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The Oscars 2004 - Some predictions that will probably be wrong
by Matt Bartley

Here we are again the highlight of the awards season (apparently), so it's time for me to get my crystal ball out and make some predictions for the main categories of film, director and acting. How accurate am I? Well last year I predicted Adrien Brody as a dark horse to watch out for as best actor...but then I also said that there was no way Roman Polanski would take the best director Oscar. But you win some, you lose some...anyway on with the predictions. And as we all know it's not down to talent - it's all politics...

Best Picture

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Lost In Translation

Mystic River

Seabiscuit

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Can the Academy do it? Can they really deny Lord of the Rings best film for the third year in the row? You wouldn't put it past them would you? Ignore the fact it's the got the most nominations this year - Fellowship had the best of its year and it still get beat by A Beautiful Mind (anyone ever watched that since?). Also as well as their usual aversion to fantasy, consider the fact that ROTK has no acting nominations. You'll have to go as far back as Braveheart to find a best picture winner that didn't have at least one acting nomination. But on the other hand, the Academy surely has to realise that with it sweeping awards all over the world there is an issue of credibility at stake here. Will anyone ever take the Oscars seriously again if they don't give it best film? And this year of course there can be no talk of 'well there's always next year for it'. There's not. This is it, the concluding part, the best of the three,the finest third part of a trilogy ever. It's favourite yes, and it would be a major upset if it didn't win...but it's not set in stone.

Lost in Translations best Oscar chances lie with Murray and the screenplay. Does it have a shot at best picture? Only if the Academy decide to go 'arty' and left-field on the night. It's lack of dramatic weight will hold it back for the big one, but its chances lie elsewhere.

Mystic River definitely has the upperhand over ROTK in terms of acting nominations. In those terms it's the heavyweight and the favourite. However...you'd have to even further back (about 20 years) to find a best picture winner that didn't have a single technical nod. It doesn't, and as such will be seen as a film to reward for it's acting, rather than its technical skill. Probably ROTK's closest rival and it's serious and dramatic enough to have a good, fighting chance.

Seabiscuit then. You've got to ask yourself how exactly did they choose this as one of the 5 best? If it's one of the 5 best of the year it must be stunningly well directed. Apparently not, Gary Ross hasn't made the directors short-list. Ah, I see...well the acting must have pulled it through then? Well actually no, the acting was fine but not good enough for anyone to gain a nomination. Right...so if neither the direction or acting is nomination worthy, then how is the film deemed to be?! Nothing against Seabiscuit, it's enjoyable, but consider the films that didn't make the list (The Last Samurai or In America for example) and wonder how it got on there. Although it's the most Academy friendly in a sentimental way, the lack of other nominations (particularly directing) means it's the first to be ruled out. No director, no win.

Hands up who's surprised that Master and Commander is the second most nominated film of the year? That's what I thought. Fine film though it is, it's still surprising that it lasted long enough in the critics minds to get so many nominations, particularly considering its relative commercial failure. Will this surprise and goodwill last long enough for it to get the big one? Probably not, though with that many nominations you can't quite count it out. Tie it up with Mystic River for ROTK's biggest challenge.

Best Director

Peter Jackson - Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Sofia Coppola - Lost in Translation

Clint Eastwood - Mystic River

Fernando Meirelles - City of God

Peter Weir - Master and Commander:The Far Side of the World

To repeat once again, can the Academy deny Peter Jackson at the last? Practically the world and its uncle want Jackson to win this one. For the actual film itself for one thing, if not the astonsihing way that he pulled off such a gargantuan task of managing such a trilogy - all at once. But then the Academy doesn't like being told who they should award. And he is a Kiwi, and it must stick in their throat that it's not an American that pulled it off. But who could they honestly say with a straight face deserves it more than Jackson? The clear favourite, expect uproar if he doesn't win. Sometimes nice guys do finish first. Let's hope it's one of those occasions.

Coppola's best chance somes as being the 'art' choice. But then again, Lost in Translation isn't being praised for its thoughtful and subtle direction, but its acting and writing. Sofia won't make history as the first female best director (although you can bet the Academy would love to be seen as that equal), but there's a good chance she'll be rewarded with the screenplay Oscar.

Eastwood has a similar problem as Coppola - Mystic River is being lauded for its acting, and not its direction. Its acting nominations may be enough to pull off a surprise best picture win, but rule Eastwood out - unless the Academy see fit to honour one of their 'own'. A bit like Ron Howard a few years ago...

Although I'm rooting for Jackson above anyone else, the only person I'd be equally pleased to see take the Oscar would be Fernando Meirelles. City of God is one of the most invigorating, energetic, just plain astonishing films of the last few years. And for a first-time director to capture the flavour of the Brazilian slums with as much power and horror such as he did, is very worthy of an Academy award. However two things will harm his chances - if he wins, the general reaction is likely to be "who?", and secondly it's the curse of Seabiscuit - no nod for best film. Just like a film won't win without a best director nomination, a best director won't win without a best film nomination. A shame.

