OSCAR UPSET IN THE WORKS?
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    "Lord of the Rings" will join the ranks of infamous also-rans, and other strange 76th Academy Award predictions

    By Rob Blackwelder

    OK, there's something you need to know about me before reading my predictions for this year's Oscars: In 1999 I had a gut feeling that "Shakespeare in Love" was going to win Best Picture, but I knew the chances were astronomical. Steven Spielberg's battle-realistic World War II saga "Saving Private Ryan" was an unstoppable juggernaut of high praise and assumed social Importance (with a capital "I"), and as a whole, the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are sheep who vote for movies and actors they think they're supposed to vote for, not for the actual best in each category.

    For Best Picture they seem to follow a chart, looking for the axis where box office grosses cross with spectacle, perceived artistry and prestige. This is how "A Beautiful Mind" beat out "The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring" in 2002, and "Gladiator" won over "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" in 2002.

    So my better judgment told me I was crazy to pick "Shakespeare," and I hedged my bets. I predicted "Private Ryan" would win but added a little caveat in which I tried to have it both ways.

    This year I've been having the same feeling about "Lost in Translation," and this time I'm going to listen to my gut. I've tried to talk myself out of it, telling myself that my own preferences are drowning out my common sense, and asking questions like "With the 'Rings' trilogy now complete, how could the Academy possibly not reward the extraordinary, unprecedented collective achievement of Peter Jackson's trilogy?" But those arguments are for the head, and my head still remembers how my jaw felt as it hit the floor on March 21, 1999, when Harrison Ford said "And the winner is...."

    So feel free to call me crazy (after all, my predictions and personal picks line up so often, I can't help but wonder if it's wishful thinking), but here are my guesses for the winners of 76th annual Academy Awards:

     Best PICTURE nominees
    "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"
    "Lost in Translation"
    "Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World"
    "Mystic River"
    "Seabiscuit"
     Predicted WINNER
      "Lost in Translation"

    Why: I won't be the least bit surprised to be wrong here, but I just feel an upset coming on (see rant above). Hollywood has never seen any undertaking like the "Rings" films and even with their critical and commercial success, we'll probably never see their like again. But "Lost" has an emotional effect on people that I think will resonate with voters in unexpected ways. Besides, wouldn't it be more fun in the long run to think of the "Rings" films as one of the many pivotal and important I-can't-believe-it-didn't-win nominees? After all, it would be in the company of "Pulp Fiction," "The Right Stuff," "Raging Bull," "Apocalypse Now," "All the President's Men," "High Noon," "It's a Wonderful Life," and "Citizen Kane."

    What SHOULD win: "Lost in Translation"

     Best DIRECTOR nominees
    Sofia Coppola, "Lost in Translation"
    Clint Eastwood, "Mystic River"
    Peter Jackson, "LOTR: Return of the King"
    Kátia Lund & Fernando Meirelles, "City of God"
    Peter Weir, "Master & Commander"
     Predicted WINNER
      Peter Jackson

    Why: Whether I'm right or not about Best Picture, Jackson has this one all sewn up. This award more often goes to a director for his track record, so one award for three movies is even more likely here.

    Who SHOULD win: Sofia Coppola

     Best ACTOR nominees
    Johnny Depp, "Pirates of the Caribbean"
    Ben Kingsley, "House of Sand & Fog"
    Jude Law, "Cold Mountain"
    Bill Murray, "Lost in Translation"
    Sean Penn, "Mystic River"
     Predicted WINNER
      Bill Murray

    Why: Well, for the first time in recent memory there's nobody nominated for playing a real person, nobody in heavy makeup, nobody with a disease, so it's a race between actual performances. Penn has the buzz, but he's spent years positioning himself as an outsider who doesn't care about awards (he's attending for the first time in four nominations, but mostly as a favor to Eastwood). After becoming a controversial figure on his recent high-profile trips to Iraq, he also seems likely to launch into a political diatribe if given the opportunity to speak to tens of millions of people for 30 seconds -- something that makes the Academy very nervous. As for Murray, this may be the Academy's only chance to acknowledge his talent (for what is truly his best performance to date), as he's usually starring in roles that don't garner Oscar buzz. Plus, he'll give the kind of entertaining, heartfelt, appreciative speech the Academy would prefer -- just as he did at the Golden Globes.

