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Oscar 2003 Winner Predictions

The big battle this year will be between singing murderesses, suicidal lesbians, and a Holocaust survivor.

Chicago
Photo: Miramax

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.)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Does a vote for Zellweger necessarily translate into a vote for Catherine Zeta-Jones? Bona suggests, “It does seem that the world has become divided into Zellweger people—those who love her vulnerability and warmth—and Zeta-Jones people, who are bowled over by Mrs. Douglas’s steely professionalism and beauty.” Note to Kathy Bates and Queen Latifah: you did good but thanks for playing! Meryl Streep received a Golden Globe for her delirious performance as writer Susan Orlean in Adaptation. and enters the Oscar race as the most nominated actress in Academy history. Streep clearly has the respect of her peers but her competition in this category is much stiffer than Chris Cooper’s in the Supporting Actor race. Bona says, “Although I think Zeta-Jones will likely prevail, Streep is competitive for the first time since Out Of Africa in 1985 simply because she’s so non-Meryl: she’s loose and funny and un-self-conscious.” Streep may have a difficult time squeaking past Zeta-Jones but her greatest enemy here may be Julianne Moore. Bona observes that Kidman fans are just as likely to vote for Moore as they are for Streep, even though she’s nominated for Adaptation. and not The Hours.” It does appear that Streep’s presence will hurt Moore the most. We’re guessing that Adaptation. fans gave their vote to Moore when they couldn’t vote for Streep at the SAGs. Unless Zeta-Jones murders Michael Douglas sometime between her SAG victory and the time Oscar ballots are due, she has this one in the bag. If she’s the beloved prom queen of the evening, then Moore is the sentimental favorite—the girl who gets pig blood dumped on her head by the popular clique. No one wants to mess with a double-nominee but on award’s night, popularity always rules.

Will Win: Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago)

Should Win: Meryl Streep (Adaptation.)

ANIMATED FEATURE: Last year, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius squeaked past Waking Life for a nomination and the glib, superficial Shrek won over the Pixar gem Monsers, Inc. This year, there are five nominees: box office success but critical dud Ice Age; the adorable Lilo & Stitch; the insufferable, aggressively marketed Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron; Hayao Miyazaki’s ravishing Spirited Away; and box office dud Treasure Planet. DreamWorks launched several near-offensive campaigns to get their various films nominated for Oscars. Both Road to Perdition and Catch Me If You Can failed to make much of an impression with Academy members but the corny Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron has all the, um, catchy Bryan Adams songs. The Academy isn’t known for their good taste but we’ll go out on a limb anyway and predict Spirited Away will squeak past the DreamWorks horse toon.

Will Win: Spirited Away

Should Win: Spirited Away

ART DIRECTION: We’ll go on the record right now and predict that Frida will be one of the night’s big winners. Nominated in six categories, the Julie Taymor bio-flick had the look and texture of cotton candy even if its representation of Mexico was far from authentic. Gordon Sim and John Myhre’s sets for Chicago may be too gloomy while the designers behind The Two Towers are unlikely to prevail considering that The Fellowship of the Ring couldn’t defeat Moulin Rouge last year. Dennis Gassner and Nancy Haigh, previous winners for their work on Bugsy, are nominated here for Road to Perdition but their work was overshadowed (pun intended) by Conrad L. Hall’s cinematography. Frida’s fiercest competition comes from Gangs of New York. Dante Ferretti is a five-time loser in this category and while his work for the Martin Scorsese film looks like a million bucks, Academy members may have been too distracted by the blood on the snow to truly savor the film’s glorious evocation of a bygone New York.

Will Win: Frida

Should Win: Gangs of New York

CINEMATOGRAPHY: It’s been a while since the Academy handed out a posthumous Oscar. Conrad L. Hall, a ten-time nominee and winner for his work on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and American Beauty, died this past January from bladder cancer. Road to Perdition peaked early and while it failed to strike a nerve with most critics, everyone agreed that the film looked great. Hall enters the race with a Golden Satellite and American Society of Cinematographers award to his name. Dione Beebe’s camerawork for Chicago may have been undermined by the film’s editing. Ditto Michael Ballhaus’s cinematography for Gangs of New York. Pawel Edelman’s camerawork for The Pianist is just to subtle for the Academy’s taste. Hall’s only competition comes from Edward Lachman, a first-time nominee for his glorious work on Todd Haynes’s Far from Heaven. In the battle between the new guy and the dead guy, we give the edge to the dead one.

