Cinematic Injustice and All That Jazz

Oscar Picks and Predictions
By Jeremy Mathews and Chris Bellamy

fter a disappointing 2001, Hollywood rebounded in 2002 with several impressive films. And as for awards, Miramax rebounded. The company had been losing out to Dreamworks Pictures, which has been running some impressive revenge campaigns since “Shakespeare in Love” beat “Saving Private Ryan,” for a few years. But now Harvey Weinstein and co. have campaigned for a series of hyped up films, some of which are actually pretty good.

Which isn’t meant to suggest that the Oscars are all about hype and campaigns. They’re also about film lovers passionately expressing their unhappiness at the overrated and the overlooked filmmakers and actors. And don’t forget political-driven moves, designed to “open doors” (see Halle Berry).

Here’s what we expect to happen and what we expect to complain about when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gives out some awards, popularly known as The Oscars, on Sunday, March 23, like they did 75 years ago.


And the Nominees are…

Best Supporting Actress
Kathy Bates, "About Schmidt"
Queen Latifah, "Chicago"
Julianne Moore, "The Hours"
Meryl Streep, "Adaptation."
Catherine Zeta-Jones, "Chicago"

Damn! Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kathy Bates both give Oscar nominated performances, and Bates is the one that gets naked!

Chris’s pick: Perhaps I’m biased because I’ve been in love with Catherine Zeta-Jones since "The Mask of Zorro," but she’s still my pick to take home the Oscar this year. With her background as a former professional singer and dancer, coupled with her sultry bad-girl good looks, she was born to play Velma Kelly—and she does one hell of a job. From her mesmerizing opening performance of “All That Jazz” it’s clear Zeta-Jones stole “Chicago” right out from under Renee Zellweger. She proved a perfect casting choice and is certainly deserving of the statuette she’ll probably receive. The (somewhat undeserved) nomination of co-star Queen Latifah has raised doubts, however. It’s possible the voters will cancel the two "Chicago" stars out, and Zeta Jones could get the proverbial shaft. In that case, I’d put my money on Kathy Bates, who previously won Best Actress in 1990 for her chilling turn as a writer’s psychopathic “No. 1 fan” in “Misery.” This time, in Alexander Payne’s “About Schmidt,” she brilliantly plays Hope Davis’ quirky, eccentric future mother-in-law, showing us her comedic side—and a fair amount of her backside. 

Jeremy’s pick: I agree that Bates and Zeta-Jones are the two strongest contenders. In fact, the three nominations for supporting acting are the only ones “Chicago” arguably deserves. Since people are talking about “Chicago” sweeping, I’m going to have to favor Zeta-Jones to win, although Bates, my favorite, could upset. Her performance, one of the few for “About Schmidt,” which was expected to at least receive a nod for its screenplay, could win over voters, since she’s a legend and all. Her performance defied expectations and added many dimensions to a woman who, on the surface, is a free-spirited hippy.


Best Supporting Actor
Chris Cooper, “Adaptation.”
Ed Harris, “The Hours”
Paul Newman, “Road to Perdition”
John C. Reilly, “Chicago”
Christopher Walken, “Catch Me If You Can”

It’s easy for a respected veteran actor to get a nomination, isn’t it? Actually, most of these actors had a fair amount of screen time—except Harris, who just looked sick for a few minutes. John C. Reilly, however, played supporting roles in three of the best picture nominees (“Gangs of New York” and “The Hours” are the others), so his nod comes from general admiration, and a feature film worth of screen time.

Jeremy’s pick: As John Laroche in “Adaptation.,” Chris Cooper is both comedic and deserving of empathy at the same time. He bears his soul as the orchid swindler with no front teeth and makes us laugh with his delivery of hilarious lines. He’s already won several awards (but not from the Screen Actors Guild, which awarded Christopher Walken), and I expect the streak to continue.

I love Reilly, but would have preferred to see him win for Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia.”

