If we can remember that the annual Academy Awards are no more than a weird popularity contest, then we can enjoy them. This is a group that gave John Wayne an Oscar for his silly work in True Grit, but didn't even nominate his career performance in The Searchers, a group that never gave a performance award to Cary Grant, the greatest of all movie stars. Oscar voters have given the top acting award to such journeymen performers as Art Carney, Broderick Crawford and Ernest Borgnine, but have denied it to such legendary players as Peter O'Toole, Albert Finney and Richard Burton. Voting members of the academy exhibit a naked prejudice for drama over comedy and genuflect predictably before so-called serious work. That's how we get a Best Picture Oscar for Gandhi, a merely pedestrian work about a great man, but none for a magical picture like E.T. Predicting how the Oscars are going to turn out in any given year is akin to betting on a cockroach race. In short, your guess is as good as mine, and if you've been reading the trades more frequently, it's probably better.
Best Picture nominees: Chicago, Gangs of New York, The Hours, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and The Pianist. Who will win: The Pianist has momentum, but I'm betting Oscar voters don't want their top prize to go to Roman Polanski, so I'm predicting Chicago. Who Should Win: Of the five nominated, The Pianist. What should have been nominated that wasn't: About Schmidt, Adaptation and Far From Heaven.
Best Actor nominees: Adrien Brody, The Pianist; Nicolas Cage, Adaptation; Michael Caine, The Quiet American; Daniel Day-Lewis, Gangs of New York; and Jack Nicholson, About Schmidt. Who will win: Caine is said to be coming on strong with Nicholson the established favorite. Day-Lewis, however, won the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award, so he's clearly a factor. In an obviously tight race, I am going to predict Nicholson. Who Should Win: Nicholson.
Best Actress nominees: Salma Hayek, Frida; Nicole Kidman, The Hours; Diane Lane, Unfaithful; Julianne Moore, Far From Heaven; Renée Zellweger, Chicago. Who will win: Hayek and Lane are out. Kidman got the Golden Globe. Zellweger won SAG's award. In another tight race I'm hesitantly predicting Zellweger on the grounds that it will be Chicago's night. Who should win: Moore. Who should have been nominated but wasn't: Meryl Streep, The Hours; Jennifer Aniston, The Good Girl.
Best Supporting Actor nominees: Chris Cooper, Adaptation; Ed Harris, The Hours; Paul Newman, Road to Perdition; John C. Reilly, Chicago; Christopher Walken, Catch Me if You Can. Who will win: Who the heck knows?! I would have thought Walken was out, but he won the SAG award. Perdition has lost all momentum. But Newman has only won once, and he's not going to get many more chances. It ought to be a contest between Cooper and Harris. So I am going to predict Harris. Who should win: If I had a vote I'd cast it for Cooper. Who is missing: Dennis Quaid, Far From Heaven.
Best Supporting Actress nominees: Kathy Bates, About Schmidt; Julianne Moore, The Hours; Queen Latifah, Chicago; Meryl Streep, Adaptation; Catherine Zeta-Jones; Chicago. Who will win: Bates has a lot of support. Streep won the Golden Globe. But Zeta-Jones won the SAG award, and she's going to win the Oscar, too. In fact, for my money she's the best bet of the night. Who Should Win: Of the group nominated the prize should go as it will to Zeta-Jones. Who is missing: In the cruelest of decisions Edie Falco was not nominated in this category for her outstanding work in Sunshine State. She should have won this award this year, Zeta-Jones' crackerjack singing and dancing notwithstanding.
Best Director nominees: Rob Marshall, ; Martin Scorsese, Gangs of New York; Stephen Daldry, The Hours; Roman Polanski, The Pianist; Pedro Almodovar, Talk to Her. Who will win: Rob Marshall's Director's Guild award provides a clue. Almodovar is out. The Hours has lost momentum, and that eliminates Daldry. The contest should be between Scorsese and Polanski, but it's hard to imagine the Academy giving its top directing award to a fugitive. Scorsese has a chance. But I think on a big night for Chicago, the honor will go to Marshall. Who Should Win: Based on the work alone, I'd vote for Polanski first, Scorsese second. Who should have been nominated but wasn't: Todd Haynes, Far From Heaven; Spike Jonze, Adaptation; Alexander Payne, About Schmidt.
Best Foreign Language Film nominees: The only nominee that has played New Orleans is Mexico's El Crimen del Padre Amaro. I wouldn't vote for it.
Best Adapted Screenplay nominees: Peter Hedges, Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz, About a Boy; Charlie Kaufman and Donald (non-existent) Kaufman, Adaptation; Bill Condon, ; David Hare, The Hours; Ronald Harwood, The Pianist. Who will win: David Hare. Even Hollywood can't give this award, and the voters like to honor serious work. Who Should Win: Admire him though I do, Kaufman should step aside for Hedges, Weitz and Weitz.
Best Original Screenplay nominees: Todd Haynes, Far From Heaven; Jay Cocks, Steve Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan, Gangs of New York; Nia Vardalos, My Big Fat Greek Wedding; Pedro Almodovar, Talk to Her; Carlos Cuaron and Alfonso Cuaron, Y Tu Mama Tambien. Who will win: The Gangs of New York trio and Vardalos should never have been nominated for such weak screenplays, but Vardalos could actually ride the sentimental tide to a victor. Still, I think the Academy will give this award to Haynes. Who should win: Of the group nominated I'd vote for the Cuarons. Who is missing: This award should have gone to Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, who were not nominated for About Schmidt .
- The Pianist may have momentum and should win, but the Oscar for Best Picture will probably go to Chicago.