What I like best about this year's sweepstakes is that it isn't neat and tidy enough to make predictions easy.
The Best Picture nominees have little in common. There's the small-town drama of "In the Bedroom" and the posh-estate satire of "Gosford Park." There are the tortured-life phantasms of "A Beautiful Mind" and the mythological phantasms of "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," which certainly deserves a prize for longest title of the year. And don't forget the musical "Moulin Rouge," the longest shot so far this century.
Still, Best Picture is one of the less difficult races to call. The winners for Best Actor and Best Actress are harder to foretell, and the supporting categories are wide-open events where anything could happen. Which makes predictions even more fun than usual. Here are the guesses and preferences of one reviewer who finds the Oscar race surprisingly lively, given the overall drabness of the movies that came our way in 2001.
"A Beautiful Mind"
"In the Bedroom"
"The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring"
"A Beautiful Mind." I stand with the conventional wisdom on this one. Ron Howard's latest is a solid step above his usual fare it beats "Backdraft" and "Ransom" by a mile but more important, it's a perfect Oscar picture. The theme is warm and humanistic; the hero is vulnerable and sympathetic; and the story has a touch of "Sixth Sense" surprise that ingeniously taps into current tastes for psychological suspense.
"Gosford Park." Director Robert Altman is a true American master with a unique vision, a finely tuned talent, and the good sense to collaborate with more great actors than you'll find in several ordinary movies. A win for him would be veddy, veddy satisfactory.
Russell Crowe ("A Beautiful Mind")
Sean Penn ("I Am Sam")
Will Smith ("Ali")
Denzel Washington ("Training Day")
Tom Wilkinson ("In the Bedroom")
Crowe. His work in "A Beautiful Mind" is one of the rare performances that really deserves to be called bravura, etching a complex character from unseasoned college kid to crotchety old Nobel Prizewinner, with all the stages in between. Crowe lucked out with his "Gladiator" victory last year, but this one would be richly deserved and would put him into the Tom Hanks Club of back-to-back winners.
Halle Berry ("Monster's Ball") Judi Dench ("Iris")
Nicole Kidman ("Moulin Rouge")
Sissy Spacek ("In the Bedroom")
Renee Zellweger ("Bridget Jones's Diary")
Spacek. She hasn't had a high Hollywood profile lately, and the academy loves a comeback, especially when it's in a human-interest drama that relies on strong acting. Spacek has been nominated six times with a single win, for "Coal Miner's Daughter" in 1981. Honoring her for "In the Bedroom" would affirm the academy's respect for hard-working professionals who continue to refine their talents in sincere, unflashy roles. This would be an upset for Berry or for Dench, a consummate pro but either stands a strong chance.
Jim Broadbent ("Iris")
Ethan Hawke ("Training Day")
Ben Kingsley ("Sexy Beast")
Ian McKellen ("The Lord of the Rings")
Jon Voight ("Ali")
McKellen. "The Fellowship of the Ring" has a whopping 13 nominations, but it isn't likely to make a strong showing in major categories, since fantasy films rarely win Oscar's heart. McKellen could be the movie's token victor, and there'd be no sorcery behind this he's a superb actor who brings a needed touch of three-dimensional reality to a movie that sorely needs it. (I know, I know, everyone else loves this picture a lot more than I do.) He's been nominated only once before, for "Gods and Monsters" three years ago, and his hour may have rolled around at last.
Broadbent in "Iris," the latest proof that he's the greatest actor in the known universe.
Voight, for his uncanny impersonation of sportscaster Howard Cossell in "Ali."
Jennifer Connelly ("A Beautiful Mind")
Helen Mirren ("Gosford Park")
Maggie Smith ("Gosford Park")
Marisa Tomei ("In the Bedroom")
Kate Winslet ("Iris")
Connelly. "A Beautiful Mind" could pull a classic Oscar sweep, carrying her on its elegant Princeton coattails. That aside, there's wide agreement that Connelly has a lock on this one, and history bears out the prediction: It doesn't say much for Hollywood, but the most beautiful contender often wins this category. I don't think it's so certain, and I wouldn't be surprised if another candidate edged her out.
Mirren or Smith for "Gosford Park." Runner-up: Winslet for "Iris."
Robert Altman ("Gosford Park")
Ron Howard ("A Beautiful Mind")
Peter Jackson ("The Lord of the Rings")
David Lynch ("Mulholland Drive")
Ridley Scott ("Black Hawk Down")
Howard. How can a perfect Oscar picture not score a win for the canny filmmaker who orchestrated it?
Altman for "Gosford Park," a capstone for his unorthodox career. Or dare I say it? Lynch for "Mulholland Drive," too edgy for a Best-Picture nomination but as crazy and courageous as any movie of the year.
"Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius"
"Shrek." Neither this nor the other serious contender, "Monsters, Inc.," is nearly as ingenious as "Toy Story" or "The Iron Giant," let alone the Disney classics of old. But a win for either one will give first-year credibility to Oscar's newest award category.
"Monsters, Inc.," by a squeak.
Others who are Oscar-worthy: original screenplay, Julian Fellowes for "Gosford Park"; adapted screenplay, Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff for "Ghost World"; cinematography, Roger Deakins for "The Man Who Wasn't There"; editing, "Memento."