And then there are the legends. The academy loves Paul Newman, but not enough to award him for “Road to Perdition,” which was a good film due in large part to Conrad L. Hall’s cinematography. But it didn’t have the same steam that director Sam Mendes’s last film, “American Beauty” had. Walken won the statuette in 1979 and hasn’t been nominated since. Ed Harris has been nominated four times, but has never won and doesn’t have the hype to triumph
this year.

Chris’s pick: I love Paul Newman, as well as the latest movie that earned him an Oscar nod, "Road to Perdition." But let’s face it—he was nominated because he’s Paul Newman. As he always is, he’s wonderful in this role, adding depth and heartbreaking warmth to his character, a Depression-era mob boss. In a weaker year, perhaps Newman would be the pick.

But I’ve gotta go with just about everyone else on this one and pick Chris Cooper, one of the top character actors in the business (the same can most definitely be said for Reilly, but his performance in “Chicago,” while very good, wasn’t exactly standout). He disappears into yet another role in “Adaptation,” playing his character with such originality, humanity and comic savvy that I just couldn’t accept the Academy awarding anyone else. I really couldn’t.

There could be some heat coming from Christopher Walken, who dutifully plays Christopher Walken in Steven Spielberg’s “Catch Me If You Can.” His recent honors at both the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and SAG Awards certainly give him a lot of momentum going into the Oscars, but I’ll still say it’s Cooper all the way.


Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Todd Haynes, “Far from Heaven”
Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan, “Gangs of New York”
Pedro Almodóvar, "Talk to Her" ("Hable con ella")
Nia Vardalos, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding”
Alfonso Cuarón, Carlos Cuarón, “Y tu Mamá También”

This year’s category for original screenplay was wide open, with all the best picture contenders but “Gangs of New York” in the adapted category. That left room for the Screenwriters Guild of America to award Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine,” a documentary, the top prize. There was talk of “Columbine” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch Drunk Love” filling the open spots, but the writers decided to nominate two foreign films that were snubbed by their countries as best foreign film candidates.

Chris’s pick: If the Academy awards fan-favorite “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” in the screenplay category, I think I may have to shoot someone. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the movie. It was cute and funny and I’ve gotta give Nia Vardalos credit. But there are much better scripts to choose from.

I’d like to see the writers of “Gangs of New York” get rewarded for so impressively bringing together a strong human story with a relevant historical backdrop. But I think it’s going to be Todd Haynes who takes the cake this year. After all, the Academy people didn’t give “Far From Heaven” a Best Picture or Best Director nomination, and they might feel just a little guilty about that.

Jeremy’s pick: As a believer in justice, I’d like to see director Alfonso Cuarón and his brother Carlos recognized for their excellent “Y tu Mamá También” screenplay, which intelligently and comically looks at the sexual maturity of teenage males.

But that’s not going to win. I hope that the academy doesn’t go for the high-grossing “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and instead honors the “Gangs of New York” team. Todd Haynes’s screenplay for “Far From Heaven” was brilliant, but his directorial vision and his actors (as well as director of photography Edward Lachman) helped make it one of the year’s best films.


Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
Peter Hedges, Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz, “About a Boy”
Charlie Kaufman, Donald Kaufman, “Adaptation.”
Bill Condon, “Chicago”
David Hare, “The Hours”
Ronald Harwood, “The Pianist”

Brother teams are certainly fashionable this year, with the Cuaróns in the original category and the Weitz brothers and the Kaufmans here. Too bad Donald died, he had some more scripts in him, we reckon. With hope, “The Three” will come out soon.

Jeremy’s pick: There couldn’t be an easier choice than Charlie (and fictional brother Donald) Kaufman’s screenplay for “Adaptation.” While the film didn’t receive nods for best picture or director Spike Jonze, this will be its place to shine. The Weitz brothers crafted an excellent comedy while bringing “About a Boy” to the screen, but cheated on the ending. Bill Condon’s “Chicago” doesn’t always make logical sense as to whose mind a song is in. The other films required skilled directors to transcend to brilliance (which isn’t to imply that Jonze isn’t a genius). The simple fact of the matter is that Kaufman’s screenplay is about a man named Kaufman writing a screenplay from a book about orchids who then decides to write himself into the film—and it’s an artistic triumph when it could have been an indulgent mess.