Will Win: Road to Perdition

Should Win: Far from Heaven

COSTUME DESIGN: The Hours and The Pianist make surprise appearances in the Costume Design category over The Two Towers and Far from Heaven. Neither film stands a chance against the glitzy outfits from Chicago, the rainbow-colored rags worn by Scorsese’s gangs of New York and the sexy garbs from Frida. Chicago has Colleen Atwood and Gangs of New York has Sandy Powell. They’re two of the most famous costume designers in the industry but if they cancel each other out, Julie Weiss could sneak in and win for her work on Frida. Atwood dressed the more popular of the three films and a win for her here would be her first win since being first nominated in 1995 for Little Women. No skin off Weinstein’s back: the three main competitors in this category are all Miramax-owned.

Will Win: Chicago

Should Win: Frida

DIRECTOR: The director’s branch of the academy tends to make the classiest choices. Case in point: Pedro Almodóvar’s surprise nomination for his regal and sensual Talk to Her. Almodóvar’s All About My Mother is a previous Oscar-winner and Talk to Her is poised to win for its screenplay, but with no DGA nomination to his name or an accompanying Best Picture nomination for his film, the Spanish auteur is a longshot in this category. Roman Polanski scores his third Best Director nomination for his acclaimed Holocaust epic The Pianist, a film that’s slowly emerging as this year’s sentimental favorite. The film is still only in limited release but has made an impression with audiences and critics alike. The Academy is very forgiving and Polanski definitely has his friends (shortly after being charged with the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl during a party at Jack Nicholson’s house, he nonetheless scored a Best Director nomination in 1981 for his work on Tess). The acclaimed director enters the race with a BAFTA award, DGA nomination, and several critics’ awards under his belt. If there’s anyone in the category who can defeat Scorsese it’s certainly Polanski, who’s every bit as respected and whose career goes back to the early 50s. Gangs of New York is certainly more divisive than The Pianist but the general belief is that Scorsese is long overdue for a Best Director prize. Steven Daldry, a previous nominee for Billy Elliot, could score a possible upset on Oscar night but Rob Marshall, despite being considerably overshadowed by the success of his Chicago, took this year’s DGA award. In the 55 years since the DGA began handing out awards, only five times has the winner of their prize not gone on to win the Oscar. A loss for Scorsese at this point would be seen as one of the most shameless and egregious Oscar insults in recent history but Marshall seems to have the odds in his favor.

Will Win: Rob Marshall (Chicago)

Should Win: Roman Polanski (The Pianist)

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: It seems that Academy members in this category have made worse decisions than the Bush administration. Notable non-nominees throughout the years: Hearts of Darkness, Hoop Dreams, Truth or Dare and just about any film by Errol Morris and Frederick Wiseman. Back in 1990, Michael Moore’s Roger & Me also failed to get a nomination after winning the documentary prize from all four major critic’s groups in the United States. Not only does Moore’s Bowling for Columbine already stand as the most popular documentary of all time but it’s also been egregiously branded the best documentary of all time by the International Documentary Association. These are tough times and Bowling for Columbine’s exposé of America’s “culture of fear” and obsession with violence should have no problem appealing to members of the Academy opposed to a war with Iraq. That the Writers Guild of America gave the documentary an award for its screenplay suggests that its appeal extends far and wide. Favorites in this category have lost many times before and the film’s fiercest competition may come from the finest nominee in the category, Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco’s Daughter from Danag, a heartbreaking chronicle that reunites former “Operation Babylift” orphan Heidi Bub with her Vietnamese mother after 22 years apart. Also vying for the top prize is Prisoner of Paradise, the only nominee in the category to receive nominations from both the Academy and the DGA. It’s also this year’s requisite Holocaust-themed nominee, a Civil Rights Movement and who fondly remember Rosa Parks’s refusal to give up favorite with voters in this category. The film tells the story of Kurt Gerron, a cabaret performer who was forced to write and direct propaganda for the Nazi party while being held prisoner in a concentration camp. The longshots here include Spellbound, a funny and insightful behind-the-scenes glimpse at the National Spelling Bee, and Winged Migration, a Baraka-lite chronicle of bird habits co-directed by Jacques Perrin.

