Who knows who will win Oscar?
The Oscar picks for a weak year
(CNN) -- Let's face it, 2001 was an exceptionally weak year for movies. Not a single picture or performance flattened everyone who saw it, so several awards are up for grabs.
Best actor: Russell Crowe ("A Beautiful Mind"); Sean Penn ("I Am Sam"); Will Smith ("Ali"); Denzel Washington ("Training Day"); and Tom Wilkinson ("In the Bedroom").
It's a standoff between Crowe and Washington, and it might come down to a good old fashioned congeniality contest. Crowe may have blown it by throwing a widely reported fit after a poem he recited at the British version of the Oscars was cut from the TV broadcast, while Washington is a consistently terrific actor who's well-liked in the industry.
Smith, oddly enough, was barely given anything to play after spending a year boxing and duplicating Muhammad Ali's voice and body language in preparation for the role. Wilkinson's work is too subdued for less perceptive voters to take notice. And Penn's movie was so full of sugary goop, it could have been produced by Krispy Kreme.
The winner: It seems like Washington will get it. But if Crowe does, rest assured he'll be allowed to recite T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," complete with footnotes, if the mood strikes him.
Best actress: Halle Berry ("Monster's Ball"); Judi Dench ("Iris"); Nicole Kidman ("Moulin Rouge"); Sissy Spacek ("In the Bedroom"); and Renee Zellweger ("Bridget Jones' Diary").
It would be nice to say that Spacek is a shoo-in, because she deserves to win, and it's hard enough for actresses over 30, let alone 50, to land decent roles these days. But Kidman might get the sympathy vote due to her break-up with Tom Cruise, as if a world-famous movie star who makes millions of dollars per picture is in need of our pity.
Berry's look-at-me-I'm-uneducated-and-naked routine is so overrated it boggles the mind. Dench just won a couple years ago, and Zellweger simply fills out the category.
The winner: Sissy Spacek's brave, grief-stricken performance plays like a slowly clenching fist, and her character delivers the most shocking face slap in recent memory. Surely, that beats Kidman cooing a Marilyn Monroe song while riding on a swing. But this is Hollywood, so maybe not. Let's say Spacek wins anyway.
Best supporting actor: Jim Broadbent ("Iris"); Ethan Hawke ("Training Day"); Ben Kingsley ("Sexy Beast"); Ian McKellen ("The Lord of the Rings"); and Jon Voight ("Ali").
A couple of these choices are downright silly, but winners in the supporting categories often come out of nowhere. Broadbent is quite touching and has won several big awards for his work in "Iris," so he might snag it courtesy of copycat voters. Kingsley gave a memorably vicious little performance, but he's probably too intimidating to win, even if he deserves it.
Hawke shouldn't have been nominated, and needs a shave besides. McKellen was solid, but should get an Obi-wan instead of an Oscar. And Voight looked like a junior high school student's bad drawing of Howard Cosell.
The winner: Broadbent will probably get it, but don't be surprised if Hawke wins due to yet another attack of voter perversity.
Best supporting actress: Jennifer Connelly ("A Beautiful Mind"); Helen Mirren ("Gosford Park"); Maggie Smith ("Gosford Park"); Marisa Tomei ("In the Bedroom"); and Kate Winslet ("Iris")
Tomei, who won for a very broad performance in 1992's "My Cousin Vinny," was as powerful as any actor in any movie this year. Unfortunately, her character disappears half-way through "In the Bedroom," and her work feels open-ended as a result. Both Mirren and Smith are great, as usual, in miniscule roles, and Winslet is another Zellweger, filling out the field because she's gifted and people like her.
Connelly seems to be the favorite. She won the Golden Globe, she's intelligent, and she's gorgeous enough to convince fence-straddlers to vote for her. Never underestimate the persuasiveness of a stunning face, at the Oscars or anywhere else.
The winner: Jennifer Connelly, who's really come into her own as an actress. But it would be nice if Tomei surprised everyone again.
Best director: Robert Altman ("Gosford Park"); Ron Howard ("A Beautiful Mind"); Peter Jackson ("The Lord of the Rings"); David Lynch ("Mulholland Drive"); and Ridley Scott ("Black Hawk Down").
This one is a toss-up. Altman should have won for both "M*A*S*H" (1970) and "Nashville" (1975), and the Academy likes to reward groundbreaking artists several decades after their accomplishments have been digested. So he might get it this time. Howard is still considered by many people to be a suddenly balding Richie Cunningham, which means he has to fight for votes.
"The Lord of the Rings" will probably win a pile of technical awards instead of one for Jackson. And Scott's film is wall-to-wall with both visual dazzle and gore, making it "two mints in one" for many voters. Lynch doesn't stand a chance, of course, because he gives people the willies.
The winner: Let's say Howard wins, because Altman is too much his own man to be honored by serial conformists. Scott, however, might steal it for finally figuring out how to make a splatter film that people feel morally obligated to salute.
Best picture: "A Beautiful Mind," "Gosford Park," "In the Bedroom," "The Lord of the Rings," and "Moulin Rouge."
Incredibly enough, there's no telling which movie will walk away with the top prize; each nomination comes with a major drawback.
"A Beautiful Mind" has won some other awards, but people have been complaining -- somewhat pointlessly -- that it stretches the specifics of its "true" story. "Gosford Park" is the most satirical of the bunch, but it's slow-going and you have to concentrate to understand it. The same goes for "In the Bedroom," which also has a downer of an ending.
"The Lord of the Rings" is well done, but may be too specialized to win. And "Moulin Rouge" is a tacky, visual monstrosity that gets rubbed in your face for two hours while "humorously" unsuitable pop songs blare at top volume. That's called "re-inventing the musical."
The winner: Due to America's increasing infatuation with extremes above all else, "Moulin Rouge" pulls a disheartening upset. If the technical end is amazing, and the filmmakers don't know when to quit, it must be good.
Special note: How long can the Academy go without honoring the truly brilliant Randy Newman? He'll lose best song again this year, but the question needs to be asked. Surely, Sting and Paul McCartney have enough awards.
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