Chris’s pick: Here’s where we ran into some of the this year’s major problems. Behind Miramax’s incessant campaigning, the Academy blindly threw as many nominations as it could to films like “Chicago” and “The Hours,” leaving two glaring omissions. Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor won the Golden Globe for their adaptation of “About Schmidt,” yet didn’t even receive a nomination from the Academy.

“25th Hour” was widely neglected this award season, and it was especially disappointing that David Benioff wasn’t nominated for the adaptation of his own novel of the same name. Still, in the end, there couldn’t be a better choice than Charlie Kaufman’s “Adaptation.” Kaufman has established himself as one of the top screenwriters in the biz, and put out two excellent scripts this season (the other being Chuck Barris’ fictionalized biopic, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”). His script for “Adaptation.” is so complex, yet flows so well, it’s hard to look back over the past decade and find many scripts more original and interesting.

Best Cinematography
Dion Beebe, “Chicago”
Edward Lachman, “Far from Heaven”
Michael Ballhaus, “Gangs of New York”
Pawel Edelman, “The Pianist” Conrad L. Hall, “Road to Perdition”

While we don’t want to bore you to tears with all the technical categories, we feel we should at least recognize the people who light the sets and bring the beauty to the screen. And in the cases of directors like Bob Marshall, they probably did everything but draw the storyboards—if there were any storyboards for “Chicago.”

Jeremy’s Pick: In an Academy style move, I’m going to vote for Michael Ballhaus because he’s never won. He wasn’t even nominated for “GoodFellas.” “GoodFellas!” But I’d like to mention that the late Conrad L. Hall, who won three years ago for “American Beauty,” did an astounding job capturing the shady streets and seedy interiors of gangland Chicago in “Road to Perdition” and Edward Lachman recreated the look of Douglas Sirk’s 1950s melodramas exactly. Bravo. If the academy voters know Hall, they might honor his amazing final work (the cinematography was the best part of the film), but the film might not have enough leverage to stop Ballhaus.

Chris’s pick: I was shocked and horrified when I found out Ballhaus hadn’t been nominated for “GoodFellas” or “The Last Temptation of Christ.” He’s one of the best cinematographers around, yet throughout his career, he’s gone underappreciated in the awards game. I’ll be rooting for him, but I don’t think he’ll win. Part of me is leaning toward Hall who—as he did his entire career, from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” to “Tequilla Sunrise” to “American Beauty”—provided some astounding photography in “Road to Perdition.”

But I’m picking against the sentimental favorite and predicting Edward Lachman to take the prize for his work on “Far From Heaven.” He’s already won a number of awards this award season, and that trend just might continue come Oscar night.

Best Animated Feature
“Ice Age”
“Lilo & Stitch”
“Spirited Away” (“Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi”)
“Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron”
“Treasure Planet”

The second year that animated features have their own category, there were enough qualifiers for five films to be nominated. This means that the critically acclaimed art film was even nominated. Hurry, reform the nomination process!

Chris’s pick: I’ll admit I’ve only seen two of the nominated animated flicks, “Ice Age” and “Lilo and Stitch.” What can I say? I have a 7-year-old brother who wasn’t really interested in “Spirited Away.” I must say I was disappointed in Disney’s newest offering, “Lilo and Stitch,” and thought “Ice Age” a funnier and more inventive comedy. If it’s commercial success the voters look for this year, it’ll be one of those two (hopefully “Ice Age”). But I’m putting my chips on “Spirited Away,” which has been put on countless critics’ Top Ten lists.

Jeremy’s pick: Well, I’d like to say that it would be impossible for anything but Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” to win. But I remember last year, when Richard Linklater’s groundbreaking “Waking Life”—which created a new, inexpensive means of production and was interesting and breathtaking—wasn’t even nominated. Still, I’d find it hard to believe that voters would pick the fun “Ice Age,” “Lilo and Stitch” and “Treasure Planet” or the horse centered “Spirit” over artistic visual poetry. The film’s images speak to the soul and serve as dream-like windows to a coming of-age mystery.