Will Win: Bowling for Columbine

Should Win: Bowling for Columbine

DOCUMENTARY SHORT: The documentary branches of the academy aren’t really as predictable as you’d imagine (remember when Buena Vista Social Club lost to One Day in September?). Twin Towers is directed by Robert David Port and Bill Guttentag and follows a Harlem-based NYPD Emergency Service Unit as they respond to the September 11th crisis. Guttentag is a five-time nominee and a previous winner in this category for 1988’s You Don’t Have to Die (the film’s co-director, Malcolm Clarke, also competes this year but in the documentary feature category with his Prisoner of Paradise). With a title like Twin Towers it’d be easy to pinpoint the film as this year’s winner, but the film may have a difficult time distinguishing itself from the countless television specials since 9/11 on the same topic. Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks is a collection of interviews by people who experienced the her seat in the back of a Montgomery, Alabama bus, which was recently bought and restored by the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan. Sadly, the documentary branches of the Academy have never responded well to the plight of underprivileged blacks, and as such Why Can’t We Be a Family Again?, the story of a woman whose crack addiction has devastating effects on her family, is the category’s longshot. We’ll go out on a limb and predict that this year’s prize will go to The Collector of Bedford Street, Alice Elliott’s sensitive account of 60-year-old Larry Selman, a man plagued with developmental disabilities, diabetes and depression who spent the last 25 years raising over $125,000 for local non-profit organizations. A film this life-affirming and stirring with such humanity seems difficult to ignore.

Will Win: The Collector of Bedford Street

FILM EDITING: The Fellowship of the Ring lost in this category last year to Black Hawk Down so a win for The Two Towers seems unlikely. Because the Academy is typically attracted to films with flashy editing (recent winners include Saving Private Ryan, Traffic, and The Matrix), The Pianist is entirely too intimate and quietly paced to win here. Gangs of New York and Chicago have both received considerable criticism for their editing, the latter more so because it wasn’t necessarily in service of the film’s story. Still, both films recently garnered awards from the American Cinema Editors (Chicago in the Comedy or Musical category, Gangs of New York in the Dramatic), which has a decent track record of predicting a winner in this category. In the last ten years, Gladiator and Braveheart were the only films that failed to win an Oscar after winning an award with the American Cinema Editors. If there’s a bias here against big, brash epics, Gangs of New York stands at a disadvantage against Chicago or The Hours, which has received mostly good praises for Peter Boyle’s editing of the film’s three different storylines. Thelma Schoonmaker is a four-time nominee and one-time winner in this category for Raging Bull but Boyle and Chicago editor Martin Walsh worked on the bigger crowd-pleasers. It’s a close one but we give the edge to Chicago.

Will Win: Chicago

Should Win: The Pianist

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: City of God failed to get a nomination in this category and Spain took considerable heat for failing to submit Talk to Her for consideration. No matter, Almodóvar’s film and Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mama Tambien scored surprise nominations in the Original Screenplay category. The Latin contingency is represented here by the controversial Mexican film El Crimen del Padre Amaro, the story of a young priest who finds himself slowly submitting to the ways of the flesh. The film was hugely popular both in its native country and the United States and is positioned as the film to beat. Aki Kaurismäki’s The Man Without a Past scored Finland its first nomination in this category but this story of an amnesiac trying to find himself amid the homeless may be too slow for the Academy. A longshot here is Zhang Yimou’s Hero, a film that has earned comparisons (some unfavorable) to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Miramax is handling the latter’s distribution rights and some are predicting that the studio may let the film die if it doesn’t win an Oscar in this category. Zus & Zo, which chronicles the attempts of three sisters to prevent the marriage of their younger brother, could be the spoiler if for no other reason than the fact that the last three films nominated from the Netherlands (Character, Antonia’s Line and The Assault) have all won Oscars. Then again, none of those films had to compete with a film as topical and popular as El Crimen del Padre Amaro. If Mexico loses, it’s going to be to Nowhere in Africa, the story of German Jews who immigrate to Kenya during WWII. Though the tediously paced film exoticizes its African characters, the performances are every bit as ravishing as its African vistas. This old-fashioned, feel-good film from Germany has won all sorts of international prizes and should easily appeal to older Academy members not in the mood to award naughty Mexicans for taking pointed jabs at Catholicism.

