The Oscars: politics & predictions

Having happily volunteered to write a feature about the 75th Annual Academy Awards, I was not aware of what apparently is a basic tenet of journalism – the “know what you’re writing about” rule. Having only seen three of the five films nominated for best picture this year, it suddenly became apparent that there was no way I could write a preview of all of them. So I enlisted the help of a friend in the hopes of using our collective cinematic knowledge. She had seen only two films. Unfortunately, it turned out that our movie-going habits were not mutually exclusive.

However, it is arguable whether or not the Oscars have anything to do with the merits of the movies themselves. The pettiness of the politicking in Hollywood with studio executives like Harvey Weinstein, the head of Miramax studios, trying to butter up Academy voters, borders on the ridiculous. How else can you explain how “Gangs of New York” got up there?

Still, tradition is tradition and the show must go on, and this Sunday, America will see the Oscar go to the best movie of 2002 on ABC. . . or rather, to the one with the best publicity campaign. Here we aim to dissect some of the major categories with regards to their chances vis-à-vis not necessarily their qualities, but our biases and how many checks they’re sending to people (are we on that mailing list? You guess).

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Haha, just kidding. No one cares about that.

ANIMATED FEATURE

The only reason we’re writing about this is because Cyndi has actually seen more of these than she has the best picture nominees. (Cyndi: “Hey! I like cartoons!”) Her assessment: “Treasure Planet,” Disney’s big Thanksgiving turkey, has no chance. It’s exciting to see an animé film, “Spirited Away,” nominated, but it may prove too esoteric for voters, and “Cimarron: Spirit of the Horse” isn’t even worth getting the name right. So the contest is really between “Ice Age,” which took advantage of its voice actors, and “Lilo & Stitch,” a quirky Disney film about aliens, Elvis and Child Services set in Hawaii. Our guess: “Lilo & Stitch.” Disney owns ABC.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Christopher Walken has managed an enviable feat: For decades he has delivered all his lines in movies in the exact same way and managed to become very popular. However, he’s only been rewarded with an Oscar once, and that was back in 1978 – so why would his role in “Catch Me If You Can” be any different? Ed Harris, versatile as always, delivered a poignant performance in “The Hours,” but may have been overshadowed by his female costars. Also, he simply doesn’t have the respect that Paul Newman (“Road to Perdition”) garners due to the fact that his age is approximately one million. John Reilly is up for “Chicago” and is a heavy critical favorite, but we’re going with Chris Cooper. Why? Well, not only is he a personal favorite of mine, but also because “Adaptation” is the best movie ever.

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Kathy Bates was naked in “About Schmidt.” Did that win her points? You take a guess, but we don’t want to. Queen Latifah was so good in “Chicago” that we went to see her on opening night for her joint Steve Martin/Eugene Levy vehicle, “Bringing Down The House,” but Miramax seems to be investing more heavily in its other “Chicago” candidates, like Catherine Zeta-Jones. Zeta-Jones has a shot, though she was obscured by Renée Zellweger’s performance. Julianne Moore, for “The Hours,” is an Academy favorite. . . to lose! (“Marcos, please don’t put that.”) Plus, the fact that she has been nominated twice in the same year hurts her chances. Our guess: the 13-times nominated Meryl Streep. Why? “Adaptation.”

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Daniel Day-Lewis was lauded for his role in “Gangs of New York,” but since that was the only thing about the movie that gained anything close to universal praise, he doesn’t have a good chance. The incomparable Michael Caine runs for “The Quiet American,” a little-seen film on the Vietnam War based on a Graham Greene novel. While Caine is one of the finest British actors of his generation, he faces tough competition from Jack Nicholson (“About Schmidt”) and Adrien Brody (“The Pianist”). Brody’s performance was flawless, so his chances are very real. Nicholson, who like Christopher Walken has received consistent praise for consistently consistent performances, is now up for a role in which he cast his Nicholson persona aside and ended up wowing everyone. We think Jack Nicholson will definitely win this one. What we wish: Nicholas Cage for “Adaptation.”

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

We’ve explained why Moore (“Far From Heaven”) won’t get an Oscar this year, though maybe it will be her turn. Salma Hayek is up for her title role in “Frida” and really impressed viewers. Diane Lane was very good in “Unfaithful,” but the movie? Bad. The race seems to be primarily between Zellweger for “Chicago” and Nicole Kidman for “The Hours.” Zellweger was amazing as Roxie Hart, overshadowing all her co-stars. Kidman delivered a subtle, underscored performance that is just what the Academy eats up. Our guess: we’re split on this one; I say Zellweger, Cyndi’s going with Kidman.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

“Adaptation.”

DIRECTOR and PICTURE

These usually go hand-in-hand, so we decided to put them together. All directors nominated have their movies up for the top prize, except for Pedro Almodovar’s “Hable Con Ella.” Instead, “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” is running for best feature, despite not having nominations in any of the other major categories, including director. Almodovar has better shot of walking out with the Oscar than the producers of “The Two Towers” because everyone loves him, but he is going to get a run for his money from the other movies – no, I’m not including “Gangs” (neither of us think that the film nor its director, Martin Scorsese, has a shot). “The Pianist” is a fantastic movie, but it may suffer from the controversy surrounding its director, Roman Polanski, who can’t come to the festivities or the country, because he’ll be arrested. The two front runners, Stephen Daldry for “The Hours” and Rob Marshall for “Chicago,” both have good chances. Daldry has already been nominated once for “Billy Elliot,” while Marshall is a first-time director nominee. We’d say that “Chicago” has a better shot – it has won the most preliminary awards and is the most popular pick – but Daldry and “The Hours” remains a strong contender.

In short, we would like to note that we don’t know how to finish this article, and that’s why we are so enamored with the creative process shown in “Adaptation.” But we would like to point out that Steve Martin is going to be hosting, and hey, that’s always cool. Have fun at the Oscars, folks!

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