: Sandy Powell (costume designer, “Shakespeare in Love”), Robert Richardson (cinematographer, “JFK”), Thelma Schoonmaker (editor, “Raging Bull”), Howard Shore (composer, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”; composer, co-song writer, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”)

In a popular year for biopics, Martin Scorsese enters the fray with his brawny $110 million entry about eccentric aviator and filmmaker Howard Hughes.

“The Aviator” focuses on Hughes’ early years, from the late 1920 through the ’40s, during which the billionaire industrialist tested the limits of aviation and Hollywood actresses including Katharine Hepburn, Ava Gardner and Jean Harlow.

As with Scorsese’s last pic to make it to the big show (“Gangs of New York”), “Aviator” boasts such heavy-hitting talent in front and behind the camera that it’s something of a given that the pic will feature prominently this awards season. Still, as with “Gangs,” few so far have seen this mid-December bow.

Scorsese, a five-time director nominee, will likely be stumping for the prize again. As will many returning Scorsese collaborators, starting with lead thesp Leonardo DiCaprio, for whom “Aviator” has been a longtime passion project. DiCaprio did not garner an actor nomination for “Gangs,” while the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences did recognize scene-stealing co-star Daniel Day-Lewis. This time, DiCaprio’s Hughes is unmistakably the pic’s leading man.

Starry supporting cast includes Oscar nominees Cate Blanchett as Hepburn, and Jude Law as Errol Flynn; plus multiple Golden Globe and Emmy winner Alan Alda, who is getting early notice for his role as Sen. Ralph Owen Brewster. Kate Beckinsale plays Gardner, and No Doubt frontwoman Gwen Stefani makes her acting debut as Harlow.

Scorsese’s longtime editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, could again step into kudo contention, along with d.p. Robert Richardson (“JFK”), who worked with Scorsese on “Casino.” The same could happen for costumer Sandy Powell, who handled the delicious task of re-creating everything from the era’s aviator gear to the gowns worn by Hollywood’s iconic luminaries.

Set designer Dante Ferretti and set decorator Francesca LoSchiavo should get attention for re-creating Hollywood landmarks like Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Cocoanut Grove — plus a range of historic aircraft. The two usually get recognized with Oscar noms on Scorsese pics but, like the helmer, have never won.

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