Will Win: Nowhere in Africa

Should Win: Hero

MAKE-UP: Yes, The Hours and The Two Towers didn’t make the cut. Usually seven contenders emerge after the pre-award tally. To the surprise of pundits and voters alike, only two emerged this year: Frida (John E. Jackson and Beatrice de Alba for making Salma Hayek look ugly) and The Time Machine (John M. Elliott Jr. and Barbara Lorenz for turning Jeremy Irons into a futuristic goth queen). The latter has considerably less fans than the former, which has received nothing but praise for its colorfully theatrical aesthetic and Hayek’s near-seamless physical transformation into painter Frida Khalo. This could be one of several victories for Frida on Oscar night.

Will Win: Frida

Should Win: Frida

SCORE: Eighty-year-old Elmer Bernstein earned his 14th nomination this year for Far from Heaven. His score was a near-perfect evocation of Frank Skinner’s own work for Douglas Sirk on All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind and has won him several awards from various critics’ groups including the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and Online Film Critics Association while John Williams earned his 42nd nomination for his retro, lively work on Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can. Both works may be entirely too subtle for the Academy’s tastes while Thomas Newman’s score for Road to Perdition may be seen as a lame reworking of his Oscar-nominated compositions for American Beauty. A colleague humorously said this past December that he found The Hours virtually indistinguishable from Naqoyqatsi. An isolated Phillip Glass score is a work of singular beauty but when set to montages depicting free market chaos and portraitures of lesbian grief across time, their respective films become nothing short of overwrought. The Hours is the most popular film in the category but Glass is too experimental a composer to appeal to older members. Elliot Goldenthal earned his third and fourth Oscar nominations this year for his score to Frida and for co-writing the song “Burn It Blue” with director Julie Taymor. Working to Goldenthal’s advantage is his surprise Golden Globe victory. Since 1993, only four Golden Globe winners in this category (Aladdin, The Lion King, Titanic, and The English Patient), have gone on to win Oscars. Though Goldenthal’s Golden Globe victory in January isn’t a sure-fire guarantee that he’ll prevail on Oscar night, it should be noted that four films (Heaven & Earth, The Truman Show, The Legend of 1900, and Moulin Rouge) couldn’t even score Oscar nominations after winning at the Golden Globes. If Frida loses in this category, it joins Gladiator as the only film in the last ten years to win a Golden Globe but lose the Oscar in the same category.

Will Win: Frida

Should Win: Far from Heaven

SONG: If the Oscars had a category for flatulence, Miramax would have had the entire cast of Chicago farting throughout the film. When Harvey Weinstein realized that no song from the film would be eligible to compete in the Original Song category, he commissioned John Kander and Fred Ebb to write a new song for the film. The good news is that the catchy “I Move On” seamlessly blends in with the existing song and dance numbers on the film’s successful soundtrack and appears as background over the film’s closing credits. That the song wasn’t nominated for a Golden Globe suggests that some voters may see through Weinstein’s transparent award-mongering. But do fans of Chicago really think that Zellweger and Zeta-Jones can sing and dance as well as the film’s editors would have us believe? Lucky for Weinstein that Zeta-Jones is with child or audiences and voters alike would soon understand what critic Armond White meant when he said, “Gullible reviewers predictably fall in with the mob. And now the bad-singing, half-dancing stars of Chicago have become the grinning, death’s-head emblems of this coercion.” Con or no con, “I Move On” still comes from the most nominated film of the year, which so happens to be a musical. If that’s working to the film’s advantage, then it’s sure to help the no-smiling Eminem’s ditty “Lose Yourself” from 8 Mile. The song was a Golden Globe nominee and gave the rap star his first number one on the Billboard charts but will older Academy members even understand what’s coming out of his mouth? The Academy likes to give this prize to seasoned rockers but Paul Simon’s sweet “Father and Daughter” from The Wild Thornberrys Movie will likely be hurt by the film’s tepid box office returns. One thing the Golden Globes are really good at is predicting this category and only two films in the past ten years (Quest for Camelot and last year’s Kate & Leopold) have lost on Oscar night after winning the Golden Globe. Despite Bono’s insufferable ego, U2 still appeals to everyone young and old and their catchy though heavy-handed anthem “The Hands That Built America” from Gangs of New York is the kind of populist 9/11 anthem that will appeal to anyone with Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising in their CD player. Then again, if the Boss lost to Norah Jones on Grammy night, maybe Chicago is a stronger contender than most people think.

