"Shadows present, foreshadowing deeper shadows to come." -- Herman Melville

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January 28, 2004

Ahh, awards season...God, I love it. Nothing like showing off your prognostication skills by predicting which movies and actors scads of aging Academy members and the oblique "Hollywood Foreign Press" will feel fit enough for a trophy. For some blathering about the Golden Globes, check out the journal page.

And without any further ado, here are the nominees for this years Academy Awards along with my thoughts on who will win, who could and should win, and who may be a surprise upset on Oscar night:

Academy Awards 2004

BEST PICTURE

--Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - Barrie M. Osborne, Peter Jackson, Frances Walsh
--Lost in Translation - Sofia Coppola, Ross Katz
--Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World - Samuel Goldwyn Jr., Duncan Henderson, Peter Weir
--Mystic River - Robert Lorenz, Judie Hoyt, Clint Eastwood
--Seabiscuit - Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Gary Ross

Will Win: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Could Win: Mystic River
Should Win: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Dark Horse: Lost in Translation
Comments: The Academy has been nominating Jackson and the Rings films for three years now. I think they were waiting to reward him until the final chapter was released so the entire trilogy could be seen as a whole. As long as he didn't fuck it up, it would win. Luckily, Jackson saved the best of the three films until last and will ride a wave of critical and commercial adoration to a deserved victory here. Easily the most ambitious undertaking ever by a major studio and filmmaker, Jackson will forever be acclaimed for creating a set of films with an epic, grandiose vision AND a careful, close attention to its myriad characters. The trilogy has picked up smaller technical and musical awards here and there the past few years, but this will be its biggest glory. While its Golden Globe victory would seem to spell success in the Oscars, don't overlook the curmudgeonly attitudes of the Academy. If enough voters decide against a CG-laden fantasy spectacular (see Star Wars' loss to Annie Hall in 1978), look for Lost or River to leap in. Lost in Translation is soaring after its Globes win, is a critical darling, and could be ready for a major upset if Rings and River split the vote. Mystic River is a much more traditional Academy favorite: a deliberate, slow-paced character study directed by Clint Eastwood, who's already got one Best Picture trophy on his mantle. It still sounds like it's the year for hobbits and orcs, though. Finally.

BEST ACTOR

--Johnny Depp for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
--Ben Kingsley for House of Sand and Fog
--Jude Law for Cold Mountain
--Bill Murray for Lost in Translation
--Sean Penn for Mystic River

Will Win: Bill Murray
Could Win: Sean Penn
Should Win: Sean Penn
Dark Horse: Johnny Depp
Comments: Murray and Penn won their respective acting divisions at the Globes, but I think this is Murray's year. Critics have been foaming at the mouth over his performance in Lost in Translation, which I think is possibly the most overrated performance in this year's most overrated movie. Not that either is bad, but just not as amazing as the hype would have you believe. A three-star (on a four-star scale of course) performance and movie, not four-plus. Critics seem to fall in love with Murray whenever he simply doesn't have a funny role. Just in the last few years, look at The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore. He puts on a dour face instead of a funny one and the critics fall over themselves praising him for it. Hell, go back to parts of Groundhog Day. He's been doing this for a while. I love Bill Murray and I won't be upset to see him win on Oscar night (especially since he has the chance to make a great acceptance speech), but I don't think it's as powerful or difficult a performance as Sean Penn's in Mystic River. This is Murray's first nomination and I think he should earn one or two more before he receives the award. Penn, on the other hand, has been nominated four times now and has never won. It should be his time. Luckily, I'm sure he'll be back soon. The race is between Murray and Penn, though if there's a major upset or the vote is split, the prize will go to Johnny Depp. His spectacularly over-the-top performance single-handedly carried an otherwise overwrought movie, but he should feel proud enough getting nominated for such a throwaway role. Depp's been giving great performances for years now and I expect he'll be receiving his Oscar in due time. I love Jude Law, but he'll also be back and Cold Mountain isn't generating the buzz necessary for big wins like this. Kingsley has won before, but his film's too much of a downer and didn't make enough of a splash for serious consideration.

