And the clock just keeps ticking. With nominations for the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.'s 64th annual Golden Globe Awards just weeks away -- announcements are set for the early morning hours of Dec. 14 -- a clear front-runner has yet to emerge for one of the ceremony's top two prizes, namely the best drama of the year. Unlike the musical/comedy race, which will surely fete Paramount/DreamWorks' big-screen adaptation of the award-winning Broadway production "Dreamgirls," the dramatic categories remain decidely murky, and almost no one is willing to go on record supporting any particular movie as a lock for a best picture trophy.
That said, a handful of films -- specifically Miramax's "The Queen
," Paramount/DreamWorks' "Flags of Our Fathers" and Warner Bros. Pictures' "The Departed" -- finally seem to be emerging as likely favorites for a nomination. But just when pundits were beginning to believe they had a handle on things, Warners issued a surprise announcement that it would release "Flags" director Clint Eastwood's companion World War II film, the Japanese-language "Letters From Iwo Jima," on Dec. 20, just in time for awards consideration.
Some have questioned the wisdom of that decision -- positing that two prestigious films from the same director in the same year might just split the vote -- but others say that the move is one more indication that this year's biggest prizes are still up for grabs.
On paper, of course, "Flags" has everything going for it: Eastwood behind the camera and Steven Spielberg in the producer's chair, an adapted screenplay by Paul Haggis and William Broyles Jr. and subject matter with pointed parallels to today's military conflagration in Iraq.
Yet the film has not drawn quite the enthusiasm of Eastwood's last two ventures, 2003's "Mystic River" and 2004's "Million Dollar Baby" (the latter of which won the best picture Oscar but lost out as best drama at the Globes to Scorsese's 2004 Howard Hughes biopic "The Aviator").
Scorsese's violent gangster picture starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson, on the other hand, has drawn raves from critics, proclaiming that Scorsese has returned to form, and from audiences, who continue to turn up at the boxoffice to support the film, which, at press time, had earned upward of $111 million domestically.
But the addition of "Letters" to the December lineup is complicating matters. The film has a much smaller budget than its sister project -- somewhere in the range of $20 million, insiders say -- only one widely known actor in the cast (Ken Watanabe) and the additional distinction of being shot in a foreign language with English subtitles. However, should the picture earn a warmer reception from the HFPA membership than did "Flags," it might become a front-runner in its own right, or it might even wind up making its predecessor look like a more impressive achievement. In other words, "Flags" and "Letters" could be perceived as one cinematic undertaking -- though they were shot separately from one another -- much in the same way voters came to think of Peter Jackson's epic "Lord of the Rings" trilogy as one single piece of filmmaking.
Then again, some HFPA members might favor one movie or the other, splitting the vote and inadvertently creating an advantage for a film such as "Queen" or "Departed," which would have to be a relief for Scorsese, who just can't seem to escape going head-to-head with Eastwood in the awards-season contests these past few years.
But there are a few other unknown quantities that could swoop in and earn one of the five drama nominations. Perhaps the biggest question mark is Buena Vista's "Apocalypto
," Mel Gibson's Mayan adventure that takes place in a dead language and features a cast of unknowns. Unless the film can manage to match the critical success of 1995's "Braveheart" or the boxoffice prowess of 2004's "The Passion of the Christ," it's going to be a tough slog come awards time, insiders say, especially if the studio opts to put its campaigning muscle behind "Prestige" and that film's director, Christopher Nolan. A few early screenings of "Apocalypto" did seem to suggest that it had something unique to offer, though, and if "Passion" proved anything, it's that the industry shouldn't discount what might seem like a wholly unmarketable project.