Jim Carrey's next big hush-hush project is a film called "The Bijou," co-written by director/writer Frank Darabont, whose previous credits include "The Green Mile" and "Shawshank Redemption."

"The Bijou" is an homage to Hollywood director Frank Capra, who so captured America on film that John Cassavetes once said, "Maybe there really wasn't an America; maybe it was only Frank Capra."

Actor Martin Landau, who has a sizable role in the film and will play a father-of-sorts to Carrey's character, says, "It reads like a Capra script that had been lying on the shelf since the '50s and one that would have won him an Oscar."

Landau says this is Carrey's first "straight role" outside of "The Truman Show" in 1998. "It is his Jimmy Stewart role," Landau says of Carrey's character in "The Bijou."

Landau, who won a Best Actor Oscar in 1994 for his brilliant portrayal of Bela Lugosi in "Ed Wood," didn't really know Darabont personally before being invited to meet with him.

"We had a four-hour lunch and were joined at the head about this movie," he says.

The film, which is being produced by Castle Rock Entertainment and Warner Bros. is expected to be a big-budget film. "Carrey doesn't do low-budget films," says Landau, an understatement considering Carrey's current asking price of $20 million and his estimated 5 percent fee off the box-office gross. But Carrey could take a smaller fee for this movie. Shooting is slated to start in March and will be wrapped before the Screen Actors Guild contract expires in July.

"If it isn't a mainstream film like "The Grinch" or a sequel like "Ace Ventura," for which he would get $30 million, he might take $12 million for a non-mainstream film," says Robert Buxbaum at Reel Source Inc.

The budget will also include Darabont's $10 million fee.

Can Tom Hanks steal the little gold man away from "Gladiator" star Russell Crowe in this year's Oscar race? Seems Hanks has struck box-office gold again in "Cast Away," with the biggest Christmas weekend opening of any movie in history. It raked in a whopping $40 million in its first four days, beating the $25.3 million that Robin Williams' "Patch Adams" grossed on the Christmas 1998 weekend. It could end up driving Hanks' asking price per picture now $20 million up to $25 million or more.

Also likely is an Oscar nod, say Hollywood box-office analysts.

"Considering that the majority of Academy members are mostly older males who are frowning down upon Crowe's extra marital affair with Meg Ryan, Crowe probably won't even get nominated," says box-office tracker Cary Williams.

The year-end box-office performance of Crowe's "Proof of Life" may also mirror public disapproval. Playing in 2,705 theaters over the Christmas holiday weekend, it grossed a paltry $18.8 million in its first three weeks. Its Christmas weekend performance was way off its opening weekend gross, and the picture now seems to be disappearing off the radar screen completely.

Without Crowe, this year's Oscar race for Best Actor is a horse race between Michael Douglas for "Wonder Boys" and Tom Hanks for "Cast Away," with an outside chance for Geoffrey Rush in "Quills."

Contributing reporter Anita Talbert can be reached via e-mail at Anita@la.com.

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