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Can Berlin Help Clint Win Another Oscar?

Wednesday, February 7----With the ballots for the Academy Awards in the mail, speculation is growing about what has become an impossible to predict Best Picture race. While BABEL was considered the frontrunner, especially following its Golden Globe win last month, there is now industry speculation that BABEL and Martin Scorsese's THE DEPARTED may split the "serious film" vote. So, what exactly does that mean?

Well, one scenario points to an upset win by the indie smash LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (that's certainly what Fox Searchlight is angling for with their expensive full-page ads in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Variety and the other film trades).

The other possible scenario is a Best Picture win for Clint Eastwood's highly praised LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA. A wild card is the question of whether the Berlin Film Festival, which will be screening LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA in its Berlinale Competition section and will be welcoming Clint Eastwood to the Berlinale Palast as a conquering hero, will create the necessary industry buzz and international media attention that will carry through to Oscar night.

Back when the Academy Awards were given out in March, Berlin had a much more prominent role in the media march towards Oscar nominations. For years, I remember that the Oscar noms were announced during the Festival itself, which often had a good helping of Best Picture, Best Documentary and Best Foreign Film contenders being shown. In fact, earlier announcements in January that a particular Oscar hopeful would be screening in Berlin added to the cache and momentum that inflamed media attention and speculation. With a German film, THE LIVES OF OTHERS, one of five nominees in the Best Foreign Language Film category, the Berlin buzz could move that film into frontrunner status (although it is only screening in the sidebar German Perspective section).

So, with Eastwood's name in the press this week as the recipient of the first MPAA Humanitarian Award (see Friday's story) and the imminent publicity as Herr Clint takes to the red carpet in Berlin, this may just be another Eastwood year.

The other studio films that are showing in Berlin either do not figure at all or have very low expectations for Oscar gold, but their exposure and attendant media buzz will help them with their international releases. This year, the Hollywood crop is decidedly “arty”, including Robert De Niro’s sophomore directorial work, THE GOOD SHEPHERD (with a who’s who cast of Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin and the Raging Bull himself in a cameo role).

In Steven Soderbergh’s homage to the film noir cinema of the 1940s, THE GOOD GERMAN, Oscar-winner George Clooney plays an American journalist who becomes embroiled in a murder conspiracy in postwar Berlin. The cast also includes Oscar nominee Cate Blanchett and Tobey Maguire. Both films have had a hard slog at the US box office but may resonate more with international, particularly European, audiences.

Can Berlin help Clint win another Oscar? As my mother was fond of saying: "It couldn't hurt!".

Sandy Mandelberger
Awards Watch Editor

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