Oscar File: Brad Pitt, ‘The Departed,’ ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ & More

Your weekly guide to 2007's Golden Globes, Academy Awards starts here.

If everything in the top 10 at the box office (except “Saw III”) is stuff you think your dad might dig — it might be Oscar season.

If a Brad Pitt movie came out last week and his abs are nowhere in sight — it might be Oscar season.

If people are talking about Peter O’Toole and it’s not a debate about whether he’s alive or dead — it might be Oscar season.

If you overhear someone saying, “I swear, it’s Marty‘s year this time” — it might be Oscar season.

If a column like this starts up and the calendar still says November, I’m sorry, but — it might be Oscar season.

That’s right, fellow awards-show groupies — in less than 17 weeks, Ellen DeGeneres takes the stage at Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre and the rest of us find the sweet spot on our couch to settle in for the following four hours. And if you really want to get pumped up, the much-more-entertaining bastard cousin of the Oscars, the Golden Globes, is less than 11 weeks away. So as your snooty friends say awards shows are stupid, carry your head high because here you are among friends. And don’t you dare look back at ’06. From here on out, we’re your one-stop shop for Academy Awards ’07. So let’s get started.

Our buddy Oscar has a pretty short attention span, but maybe that’s starting to change. That’s what the makers of “United 93″ and “Little Miss Sunshine” are hoping. “Sunshine” was the first film of the year to get real Oscar buzz. Too much too soon? Maybe not. Last year, “Crash” proved a May release and sustained DVD campaign could indeed work. This strategy is a smart one for “Sunshine” — its intimate story will probably play well on the small screen.

Meanwhile, “United 93,” which garnered some of the most effusive reviews of the year way back in April, is suddenly everywhere — with multipage ads popping up in magazine after magazine. Make no mistake, this campaign has Oscar in mind. The DVD was released on September 5. The fact that the film doesn’t boast a single “name” actor in the cast is probably its chief stumbling block (who’s going to promote it on Leno, the guy from “Sledge Hammer!”?) in gaining the kind of momentum it needs to be a true Best Picture contender.

Speaking of momentum — does anyone else feel like “The Departed” is gaining some? We don’t want to jinx things for you yet, Mr. Scorsese, but four solid weeks at the box office (it’s now inevitable that it will be the director’s biggest hit) and a surefire nomination for Jack Nicholson (though we’d love to see Wahlberg get one — no, seriously!) have nominations in the top categories looking more likely every day.

He’s only made two other full-length films (“Amores Perros” and “21 Grams”) before now, but it still seems kind of mind-boggling that Alejandro González Iñárritu hasn’t so much as gotten a nomination from the Academy thus far in his promising career. Look for that to change with his newest flick, “Babel,” another tale of intersecting lives decimated by random violence. It’s a downer of a flick (but then again “Million Dollar Baby” didn’t exactly have us humming afterward), so it won’t break the bank. It does, however, feature Brad Pitt in super-serious mode and looking — dare we say it — old. Not old-age-makeup old, just old.

The most interesting development to watch for as the awards season intensifies? The rift between Iñárritu and his screenwriting collaborator, Guillermo Arriaga, which is getting more public every week. The two are at odds over who is the true auteur behind their fascinating trilogy. Sounds juicy enough for a film all its own.

And another thing …

  • The first sure bet of the season might be Helen Mirren. Best Actress (for “The Queen”) is hers to lose as of today.
  • “Borat” is already the most buzzed-about comedy since “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” Is there a nomination to be had in there somewhere? Folks are still up in arms that “Virgin” didn’t get a screenplay nod.
  • The campaign for Derek Luke‘s first nomination, for the South African drama “Catch a Fire,” was dealt a tough blow this week with none-too-impressive numbers at the box office.
  • Similarly, Clint Eastwood‘s “Flags of Our Fathers” hasn’t packed in the crowds yet. There’s a sense out there that this one doesn’t have the legs of “Million Dollar Baby” or “Mystic River.”
  • Our campaign begins here: Abigail Breslin for Best Supporting Actress (in “Little Miss Sunshine”).

Check out everything we’ve got on Brad Pitt, “The Departed” and “Little Miss Sunshine.”

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