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Oscar Time: And the Nomination Goes to...

By Benjamin J. Soskin, Crimson Staff Writer

At the start of every year, film pundits and critics across the country wail about the dearth of cinematic treasures afforded by the year just ended. And 2001’s field of well-loved films, they have said, was even sparser than usual -- one of the most prominent factors muddling attempts to predict the year’s Academy Award nominations. In category after category of my predictions for this year, I’ve found a rough ratio of three educated guesses to every two generally agreed-upon nominees. On that note, here are my predictions for this year’s major awards:

Best Picture

A Beautiful Mind and The Fellowship of the Ring are locks for nominations; they’re well-liked by both critics and audiences, and they’ve split the more significant accolades of the awards season. A Beautiful

Mind won the Best Drama Golden Globe while The Fellowship of the Ring took the American Film Institute’s (AFI) Best Picture award, and both pictures secured nods from the Producers Guild of America (PGA).

Moulin Rouge had a more mixed reception upon release, but its PGA nod and its Best Comedy Golden Globe make it a safe bet for a nomination. Black Hawk Down’s intense presentation of American combat in Somalia may seem topical enough to warrant recognition, and the much-acclaimed In the Bedroom will likely overcome its gloomy subject matter to nab a nomination as well. Shrek and Gosford Park also have outside chances of sneaking into the field.

Best Director

As is the case with their films, Ring’s Peter Jackson and Mind’s Ron Howard are sure things. Baz Luhrmann’s boldly excessive vision for Moulin Rouge assures him of a nomination as well. Despite Robert Altman’s snub from the Directors Guild of America (DGA), I’m confident that his multiple honors for Gosford Park (from the Globes, the AFI, and the New York critics, among others) are a sufficient bellwether for an Oscar nod. Ridley Scott’s DGA and AFI nominations for his command of Black Hawk Down’s chaotic battle sequences also make him a probable nominee. David Lynch has an outside shot for bringing an impeccable assuredness to the surreal Mulholland Drive, as does In theBedroom’s Todd Field.

Best Actor

Russell Crowe, Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington have split many of the year’s Best Actor awards between them; I’d expect that all three will be nominated for their work. The typically prophetic Screen Actors Guild (SAG) failed to nominate Hackman for The Royal Tenenbaums, but I don’t think that their oversight dims his chances terribly. Along the same lines, Bedroom’s Tom Wilkinson received no Globe nomination, but his recognition record is otherwise sterling, and his chances for an Oscar nomination look excellent. I think that Penn, whose role as a mentally retarded parent is pure Oscar bait, will sneak in to grab the last Best Actor slot, despite mixed-to-poor reviews for his film. Will Smith, on the other hand, will probably miss out on a nomination for his unimpressive and largely unrewarded performance in the meandering Ali. A chance at the Oscar will also elude Billy Bob Thornton, whose support is apt to be split between his roles in The Man Who Wasn’t There, Monster’s Ball and Bandits.

Best Actress

Sissy Spacek’s performance in In the Bedroom has been the most acclaimed of the year, winning her the Golden Globe as well as prizes from the AFI and the L.A. and New York film critics; she’s the odds-on favorite to win the Academy Award, so her nomination is guaranteed. Both Kidman and Berry are coming off of the most successful year of their careers, and capping it with Oscar nods seems in order. Nicole Kidman’s work in The Others may bleed away some support from her more heavily promoted Moulin Rouge role—and, indeed, this split was probably what cost her a SAG nomination—but I think that she’s well-positioned to claim a Moulin Rouge nod regardless. Dench received a rare two SAG nods this year (for Iris and The Shipping News), suggesting that she enjoys sufficiently strong support among her fellow actors to grab her a nomination for Iris—her fourth Oscar nod in five years. Finally, Zellweger’s SAG- and Globe-nominated turn as the lovably erratic Brigdet Jones will probably secure her a nomination. Tilda Swinton’s work in last summer’s obscure The Deep End could be recognized. However, I’m rooting for dark horse Naomi Watts to slide in and snag a nomination for her flawlessly realized dual roles in“Mulholland Drive.”

Best Supporting Actor

One of my favorite performances this year was Ben Kingsley’s turn as a simmering fireball of a crook in Sexy Beast; his against-type role and the near-unanimous praise that it attracted assures him of an Oscar nod. The great Jim Broadbent’s wins for Iris at the Globes and elsewhere also put him on track for a nomination. Jon Voight should pull a nod for his rich, intelligent portrayal of Howard Cosell in Ali. Ian McKellen, his chances bolstered by his SAG nomination, will likely be the sole performer recognized from The Fellowship of the Ring’s ensemble. Finally, I see the oft-acclaimed indie vet Steve Buscemi taking his first Oscar nomination for his role as an endearing misfit in Ghost World. More distant possibilities in this traditionally talent-packed category include Brian Cox in L.I.E., Jude Law in A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Hayden Christensen in Life as a House and Tony Shalhoub in The Man Who Wasn’t There.

Best Supporting Actress

A Beautiful Mind’s Jennifer Connelly and Gosford Park’s Helen Mirren are the frontrunners here, Connelly having taken the Globe and the AFI award, and Mirren having won multiple prizes from critics’ organizations. Behind them, in a tight pack, are Mirren’s castmate Maggie Smith, In the Bedroom’s Marisa Tomei and Iris’s Kate Winslet, as well as Vanilla Sky’s Cameron Diaz and Bandits’ Cate Blanchett. Of the five, Tomei’s and Smith’s films are the most prominent in the Oscar race, and will lift the actresses to nominations. The category’s fifth space will probably fall to the ever-lauded Winslet, although Diaz’s SAG nomination makes her almost as likely to take the spot. Meanwhile, Blanchett, though an invariably wonderful actress, will unfortunately see her support split among several films this year.

Best Screenplay

Most likely to be nominated for best original screenplays are Memento, whose innovative screenplay has figured in nearly every set of awards this year, and Gosford Park, whose script has also won recognition from many organizations. Both of these films, as well as the others that I’m predicting in this category, are offbeat critical darlings, a type of film which usually makes its best showing in the screenplay categories. Outside possibilities for nods include the scripts for Moulin Rouge, Monsters Ball, and The Others.

Apart from Ghost World, every one of the films potentially a nominee for best adapted screenplay can also be a contender for Best Picture nominations, and their well-received screenplays will probably similarly battle one another in this category. Ghost World’s script, meanwhile, has received enough awards recognition to sensibly round out the field. Keep in mind, though, that Black Hawk Down, Iris or The Shipping News could overtake Shrek or Ghost World for a slot.

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