Wide-open race for Oscar
From hobbits to professors to singers, toss-ups for the golden statue
(CNN) -- Once again, Hollywood has set an all-time record for box office revenue, with more than $8 billion in ticket sales for 2001. Unfortunately, this does not necessarily translate into great films that will stand the test of time.
As usual, Oscar-worthy movies were few and far between until the waning weeks of the year, when pictures with Academy Award potential hit the country's cineplexes like a tidal wave.
This year is proving to be the most wide-open Oscar race in a long time, with no sure things in any of the major categories. But I'll stick my neck out anyway and make my usual predictions as to "what should win" and "what will win." The great thing is that no matter how wrong -- or right -- I am, in a couple of weeks nobody will remember who won and who didn't -- except the winners, losers and their agents. Quick: Who won best supporting actor last year? See? (See end of story for the answer.)
Best actor: Russell Crowe ("A Beautiful Mind"), Sean Penn ("I Am Sam"), Will Smith ("Ali"), Denzel Washington ("Training Day"), Tom Wilkinson ("In The Bedroom").
Once again, Crowe is one of the main contenders for the top prize, and winning best actor from the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes are good signs. Oscar has agreed with SAG six out of seven times that the award has been available, and the Globes also have a good record.
Crowe gives a masterful performance in this film based (apparently loosely) on the life of John Forbes Nash Jr., a mathematical genius, a schizophrenic, and a Nobel laureate. Crowe is one of the most powerful actors on screen today, and if he wins, he'll join the rarefied world of previous consecutive winners, most recently Tom Hanks for 1993's "Philadelphia" and 1994's "Forrest Gump."
If there's another odds-on favorite for best actor, it's Denzel Washington. Not winning the SAG Award could hurt, but he did win the American Film Institute Award. "Training Day" is the first time Washington has played an out-and-out villain, and his awesome power as an actor who can hold the screen like a vise is on full display. However, Oscar usually doesn't like bad guys.
The other three nominees turn in excellent performances, but their chances are slim. Penn's highly sentimental film has not been very successful, and he's disdainful of the very concept of actors competing against each other. Smith's performance as Muhammad Ali is nothing short of miraculous, but not being nominated for a SAG Award is not a good sign, and his movie has not been a hit with critics or the public. And in this field, with these nominees, Wilkinson's nomination for "In the Bedroom" is a long shot to win.
Will win: Washington
Should win: Washington
Best actress: Halle Berry ("Monster's Ball"), Judi Dench ("Iris"), Nicole Kidman ("Moulin Rouge"), Sissy Spacek ("In The Bedroom"), Renee Zellweger ("Bridget Jones's Diary").
The favorites in this category are Kidman and Spacek, with Berry coming up quickly. "Moulin Rouge" was a highly risky venture and Kidman could have fallen flat on her beautiful face. Instead, she soared -- and scored -- as Satine, a French courtesan and nightclub performer at the infamous Moulin Rouge in Paris during the fading years of the 19th century. This is her first nomination. She's both sexy and funny in this tour-de-force performance.
Spacek is not only a gifted actress of the highest order, she's also one of the nicest people in the business. This is her sixth nomination, all in the best actress category; she won in 1980 for her portrayal of Loretta Lynn in "Coal Miner's Daughter." Spacek's carefully understated and layered performance in "In the Bedroom" as a mother who loses her son, and then has to fight for justice, is seamless in its complete perfection.
Berry gives the best performance of her life in the deeply disturbing and intensely dramatic "Monster's Ball." This is her first nomination, but her early best actress prize from the National Board of Review and then her surprise win as best actress at the SAG Awards make her a main contender.
The other nominees -- Dench and Zellweger -- are long shots, though Zellweger has already bucked the odds by being nominated for a comedy.
Will win: Berry
Should win: Berry
Best supporting actress: Jennifer Connelly ("A Beautiful Mind"), Helen Mirren ("Gosford Park"), Maggie Smith ("Gosford Park"), Marisa Tomei ("In The Bedroom") and Kate Winslet ("Iris").
This is often a wild-card category, and it's no different this year. Connelly has the best role of her young career with "A Beautiful Mind" as Alicia Nash, the wife of Russell Crowe's John Forbes Nash Jr. This is her first nomination. She plays her character from college girl to old woman, and her steady presence is vital to Crowe's success in the far flashier role of her husband.
Mirren is an actor's actor, and this is her second nomination in this category. After her SAG Award win, she must be considered the favorite. "Gosford Park" is the best Robert Altman film in years, and Mirren's role as the head housekeeper at a posh English estate is brilliantly played. The Academy will want to acknowledge "Gosford Park," but it's doubtful it will get best picture.
