The big battle this year at the Academy Awards won't be between hobbits and schizophrenics but between singing murderesses, suicidal lesbians and a Holocaust survivor. Baz Luhurmann didn't make the cut last year for directing Moulin Rouge! but his loss may have set the stage for first-time director Rob Marshall's Chicago to steal this year's Oscar limelight. The big musical isn't exactly back but Miramax will tell you otherwise. If you didn't already know: Weinstein & Co. will do anything for Oscar gold. The indie heavyweight is involved with no less than four of this year's Best Picture nominees but a win for Chicago is the prized booty. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring took a major fall to A Beautiful Mind last year and while The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers managed to snag a Best Picture nomination, Peter Jackson lost his Best Director spot to Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar. Here are Slant Magazine's predictions for who will leave the Kodak Theatre with Oscar on their arm and who will leave empty-handed.
ACTOR: Since 1995, the Screen Actors Guild has predicted Oscar's Best Actor winner six-out-of-eight times. (Benicio del Toro took the SAG award in 2001 in the lead category but ended up winning the Best Supporting Actor prize on Oscar night; and while Russell Crowe won the SAG award over Oscar-winner Denzel Washington last year, Crowe's win could be seen in part as a consolation prize for having lost one year prior to del Toro.) In The Quiet American, two-time Oscar winner Michael Caine gives what could be the performance of his career. His immaculate turn as a British journalist struggling against American imperialism in Southeast Asia rightfully earned him an Oscar nomination. But with no SAG nod heading into Oscar night and with Miramax spending most of their budget in this category on fellow-nominee Daniel Day-Lewis, Caine will once again miss out on the Best Actor prize. Nicolas Cage, who played twins Charlie and Donald Kaufman in the critically-acclaimed Adaptation., may have also given the performance of his career but he was dutifully overshadowed by co-stars Chris Cooper and Meryl Streep. A previous Best Actor winner for his work in Leaving Las Vegas, Cage is just lucky to be here after rightfully nabbing his nomination from Golden Globe winner Richard Gere. That leaves two former winners in this category and a relative newcomer duking it out for what is slowly becoming one of the most unpredictable races in Oscar history. Voters this year will have to decide between the quietness of 29-year-old Adrien Brody's turn as Holocaust survivor Wladyslaw Szpilman, Day-Lewis's gloriously over-the-top performance as Bill the Butcher in Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York and Jack Nicholson's turn as a self-centered man in his 60s coming to terms with death and the world around him. Voters may be turned off by critics' favorite Day-Lewis's scenery-chewing but, more importantly, they'll wonder how many more Oscars they can give to three-time winner Mr. Nicholson. That About Schmidt failed to nab a nomination in the Original Screenplay category after winning a Golden Globe suggests that the film isn't as popular with Academy members as one would imagine. Damien Bona, co-author of Inside Oscar and author of last year's Inside Oscar 2 says, "That leaves Brody. While his performance is more passive (or reactive) than most Oscar-winning work, it was physically grueling and emotionally affecting. And what I think may put him over the top is that giving an Oscar to Brody enables the Academy to honor The Pianist without specifically rewarding Roman Polanski. That's a compromise which, I think, would please everyone." The Pianist clearly has its fans and while Brody may benefit from a vote-split, he's still too young and relatively unknown in comparison to his fellow nominees. This race is so close at this point that a three-way tie wouldn't come as much of a surprise. It's Brody vs. Day-Lewis with Nicholson bringing up the rear. With SAG now on his side, we give Day-Lewis a slight advantage.
Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs of New York)
Should Win: Adrien Brody (The Pianist)
ACTRESS: This year's Best Actress race is a battle royale that pits Nicole Kidman against her Hours co-star Julianne Moore, nominated for her performance in Todd Haynes's Far from Heaven. Kidman won her third Golden Globe in January in a surprise victory over Moore. Though the preening agitprop of The Hours predictably appealed to Academy members more than the delicate nuances of Haynes's masterpiece, there is no question that Kidman's performance as tortured lesbian high priestess Virginia Woolf is a work of great complexity, if not a tad too methody for some tastes. But there's been much scrutiny as to whether Kidman even deserves to be in this category: Moore is nominated in the supporting actress category for her performance as another repressed 50s housewife in The Hours despite appearing on screen three minutes longer than Kidman. Regarding this controversy, Bona points out: "Discussion about the brevity of Kidman's performance has died down over the last few weeks, with greater attention being paid to the (in)accuracy of her (and the film's) portrayal of Virginia Woolf, and the prosthetic nose. Other actors, such as Geoffrey Rush in Shine, Patricia Neal in Hud, Frances McDormand in Fargo triumphed on Oscar night despite abbreviated screen time. I think the length of Kidman's performance will not be as much of a negative factor for her as the sheer dreariness of the movie she's in." Diane Lane finally received the respect of the Academy this year but Unfaithful has less fans than her critically-acclaimed performance. As for Salma Hayek, it's unclear whether the Academy was truly enamored by her evocation of Frida Khalo in Julie Taymor's white-washed Frida or if they were swayed by the killer make-up job. The non-controversial Renée Zellweger earned a nomination for her wicked turn as Roxy Hart in Chicago and stands a chance of winning an Oscar if voters can't decide between Kidman's nose and Moore's glorious costumes. All three have paid their dues but with Moore nominated in two categories and positioned as the night's sentimental favorite, will the Academy want to throw her a bone? "Figuring that she doesn't have much of a chance in the lead category, those who like Moore in Far from Heaven might vote for her in Supporting just for the hell of it," says Bona. Indeed, Far from Heaven wasn't very popular with the Academy so a win for her in this category is beginning to look unlikely. It's The Hours versus Chicago once again and we're giving it to SAG-winner Zellweger by a nose (sorry Nicole!).
Will Win: Renée Zellweger (Chicago)
Should Win: Julianne Moore (Far from Heaven)
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Acting veteran Paul Newman received a nomination this year for his work in Road to Perdition but the film was soon forgotten after being touted as an early Oscar favorite. The bum-rush to nominate Chicago in as many categories as possible clearly worked to John C. Reilly's advantage. The actor had a stellar year and appears in two other Best Picture nominees: Gangs of New York and The Hours. His Amos "Mr. Cellophane" Hart gave Chicago its heart but Academy members are likely to see through this performance in favor of Ed Harris's stagey turn as an AIDS victim in The Hours. Oscar previously rewarded Philadelphia's Tom Hanks for doing the same thing but while Harris is genuinely respected by the Academy (this is the actor's fourth nomination since 1996), his performances seem to always fall just under the radar. This year's award for Best Supporting Actor is Chris Cooper's to lose. His turn as orchid-lover John Laroche in Adaptation. has wowed critics and has already earned him the Golden Globe. It's a quirky turn but Cooper is every bit as respected as Harris and has paid his dues since his big screen debut in John Sayles's Matewan back in 1987. Christopher Walken, though, won a SAG award for his performance in the successful Catch Me If You Can. While the film has been dismissed by some as a fluff piece, Walken has garnered nothing but good notices for his lovely performance. Another close one, but this may be the one category where indie favorite Adaptation. has the best chance of prevailing.
Will Win: Chris Cooper (Adaptation.)
Should Win: Chris Cooper (Adaptation.)