Will Win: Gangs of New York

Should Win: 8 Mile

ANIMATED SHORT: Katedra (The Cathedral) could just land Tomek Baginski a job animating cutscenes for Playstation but this creepy, eye-popping animated short stands little chance of winning in the same year where The Two Towers will be lucky to go home with more than two awards. And for anyone who owns the Monsters Inc. DVD, you probably already know that Mike’s New Car is nowhere near as good as the Pixar gem For the Birds, a winner in this category last year. One short that is as good as For the Birds is the adorable The Chubbchubbs!, the story of an alien named Meeper who has to save the patrons of the Ale-E-Inn from the toughest creatures in the universe. Disney’s Pixar isn’t the only fish in the pond, so Oscar may want to reward Sony’s Imageworks for their efforts here. Germany’s Das Rad and Japan’s Mt. Head seem entirely too eccentric for the Academy’s standards. But the former, which tells of a man who eats some cherry seeds and soon discovers that a tree has grown from his head, could squeak by if the Academy feels generous after giving the top animation prize to Spirited Away.

Will Win: The Chubbchubbs!

Should Win: Das Rad

LIVE ACTION SHORT: Nothing light and fluffy in this category this year. Belgium entry Fait D’Hiver (Gridlock) tells the story of a man who calls his wife on his cellphone during a traffic jam and causes irreparable damage as a result. The film’s website says “seven gripping minutes of humor, drama and suspense” but we smell a butterfly effect derivative of Kieślowski and Tykwer. The lovely J’attendrai Le Suivant (I’ll Wait for the Next One) tells of a fleeting love affair inside a subway station but seems entirely “too French” for the Academy’s tastes. From Denmark comes Der Er En Yndig Mand (The Charming Man), the story of a man who’s confused for someone else and finds himself enrolled in a class where his teacher is a young woman he used to tease as a child. Steve Pasvolsky’s Inja (Dog) recounts the tale of a white farmer in South Africa during the apartheid years who manipulates the relationship between a Xhosa boy and his puppy. Years later, their lives lie in the balance and its up to the grown dog to determine who lives. This mini Bible story is certainly a strong contender but it will have to compete against Johnny Flynton, a well-made but over-the-top account of a hot-headed white boxer in the South who’s accused of his wife’s murder. This is the kind of mini-Hollywood film that earns a director a three-picture deal after a Spielberg-type catches it at an Academy screening.

Will Win: Johnny Flynton

SOUND: If there was too much sound in Gangs of New York for some voters then there may have been too little of it in Chicago to worthy an award let alone a nomination in this category (yes, there is a difference between sound and music!). Road to Perdition is too quiet and Spider-Man is entirely too old. The Fellowship of the Ring lost in this category last year to Black Hawk Down but there aren’t enough bullets in Chicago, Road to Perdition and Spider-Man combined to compete against The Two Towers, three hours of roaring beasts and clanking swords amid non-stop Uruk-hai battles.

Will Win: The Two Towers

Should Win: The Two Towers

SOUND EDITING: The Fellowship of the Ring and Black Hawk Down weren’t even nominated in this category last year suggesting that the spoils in this category may not always go to the film with the most bang for your buck. Pearl Harbor won against Monsters Inc. which means this year the race could be between two sleek DreamWorks productions: Minority Report and Road to Perdition. Scott Hecker earns his first Oscar nomination for his elegant sound editing for the Sam Mendes film. Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom, though, are Academy favorites and between them have won seven Academy awards for such box office juggernauts as Jurassic Park, Titanic, Terminator 2 and Saving Private Ryan. The Aussies gave it their all but they’ll be no match for the Americans here. Minority Report by a slim majority vote.