Smith, a two-time Oscar winner, has stolen nearly every scene in every film she's been in for the last five decades. The danger here is that she's up against fellow "Gosford Park" star Mirren -- the favorite, according to many -- and this could split the vote. Tomei was a wild card when she won this category for "My Cousin Vinny" in 1992. There would be some sweet irony, and well-deserved validation, if she won this year for her strong performance in "In The Bedroom." Winslet's work as the young title character in "Iris" is an exceptionally strong and nuanced performance.
Should win: Connelly (only because I flipped a coin between her and Smith)
Will win: Mirren
Best supporting actor: Jim Broadbent ("Iris"), Ethan Hawke ("Training Day"), Ben Kingsley ("Sexy Beast"), Ian McKellen ("The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring"), Jon Voight ("Ali").
McKellen, probably this category's favorite, can do no wrong in the eyes of many of his peers. This is his second nomination, the first coming for "Gods and Monsters" (1998), and many felt he was robbed that year when he lost to the overacting antics of Roberto Benigni in "Life is Beautiful." "Rings" has been losing all of the pre-Oscar technical awards to "Moulin Rouge," which doesn't bode well for success on Oscar night despite its 13 nominations, but this could work in McKellen's favor. Besides, Sir Ian is a British Knight, and Oscar is a sucker for such titles.
Voight is unrecognizable in his role as Howard Cosell in "Ali." This is his fourth nomination -- he won best actor for "Coming Home" in 1978 -- and he's made the transition from leading man to character actor with style, skill and grace. Kingsley is mesmerizing in "Sexy Beast," but the film was not widely seen or admired by the public, and he's a long shot.
Broadbent was extraordinary in "Iris," and he also turned in a career-defining performance in "Moulin Rouge" this year. This is his first nomination. Hawke's nomination -- also his first -- was the big surprise this year in this category. However, if Denzel wins -- which I think he will -- it will be unlikely that the Academy will honor this film twice in the acting category.
Should win: Ian McKellen
Will win: Ian McKellen
Best director: Ron Howard ("A Beautiful Mind"), Ridley Scott ("Black Hawk Down"), Robert Altman ("Gosford Park"), Peter Jackson ("The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring"), David Lynch ("Mulholland Drive").
Howard is the Oscar night favorite after winning the top honor from the Directors Guild of America. But Howard also won the Guild award in 1995 for "Apollo 13" and didn't win the Oscar -- indeed, he wasn't even nominated. Still, the Academy has failed to follow the DGA's lead only five times in its 54-year history.
Altman is an American icon, a total maverick and a Hollywood outsider. This is his seventh nomination, and some may give him their votes because he's not getting any younger and they might look at it as a "lifetime achievement" honor. "Gosford Park" is Altman's most commercial and accessible film in years.
Jackson is in a very strange position. He's a first-time nominee who hasn't just made a film, he's created a universe. But -- herein lies the rub -- he's also arguably made one big movie, which he's dividing into three parts and releasing one at a time over three years. Many voters may just think "Well, he has two more chances to win for the 'Rings' trilogy, so I'll give him my vote later." He's a long shot.
Scott and Lynch have little chance, despite their fine work.
Will win: Howard
Should win: Jackson
Best picture: "A Beautiful Mind," "Gosford Park," "In The Bedroom," "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," "Moulin Rouge."
To some, "A Beautiful Mind" is the no-brainer (no pun intended) winner for 2002. Critics filled the skies with hosannas over Crowe's performance and Howard's direction of this story about a brilliant mathematician and Nobel Prize winner who fought a decades-long battle with severe schizophrenia. Then things got nasty. Still, "A Beautiful Mind" is one of the best films of this -- or any other -- year, and should be judged on its own merits.
"The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" is a magnificent achievement for all involved. This is one of those very rare films in which the screenplay lived up to the standards of the original books. But the same logic -- or lack thereof -- mentioned above regarding Jackson's chances to win best director also apply here.
I would love to see "Gosford Park" win (I feel that way about two or three other nominees as well), but the odds are against it. And the odds are even longer against "In The Bedroom" and "Moulin Rouge" -- though the latter did win a Golden Globe and the Producers Guild award. Keep that in mind: the PGA has picked the best picture winner nine out of the last 12 years.
Should win: "Moulin Rouge"
Will win: "Lord of the Rings"
And who won best supporting actor last year? Benicio Del Toro for "Traffic."
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