    Who SHOULD win: Murray

     Best ACTRESS nominees
    Keisha Castle-Hughes, "Whale Rider"
    Diane Keaton, "Something's Gotta Give"
    Samantha Morton, "In America"
    Charlize Theron, "Monster"
    Naomi Watts, "21 Grams"
     Predicted WINNER
      Charlize Theron

    Why: She's simply undeniable. Not only is her performance a mind-blower that puts her into a whole new echelon of not-just-a-pretty-face actress (like recent winners Gwenyth Paltrow and Nicole Kidman), but her complete transformation into serial killer Aileen Wuornos is the kind of performance the Academy loves.

    Who SHOULD win: Theron

     Best SUPPORTING ACTOR nominees
    Alec Baldwin, "The Cooler"
    Benicio Del Toro, "21 Grams"
    Djimon Hounsou, "In America"
    Tim Robbins, "Mystic River"
    Ken Watanabe, "The Last Samurai"
     Predicted WINNER
      Djimon Hounsou

    Why: Despite its small release and low press coverage, "In America" was a dearly beloved film in Hollywood and it will get its acknowledgement here for Hounsou's standout performance.

    Who SHOULD win: Del Toro

     Best SUPPORTING ACTRESS nominees
    Shohreh Aghdashloo, "House of Sand & Fog"
    Patricia Clarkson, "Pieces of April"
    Marcia Gay Harden, "Mystic River"
    Holly Hunter, "Thirteen"
    Renee Zellweger, "Cold Mountain"
     Predicted WINNER
      Renee Zellweger

    Why: Because "Cold Mountain" came to life when she arrived in the film with her lowborn swagger and hayseed know-how. Plus it's a sublime, surprising performance from one of the most talented actresses working in American film today -- something the Academy especially wants to acknowledge since she didn't win last year for "Chicago."

    Who SHOULD win: I couldn't possibly pick between Zellweger and Hunter.

     Best ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY nominees
    "The Barbarian Invasions," Denys Arcand
    "Dirty Pretty Things," Steve Knight
    "Finding Nemo," Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson, David Reynolds
    "In America," Jim Sheridan, Naomi Sheridan, Kirsten Sheridan
    "Lost in Translation," Sofia Coppola
     Predicted WINNER
      "Lost in Translation"

    Why: For the story's ability to put you in its characters' shoes with a minimum of exposition.

    What SHOULD win: "Lost in Translation"

     Best ADAPTED SCREENPLAY nominees
    "American Splendor," Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
    "City of God," Bráulio Mantovani
    "LOTR: Return of the King," Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh & Philippa Boynes
    "Mystic River," Brian Helgeland
    "Seabiscuit," Gary Ross
     Predicted WINNER
      "Seabiscuit"

    Why: Honestly, this category is a toss-up. I'm just going with what I think will be a sentimental favorite for the voters.

    What SHOULD win: "American Splendor"

     Best ANIMATED FEATURE nominees
    "Brother Bear"
    "Finding Nemo"
    "The Triplets of Bellville"
     Predicted WINNER
      "Finding Nemo"

    Why: Too much love and way to much box office for it to be ignored.

    What SHOULD win: "The Triplets of Belleville"

     Best FOREIGN FILM nominees
    "The Barbarian Invasions" (French Canada)
    "Evil" (Sweden)
    "The Twilight Samurai" (Japan)
    "Twin Sisters" (The Netherlands)
    "Zelary" (The Czech Republic)
     Predicted WINNER
      "The Barbarian Invasions"

    Why: "Barbarian" has the advantage of having been released in the US and thereby having won much critical praise to help guide the voters.

    What SHOULD win: Haven't seen any of them.

