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Cinderella Crowe set to work awards magic

Los Angeles, May 26 (Reuters): It may seem early to be talking about Oscars and Golden Globes, but after seeing the Russell Crowe-boxing movie Cinderella Man, itís clear that one of this yearís five best picture slots is already spoken for.

The drama, which boasts strong performances by both Crowe as Depression-era heavyweight boxing champion James J. Braddock and Renee Zellweger as his wife, and a memorable supporting performance by Paul Giamatti as his manager, is a safe bet to impact across the board in this yearís awards races.

At its premiere on Monday night, the Universal/Miramax co-production played to extended applause and prompted favourable comments at the after-party from insiders who typically arenít very generous with their praise in off-the-record conversations.

Not surprisingly with a strong word-of-mouth picture like this, Universal will sneak-preview Cinderella.

This Sunday evening the studio will hold about 760 showings of the film in about 165 markets. It opens on June 3 at about 2,800 theatres.

Directed by Ron Howard from a screenplay by rookie scribe Cliff Hollingsworth and Oscar-winner Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind), it was produced by Howard, his Imagine Entertainment partner Brian Grazer and Penny Marshall.

Besides being an awards contender, Cinderella should also benefit at the box office as Universalís Seabiscuit did two years ago from being an intelligent film for adult audiences playing in a sea of summer popcorn pictures. Over the years, well-made movies targeted to adults have shown that there is an audience available in the summer time that wants something more than just sci-fi action adventures with comic book roots.

Among the summer successes aimed at adults are Seabiscuit, which grossed over $120 million domestically after opening in late July 2003; Forrest Gump, which grossed nearly $330 million after opening in July 1994; The Road to Perdition, which grossed over $104 million after opening in July 2002; and The Notebook, which grossed $81 million domestically after opening late last June.

Thanks to its summer theatrical launch, Cinderella will also have the big advantage of being ready for DVD release just as the awards season is heating up in December. This was part of the strategy that worked so well both for Seabiscuit and for Universalís 2004 Oscar-winner Ray.

Cinderella boasts one of the strongest possible arrays of Hollywood talent across the board, including Oscar-winners Howard, Grazer, Crowe, and Zellweger. Giamatti, who got the cold shoulder last year from Oscar voters who otherwise embraced Sideways and its stars, should expect some redress this time. In Cinderella, he delivers a performance that covers a much wider emotional range of both drama and comedy.

Crowe nabbed an Oscar in 2001 for Gladiator, but was left out the following year when A Beautiful Mind won for best picture (Howard and Grazer), director (Howard), adapted screenplay (Goldsman) and supporting actress (Jennifer Connelly). It is a safe bet that Crowe will nail down one of the five best actor slots in awards races across the board.

Zellweger, too, is a likely candidate for best actress nominations in key races. Although she won best supporting actress in 2004 for Cold Mountain, she lost in the actress race twice ' in 2003 for Chicago and in 2002 for Bridget Jonesís Diary.

Zellwegerís performance provides some emotional glue, making Cinderella more than just a film about boxing.

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