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Warren Beatty Joins Best Actor Race With Colorful ‘Rules Don’t Apply’ Performance

We’ve already covered how this year’s lead actor race is pretty fluid once you get beyond powerhouse work from Denzel Washington (“Fences”) and Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”). There are slots to fill, and even for a film like Warren Beatty’s “Rules Don’t Apply” — a Howard Hughes yarn that doesn’t fully work and feels like a much bigger idea haphazardly whittled down — there’s room to maneuver.

Beatty’s film opens AFI Fest Thursday night, adding the 13-time Oscar nominee to this year’s awards equation. And don’t snooze on him — this performance could absolutely land a nomination. It’s a fairly mannered portrayal, flashy at points and “big” throughout, with Beatty leaning in on all of Hughes’ notorious quirks. It ought to be a solid bet for Golden Globe recognition, particularly if the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. agrees with Fox’s comedy placement, and from there, who knows?

Each of the four films Beatty has directed have landed at least one Oscar nomination. Indeed, he came out with a bang in 1978 with “Heaven Can Wait,” nabbing four nominations for himself alone (for picture, director, actor and screenplay). He was the first person to pick up that quartet in one year — and then he did it again three years later with “Reds.”

“Dick Tracy” in 1990 landed seven nominations and three wins, mostly in below-the-line categories, while “Bulworth” eight years later secured an original screenplay nomination.

While “Rules Don’t Apply” pales to Beatty’s previous work, it’s nevertheless a film in a traditionalist vein that might appeal to Academy voters. Craft elements could find traction, particularly Caleb Deschanel’s lensing, Jeannine Oppewall’s production design and Albert Wolsky’s costumes — legends all.

But Beatty draws the eye when he’s on screen, even and particularly when he’s shrouded in shadow for much of his early scenes. He’s adamant that the film isn’t a biopic, but it basically is, and early efforts to position him for a supporting campaign hit the skids when industry audiences first saw the film last month.

So keep an eye out. It’s been 18 years since Beatty was in the director’s chair and Hollywood loves a comeback. “Rules Don’t Apply” presents a unique, if imperfect, opportunity to recognize one this year.

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