Oscars 2002 no foregone conclusion
(CNN) -- Some years, the Academy Awards outcome seems so predictable that the only reason to watch is to find out who Whoopi Goldberg's going to dis or what Cher's going to wear.
But this year, the Oscars seemed shrouded in a good bit more mystery than usual, with races in many a major category that election-night experts might describe as too close to call.
"It's the most suspenseful Oscars I ever recall," said Tom O'Neil, host of GoldDerby.com Web site. "There are more cliffhangers at the year's awards than I think we've seen in modern history."
Some believe "A Beautiful Mind" may have a slight edge over the competition in the top categories, if Russell Crowe's Screen Actors Guild victory and Ron Howard's Directors Guild of America honor are any indication.
But "Moulin Rouge," the first live-action musical to land a best picture nomination since 1979, was the surprise winner of the Producers Guild of America award, while "Gosford Park" and "In the Bedroom" are critical favorites.
"I think the wild card few people are taking seriously is 'Moulin Rouge,''' O'Neil said.
And the blockbuster fantasy "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" won the top honors from the American Film Institute, and racked up more Oscar nominations -- 13 in all -- than any of its competitors.
So it, too, could prove a heavyweight at the March 24 Oscars ceremony, which airs at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.
Two in a row for Crowe?
After many years at the Shrine Civic Auditorium and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the ceremony is being held for the first time at Hollywood's glitzy new showplace, the $94 million Kodak Theater.
In the best actor race, Crowe hopes to achieve the rare feat of winning back-to-back Oscars after winning last year for "Gladiator." He faces fellow Oscar winner Denzel Washington ("Training Day"), Sean Penn ("I Am Sam"), Tom Wilkinson ("In the Bedroom") and Will Smith ("Ali").
Only five actors have won back-to-back Oscars, the last being Tom Hanks, who won in 1993 and 1994 for "Philadelphia" and "Forrest Gump," respectively.
Sissy Spacek, meanwhile, hopes to win her first Oscar in 20 years for her role as the grieving mother of "In the Bedroom."
The six-time nominee, who last won for 1980's "Coal Miner's Daughter," already received the AFI best actress award. But the Screen Actors Guild passed her over in favor of Halle Berry from "Monster's Ball." Other nominees include Nicole Kidman, who won a Golden Globe Award for "Moulin Rouge," Judi Dench in "Iris," and Renee Zellweger in "Bridget Jones's Diary."
In the directing category, Ron Howard is now considered the odds-on favorite to win the Oscar after already receiving the Directors Guild of America (DGA) honor for his work on "A Beautiful Mind."
In 54 years of the DGA awards, the winner has gone on to win the Academy Award all but five times. Ironically, Howard is one of those five. He won the DGA honor in 1996 for "Apollo 13" but wasn't even nominated that year for an Oscar.
But Robert Altman remains a strong contender for his "Gosford Park," the complicated social satire featuring a huge, largely British cast.
The other best director nominees are David Lynch for "Mulholland Drive," "Rings" director Peter Jackson and Ridley Scott for "Black Hawk Down."
After years of being snubbed by the academy, animated features now have their category. This year's nominees are "Shrek," "Monsters, Inc." and "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius."
Whoopi Goldberg will serve as host for the fourth time, while the presenters will include Cameron Diaz, Tom Hanks, Kevin Spacey, Marcia Gay Harden, Ben Stiller, Julia Roberts and Jennifer Lopez.
Among those scheduled to perform are Sting, singing "Until ..." from "Kate & Leopold," Faith Hill singing "There You'll Be" from "Pearl Harbor," and Randy Newman and John Goodman performing "If I Didn't Have You" from "Monsters, Inc."
Cirque du Soleil also makes its first Oscar appearance.
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