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Goodbye, Globes -- here comes Oscar

Nods to be announced Tuesday morning

By Todd Leopold

Mystic River
"Mystic River" is expected to be among the major beneficiaries when the Academy Awards announces its nominees Tuesday morning. Star Sean Penn, right, may pick up a best actor nod.

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CNN's Daryn Kagan reports on the Golden Globes and the big night enjoyed by 'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.'
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A look at the front-runners in the race for the Golden Globes.
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Academy Awards
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(CNN) -- The Golden Globes have had their spin in the spotlight. Now, it's Oscar's turn.

The nominations for the 76th annual Academy Awards will be announced just after 5:30 a.m. PST (8:30 a.m. ET) Tuesday from Los Angeles, California.

Given the type of year 2003 was for movies -- with big-budget seafaring successes ("Master and Commander," "Pirates of the Caribbean"), a few top-notch tragedies ("Mystic River," "House of Sand and Fog") and some small sleepers that have had a big critical impact ("Lost in Translation," "The Station Agent"), the list of finalists for Hollywood's biggest prize will almost certainly be a mixed bag in more ways than one.

Looming above them all is the final chapter of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, "The Return of the King," which won the Golden Globe for best drama Sunday night.

Pundits have made "Return of the King" a shoo-in for a best picture nomination, and many have already gone out on a limb to say it will actually win the best picture Oscar -- a tall order for a fantasy film laden with special effects, regardless of its literary pedigree and universal critical acclaim.

"Such fanciful tales rarely are taken seriously enough to get nominated, and no fantasy film has ever won," noted The Associated Press in a December handicapping story. "Still, there's never been anything like 'The Lord of the Rings.' "

Indeed, the film has everything the Academy loves -- it's earned critical hosannas and been a box-office bonanza. Moreover, the "Rings" story -- a small studio (New Line) entrusting an almost unknown director (Peter Jackson) with a huge budget to make three films, and then having the gamble pay off -- is the ultimate magical lottery tale.

"I think finally it will get its due, because it's part three. It's like a Hollywood ending to a great Hollywood story," organizer and InTouch magazine editor Tom O'Neil told CNN.

The other consensus shoo-in for a best picture nomination is thought to be "Cold Mountain," which led all films in Golden Globe nominations, with eight. "Mountain" has all the Oscar trappings: big stars (last year's best actress, Nicole Kidman, along with Jude Law and Renee Zellweger), an Oscar-winning director (Anthony Minghella, who won for "The English Patient") and the kind of epic sweep the Academy loves.

But the film only picked up one award at the Globes -- perhaps a sign that it's lost steam -- and Minghella was overlooked among Directors Guild of America nominees.

Other best picture possibilities include "Lost in Translation," which won the Golden Globe for best comedy or musical; "Mystic River," which made dozens of top 10 lists; "Seabiscuit," perhaps the biggest crowd-pleaser of the year; "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World," "Big Fish" and "House of Sand and Fog."

And don't rule out a handful of dark horses, including "American Splendor," which was named best picture by the National Society of Film Critics; Jim Sheridan's "In America," and two blockbusters, "Finding Nemo" (which is a sure thing for the best animated film category) and "Pirates of the Caribbean."

Acting possibilities

Charlize Theron (right) won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Aileen Wuornos in "Monster," and she and co-star Christina Ricci may pick up Oscar nominations.

Bill Murray won the Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy or musical Sunday night, and even though the Globe winners were announced long after the Oscar balloting closed, Murray has been considered a strong possibility for a best actor Oscar nomination since "Lost in Translation" premiered last fall.

The onetime "Saturday Night Live" comedian has shown terrific range in the past few years, going from "summer camp movie scripts," in his words, to performances in "Ed Wood," "Rushmore," "Cradle Will Rock," and even a turn as Polonius in the 2000 Ethan Hawke version of "Hamlet."

In "Translation," his performance as a lonely, fading movie star who finds fleeting romance in Japan played his goofy persona against his sad-sack carriage to brilliant effect.

Sean Penn picked up the Globe for best actor in a drama for "Mystic River," and given his work in both "River" and "21 Grams," he'll almost certainly make Oscar's shortlist.

"When The New York Times calls your performance one of the best of the last 50 years, you can call the tailor for that tuxedo fitting," noted Entertainment Weekly in its Oscar handicapping story about Penn's portrayal of a Boston father whose daughter has been murdered.