     Best DOCUMENTARY nominees
    "Balseros"
    "Capturing the Friedmans"
    "The Fog of War"
    "My Architect"
    "The Weather Underground"
     Predicted WINNER
      "My Architect"

    Why: A guess.

    What SHOULD win: I've only seen "The Fog of War," so it wouldn't be fair for me to opine.

     Best CINEMATOGRAPHY nominees
    "City of God,"
    "Cold Mountain"
    "Girl With a Pearl Earring"
    "Master & Commander"
    "Seabiscuit"
     Predicted WINNER
      "Master & Commander"

    Why: Because shooting a sea battle is just about the hardest thing you can do with a movie camera, so doing it as beautifully as it was done here is wow-worthy.

    What SHOULD win: "Girl With a Pearl Earring"

     Best EDITING nominees
    "City of God,"
    "Cold Mountain"
    "LOTR: Return of the King"
    "Master & Commander"
    "Seabiscuit"
     Predicted WINNER
      "Master & Commander"

    Why: Almost the entire film took place on a ship alone at sea, yet it never lagged for a moment.

    What SHOULD win: "Master & Commander"

     Best SOUND nominees
    "The Last Samurai"
    "LOTR: Return of the King"
    "Master & Commander"
    "Pirates of the Caribbean"
    "Seabiscuit"
     Predicted WINNER
      "The Last Samurai"

    Why: Amazing battle sound.

    What SHOULD win: no opinion

     Best SOUND EDITING nominees
    Finding Nemo
    "Master & Commander"
    "Pirates of the Caribbean"
     Predicted WINNER
      "Master & Commander"

    Why: They're all water movies! Hmmm. This category is more about sound effects, so the battle scenes will take the cake.

    What SHOULD win: no opinion

     Best VISUAL EFFECTS nominees
    "LOTR: Return of the King"
    "Master and Commander"
    "Pirates of the Caribbean"
     Predicted WINNER
      "Return of the King"

    Why: Five words: Gollum and the giant spider

    What SHOULD win: "Return of the King"

     Best ART DIRECTION nominees
    "Girl With a Pearl Earring"
    "The Last Samurai"
    "LOTR: Return of the King"
    "Master & Commander"
    "Seabiscuit"
     Predicted WINNER
      "Return of the King"

    Why: It completely transports you to another world, and a "Lord of the Rings" movie hasn't won this category yet.

    What SHOULD win: "Girl With a Pearl Earring"

     Best COSTUMES nominees
    "Girl With a Pearl Earring," Dien van Straalen
    "The Last Samurai," Ngila Dickson
    "LOTR: Return of the King," Ngila Dickson
    "Master & Commander," Wendy Stites
    "Seabiscuit," Judianna Makovsky
     Predicted WINNER
      "The Last Samurai"

    Why: Samurai armor!

    What SHOULD win: "Girl With a Pearl Earring"

     Best MAKEUP nominees
    "LOTR: Return of the King"
    "Master & Commander"
    "Pirates of the Caribbean"
     Predicted WINNER
      "Return of the King"

    Why: Orcs, baby!

    What SHOULD win: "Master & Commander"

     Best ORIGINAL SCORE nominees
    Danny Elfman, "Big Fish"
    Gabriel Yared, "Cold Mountain"
    Thomas Newman, "Finding Nemo"
    James Horner, "House of Sand & Fog"
    Howard Shore, "LOTR: Return of the King"
     Predicted WINNER
      "Finding Nemo"

    Why: Again, this movie has had a lot of love, and Shore won last year for "LOTR: The Two Towers"

    Who SHOULD win: Shore

     Best ORIGINAL SONG nominees
    "Into the West" from "LOTR: Return of the King"
    "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" from "A Mighty Wind"
    "Scarlet Tide" from "Cold Mountain"
    "The Triplets of Belleville" from "The Triplets of Bellville"
    "You Will Be My Ain True Love" from "Cold Mountain"
     Predicted WINNER
      no idea
    What SHOULD win: Who cares? It's a pointless category.







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