So will the Oscar go to an epic-crafting, Australian director by the name of Peter? No, it'll probably be the epic-crafting, New Zealand director by the name of Peter. Weir is probably Jackson's closest rival because of the amount of nominations and his directing is open for all to see in Master and Commander. However his meticolous recreation of life at sea is more likely to see wins for production design than anything else. Although if the Academy do get fed up of hearing about Jackson, and want to start a backlash, Weir isn't a bad place to start...

Best Actor

Johnny Depp - Pirates of the Caribbean - The Curse of the Black Pearl

Sean Penn - Mystic River

Jude Law - Cold Mountain

Bill Murray - Lost in Translation

Ben Kingsley - The House of Sand and Fog

Depp has been due a nomination now for many years of great, off-beat character pieces, and can you think of anyone other actor who has lost themselves in a role so completely and just had so much fun with it? It would be the coolest decision EVER by the Academy if they gave it to Depp and aweek ago I would have said "No chance. Too lightweight, too frivolous" and yet...Depp's surprise SAG win has put him back in the running and blown what was a two-horse race, wide open. With a great deal (the majority?) of Oscar voters from the SAG, keep your eye on him. A best actor from a Bruckheimer summer flick about comedy pirates? It could happen...

Of the two horse-race, Penn is one of them. If they want deep, dramatic and powerful, Penn blows everyone out of the water with a De Niro-like performance. He's also had three previous nominations and no wins which always work in the actors favour. But...he's decidely un-Hollywood bad boy and a liberal (and very political with it) and latest word is that he's not going to bother showing up. Expect those factors to count against him. Although a no-show didn't harm Polanski last year, and if Mystic River doesn't take best picture, expect it to take at least one acting Oscar..

Jude Law is the first one you can draw a big, thick line through and say 'no chance'. He hasn't won any other awards and the mini-backlash against Cold Mountain will definitely hurt him. Add to that the fact his is a mono-syllabic, one-note performance that isn't actually that great and he just won't be able to compete. The only aspect in his favour is if they want to reward Cold Mountain something for not having a best picture nod. Even so..it's unlikely Law will be getting out of his seat expect to take a piss.

Ok. Everyone knows Bill Murray should win. Everyone wants Bill Murray to win. And in the neck-and-neck race with Penn, he's about an inch ahead. But will he take home the big one? The SAG don't seem to think so, and he also has the same problems as Penn - un-Hollywood, likely to give a sarcastic speech mocking agents and producers, and a question over whether he'll show or not. Add to that the fact he's in an essentially comic role going up against dramatic roles and the Oscar could be just beyond him. Could be the injustice of the night.

Last year, Adrien Brody was the surprise winner ahead of favourites Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day-Lewis.And what do Tom Hanks, Russell Crowe, Denzel Washington all have in common? They all won Golden Globes only to miss out on the Oscars, so if you want to bet on a similar dark horse, Kingsley's your man. If the ever-so-sensitive Academy are turned off Penn or Murray right by the last then Kingsley is the one most likely to benefit. Also, if Penn and Murray are still neck-and-neck then votes may get split and Kingsley will again benefit. He's the choice in the most 'worthy' roles there, and the Academy love 'worthy' roles. They also like luvvies and Kingsley is an unabashed luvvie. If anyones going to give a gushing, simpering speech thanking the Academy, it'll be him. This could be the surprise of the night.

Best Actress

Charlize Theron - Monster

Diane Keaton - Something's Gotta Give

Samantha Morton - In America

Naomi Watts - 21 Grams

Keira Castle-Hughes - Whale Rider


This is Theron's to lose basically. She's sweeping awards everywhere and she's done what the Academy loves - beautiful actress going unglamorous, a physical transformation, and a serious weighty role. Certainly hasn't done recent winners (Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, Hilary Swank, Nicole Kidman) any harm. Add to that the best female performance is mystifiyingly missing (Sacrlett Johansson for LIT) and Theron has it practically sewn up. One of the more predictable choices of the night.

Her biggest challenge is Keaton however. It's unusual that winners of the comedy Golden Globe make it to the Oscar short-list, so for Keaton to do so indicates that she has a strong chance. Plus she's Hollywood old school, well liked and respected and will have a lot of friends willing to vote for her. Could be a surprise winner if the Academy doesn't want too many 'serious' winners. But it would be a major surprise.

Samantha Morton isn't going to be able to compete.She's fairly unknown and In America seems to have slipped off the critical radar. No other wins to back her up either so a nomination is her reward. Unless there's a sudden sympathy swing for her portrayal of the grief-stricken young mother.

