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And the Oscar best picture front-runner is ...

Cillian Murphy stands amid a flag-carrying audience in "Oppenheimer"
Cillian Murphy in the best picture Oscar front-runner “Oppenheimer”
(Melinda Sue Gordon / Universal Pictures)
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We’ve officially reached December, meaning I finally get to break out that Bonne Maman jam Advent calendar I bought six weeks ago and then do a couple of daily laps around the neighborhood to work off the carbs.

Will I see any pretty lights along my run? Looking at The Times’ guide to “dazzling holiday light displays that make SoCal shine,” it appears not, though I do have one neighbor whose house I saw from the sky last week when my plane circled the airport. Ho-ho-ho(rrible)!

I’m Glenn Whipp, columnist for the Los Angeles Times, host of The Envelope’s Friday newsletter and the guy happy to be jamming through the holidays. Let’s look at the week’s news.

As ‘The Color Purple’ arrives, the best picture race comes into focus

Oprah Winfrey believes the new film version of “The Color Purple” is “divinely touched.”

And at the movie’s first public screening, held a couple of weeks ago at the film academy’s Samuel L. Goldwyn Theater, nobody was going to argue with her. About half of the thousand people in the room, in fact, rose to applaud the closing credits, well before Oprah took the stage along with the film’s director, the memorably named Blitz Bazawule, and several members of its ensemble, including Fantasia Barrino, Danielle Brooks, Taraji P. Henson and Colman Domingo.

If the closing credits received a standing ovation, you can imagine the roar when these folks took the stage.

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Bazawule’s “The Color Purple” is an adaptation of the 2005 Broadway musical, which, of course, was based on Alice Walker’s revered 1982 novel, just as Steven Spielberg’s 1985 film was. The movie is centered on the journey of Celie (Barrino, reprising her Broadway turn) from a downtrodden victim of abuse to a radiant, thriving and, yes, divinely touched woman. The film is rousing, moving, flawed, fearless, sentimental (at times, to a fault) and wildly entertaining.

And after being embraced by voters at that first screening and subsequent showings that weekend — around 2,000 awards voters saw the film in the space of four days — “The Color Purple” seems assured of an Oscar nomination for best picture.

When you consider that academy members have given the last two best picture prizes to “CODA” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” gooey movies (not a criticism) that dropped depth charges into viewers’ hearts, it seems that “The Color Purple” and its conveyor belt of catharsis can’t miss.

What other movies are on solid ground at the moment? And which films will have to fight for a place at the table? I’m glad you asked. Because even at this relatively early juncture, the Oscar best picture race feels relatively close to being set, as I noted in a column that ran this week. Is your favorite movie (or most-anticipated movie) included? Give it a look.

“The Color Purple,” starring Fantasia Barrino, center, Taraji P. Henson, left and Danielle Brooks.
“The Color Purple,” starring Fantasia Barrino, center, Taraji P. Henson, left and Danielle Brooks, will almost certainly be joining the best picture Oscar race.
(Warner Bros. Pictures)

Penélope Cruz is the ‘beating heart’ of ‘Ferrari’

Penélope Cruz enters the Michael Mann biopic “Ferrari” with a scene that manages to be funny, shocking, revealing and — hear me out — operatic.

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Also: She didn’t want to do it.

At least, she tells me she didn’t want to do it the way it was written. Playing Laura Ferrari, the wife and business partner of motor racing mogul Enzo Ferrari, Cruz was called on to unleash her character’s pent-up rage by firing a gun at a wall behind Enzo when he arrives home after spending the night, presumably, in the arms of another woman. (It turns out, Laura doesn’t even know the half of it.)

The scene terrified Cruz, and she asked director Mann if she could do it without firing the gun because she didn’t think she could pull off the combination of heightened melodrama and comedy. Mann’s response: “That’s not going to happen. We’re only going to do this version because it will work.”

And it does. When “Ferrari” premiered at the Venice Film Festival in late August, the audience laughed — partly from shock, partly from appreciation of the way Cruz nailed the scene. Her fierce portrayal of Laura, a woman consumed by grief over the death of her son and stewing with resentment over the dismissive way her husband and others treat her, is one of the highlights of the film, which opens in theaters Christmas Day. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Cruz, an Oscar winner and four-time nominee, most recently for the 2021 Pedro Almodóvar film “Parallel Mothers,” at the Academy Awards again.

I caught up with Cruz not too long ago for a delightful conversation that included more talk about “Ferrari” (of course), but also trying to understand why her No. 1 hobby is reading books about medicine (knowledge that came in handy when she tested positive for COVID right before the 2021 Oscars) and what’s up with that Nancy Meyers rom-com she was set to star in.

“I really think the world needs more romantic comedies,” Cruz says. “I don’t agree that people don’t want to see romantic comedies. I just don’t buy it. I go back all the time to the ones I love, like Jim Brooks and Billy Wilder and Nancy. They’re magic.”

Penélope Cruz has a memorable role in the upcoming "Ferrari."
(Celeste Sloman / For The Times)

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The 27 best movie theaters in Los Angeles

If you’re reading this newsletter, I’m guessing you love to go to the movies — though sometimes that can be a frustrating experience, what with the person in front of you talking and texting through the whole film or a with a presentation that is less than optimal.

But as you’d expect from the City of Stars, Los Angeles has many great places to see a film, including classic movie palaces like the newly reopened Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood or a bustling multiplex like the AMC Burbank 16, which my pal Mary McNamara says is the best place to catch a big tentpole or horror film and chat about it afterward with strangers. Also, she writes, “It’s an AMC, so you get to cheer on Nicole Kidman and her sparkly pantsuit, now an official cinematic tradition.” Damn straight.

Mary, myself and a host of other Times writers put forward our individual lists of 10 favorites, turned them over to movies editor Josh Rothkopf who, through some sort of calculation, came up with a definitive list of the 27 best movie theaters in Los Angeles. Check out the guide, which comes complete with a map and profiles of each of the theaters. No popcorn, though. You have to supply that for yourself.

An illustration of a theater goer who sits in the audience surrounded by characters from 2023 movies.
(Matt Talbot / For The Times)

Feedback?

I’d love to hear from you. Email me at glenn.whipp@latimes.com.

Can’t get enough about awards season? Follow me at @glennwhipp on Twitter.

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