Will Win: Minority Report

Should Win: Minority Report

VISUAL EFFECTS: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace lost in three categories a few years back, including this one. Reviews for Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones were slightly better but the film still matched the original’s seven Razzie nominations. Geroge Lucas has received entirely too much slack for going entirely too far into the digital realm. A win for the film is unlikely and a slap in the face to actors in general. Although Spider-Man was elegantly mounted and warmly received, the CGI used for the film often fell on the clunky side. Save for the film’s screwy Treebeard sequences, The Two Towers is strung together from one eye-popping set piece after another. Jar Jar Binks rightfully earned The Phantom Menace a Razzie and the moral contempt of critics and audiences alike. Gollum, on the other hand, was the year’s most inspired creation, physically artificial yet stirring with humanity.

Will Win: The Two Towers

Should Win: The Two Towers

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Universal quickly abandoned promoting The Emperor’s Club when they realized that About a Boy had more fans. While this heart-warming comedy starring Hugh Grant and Toni Collette benefits from being the only film in the category presently on video, that it only managed to score one nomination makes it a longshot here. Ronald Harwood’s screenplay for The Pianist earned him an award from the National Society of Film Critics but also seems like an unlikely winner because its source material is so relatively obscure. Bill Condon previously won an Academy Award for Gods and Monsters and this year receives a nomination for adapting John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Chicago for the big screen. Sadly, some seem to think that adapting a musical is nowhere near as hard as adapting a novel, and as such this bias is likely to work to Condon’s disadvantage. Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay for Adaptation. was beloved by critics but seems too quirky for the Academy’s tastes. Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief is popular enough but the Spike Jonze film falls into a strange gray area between an original creation and an adapted work; this screwy identity-crisis makes Adaptation. the category’s loveable longshot. The Hours, on the other hand, is adapted from a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel beloved by millions (including Oprah). Respected playwright David Hare was given the difficult task of honoring and keeping the novel’s interviewing storyline’s in tact, and as such will be rewarded for his efforts.

Will Win: The Hours

Should Win: Adaptation.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: When nominating the blockbuster comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding in this category, voters must of thought they belonged to The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. If TV sitcoms don’t win Oscars, neither do intelligent pastiches like Todd Haynes’s Far from Heaven. Gangs of New York may suffer from the same fate as Adaptation. The Jay Cocks screenplay is an original work but was very much inspired by the Herbert Asbury’s 1928 book of the same name. This gray area will certainly work to the film’s disadvantage. Y Tu Mama Tambien’s nomination was a pleasant surprise for many but with no other nods to its name, the Alfonso Cuarón film stands about as much a chance of winning here as About a Boy does in the Original Screenplay category. Pedro Almodóvar

Will Win a second Oscar for his screenplay to his sensual Talk to Her, which also earned him a rightful place in the running for Best Director. In the past few years, the Academy has shown a special fondness for eccentric foreign directors and unlike Roberto Benigni, Almodóvar didn’t follow-up All About My Mother with something like Pinocchio.

Will Win: Talk to Her

Should Win: Far from Heaven

PICTURE: Gangs of New York is too bold and brash and The Two Towers is just glad to be here. The Hours was an early favorite but lost considerable momentum when audiences opted to embrace Chicago at the box office. Even fans of the film seem to think it’s the kind of literate and depressing motion picture that always gets a nomination but never wins. Bona says, “If any movie is going to pull an upset, it’s The Pianist, although I don’t think that scenario is likely. Chicago’s winning the Directors and Producers Guilds Awards does seem to cement the air of inevitability about its Oscar victory.” Now, wouldn’t it suck if the The Pianist, the only film nominated in this category with no connection to the Brothers Weinstein, were to steal the top prize away from Chicago? The Focus Features film is far superior and has gained considerable momentum after winning a slew of critic’s awards in recent months, not to mention the top prize and David Lean Award for Direction at this year’s BAFTAs (previous winners include Unforgiven, American Beauty and Gladiator). It helps that the film has a Holocaust theme but razzle dazzle is Oscar’s game this year. The Pianist could pull an upset here but the Weinsteins will do anything in their power to prevent that from happening. If there’s one award they want, it’s this one.

Will Win: Chicago

Should Win: The Pianist

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