Who will win - and should win

Who's likely to win - and who really deserves to win - in Sunday night's Oscar sweepstakes? Here's a rundown of the top categories from one critic's highly opinionated perspective.

Best Picture. Most likely: "Gladiator." In a year with a more distinguished field, this heavy-handed blockbuster might not even be in the running. But there's no denying the momentum it's built with its 12 nominations, and its Golden Globes victory didn't hurt. Most deserving film: "Traffic." It's a tad too serious for its own good - Oscar voters like their entertainment a little lighter - but how many recent Hollywood pictures have had the courage to think some thoughts and take a controversial stand or two?

Best Actor. Most likely: Tom Hanks in "Cast Away." He's won before, but not that recently, and hey, the Academy loves him. Who doesn't? Most deserving: Ed Harris. His star turn in "Pollock" may be closer to impersonation than to real acting, but this is a role he was born to play.

Best Actress. Most likely: Julia Roberts for " Erin Brockovich." This is the lock of the night, and few will disagree with her all-but-certain win. Also deserving: Laura Linney for "You Can Count on Me." What a fresh, appealing talent in a fresh, appealing movie! She'll have her own Oscar in a couple of years - you can count on that.

Best Supporting Actor. Most likely: Benicio Del Toro for "Traffic." He's a sensational actor, as the New York Film Critics Circle and the Screen Actors Guild have already recognized this year, and his star is rising steadily.

Also deserving: Willem Dafoe for his off-the-wall monster in "Shadow of the Vampire," and Albert Finney as Erin Brockovich's boss - not one of his greatest performances, but isn't this fine actor due for a win after five nominations?

Best Supporting Actress. Most likely: Marcia Gay Harden for "Pollock," where she holds her own with Harris in scene after scene. She's the most deserving candidate, too.

Best Director. Most likely: Steven Soderbergh for "Traffic," where he balances entertainment and message-mongering while juggling multiple story lines. But can he beat Steven Soderbergh for "Erin Brockovich," a more popular although less-impressive picture? Most deserving: Soderbergh again, if only for being the first contender to compete against himself in this category since the great Michael Curtiz in 1939.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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