Contender Earns Broadcast Critics' Honor

Political drama The Contender didn't make much of a splash when it was released in October, despite a number of factors that should have boosted its box-office pull — DreamWorks had timed the film's release prior to an especially bizarre election season, while co-star Gary Oldman and producer Douglas Urbanski had stirred up controversy by claiming they were unhappy with the picture's Democrat-friendly edit.

Still, The Contender failed to make much of an impact, either with critics or with audiences. As of year's end, the film had earned just $17.7 million in total receipts. When the Golden Globe nominations were announced in December, Joan Allen and Jeff Bridges were the only cast members to earn nods, while the film was shut out of the best picture category.

The Contender may finally get a break. The drama, which stars Allen as a vice presidential candidate who's at the center of a sexual scandal, will receive a special critics' award for outstanding films of social and political significance, it was announced Thursday.

The Broadcast Film Critics Association has chosen The Contender as the recipient of its annual Alan J. Pakula Award, named after the director of acclaimed Watergate drama All the President's Men.

The prize will be presented to the film's writer-director, former film critic Rod Lurie, and Contender cast members at the group's sixth annual Critics' Choice Awards luncheon Jan. 22. At that time, the group also will name its pick for the best film of 2000.

In The Contender, Gary Oldman stars as a Republican congressman trying to derail Allen's character (Democratic Sen. Laine Hanson) on her path to the vice presidency by dredging up her allegedly wild past. The film also stars Jeff Bridges, Sam Elliott, and Christian Slater.

"The fictional story of Senator Laine Hanson's horrific journey to become confirmed as the nation's first female vice president is a taut and timely analysis of why our current electoral system is incapable of attracting the most noble of our leaders to higher office," the critics' group said in a statement announcing the award.

Previous winners of the Pakula award include A Civil Action, based on a real-life toxic-waste lawsuit, and The Insider, about the efforts of the tobacco industry to silence a whistle-blower on CBS's 60 Minutes.

The Broadcast Film Critics Association claims to be the largest film critics' group in the United States and Canada, representing more than 140 television, radio, and online film reviewers.

Reuters contributed to this story.

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