BEST ACTRESS

--Keisha Castle-Hughes for Whale Rider
--Diane Keaton for Something's Gotta Give
--Samantha Morton for In America
--Charlize Theron for Monster
--Naomi Watts for 21 Grams

Will Win: Charlize Theron
Could Win: Nobody Else
Should Win: Charlize Theron
Dark Horse: Everyone Else
Comments: Few awards are as much of an open and shut case as this one. Charlize Theron deserves to win, will win, and no one else should even be close. The Academy loves actors who transform themselves for a role (see Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull or Hilary Swank in Boys Don't Cry) and Theron pulls off one of the most amazing transformations ever in cinema history and makes it utterly believable. She ravaged her face and hair, gained weight, adopted a harsh trucker accent, and never once faltered from her character. She even challenged audiences with a brief nude shot in the film fully displaying the extent of this change. If you'd like to be reminded (and of course you would), check out her brief nude scenes in Cider House Rules or Reindeer Games. She's a completely different person here. Roger Ebert, calling it the performance of the year in the year's best movie, said he first saw the movie knowing nothing about it at a festival and didn't even realize it was Theron until the credits rolled at the end. She picked up the Globe and she will win the Oscar just as easily. No one else is in the same league this year. Keaton would be second, but she's won her Oscar (for the aforementioned Annie Hall) and picking up the Globe this year is her big award.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

--Alec Baldwin for The Cooler
--Benicio Del Toro for 21 Grams
--Djimon Hounsou for In America
--Tim Robbins for Mystic River
--Ken Watanabe for The Last Samurai

Will Win: Tim Robbins
Could Win: Alec Baldwin
Should Win: Alec Baldwin
Dark Horse: Djimon Hounsou
Comments: The two supporting awards are harder for me to call because I've seen surprisingly few of the nominated movies. Regardless, I think Tim Robbins will continue to win for his tormented role in Mystic River. Straddling the line between withdrawn creepiness and conflicted frailty, he and Sean Penn give River its emotional weight with their powerful performances. Robbins counterpoints Penn's melancholy fury beautifully up to its tense climax. I think Robbins will deserve the Oscar, his first, but still my pick goes to Alec Baldwin in his revelatory turn in The Cooler. Baldwin, who's spent the last few years slumming in forgettable big-budget films (Cat in the Hat, Pearl Harbor), steals The Cooler with a surprisingly incisive performance as Shelly, the casino owner trying to stay anchored in the past. He deftly switches from scenes of brutality to scenes of vulnerability. And, like Robbins' performance, Baldwin's elevates the actors around him, bringing out the best of William H. Macy and Maria Bello. If only he'd pick more roles like this instead of dreck like Cat in the Hat. Hounsou made a splash in 1997 as Cinque in Spielberg's Amistad and could have an outside chance here.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

--Shohreh Aghdashloo for House of Sand and Fog
--Patricia Clarkson for Pieces of April
--Marcia Gay Harden for Mystic River
--Holly Hunter for Thirteen
--Renee Zellweger for Cold Mountain

Will Win: Renee Zellweger
Could Win: Marcia Gay Harden
Should Win: Marcia Gay Harden
Dark Horse: Patricia Clarkson
Comments: Okay, I'll just be honest here, this is the category I feel the least confident about since I've seen the least amount of movies from it. Zellweger has been nominated three years in a row now and, in a less competitive Supporting slot, this will likely be the year she'll pick up her first Oscar. I wouldn't rule out Marcia Gay Harden, though, who gave another quietly effective supporting performance in Mystic River. The biggest challenge she may have is the fact that she already won this category in 2001 for Pollock. Clarkson is an intriguing possibility because she's been flying under the radar for years now, but always turns in a memorable performance. Though many viewers will be asking who she is, she leaves her mark on movies like The Station Agent, Far From Heaven, and High Art and could sneak in here in Renee doesn't pull enough of the votes.

