ACADEMY AWARD PREDICTIONS Down to double contenders

In many Oscarcategories, there are two nominees who could easily win.
What a difference a couple of weeks make! Before the onslaught of holiday movies, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," last year's surprise box-office bonanza, was considered an Oscar shoo-in. But, thanks to the exceptionally strong showing of some year-end arrivals, "Greek Wedding" has to settle for a best original screenplay nod. Unlike last year's Oscar ceremony, which proved to be a real nail-biter, Sunday's derby looks downright predictable with the potential for dramatic upsets in key races virtually nil. Or is it?
When the nominations were announced in February, I felt ridiculously confident about my predictions. Now I'm not so certain. Virtually every category -- save the biggest one -- has at least two nominees who could plausibly win the gold. And the lack of consensus at the various other recent guild awards (SAG, DGA, WGA, etc.) only further muddies the waters. (C'mon, can't you see everyone's jaws drop at Hollywood's Kodak Theater when the PBS-friendly "Daughter from Danang" trumps "Bowling for Columbine" in the best documentary competition?)
The only promise I can commit to is that a certain Windy City tuner is going to come out smelling like a "Second-Hand Rose."
All that talk about the best picture category being a two-movie race between "Chicago" and "The Hours" is nonsense: There is no contest. "Chicago" wins by a landslide for bringing back the movie musical without the use of any Madonna songs. (Take that, "Moulin Rouge"!) While Daniel Day-Lewis could take home the best actor prize for "Gangs of New York," "The Pianist" will likely emerge empty-handed, and "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" has to make do with a few technical citations. If they weren't going to nominate "Lord of the Rings" impresario Peter Jackson for best director, I would have loved to seen "Talk to Her" grab the "Rings" spot if only as a giant raspberry to Spain for not designating it as their "official" Foreign Film entry. As far as Jackson is concerned, I'm guessing that next year will be his moment in the sun for having created three of the all-time great fantasy epics. Too bad about Steven Spielberg's "Catch Me if You Can" not being taken seriously as an Oscar contender since it was easily the best Hollywood movie of the year.
SHOULD WIN: "Gangs of New York."
WILL WIN: "Chicago."
A two-man race between Hollywood royalty (Jack Nicholson) and Britain's method actor king (Daniel Day-Lewis). Michael Caine's work in "The Quiet American" was as overrated (sorry, Alfie) as his movie, and Adrien Brody's nomination in "The Pianist" is its own reward for a great film that not enough people saw. It's nice that Nicolas Cage was recognized for his career-salvaging turn in "Adaptation," especially since comedies are usually ignored by the Academy. The big question on everyone's lips is: Where's Richard Gere? My guess is that even "Chicago & quot;-crazy voters realized that Miramax was promoting Gere in the wrong slot (it ain't a lead, Harvey), and that he split his own vote in the two male acting categories. Although my heart wants Nicholson to pull off his fourth win, my head tells me that Day-Lewis will probably win. (Pssst: Am I the only one who believes that Day-Lewis rightfully belongs in the supporting category?)
SHOULD WIN: Nicholson, "About Schmidt."
WILL WIN: Daniel Day-Lewis, "Gangs of New York."
SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER: Leonardo DiCaprio, "Catch Me if You Can."
Salma Hayek stole Meryl Streep's "Hours" slot for "Frida" (no complaints from me), although it's a shame that Hayek's even more deserving co-star, Alfred Molina, got shut out.
I'm delighted that Diane Lane was remembered for her "Unfaithful" tour-de-force, but the best actress category feels like another two-actor race, this one between Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore, both long-overdue for some Oscar recognition. Of course, I feel the same way about Ren & eacute;e Zellweger (who just might pull an upset if her recent SAG win is any indication of the seemingly unstoppable gravitational pull of "Chicago") and former kid star Lane. Even if it's not an Englishman -- or is that an Irishman? -- for best actor, I'm betting on Aussie Kidman by a (prosthetic) nose.
SHOULD WIN: Lane, "Unfaithful."
WILL WIN: Kidman, "The Hours."
SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER: Jennifer Aniston, "The Good Girl."
Chris Cooper has already nailed every major acting award under the sun for his toothless orchid poacher in "Adaptation," so why not the big kahuna? Ed Harris' AIDS martyr in "The Hours" didn't thrill me, but everyone else in this category (including Paul Newman and John C. Reilly) is hunky-dory. And don't rule out potential dark-horse candidate Christopher Walken, whose irrepressibly charming performance as Frank Abagnale Sr. in "Catch Me if You Can" virtually defined what supporting acting is all about. Speaking of performers who are long-overdue for Academy attention, I'm still not sure how Dennis Quaid missed out on a nomination for "Far From Heaven." Is he not well-liked in Tinseltown?
