Two films will surely receive Academy Award nominations for Best Picture on Jan. 31: "Brokeback Mountain," an intense love story between two cowboys; and "Good Night and Good Luck," about journalist Edward R. Murrow breaking the intimidating hold that Sen. Joseph McCarthy had on 1950s' America. After that, several pictures vie for the coveted slots.
Oscar likes epic pictures. The big gorilla in the room is "King Kong." This way-too-long blockbuster dare not waste a precious slot just because its director, Peter Jackson ("Lord of the Rings"), is such a box office king.
The big picture that will reach the Oscar finals is "Munich." More than Jackson, Spielberg is a golden director, and his film, about revenge taken after the murder of Israeli Olympic athletes, is ambitious. "Syriana," more epic in scope with its oily Middle East theme, plods a bit too much. Another big film, "The Constant Gardener," dramatizes rape-like exploitation in Africa. It's more impressive than "Munich" and "Syriana" but lacks Spielberg's clout and George Clooney's cache.
Midsize in scale, "Crash" is the kind of intertwined personal drama that stares down your conscience. The positive buzz for "Match Point" is that Woody Allen has climbed out of the dumpster - directing a film that does not look like a Woody Allen film. Unfortunately, it's an ordinary - albeit stylish - relationship flick. "Crash" probably will not get edged off the Oscar list by "Match Point."
"Pride & Prejudice," though not a film about prejudice at all compared to "Crash," will secure a Best Picture nomination to keep the standard fare of romance in the forefront. It helps that this is one of those classy British period pieces.
The card poised to trump other wannabes is "Walk the Line," about icon Johnny Cash. It lacks the depth and ambitious artiness of "Ray," but its infectious, pop entertainment rhythm will nudge some film aside, probably "Crash."
On Jan. 31, hindsight will turn into anticipation for an Oscar winner Sunday, March 5.