The general feeling for Naomi Watts is that she's destined for greater things, so her time will come and this is probably too soon for her. Plus her dressing-down in the role isn't as drastic as Therons. Her main problem is neither her, nor the film stand out against anyone else.

Will the Academy reward a 13 year old Kiwi girl no-ones ever heard and who was a major surprise to make the list anyway? Er, no. It may be a case of too many Kiwi's in the basket for Castle-Hughes and they'll patronisingly think that a nomination for someone that age is more than enough. Still, the word is that she's actually the most deserving nominee and awarding a 13 year old will certainly make people think, "Aww, aren't the Academy nice..."

Best Supporting Actor

Alec Baldwin - The Cooler

Benicio Del Toro - 21 Grams

Djmon Hounsou - In America

Ken Watanbe - The Last Samurai

Tim Robbins - Mystic River

When they read out 'Alec Baldwin in The Cooler', most people will be thinking "The Cooler? Never heard of it!", and that will ultimately count against him. Also a nomination for hamming it up and just being funny, rarely equals a win. A nomination will give Baldwin and the film a bit of credibility and attention and that'll have to be enough.

Likewise Del Toro for 21 Grams. And like Watts, he's hampered by the fact he's punching against more high-profile films and more high-profile names. He's unlikely to make it two wins, and a character actor like him will be aware that he'll always have further chances later in his career. The Academy will know that too.

If there could be surprise in this category I'd look at Hounsou. If there are enough supporters for In America in the voters, Hounsou could be the one to benefit most. It's also a role that almost cries Oscar 'black artist dying of aids who befriends two cute little girls and their poor parents and leaves them lots of money'. He's certainly ticked a few requirements there...

But don't rule out Watanbe. If the Academy want to look ethnic-friendly Watanbe could be the one to benefit. A big plus for him is that he had almost as much screen time as the lead and also acted him off the screen. The puzzling lack of other nominations for The Last Samurai means he could get a big last minute push. However he hasn't actually won any other awards and that's not going to help.

Generally there's usually at least one performance that wins ALL the awards in the season. And the supporting roles are usually it. But come the big night, and one will just fail to make it. Last year Chris Cooper kept up the pace to take the Oscar, whilst Meryl Streep fell at the last. Will Robbins suffer the same fate? Possibly. He's politically-minded (and likes to speak his mind)and he still hasn't been forgiven for his comments about Haiti refugees the last time he took to the Oscar stage. However he hasn't said anything controversial at any other awards so far, but will the Academy chance it? He does the weight of Mystic River behind him, and in all honesty hasn't had any serious competition yet.

Best Supporting Actress

Renee Zellweger - Cold Mountain

Marcia Gay Harden - Mystic River

Holly Hunter - Thirteen

Patricia Clarkson - Pieces of April

Sohreh Aghdashloo - The House of Sand and Fog

If there's one award you can bet your house, living relatives and mortal soul on, it'll be Zellweger for Cold Mountain. She's loud and racous in the role, has taken everything from critics circles, to BAFTA's, to Golden Globes and has the rule of three behind her- third nomination, no win. That equals win this time around, no matter how un-deserving she may be. Plus - she's gone dramatic this time. And Cold Mountain will win something to appease Miramax - and it won't be Law.

My first reaction to hearing Gay Harden's nomination for Mystic River? "When was she in it?". Her portrayal of Tim Robbins timid wife had all but slipped my mind. Not because she was bad - it was just so small a role. It's surprising that she got the nomination over Laura Linney instead. And that'll go against her as will the fact she won a couple of years ago so isn't due another one.

Holly Hunter sums up another reason why Zellweger will win. No other actress is simply high-profile enough. They're in either roles people forgot (Gay Harden) or in films well off the critical radar (Thirteen). Another past winner who won't make it two on the night.

Ditto the same problem for Clarkson. Probably one of the best character actresses around, a win is surely due for her soon but not for this low-budget (under a million), shot on digital, ultimate in indie, family drama/comedy flick. Far too small-scale despite looking the most deserving, this will bring the film some attention and the Academy will deem that enough.

I'd like to see Aghdashloo win just to see them attempt to pronounce her name. In the current political climate will the Academy really award an Iranian? Maybe to be very, very, very PC - but otherwise no. She has probably the most 'worthy' role so if in the highly unlikely scenario of Zellweger missing out, Aghdashloo could be the winner.



So, there we have it then for another year. Will it be Hobbits or horses celebrating at the end? Pirates or soldiers? Will Catherine Zeta-Jones or Jennifer Lopez be trying to hog the lime-light the most? Let the games begin...


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1015
originally posted: 02/25/04 00:25:38
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