This one is a two horse race and one of the two horses is NOT the movie about the horse. Write off Treasure Planet, and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron immediately. They were nominated because they are Disney and Dreamworks respectively, and there had to be five nominees. Your dark horse here is Lilo & Stitch which won solid reviews and made some money, but don't bet on it, the Academy likes their winners nice and easy in this category. That leaves us with Spirited Away and Ice Age. Spirited Away is a brilliant piece of Japanese anime that left audiences stunned by incredible visuals and amazing story telling. On The Hollywood Stock Exchange (www.hsx.com) the crowd is decidedly behind this one, but my guess is that a vote for Spirited isn't in the spirit of the Oscars. The Academy respects visuals and story telling, but they like $200 million in the bank and a good laugh more. My pick is Ice Age, celebrity voices, big grosses, and one gold statue
Politics are almost as much fun to bet on as sports or awards, and this award has everything to do with politics. Ed Harris won raves for his work in The Hours but he wins raves for his work in everything, most recently last year when he was nominated for best actor in Pollock. Paul Newman (Road to Perdition) receives his first nomination…as SUPPORTING actor. He's been around forever (eight best actor noms prove that), the Academy loves him, and like Harris he's won before. Do I smell a dark horse? Yeah, but a little too dark. John C. Reilly might have been the best thing about Chicago, (not to mention the fact that he's also in heavily nominated films The Hours and Gangs of New York) but it's his first nomination and just like rookies don't win MVP, Reilly will have to smile and clap for someone else when the envelope's opened. Christopher Walken hasn't gotten a supporting actor nom since The Deerhunter nearly 25 years ago! Talk about staying power, the Academy loves that, but he did win 25 years ago, and even though Catch Me If You Can had by far the biggest box office of any of these nominees, its about time the Oscar went to…Chris Cooper for Adaptation. Here's a guy who should have been nominated for American Beauty and Lone Star only nobody realized it was the same guy! Cooper disappears into his roles, embodies them, and the Academy will take notice this time. HSX agrees with me, EW agrees with me, so do the Golden Globes, and the Toronto, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle film critics who all gave their supporting actor trophies to Cooper.
Once upon a time there was a Fleetwood Mac song (now covered by everyone from the Smashing Pumpkins to the Dixie Chicks) called Landslide, and that's about what this category comes down to. Kathy Bates did fine work in About Schmidt but she was playing second fiddle to Jack Nicholson, Julianne Moore is always good, but she's nominated for best actress for Far From Heaven and here for The Hours, any votes she gets will be split between the two. Meryl Streep is nominated because Meryl Streep is ALWAYS nominated. Queen Latifah was phenomenal in Chicago (and yes if you're good to mama, she'll be good to you), but Catherine Zeta-Jones was the one person in Chicago who could do it all. She could act, sing, and dance like she'd done it on stage…oh wait, she had done it on stage. And the Academy loved it. This is a no brainer kids, Zeta-Jones has ‘All that Jazz' and now she'll have an Oscar.
This might be the toughest race to call for a couple of reasons. First of all, four of the five films are heavily nominated, and the Academy likes to spread their awards around. If you didn't win anything else, often you get a screenplay win so that you take home something. The one that isn't nominated often is About A Boy. Great little film made decent money, but it was released way back in the summer and frankly doesn't have a sixteenth seeds chance. The nomination really was the honor for that one. Chicago has a shot, but it would really have to run the table and win everything for it to win this one, especially since writer Bill Condon has won in this category before (for Gods and Monsters four years ago). The Pianist is widely considered to be director Roman Polanski's return to form. Unfortunately while Polanski directed the film, Ronald Harwood wrote it, and though Harwood has been nominated before (back in '83 for The Dresser) his Oscar chi is not strong. The Hours and Adaptation are left and this is where things get real dicey. The Hours has long been considered one of those ‘unfilmable' books. But David Hare not only got it to the screen he got it to the Oscars with a ton of nominations. Adaptation is about as original as an adapted screenplay can get, and one must remember that one of the two writers (Donald Kaufman, Charlie Kaufman's brother) ISN'T EVEN REAL. The cool hip vote will go to Adaptation; the old guard vote will go to The Hours. Who will win…Adaptation because some of that old guard vote will be cut into by Chicago.
This two should be a competitive category, but for all the wrong reasons. First of all it's doubtful many Academy voters have even SEEN all five, because two are foreign language films. That said, while Y Tu Mama Tambien has little to no chance because of its Spanish dialog, Talk to Her might actually be the favorite in the category, because once again the Academy may decide that even though he's been nominated over and over and over again, this will finally be his year. Throw out Gangs of New York because the main complaint about the film was that frankly, it was a mess, too long and too jumbled, besides Scorsese is going to win director and that's enough acknowledgment for the Academy. The popular vote will certainly go to My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Why, because everybody saw it and it became ‘the little movie that could.' Highest grossing independent movie of all time, heartwarming, romantic…and maybe I'm a little biased here, but ITS CRAP! It's not a great screenplay, it's a heartwarming screenplay. But that might just be enough. The very opposite of Wedding would be Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven, homosexuality in the fifties, race relations mixed with sexual relations, not a big money maker, but a film critics loved and the Academy could honor without really acknowledging it by giving it this award. Entertainment Weekly picks Talk to Her, HSX has Wedding by a wide margin. Me, I'm going with Wedding even though it doesn't deserve it.
