With his previous feature film Australian director Baz Luhrmann came within tasting distance of a Best Picture Oscar, as well as several other awards. Moulin Rouge! (2001) did win two, for Costume Design and Art Direction, but all the glory that year went to other things. He must have taken notes; The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring cleaned up in the technical categories with four Oscars, and Black Hawk Down took two more. Two serious, disease-of-the-week dramas won in the "upper" categories: A Beautiful Mind and Iris. The following year, Luhrmann must have watched while the jaunty Chicago won Best Picture, and Roman Polanski won Best Director for his lengthy Holocaust drama, The Pianist.

So Luhrmann set out to work on his fourth film, Australia. Maybe it started out once, many years ago, as a 90-minute pop-Western about driving cattle and saving the farm. This entire section is bright and quick and exciting -- and lots of fun. But then perhaps he decided that that just wasn't enough, or at least it's not enough for anyone who wants to win a great big Best Director trophy. So at the 90-minute mark, Australia more or less stops, transforms itself into a giant-sized World War II drama, complete with grayness, dropping bombs and angel choruses, and keeps going for another interminable hour. But is it enough to fool Academy voters?