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'Changeling' may finally put Angelina Jolie back in the Oscars derby

October 3, 2008 |  1:44 pm

Angelina Jolie has not been nominated for an Academy Award since she won best supporting actress of 1999 for "Girl, Interrupted."

That's surprising considering Jolie's prominence in American pop culture, her Hollywood lineage as princess of a past Oscar king (Jon Voight, "Coming Home," 1978), popularity with other awards (three Golden Globes, two SAG Awards) and box-office success (movies grossing more than $2 billion worldwide).

Largely, the oversight is probably due to the choices she's made — preferring mostly popcorn pix — over the last decade. But last year Angelina Jolie had a good shot at a bid for her critically hailed turn as Mariane Pearl in "A Mighty Heart," which reaped her nominations from the Golden Globes, SAG, Indie Spirits and Critics Choice. When she failed to make the Oscar cut, award gurus wondered: Has Angelina Jolie's life in the tabloid headlines lost her the respect of those notorious snobs in the motion-picture academy? And, if so, can she ever win it back?


Now here comes Hollywood's most beloved cowboy and trusty Oscar magnet, Clint Eastwood, to the rescue as the director of "Changeling," which I saw Thursday at the New York Film Festival media screening.

Audience response: huzzahs galore. Clint has not only crafted another fine film that's going to garner widespread attention and admiration, but it's not an ensemble film like his last best-picture nominee, "Letters From Iwo Jima," or, to a lesser extent, his last best-pic winner, "Million Dollar Baby." It's all Angelina all the screen time.

You only care about this movie because you buy her performance as a heroic, real-life woman, circa 1930, who battled L.A. police when they locked her up in an insane asylum when she refused to accept a mysterious boy as her missing son. Four of the last five best-actress winners — and seven of the last 10 — portrayed real women. And it's a big, showy role at that, full of big crying scenes, booming declarations and righteous strutting. Oscar voters love all that.

One problem might be the fact that she doesn't bury her famous personality inside a vastly different character like Nicole Kidman did portraying Virginia Woolf in "The Hours" and Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II in "The Queen." But Julia Roberts didn't do that in "Erin Brockovich." That's a good parallel to make because, in both movies, the actresses are celebrated Hollywood beauties taking on defiant, crusading roles while looking and acting a lot like their lovely selves. Also: just like Jodie Foster in "The Silence of the Lambs" and, minus the crusading part, Cher in "Moonstruck." Obviously, Oscar voters like that sometimes.

Yes, that's true too of Angelina Jolie in "A Mighty Heart" — which had the plus of being based upon a real, heroic person as well — but Oscar voters like the movies they hail to be successful. "Heart" was a huge flop at the box office because studio execs foolishly decided to open it wide during summer, which was the wrong time of year for that kind of film, and a long time away on the calendar from derby season. Furthermore, it happened to be about a topic — war in the Mideast — which also came up short  of Oscar expectations for "In the Valley of Elah" and "Charlie Wilson's War." It's possible that Jolie was just one more casualty of war, bad timing and and dumb studio decisions.

However, that didn't stop her from being nominated for all of those other top Hollywood awards.

Now, though, she has a lucky Oscars charm: Clint Eastwood's movies have won chunks of academy gold for five actors — Gene Hackman ("Unforgiven"), Sean Penn and Tim Robbins ("Mystic River") and Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman ("Million Dollar Baby") — and generated four more nominations.

Four of his flicks have been nominated for best picture ("Unforgiven," "Mystic River," "Million Dollar Baby," "Letters From Iwo Jima") and two have won. Which sets up the next question: Can "Changeling" be nominated for best picture? We'll know more about that possibility when reviews are published and box-office receipts tallied. Meantime, its fans should be reminded of Clint's last derby trot two years ago when it looked, early on, like "Flags of Our Fathers" would be his best-pic contender. But when he released a second flick later that same derby season, "Letters From Iwo Jima" — in Japanese, no less — the latter zoomed ahead.

Up ahead on this year's track: Clint's next new release, "Gran Torino," in which he also stars, due out in December.

Oh, one last thing. Could be important. The only other time Angelina Jolie got nominated for, and won, an Oscar, her character was locked up in a looney bin. Had she kept that in mind while making "Changeling," maybe she wouldn't have put up such a nasty fight when being locked up in the cuckoo house again. A good omen? Or crazy thought?

(Paramount Vantage, Universal)