By all accounts, the real race for the Oscar crown is between the lean and suspenseful $30 million Million Dollar Baby and the huge, colourful and intermittently engaging $110 million The Aviator.
But what if there is a startling upset on February 27, when the 77th Academy Awards are given out? And another 'little' film takes away the crown from Clint Eastwood's lucky Baby and curbs the soaring ambitions of The Aviator?
What if the voters welcome the $35 million Ray, which is, as yet, the most successful film in the Best Film Oscar race?
Yes, The Aviator has grossed $90 million in North America at the box-office -- $15 million more than Ray -- but the biopic on the legendary soul and blues musician got into video stores two weeks ago, and has generated about $110 million in video sales and rentals, bringing its total gross to $180 million in North America.
Half the fun of watching the Oscar telecast is to experience the thrill of seeing unexpected names walking to the dais with the broadest grins in the world!
Remember the year 2002, when the modestly successful ($30 million in North America) The Pianist not only gave Best Actor to Adrian Brody, a screenplay award to Ronald Harwood but also the Best Director award to the Roman Polanski?
Who would have expected Polanski, who fled America after being charged with statutory rape in 1977, to stage an in absentia comeback and receive an Oscar nod, however moving his Jewish-themed film was?
Million Dollar Baby has done solid business reaching about $60 million in North America, and is a solid testament to filmmaker and actor Clint Eastwood's faith in cinema. At 74, the Oscar winner for Unforgiven dares to make the kind of films someone half his age may find too risky.
On the other hand, Martin Scorsese, 62, has never won an Oscar despite having made such benchmark films as Raging Bull and Taxi Driver. And many critics have liked Aviator. Perseverance matters in Hollywood. And the tinsel town also appreciates grand films about larger than life heroes and anti-heroes. Look at Lawrence Of Arabia, Gandhi, and A Beautiful Mind.
By the above standard, Ray also fits in eminently into the class of screen bios about larger-than-life men and women. Perhaps Ray was even more difficult to make than The Aviator. Filmmaker Taylor Hackford, who had received the legendary singer and musician Ray Charles' blessings over 15 years to make a biopic, just could not raise the money till the other year.
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"Hollywood doesn't like biopics much," Hackford said. The year 2004 saw a number of biopics such as Kinsey, but they were made independently of Hollywood studios and were sold to the studios mostly after completion. Hackford also said that after the failure of such films as Ali and Malcolm X, Hollywood was afraid to touch black biopics.
On the other hand, The Aviator had the backing of Miramax, an arm of Disney. Casting the comparatively unknown Jamie Foxx in the lead role in Ray was even more a daunting task than giving Leonardo DiCaprio the part of the eccentric aviation pioneer and Hollywood studio owner Howard Hughes in The Aviator. Then again, the unpredictable genius of Jim Carrey was the first choice for the latter role!
And Don Cheadle, who plays an ordinary man reaching extraordinary heights of courage in Hotel Rwanda, may even be the surprise winner.
It is either Annette Bening or Hilary Swank for Best Actress, with a substantial number of fans and Oscar observers rooting for Swank. But what if the grand British actress Imelda Staunton is the upset winner for her exemplary performance in Vera Drake?
Morgan Freeman is one of the most protean actors in the world; but he has never won an Oscar. That terrible wrong could be corrected this year if he gets the award for his solid work in Million Dollar Baby. But what if the voters think the young and promising Clive Owen needs a career boost for his indelible work in Closer?
And, by the same token, the young Natalie Portman can get her work in Closer recognized, leaving Cate Blanchett nothing but the satisfaction that she was terrific in The Aviator. Sophie Okonedo's eloquent expressions and the body language -- that conveyed the horrors of genocide effectively in Hotel Rwanda -- could also lead to an upset win.
The animated film race is also suspenseful as it has pitted rival DreamWorks with two films -- the great hit Shrek 2 and the medium-sized hit Shark Tale -- against Disney's The Incredibles, which is also a big hit. Nobody expects Shark Tale to win, and there is a consensus that The Incredibles is a more accomplished film than Shrek 2. But who knows? DreamWorks could really be the lucky studio.
Come February 27, one can surely expect, apart from emcee Chris Rock's fiery humour, a few solid surprises.
And any show that has laughs and suspense cannot be boring.