Coming Soon: Oscar’s big hitters prepare for battle

For you and me, February’s Academy Awards might just be an opportunity to ogle some over-priced frocks, but Hollywood is utterly obsessed with them, judging by the shameless way it’s cramming all of its most Oscar-worthy releases into the next few weeks.

Unlike last year, there isn’t a film or a pair of films that’s bound to grab every award in sight, but there are some definite frontrunners in the Best Actor category. The shortlist will probably include Frank Langella, a toweringly monstrous yet gruffly human Richard Nixon in the film of Peter Morgan’s play, Frost/Nixon (23 Jan, pictured). Sean Penn is a contender, too, playing another real-life 1970s politician in Milk (23 Jan).

Mickey Rourke is a teeny bit typecast as a musclebound has-been with a wrecked face in Darren Aronofsky’s bittersweet The Wrestler (16 Jan). And Brad Pitt could get a nomination for David Fincher’s Forrest Gumpish epic The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (6 Feb). He’s a man who’s born old and ages backwards, so he should |really share any prizes he gets with the make-up and special-effects teams.

In the Best Actress category, Anne Hathaway leads the field with her abrasive portrayal of a recovering drug addict at her sister’s wedding in Rachel Getting Married (23 Jan). Revolutionary Road (30 Jan) could snag an Oscar for one or both of Titanic’s doomed lovers, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. They’re reunited in a drama directed by Sam Mendes (Mr Kate Winslet), this time as a husband and wife drowning in the conformity of 1950s suburbia. In the Foreign Language Film category, the smart money is on The Class (27 Feb), last year’s Palme d’Or winner at Cannes. It’s a brilliant dramatisation of writer/star François Bégaudeau’s stint as a teacher in inner city Paris.

Still, the weeks ahead aren’t just about Kate Winslet looking serious. There’s something fantastic about the fact that on the very day that Frost/Nixon is released, its co-star, Michael Sheen, can also be seen as a frequently shirtless werewolf in Underworld 3: Rise of the Lycans |(23 Jan).

More enticingly, there’s Watchmen (6 Mar), the long-awaited adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ supremely brainy superhero graphic novel. Speaking of long-awaited, Woody Allen is back on form at last with Vicky Cristina Barcelona (6 Feb), starring Scarlett Johansson. It’s pointed, funny and sexy... and it may even get an Oscar nomination.