BEST DIRECTOR

--Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation
--Clint Eastwood for Mystic River
--Peter Jackson for Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
--Fernando Meirelles for City of God
--Peter Weir for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Will Win: Peter Jackson
Could Win: Clint Eastwood
Should Win: Peter Jackson
Dark Horse: Peter Weir
Comments: Again, Jackson's been nominated here before (for Fellowship, but not Two Towers), but it's his masterful end to the trilogy that will finally bring him gold. You'd think a director would have to be insane to take on a project so huge (both in terms of production and fan expectations) and Jackson may be a little crazy, but that's part of his mad genius (this is, after all, the director who made Meet the Feebles and Braindead). He has some strong competition, but Jackson should be rewarded for juggling a huge amount of stars, the most effective CG character ever put on screen (fuck you Jar Jar), and the endless special effects. This and Best Picture are his to take. If the voters think Best Picture is enough, though, look for Clint Eastwood to swoop in. Winning this could be considered a consolation prize for River not taking the overall award. For a Dark Horse, Master and Commander has been shut out from many awards and Peter Weir, who's been nominated four other times without winning, could be a surprise victor here. Fernando Meirelles is a surprise nomination, but the nomination itself is his reward for the critical success City of God.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

--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

Will Win: Lost in Translation
Could Win: In America
Should Win: Finding Nemo
Dark Horse: The Barbarian Invasions
Comments: Sofia Coppola is near a lock here for the award. She's lose out on Director and Best Picture and this will be her consolation. I like Coppola, but preferred her debut The Virgin Suicides to Lost. This will be her first award and I would not be surprised if more are in store for her. In America could be a possibility since this is probably its best bet for an award. Jim Sheridan has been nominated five other times and would be a deserving winner for his heartfelt script. My pick goes to Finding Nemo, which will certainly pick up the Best Animated Feature award and could stick its head in here due to its huge popularity. Pixar Studios has produced the most consistently excellent films of the past decade and they deserve to win as many awards as they can. Nemo continues the tradition with a film friendly to adults and kids, littered with a staggering amount of humor and warmth. But since the film is seen more as a technical accomplishment, it will probably be left behind here. The Barbarian Invasions seems a favorite for Foreign Film and could be ready for an upset victory.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

--American Splendor - Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
--City of God - Braulio Mantovani
--Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Frances Walsh
--Mystic River - Brian Helgeland
--Seabiscuit - Gary Ross

Will Win: Mystic River
Could Win: Seabiscuit
Should Win: Mystic River
Dark Horse: American Splendor
Comments: Brian Helgeland's had a amazingly up and down career. Along with Mystic River, he co-wrote the masterpiece LA Confidential (one of my favorite films of all time) and justly received an Oscar for it. However, he's also responsible for dreck like The Order, The Postman, and Assassins (not to mention a few others). When he's hot, though, no one can touch him. He's in perfect form again here in River and could carry the film's critical success to a second trophy. If voters decide against giving him another one so soon, though, look for Gary Ross to factor in heavily. Seabiscuit, which has been fighting for Academy consideration since it opened much earlier than the other nominees, has been a runaway success on DVD and has the popular vote on its side. Gary Ross has been nominated twice before for Screenplay and this could be Seabiscuit's big win of the night. If Seabiscuit gets shut out, critical darling American Splendor is a possible upset.

OTHER AWARDS

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

--The Barbarian Invasions - Canada
--Evil - Sweden
--The Twilight Samurai - Japan
--Twin Sisters - Netherlands
--Zelary - Czech Republic

--Will Win: The Barbarian Invasions
--Comments: A shot in the dark here, but Invasions seems to have the best chance. It lost the Globe, but the film it lost to (Osama) isn't nominated in the Oscars, so that bodes well for it. Invasions has been picking up awards in various film festivals for the past year (it won Best Actress and Best Screenplay in Cannes) and should win big here.

BEST ANIMATED FILM

--Brother Bear - Aaron Blaise, Robert Walker
--Finding Nemo - Andrew Stanton
--The Triplets of Belleville - Sylvain Chomet

--Will Win: Finding Nemo
--Comments: Another lock as Nemo will demolish the competition here. A stunning display of technological savvy combined with excellent voice acting and a faultless script, Nemo is another high watermark in Pixar's formidable resume. They would even have an outside shot if nominated for Best Picture, but will have to be content with taking the Animated award (now in the third year it has been given). Triplets of Belleville has so much quirky charm that it has attracted a number of fans, but it would have a better chance winning in the Foreign Film category rather than here. Pixar will soon have yet another award to show off.