I’ve heard some “interesting spin” from two enthused sources over the last few days about Steven Zallian‘s All the Kings Men (Columbia, mid-to-late fall). They’re saying this period political drama, believe it or not, is going to be the film to beat in the 2006 Oscar race. Based on Robert Penn Warren‘s novel but for all practical purposes a remake of the Oscar- winning 1949 Robert Rossen film about a ruthless Southern politician modelled on Huey Long, the Mike Medavoy production was yanked from its 12.16.05 release on or about 10.20.05. (Here‘s the story I wrote when it happened.) Everyone presumed when this happened that there must have been something wrong with ATKM other than being reportedly too long. (The word I heard last fall was that prior to the schedule yanking King’s Men “didn’t test.”) In any event, I’m now told that 20 minutes have been cut from it and it’s “in pristine shape,” or so says a guy I would call a vaguely interested party. (I believe the part about 20 minutes being snipped, but no more.) This good fellow, who hasn’t seen ATKM himself but is a huge admirer of the script, is passing alone the claim that Sean Penn, who plays the lead character Willie Stark, gives a “brilliant” performance, and also that costar James Gandolfini, playing a deep-fried Southerner named Tiny Duffy, is “the miracle of this film”; good marks also for costar Mark Ruffalo. These spinners are also contending that another reason King’s Men was pulled, apart from the concern about length, is that Columbia had decided as of early last fall to place its Oscar bets on Rob Marshall‘s Memoirs of a Geisha because it didn’t want to finance dual campaigns that would have meant matching Geisha against ATKM, and because Columbia production chief Amy Pascal “had staked so much on” the former. (I don’t place much faith in this one either, as I was told last fall that Columbia clearly knew from research scores that Geisha was going to be a mixed-reaction film, at best.) If all this smoke turns out to be half-real and ATKM starts to be seriously talked up a Best Picture candidate next fall, fine. And if it all turns out to be flatulence….no real harm done.