The members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been saving up their love for the "The Lord of the Rings" movies, and now comes the payoff. The trilogy's third installment is going to rake them in at this year's 76th annual Oscar ceremony. In fact, before the nominations are even announced, I'm willing to bet on "The Return of the King" and it's director, Peter Jackson, taking home the top two prizes.
But don't completely dismiss "Lost in Translation," this year's little-indie-that-could. The film should see Bill Murray's first acting nomination, screenplay and directing nods for Sofia Coppola, and perhaps a notice of star Scarlett Johansson -- if the voters can decide what category she belongs in after the studio began pimping her lead performance as a supporting role.
Here's how I imagine the nominations shaping up on January 27...
If there's any change in the top five here, it will likely be the substitution of "Seabiscuit" for "Cold Mountain." But don't count on it. Hard-charging Oscar marketer Miramax hasn't been shut out of the Best Picture category in years.
For the first time in ages, I think all the best picture and best director nods will align with no awkward odd-man-out omissions. If there is a spoiler, it would be Gary Ross, just as his film could spoil for Best Picture.
There are going to be a couple surprises this year, and I think Depp will be one of them -- unless "Cold Mountain" does well in the nominations, in which case Law could ride that wave into a Best Actor nod. Kingsley is on a lot of pundits' lists, but "House of Sand & Fog" has received mixed reviews and Academy voters will want to recognize the unexpected cleverness of "Pirates" in a major category, and it's not going to be Best Picture.
Johansson would be a pretty sure thing for "Translation," except that Focus Features decided to pitch her as a Supporting Actress, even though she's the film's main character. Because this is such a clear mismatch, she probably won't get the nod in either category, which is a crime and a half. But short of a Johansson coup, I'm hoping to see Wood get Kidman's spot. As for Curtis, she's another of my predicted surprises. Her performance as a teenager stuck in her mother's body was so brilliantly funny and true to the character's 15-year-old spirit, I don't think she can be ignored. Of course, none of this matters because Theron has the Oscar all sewn up.
|Best SUPPORTING ACTOR|
Austin will become "LOTR's" only acting nominee this year, even though the film is going to be taking a huge victory lap at The Oscars. Sarsgaard would have seemed like a long shot a couple months ago, but recognition by so many critics' groups this year will get him noticed. If their respective films fare better than expected, Del Toro, Watanabe or Bettany could take Baldwin's likely spot.
|Best SUPPORTING ACTRESS|
I'm going out on a limb again here, but there's just been so much talk about DeGeneres's contribution to "Finding Nemo," that I think we'll see some ground broken with an acting nomination for an animated film. Why DeGeneres will get this honor and not Andy Serkis, whose performance as Gollum in the "Lord of the Rings" movies contributed directly to the character's physicality as well, ain't fair. But then, this is the Oscars, baby. Get used to it. As for Johansson, she'll be getting screwed even worse. For an explanation, see "Best Actress" above.
|Best ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY|
There's going to be some tough competition for the Oscar in this category. "Translation" has the momentum, but "Thirteen" has the PR advantage of having been co-written by a real teenager.
|Best ADAPTED SCREENPLAY|
Indies often get some love in the screenplay categories, so expect to see "American Splendor" get its only nomination here. But "Cold Mountain" could boot anything but "LOTR" if Miramax's marketing army has anything to say about it.
|SPECIALTY Best Film categories|
"The Fog of War"
"Capturing the Friedmans"
"My Flesh & Blood"
And perhaps "The Weather Underground" and/or "Bus 174"
"The Barbarian Invasions" (French Canada)
"Good Bye, Lenin!" (Germany)
"Monsieur Ibrahim" (France)
"The Return" (Russia)
|TECHNICAL ("hard") categories|
|ARTISTIC ("soft") categories|