Other best actor possibilities include Ben Kingsley, for his turn as a former Iranian officer battling Jennifer Connelly's ne'er-do-well over property in "House of Sand and Fog"; Johnny Depp, who channeled Keith Richards as a pirate in "Pirates of the Caribbean"; Jude Law as a Civil War deserter in "Cold Mountain"; Tom Cruise in "The Last Samurai"; and Russell Crowe in "Master and Commander."

Cold Mountain
"Cold Mountain's" two female stars, Renee Zellweger and Nicole Kidman, are expected to make Oscar's shortlist.

The best actress race is expected to feature a number of familiar faces: Nicole Kidman, who played a Southern belle forced to cope with difficulties in "Cold Mountain"; Jennifer Connelly, who faced off against Kingsley in "House of Sand and Fog"; and Diane Keaton, who won a Golden Globe for her performance as a woman who finds middle-age love in "Something's Gotta Give."

And Charlize Theron, who won the Globe for best actress in a drama, has become the odds-on favorite to not only get a nomination, but win the award outright for her performance as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in "Monster." The actress put on 25 pounds and rendered her model-pure looks unrecognizable in a gripping performance.

After that, however, the crystal ball gets muddy. Naomi Watts was overlooked for a Golden Globe nomination for "21 Grams" but many expect Oscar to be more kind. Scarlett Johansson gave two acclaimed performances in 2003 -- for "Lost in Translation" and "Girl with a Pearl Earring" -- but her youth may make her more likely to pick up a supporting actress nomination.

Other possibilities are Hope Davis ("American Splendor"), Helen Mirren ("Calendar Girls"), Uma Thurman ("Kill Bill Vol. I"), Gwyneth Paltrow ("Sylvia"), Patricia Clarkson ("The Station Agent") and Samantha Morton ("In America").

Best supporting actress has already been ceded by many pundits to Renee Zellweger ("Cold Mountain"), who's become an Academy favorite and won the Globe for her performance. But the category is rich this year -- "Mystic River" has two strong possibilities, Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney; Clarkson shone in "Pieces of April"; Holly Hunter added fine support in "thirteen"; and Johansson may end up here for "Lost in Translation," despite her lead-role status in that film.

Supporting actress is also the place where unknowns tend to pop up. This year, that could include Melissa Leo ("21 Grams"), Shohreh Aghdashloo ("House of Sand and Fog") and even Ellen DeGeneres ("Finding Nemo"), who may buck odds for voice actors.

The best supporting actor category is probably the best shot for "Rings" to get an acting Oscar: both Sean Astin and Andy Serkis are being touted, despite the latter's image as a CGI character. (See this story for Serkis' own feelings.)

Other leading lights are Alec Baldwin ("The Cooler"); William H. Macy ("Seabiscuit"); Benicio Del Toro ("21 Grams"); Tim Robbins ("Mystic River"); and Paul Bettany ("Master and Commander"). Dark horses include Eugene Levy ("A Mighty Wind") and Djimon Hounsou ("In America").

Directing and writing

"Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson will likely be among Oscar's directing nominees. The New Zealander won the Golden Globe Sunday.

The Directors Guild award is often a harbinger of Oscar chances. If that's the case this year, then Anthony Minghella may as well stay home -- he was passed over for a DGA nomination for "Cold Mountain."

On the other hand, Sofia Coppola ("Lost in Translation"), Gary Ross ("Seabiscuit"), Peter Jackson ("Rings"), Peter Weir ("Master and Commander") and Clint Eastwood ("Mystic River") might want to be ready for the Academy's phone call for best director. Of that list, Coppola, Jackson and Eastwood are considered the leading contenders for Oscar nominations.

Screenplay nominations and screenplay Oscars often go to slightly artsy or unusual films the Academy likes but doesn't consider "important" enough to bless with bigger awards. (Think "The Usual Suspects" or anything by Quentin Tarantino.)

If that's the case this year, "21 Grams" and "American Splendor" will pick up nominations for screenplay adaptations, and "thirteen" and "Dirty Pretty Things" will earn nods for original screenplay.

But Oscar always has a surprise up his sleeve, which is why audiences pay attention -- and then complain about all the films or people who don't get picked. Tuesday's announcements may have a couple of those left-field reminders.

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