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Since 1st March, 1999
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Year-end dozen in Oscar race

This year’s Academy Awards are still more than two months off, but the campaigns are in full swing, the trade papers are crammed with ads and the pundits are already dusting off their crystal balls and sharpening their pencils.

It should be a heck of a race. The field of contenders for the major prizes is crowded with a dozen movies (almost all of them relatively new, released within a few weeks of each other at the end of the year), and no overwhelming favourite is dominating the pack.

Right now, these films are battling over the first hurdle on the costly campaign trail — the nominations. The suspense being generated is over which of the potentials will be shut out of which of the five-slot nomination categories to be announced on February 11.

For best picture, conventional wisdom tells us that the ballot should consist of About Schmidt, The Pianist and Far From Heaven, each of which won the nod of a major critics’ group, plus Chicago and The Hours, which grabbed the lion’s share of Golden Globe nominations.

But Oscar voters favour the epic, which gives hope to Gangs of New York and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. And the voters tend to be sentimental, which would seem to give a decent shot to the Cinderella movie of 2002, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. There’s also Nicholas Nickleby and Adaptation, which both got Golden Globe best picture nominations, and Frida, Antwone Fisher and The Quiet American, which didn’t but still are considered prime prospects for a berth at the top of the Oscar ticket.

Traditionally, the slate of best director nominees corresponds with best-picture nominees — The Pianist and Roman Polanski, The Hours and Stephen Daldry, etc. — but with no clear favourite and so many movies contending this year, we’re sure to see several picture-director splits.

If this happens, the nominated directors who will not have a corresponding best picture nod are likely to be Martin Scorsese for Gangs, Spike Jonze for Adaptation and Phillip Noyce, in the running for two films, Rabbit-Proof Fence and The Quiet American.

Peter Jackson of Rings also could be a finalist, especially if the film keeps up its box-office momentum. But with the third episode due in December, most handicappers expect Oscar voters to wait until next year to give the full trilogy its just reward.

For best actor, the odds are on the trio of Daniel Day-Lewis for Gangs, Jack Nicholson for About Schmidt (giving him a record-tying 12th nomination) and Adrien Brody for The Pianist, who split the accolades of the various critics’ groups.

The other two slots will be a fight among Michael Caine (The Quiet American), Richard Gere (Chicago), Variety’s Star of the Year Hugh Grant (About a Boy) and perhaps Campbell Scott, the National Board of Review’s best actor for Roger Dodger.

The list of best actress finalists is sure to include Julianne Moore for Far From Heaven, Nicole Kidman for The Hours and Diane Lane for Unfaithful, each of whom took home a major critics’ association award and has never won an Oscar.

The fight for the remaining two slots is among Maggie Gyllenhall (Secretary), Renee Zellweger (Chicago), Salma Hayek (Frida) and Meryl Streep, who is the weakest link of The Hours but got a Golden Globe nod and tends to get an Oscar nomination (12 in all) every time she sneezes.

For best supporting actor finalists, the smart money is on Dennis Quaid for Far From Heaven, Chris Cooper for Adaptation and Christopher Walken, who didn’t get a Golden Globe nomination but was the choice of the National Society of Film Critics for Catch Me If You Can.

The field of candidates is also packed with, among others, Paul Newman (Road to Perdition), the ubiquitous John C. Reilly (Chicago, The Hours or Gangs), Willem Dafoe (Auto Focus or Spider-Man), Ray Liotta (Narc) and Michael Constantine (Greek Wedding). The front-runners in the race to be best supporting actress nominees are Edie Falco for Sunshine State, Patricia Clarkson for Far From Heaven, Toni Collette for About a Boy and Kathy Bates for About Schmidt — each of whom won the kudos of a major critics’ association.

Competing for those other two slots will be Cameron Diaz (Gangs), Queen Latifah (Chicago), Susan Sarandon (Igby Goes Down), Samantha Morton (Minority Report), Kirsten Dunst (The Cat’s Meow) and Meryl Streep (Adaptation).

Other things that can be said about the nominations for the 75th annual Oscars is that they’re sure to include bids for the late Conrad Hall’s Perdition cinematography, Elmer Bernstein’s Far From Heaven score and Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation screenplay (as either “adapted” or “original”).

And the field of contenders for best foreign-language picture

won't include the year's two most critically acclaimed imports,

Mexico's ``Y Tu Mama Tambien'' and Spain's ``Talk to Her,'' which

didn't meet the academy's archaic rules for qualification in this


One of the things that makes Oscar-watching fun is that the

nominations and awards can be strongly influenced by a scandal, a

stupid statement by a contender, an ill-advised ad in the trades

-- so what happens during the voting period can be important.

Oscar voters also like to go against the flow of their

award-giving interlopers by throwing in a surprise or two. So we

might see Eminem (``8 Mile'') or Robin Williams (``One Hour

Photo'') in best actor category, or even something as outlandish

as a double-acting nomination for Nicholas Cage's two roles in


The Oscar nominations will be announced on Feb. 11 at the ungodly

hour of 5:30 a.m. Other important dates on the Road to Oscar are

next Sunday night's Golden Globe Awards, the Directors Guild of

America Awards on March 1 and the Writers Guild Awards on March 8

-- each a big indicator of the Oscar outcome.

The Academy Awards presentations will take place at the lavish new

Kodak Theater in Hollywood on Sunday, March 23, with Steve Martin

as host.

It's likely to be the last March Oscarcast. In what is expected to

be a permanent move, the '04 Oscars will be pulled up to Feb. 29,

more than three weeks earlier than at present.

Jaideep Chatterjee

Assistant News Editor

The Telegraph

260-0229, 260-0216

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