Best Foreign Language Film
"Ying xiong" (China)
“Mies vailla menneisyyttää" (Finland)
"Nirgendwo in Afrika" (Germany)
"El Crimen del padre Amaro" (Mexico)
"Zus & zo” (Netherlands)

The Academy made this a difficult category to predict by selecting films that haven’t been screened yet, except for Mexico’’s "The Crime of Father Amaro." After Mexico and Spain respectively snubbed “Y tu Mamá También” and “Talk to Her,” (which were recognized in the screenplay and directing categories), many academy voters reportedly walked out on the acclaimed “City of God” (opening this week, see Reel section) in an early December screening that occurred before the praise came in. So we’re kind of in the dark on this one.

Jeremy’s pick: Well, I find it hard to believe that all these films are better than Fernando Meirelles’s “City of God,” which is a superb story of violent street life told with style and energy. And I know from seeing both that Mexico indeed should have picked Alfonso Cuarón’s “Y tu Mamá También” over the somewhat scandalous “The Crime of Father Amaro,” which some Catholics disliked for its portrayal of a priest who lies to cover up a sex scandal. Perhaps Cuaron will have his day when the third installment of the “Harry Potter” series comes out. As for what will win from what’s nominated, I’ve heard good things about “Nowhere in Africa,” which has just been released in a few U.S. cities. So I’ll go for that one.

Chris’s pick: “City of God” has received a huge amount of praise despite its limited release, and, simply on a hunch, I’m going to put my name on it. But in all honesty, I don’t have the slightest clue.

Best Documentary Feature
"Bowling for Columbine"
"Daughter From Danang"
"Prisoner of Paradise"
"Le Peuple migrateur"

The Academy made a big splash with this year’s documentary nominees, which included a movie that the general public had heard of and, in some cases, even seen. Michael Moore’s lauded “Bowling for Columbine” earned a nod——a real surprise from an organization that didn’t watch all of "Hoop Dreams” and that failed to nominate “Crumb,” “American Movie," Moore’s masterful debut, “Roger and Me,” and any film by Errol Morris, the most important documentarian of the last few decades. The nominating committee, which included Michael Apted of “Up” series fame, shows that the effort to reform the process has finally paid off.

Chris’s pick: It’s been a long time since a documentary has made as many waves as Moore’s “Bowling For Columbine,” and I can’t see anything else pulling the upset this year. And anyway, Hollywood just loves a liberal cause, don’t they? Moore is a master at what he does and deserves the award, at the very least as a make-up for his nomination snub for “Roger and Me.”

Jeremy’s pick: While “Daughter from Danang” tells the surprising and moving story of a woman who attempts to return to the Vietnamese ancestors who she was taken from as a young girl, Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” is a little more accomplished. Besides, Moore will say something to piss everyone off during his acceptance speech.

Best Music, Song
Fred Ebb, John Kander for “I Move On,” “Chicago”
Eminem, Jeff Bass, Luis Resto for “Lose Yourself,” “8 Mile”
Elliot Goldenthal, Julie Taymor for “Burn It Blue” “Frida”
Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr. for “The Hands That Built America,” “Gangs of New York”
Paul Simon for “Father and Daughter,” “The Wild Thornberrys Movie”

This year marks the first time a hip-hop artist has been nominated in this category. And he’s going up against a living legend and four wannabe living legends.

Jeremy’s pick: Why does a super old musical have an original song? Because Miramax wants as many damn nominations for its silly musical as it can get. If you can’t remember how "I Move On" goes or if it’s even in the film, don’t feel bad. Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” is a landmark nomination, but the academy voters, who skew older, might not want to honor a controversial figure whose song has no melody. “Frida” director Julie Taymor wrote the elegant “Burn it Blue” with composer Elliot Goldenthal, but the film and the composers don’t have very much momentum. That leaves Simon and U2 as the real contenders, and I’m going to guess that the voters will dig Simon more——even though Miramax probably sent out more free CDs.