SHOULD WIN: Walken, "Catch Me if You Can."
WILL WIN: Cooper, "Adaptation."
Catherine Zeta-Jones is pregnant; she married into the Douglas dynasty; and displayed socko singing and dancing abilities few knew she had, so I'm guessing that she'll get to take home the bacon. Let's just hope Zeta-Jones doesn't go into labor while giving her no-doubt teary acceptance speech. I have no problems with her competition, all of whom -- with one possible exception -- would be deserving winners. Nobody loves Julianne Moore as much as I do, but her "Hours" performance felt like the same one she gave in "Far From Heaven" -- except on Valium.
SHOULD AND WILL WIN: Zeta-Jones, "Chicago."
SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER: Michelle Pfeiffer, "White Oleander."
Until the Directors Guild of America awarded gifted amateur Rob Marshall with their top prize for his part in rehabilitating the Hollywood movie musical with "Chicago," Martin Scorsese seemed like a lock to finally nail his Lifetime Achievement Award. Now a "Chicago" sweep with Marshall squeaking in looks more and more likely. Automatically eliminate Pedro Almodovar since his film wasn't nominated (he also won the Foreign Film prize for "All About My Mother" three years ago), and both Stephen Daldry and Roman Polanski look like also-rans for "The Hours" and "The Pianist" respectively. Polanski's win, however, would be another past-due L/A award like the one Scorsese just might have let slip away once again.
SHOULD WIN: Almodovar, "Talk to Her."
WILL WIN: Marshall, "Chicago."
SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER: Steven Spielberg, "Catch Me if You Can."
I'm not even sure how "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron" made the cut, except to confuse Academy members who thought they were voting for "Spirited Away" instead. (Do I smell a Florida 2000-type conspiracy here?) Like "Bowling for Columbine" (too popular) in the documentary category, anime dazzler "Spirited" (too Japanese) can't possibly win -- which is why they both will. And for two brief, shining moments Oscar will look vaguely hip for honoring them.
SHOULD AND WILL WIN: "Spirited Away."
Consistently the most kooky category (remember "Amelie" losing to "No Man's Land" in '02?), the foreign film race just keeps getting stranger. Last year, the great "Y Tu Mama Tambien" was snubbed, although it was Mexico's official entry; this year, Mexico's only so-so "The Crime of Father Amaro" scores a nomination. Go figure. Sight unseen -- and it's not scheduled to open domestically until May -- I'd hazard a guess that Zhang Yimou's "Hero" from the People's Republic of China is the best film in contention (my choice, Finland's "The Man Without a Past," is pretty terrific, too). Because of its Holocaust theme (always a favorite with Academy voters), Germany's audience-pleasing "Nowhere in Africa" would seem to have the edge. And if Netherlands contender "Zus and Zo" is as nondescript as reviews in the New York Times and Entertainment Weekly claim, how did it get nominated over Belgium's "The Son," Brazil's "City of God," or France's "8 Women," all eminently deserving (and eligible) films? Utterly bizarre.
SHOULD WIN: "The Man Without a Past."
WILL WIN: "Nowhere in Africa."
Oscar loves honoring aging rock-and-roll institutions (Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan both won in recent years), so Bono and U2 fit right in for their atonal "Gangs of New York" dirge. (Accordingly, Paul Simon should rightly be considered a contender, too -- more for his body of work than the nondescript ditty he composed for "The Wild Thornberrys Movie.") I don't even remember the song from "Frida," and sticking one original composition over the closing credits in "Chicago" just so Broadway tunesmiths Kander and Ebb can win their first Oscar is too cynical a ploy even for me. My pick is Eminem for his "8 Mile" rap anthem; of course, Detroit's bad boy doesn't have a prayer. (Madonna note No. 2: The Academy really hates the former Material Girl, don't they? Poor thing wins a Golden Globe for "Evita" yet can't even score an Oscar nomination. Now they refuse to recognize her tasty 007 theme song, despite the fact that it was the best Bond tune since Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better" in 1977.)
SHOULD WIN: Eminem ("Lose Yourself"), "8 Mile."
WILL WIN: U2 ("The Hands That Built America"), "Gangs of New York."
SHOULDA BEEN A CONTENDER: Madonna ("Die Another Day"), "Die Another Day."
Adapted Screenplay: "Chicago."
Original Screenplay: "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."
Art Direction: "Gangs of New York."
Cinematography: "Road to Perdition."
Sound: "Chicago."
Sound Editing: "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers."
Original Score: "The Hours."
Costume: "Chicago."
Documentary Feature: "Bowling for Columbine."
Documentary Short: "Twin Towers."
Film Editing: "Chicago."
Makeup: "Frida."
Animated Short: "Cathedral."
Live Action Short: "I'll Wait for the Next One."
Visual Effects: "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers."

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