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Oscars: Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott Race to the Finish

It wouldn’t be awards season without a little bit of drama around last-minute contenders sprinting to the finish line. This year, there are three major prestige projects based on true events from powerhouse directors that could really shake up the race.

Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” — about the Washington Post, the Pentagon Papers, and a watershed moment in the history of press freedom — wasn’t even a go until a week after “Moonlight” won the best picture Oscar earlier this year. The Fox production shot throughout the summer and wrapped in July, aiming for a Dec. 22 limited release. It’s packed with an all-star cast, including Meryl Streep (as Post publisher Katharine Graham), Tom Hanks (as editor Ben Bradlee, a role that won Jason Robards an Oscar in 1977 for “All the President’s Men”), and Carrie Coon (as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Meg Greenfield), among many others.

Meanwhile, Ridley Scott’s “All the Money in the World” — about the 1973 kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III — was still casting a week after Spielberg signed on to direct his film. It wasn’t on the 2017 radar at all until last month when Sony planted a flag for a Dec. 8, hoping to finally net Scott his first Oscar. The project just wrapped production and is, along with “The Post,” in the editing room now. It features Michelle Williams, as Getty’s fretful mother Gail Harris, and Kevin Spacey, said to be unrecognizable behind considerable makeup prosthetics as Getty’s patriarchal grandfather (who infamously charged his son, Getty Jr., interest on a portion of the ransom money). Mark Wahlberg also stars as an ex-CIA agent dispatched to Italy to deal with the situation.

That would all be exciting enough, but sources say a third entry could be set to make a cannon ball splash, and it should really come as no surprise.

Clint Eastwood is well known for his economy and expedition in pulling movies together. “Million Dollar Baby” wrapped in the summer of 2004 before going on to spoil the season for Martin Scorsese and “The Aviator,” for instance. He pulled another sneak attack two years later with “Letters from Iwo Jima,” which came together quickly in the wake of production on “Flags of Our Fathers” (a companion piece released two months prior).

In late April of this year, the four-time Oscar winner announced “The 15:17 to Paris” — about the 2015 Thalys train attack in France and the childhood friends who thwarted it — as his next project. He set off to make the film only weeks ago, but he’s already closing in on a wrap and will likely have it in and out of the editing suite in no time. I’m told it will be ready for release this year, if Warner Bros. wants to roll it out.

The Burbank studio already has a slam-dunk Oscar contender in Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk,” as well as high hopes for summer superhero hit “Wonder Woman.” But Eastwood could offer something more traditional to work with. That said, there is an unusual flourish to this project: Variety broke the news last month that the director had taken the extraordinary step of casting real-life heroes Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, and Spencer Stone as themselves in the picture. Eastwood’s expediency on the set — one or two takes before moving on — can sometimes work against non-actors; “Gran Torino” certainly appeared to suffer from that somewhat. Nevertheless, it’s a splashy decision that, in this case, could give the movie some built-in goodwill.

Warner Bros. had no comment about the release plans for “The 15:17 to Paris” at this time.

Monday will mark two years since Sadler, Skarlatos, and Stone charged gunman Ayoub El-Khazzani on a Paris-bound Amsterdam train, preventing him from carrying out his planned massacre. It’s a story that, for obvious reasons, could resonate in the modern climate. Though one wonders how Eastwood himself would register; it’s a very different atmosphere now than it was a year ago when he voiced his support for then-presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Filmmakers like Spielberg, Eastwood, and Scott are able to squeeze big projects like these in under the wire because they’re seasoned veterans. They don’t try to find their movies in the editing room. They find them in the script, in pre-production, and then execute a clean production plan that allows for a tight post schedule. Any one of them contending in an Oscar race alone would be reason to take note, but all three potentially mixing it up together could make for an exciting December.

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