Always a fun category for prognosticators, this one generally comes as a fairly pick, but this year there something of a question because Hollywood loves all these guys. Michael Caine has been nominated four times for best actor and never won. But he has won twice for supporting actor, so that discounts the "lifetime achievement" award status that gave Denzel the statue last year. Add to that the fact that his film The Quiet American though critically well received, has done virtually no box office, and he becomes the longest shot. Maybe the most deserving nominee is Nicolas Cage for his double role in Adaptation. Playing twin brothers is usually the kind of "look at me!" performance that gets Academy voters attention, but the film is so off the wall that Cages performance might get overlooked as subtle. Its a shame because subtle is just what the movie needed. Adrien Brody had one of the most impressive performances of the year, acclaimed by both the critics and his peers, but hes young and the Academy (at least in the leading actor/actress categories) has a habit of giving youngsters noms and then saying "now come back and show us something down the road." Brody will be brooding. Which brings us down to the two main contenders, Daniel Day-Lewis and the man known as Jack. Lets start with Nicholson, a career defining performance (About Schmidt) in a career of career defining performances from arguably the most popular man in Hollywood. The industry loves him, and everybody gets excited wondering what hes going to say if he makes it to the podium. Hes definitely got a shot, but remember hes already won three best actor awards, and the film might have freaked out the majority of older Academy voters. But Daniel Day-Lewis might be the most respected actor in Hollywood. He was the best thing in Gangs of New York and remember he was out of the game for five years. He spent his time learning to make shoes! Now he comes back and delivers an incredible, brutal performance that demands to be noticed. And he will. Daniel Day-Lewis by a hair.
What initially appears to be a wide open category becomes an easy pick with a closer inspection. Salma Hayek has certainly proven shes more than just a great body with her stunning turn in Frida (love the mono-brow) but few even know who Frida Kahlo was, and even fewer saw the film. Plus shes young and as previously stated the Academy likes a track record. Diane Lane proved even at 40 you can have an incredible body, but as strong as her turn in Unfaithful might have been (and honestly it wasnt that strong), when it comes right down to it the movie is not that good, and certainly not the type of film Oscar likes to reward. Julianne Moore is the wild card here. She has won numerous critics awards, and has been at the top of the acting core for nearly a decade now, and is always willing to trade her personal success (read good looks) for the success of the performance. Unfortunately shes also nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and will likely split her vote. Dont worry Julianne, youll be back and well still be watching. Renee Zellweger is on a critical role. Ever since Bridget Jones Diary Zellweger has been both a box office and critical darling. Her work in Chicago anchors the film and shows her comedic skills are definitely in high gear. But shes not even the third best performance in the film and everybody knows it. The final dance sequence with Zellweger and Zeta-Jones will ultimately lose Zellweger the award and win Zeta-Jones supporting actress. Its a musical with incredible dance steps, and Miss Renee couldnt really sing or dance. Which brings us to the lovely, incredible, beautiful, sexy, Nicole Kidman. Not that Im biased or anything but this woman is the total package. Her work in The Hours is made for Oscar, accent, prosthetics and all. Many felt she deserved this award last year for her double whammy of Moulin Rouge and The Others and this year theyll reward a gorgeous two-year run.
Welcome to the Martin Scorsese lifetime achievement award. Well make this one quick. Roman Polanski (The Pianist) cant even attend the award ceremony because of a pending statutory rape charge, and nobody really likes him anyway. Stephen Daldrys The Hours is perceived as an actors film and Daldrys job was to keep the camera in focus and stay out of the way. As un-PC as it is to say, Pedro Almodovar makes his movies in Spanish. The Academy doesnt like subtitles from their directors, also factor in that Best Director is almost always (at least since 1930) given to a Best Picture nominee, and Talk to Her is missing from the five Picture nominees. Rob Marshall would be pulling the upset if he won for Chicago but he wont for one major reason. Its his first film, and though generally considered the better of the two, Oscar likes vets. One bright spot for him the Directors Guild gave Marshall the prize, and 49 of the last 54 DGA winners have won best director. Lets make that 49 of 55 because Scorsese has been nominated four times for director (six overall) and NEVER WON! GoodFellas, sorry. Raging Bull, nah well give it to Redford. This one is the Academy apologizing to Marty for overlooking arguably the best American director of the last 25+ years. Is Gangs of New York Scorseses best film? No. Does it matter? No again. Scorsese wins.
A no brainer Chicago. LOTR is the dark horse if all the so-called art films split the vote, but the Academy is content to wait until next year to honor Peter Jacksons fantasy masterpiece, because next year it can honor all three films of the trilogy in one year. Gangs of New York will suffer because its not that great a film, and because they are already giving it Director and Actor. The Pianist and The Hours will split any Chicago backlash vote leaving the field wide open for Marshalls musical to claim the ultimate prize. Chicago is perfect for Oscar. A movie older people can love thats still hip enough not to turn off younger voters, lots of people well respected in the industry a little new blood in director Marshall, and a hefty box office take that allows Hollywood to trick itself into thinking that its best films are the ones that make money. Is Chicago the best film of the year? Not by a long shot. Will it win Best Picture? Bet on it.
There you have it kids, follow my advice and it comes down to running time for the prize. Or dont, and youll only have yourself to blame.