Another Date with Oscar®
Forget tall, dark and handsome. Think small, gold and precious. I'm talkin' about Oscar®, one of the most sought-after guys in Hollywood. So what if he's 76 years old, stands only 13 ½ inches tall and weighs a mere 8 ½ pounds? He still looks great -- and every Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominee tingles with excitement at the thought of taking this little golden man home on February 29th.
After studying the list of current nominees, I believe there are clear-cut leading contenders in six key categories. Unfortunately, not all of them are my personal choices -- but never mind about that. Because everyone is entitled to my opinion, here are my thoughts about the races for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress:
Nominees: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; Lost in Translation; Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; Mystic River; Seabiscuit.
My Prediction: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
My Preference: Seabiscuit
Comments: Okay, I know the last movie in the amazing Lord of the Rings trilogy is even more spectacular than the first two, but I'm cheering more loudly for Seabiscuit, a film released early in 2003 -- which made many critics bet it wouldn't reach the nomination circle. Fortunately, Academy members remembered this poignant and exciting movie about an afflicted racehorse and the three men who helped turn him into a champion. Mystic River, Clint Eastwood's disturbing drama of murder and friendship, is the sleeper in this category.
Nominees: Clint Eastwood (Mystic River); Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King); Fernando Meirelles (City of God); Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation); Peter Weir (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World).
My Prediction: Peter Jackson
My Preference: Peter Jackson
Comments: I'm pleased to see Sofia Coppola's name among the nominees for Best Director this year. Jane Campion (for The Piano) and Lina Wertmuller (for Seven Beauties) are the only other women to achieve this honor. However, Campion lost to Steven Spielberg (Schindler's List); John Avildsen (Rocky) won over Wertmuller. Following in that tradition, Campion will probably also lose to one of the male directors. And I sincerely hope it will be Peter Jackson, who deserves the Oscar® for his seven years of dedication and creativity as director of the fantastic Lord of the Rings trilogy. Spoiler? Clint Eastwood -- because he's a director many Academy voters regard as a living legend. But, hey, he already owns one Oscar (for The Unforgiven).
Nominees: Keisha Castle-Huges (Whale Rider); Diane Keaton (Something's Gotta Give); Samantha Morton (In America); Charlize Theron (Monster); Naomi Watts (21 Grams)
My Prediction: Charlize Theron
My Preference: Keisha Castle-Hughes
Comments: Beautiful Charlize Theron stunned viewers with the complete physical transformation she accomplished in the role of serial killer Aileen Wuornos (Monster). And, for some reason, Academy members love to see gorgeous women make themselves unattractive -- witness Nicole Kidman's win last year by donning a fake nose for her role in The Hours. Also, there seem to be no qualms about handing out Oscars for portraying convicted murderers. Back in 1958, Susan Hayward earned an Academy Award for playing Barbara Graham in I Want To Live. However, none of the other nominees in this category can match the natural charisma of 13-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes. Her Whale Rider performance, as a young girl challenging centuries-old New Zealand tribal traditions, was incredibly memorable and inspiring. But don't count out veteran Diane Keaton. She's already won numerous awards for her splendid work in the popular romantic comedy Something's Gotta Give.
Nominees: Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl); Ben Kinglsey (House of Sand and Fog); Jude Law (Cold Mountain); Bill Murray (Lost in Translation); Sean Penn (Mystic River).
My Prediction: Sean Penn
My Preference: Johnny Depp
Comments: Oh, how I hope I'm wrong about this prediction! With all my heart and soul, I want Johnny Depp to win for his outrageously creative performance as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates. However, Academy voters don't appreciate comic turns as much as dramatic ones, so I believe Sean Penn has the edge for displaying in-depth emotions as the Mystic River ex-con vowing revenge for his daughter's murder. Still, funnyman Bill Murray might surprise me with a win here because of his excellent combination of comic and dramatic acting in Lost in Translation.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Nominees: Alec Baldwin (The Cooler); Benicio Del Toro (21 Grams); Djimon Honsou (In America); Tim Robbins (Mystic River); Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai).
My Prediction: Tim Robbins
My Preference: Tim Robbins
Comments: Although each of these nominees delivered terrific supporting performances, I think Tim Robbins stands out as the one who most became the character he played. In Mystic River, Robbins made me forget he was an actor. I accepted him totally as a troubled man fighting past demons. Either Alec Baldwin or Djimon Honsou could be spoilers in this category -- but neither would disappoint me. Baldwin, portraying The Cooler's mob-connected casino director, and Honsou, as a man dying of AIDS in In America, impressed me with their exceptional interpretations of these challenging roles.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Nominees: Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog); Patricia Clarkson (Pieces of April); Marcia Gay Harden (Mystic River); Holly Hunter (Thirteen); Renée Zellweger (Cold Mountain).
My Prediction: Renée Zellweger
My Preference: Renée Zellweger
Comments: Although Renée Zellweger livened things up considerably in Cold Mountain, I think she'll be the victor here primarily because of a notorious "shoulda won the year before" Academy tradition. For example, last year, Nicole Kidman benefited from this tradition -- winning for The Hours when she should've won the year before for Moulin Rouge. Many Academy voters think Zellweger deserved the Oscar last year for Chicago, so honoring her for Cold Mountain could be their way of making up for that oversight. Her main competition? Shohreh Aghdashloo, who gave such a haunting performance as the confused wife of a stubborn, demanding husband in House of Sand and Fog.
With Billy Crystal back on board as host, the 76th Annual Academy Awards Ceremony should be filled with lots of fun as well as glamour. Will any of my predictions come true? Dunno, but I'm eager to find out during my ABC television date with Oscar at 6 p.m. on Sunday, February 29. Be sure to check local television schedules for the correct Oscar time in your area.
(A version of this article also appears in the February 29th issue of The Pueblo Chieftain.)