face of the Oscar race may be getting an overhaul, if Tom O’Neil’s Gold Derby is right – Warner Bros is going to give Letters From Iwo Jima a one week New York and LA qualifying run at the end of the year.

Letters is the companion piece to Clint Eastwood’s recent disappointment, Flags of Our Fathers, and it tells the story of Iwo Jima from the Japanese POV. Many people have been saying that it’s the better of the two films (considering that it will have no weepy Indians, it has to be), and that Ken Watanabe gives an incredible performance. The movie was always opening in Japan in December, but it was being held from US audiences until February, probably as a way of keeping the box office and Oscar race clear for Flags. Now that Flags is kaput in both, the strategy seems to be to get Clint a horse in this race no matter what.

If you had asked me two days ago who would get the Best Director Oscar this year, I would have told you without hesitation Martin Scorsese. But now… This really throws a wrench into all the careful predicting people have been doing (and even forces me to eat some words, as just yesterday I corrected someone on our message boards, saying Letters was a 2007 release!). How sadly ironic it would be if Warner Bros sabotaged Marty’s chance of getting his first Director Oscar for their biggest hit of the year?

I do hope the film is good – the Iwo Jima scenes in Flags were the highlight of the movie, and not just because of the battle. Clint seems to have really found something about that volcanic landscape that resonated with him, and every shot on the island was gorgeous.