- The race is ultra-competitive, per usual, this year. Seven dramatic picture nods, which includes "The Great Debaters." All 12 flicks nominated for the two best pic categories (drama and comedy) have a legitimate shot at Oscar best picture nods. And all of them could be unseated by films that have been largely overlooked by the Globes.
- "The Great Debaters" only scored one nomination, but that might not be a bad thing. I personally don't feel this film was even on the voters' radar a month or two ago. (Denzel's appearance on "Oprah" fixed that.) I expect it to build some serious buzz through December and early January. It's the kind of film the Oscar voters like. The catch is that there are two pretty solid Denzel films in consideration. The chatter about "American Gangster" will inevitably turn into, "Is it as good as last year's big winner, 'The Departed?'" That could help or hurt the crime pic's chances, and it will probably influence how much consider is given to "Debaters." That the Golden Globes didn't give "Debaters" a best directing nod might spell trouble, but that's impossible to determine until its release on Christmas day. If "Debaters" garners decent box office, expect a huge campaign by the Weinstein Co. (I'm expecting that anyway.)
- Some of the omissions are pretty glaring. Mainly, "Into the Wild" was shut out in all the major categories. I have a sneaking suspicions that the Oscar voters will pay more attention to it. That Emile Hirsch didn't score a best actor nomination for it is a voting crime. Don Cheadle deserves a second look with his role in "Talk to Me." Consider the omission of "The Kite Runner." Seemingly worthy pics like "Gone Baby Gone," "A Mighty Heart," "The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" and "The Savages" will probably step up their campaigns.
- I expect to hear a conversation about the merits of actors turned directors: Sean Penn's "Into the Wild" and Denzel's "The Great Debaters." They both are seriously good behind the camera, and it will be curious to see if the Academy considers them as equals to some of Hollywood's finest: the Coen brothers ("No Country of Old Men"), Ridley Scott ("American Gangster"), Tim Burton ("Sweeney Todd") and P.T. Anderson ("There Will Be Blood"). In short, Penn and Denzel are longshots, but still in the running.
- Take a close look at the best picture category nominations for the Golden Globes. All but "Michael Clayton," a legal thriller, can be grouped into pairs. Which period drama is better, "Atonement" or "The Great Debaters?" Which auteur-driven western noirish flick works for you, "No Country for Old Men" or "There Will Be Blood?" And which gangster crime drama, "Eastern Promises" or "American Gangster," shows us something we haven't seen before? The loosest association is between "Atonement" and "Debaters," of course, because their subjects are so different. Voters might ultimately split their votes between questions like these, which really, really helps "Michael Clayton." "The Great Debaters" is also the only one that can be categorized as a "feel good movie." And "Atonement" seems to be loved by everyone but A.O. Scott (New York Times critic), who does set the bar for American criticism (I know one local director who seriously disagrees with me on that point). Scott wrote, "This is not a bad literary adaptation; it is too handsomely shot and Britishly acted to warrant such strong condemnation. 'Atonement' is, instead, an almost classical example of how pointless, how diminishing, the transmutation of literature into film can be." The New Yorker's Anthony Lane didn't really care for it, either.
PHOTO: "The Great Debaters" (The Weinstein Co.)