Chris’s pick: Paul Simon, my ass. I mean, it took ’em 16 nominations to finally honor Randy
Newman last year. Personally, it’s going to make me giddy to see Eminem performing his hit song on national television. I’m sure the networks will show it on a short taped delay, lest our virgin ears hear a dirty word or two. “Lose Yourself” is my favorite of the nominated songs and comes from one of the most brilliant wordsmiths the music industry has seen in years, like him or not. Still, I doubt the Academy will give the award to such a politically incorrect artist who has stirred up so much controversy these last few years.

The Academy is going to go the way of the general public and honor U2. Why? Because it’s U2, of course. They’re winning everything these days. They’re the world’s most popular band, every single is a hit, everybody loves them, right? If they have a huge hit song out, it’s going to be nominated for something, and it’s probably going to win. After all, it’s U2! Who cares if the song is any good or not?

Best Actress
Salma Hayek, “Frida”
Nicole Kidman, “The Hours”
Diane Lane, “Unfaithful”
Julianne Moore, “Far from Heaven"
Renée Zellweger , “Chicago”

The big surprise here is that only one actress from “The Hours” was nominated, leaving Meryl Streep with nothing but a tie for most career nominations. Even the lesbian-character factor didn’t get Streep in. So, two first-time nominees, two who were nominated last year and Juliane Moore.

Chris’s pick: At least four of the nominees have a reasonable shot at winning this year, which certainly makes for a refreshing bit of anticipation. Zellweger already has a Golden Globe and SAG award to her credit this award season, and Nicole Kidman, who lost out last year despite two excellent performances in “Moulin Rouge” and “The Others,” could give the favored Julianne Moore a run for her money as well. But I hesitate to pick against Moore this year, whose two nominations (one for Best Supporting) should garner her one win. Moore is one of the best yet underappreciated actresses we have today and likely won’t be overlooked. But, having said that, a major darkhorse in this category is Diane Lane, who has already collected some hardware of her own for her performance as Richard Gere’s adulteress wife in Adrian Lyne’s “Unfaithful.” Though it’s unlikely, don’t be too shocked if her name is called.

Jeremy’s pick: Well, people were surprised when Lane was even nominated, despite the awards from various critic associations, including New York. Moore will win because she’s brilliant and not recognized enough for her work—or at least that’s what I’m telling myself. Her performance reflected the 1950s melodramatic style that “Far From Heaven” imitated, but never made an ironic wink or disrespected her character’s feelings.

My second choice is Kidman…for “Moulin Rouge.”

Best Actor
Adrien Brody, "The Pianist"
Nicolas Cage, "Adaptation."
Michael Caine, "The Quiet American"
Daniel Day-Lewis, "Gangs of New York"
Jack Nicholson, "About Schmidt"

Wow. These actors all did an amazing job. How did the academy manage this? Jack Nicholson could make history by winning his third Oscar for lead performance. But he faces stiff competition—we don’t have anyone to complain about! Help!

Jeremy’s pick: I’m going to let my fondness for "Adaptation." creep through once again as I speak for Nicolas Cage’s work. After some less successful and/or more commercial turns in the last few years, Cage plays two people who look the same, but are easily distinguishable due to subtle mannerisms. This is an odd, film particular performance that should be recognized.

That said, this is one of the strongest sets of nominees, and I challenge anyone who complained about Richard Gere not being nominated to throw any of these actors out so he can ride “Chicago’s” polyester coat tails. Daniel Day-Lewis did such amazing work as a gritty, complex crime boss who was really a supporting character that he’s received nothing but praise, and I suspect that the size of his role—in a very long film, to be fair—won’t stop him from winning.

Chris’s pick: This is by far one of the most competitive years for lead actors in recent memory. I would have loved to see Edward Norton (“25th Hour”) get a nod for his powerfully compassionate portrayal of a drug dealer enjoying his last day of freedom before a seven-year prison sentence, but looking at the final five, I can’t really argue with any of the choices. Still, regardless of the other nominees, my choice has been all but set in stone since Dec. 20 of last year, when I first saw “Gangs of New York.” Bill the Butcher for Daniel-Day Lewis is Hannibal Lecter for Anthony Hopkins, or Michael Corleone for Al Pacino. Yes—if you haven’t seen the movie yet—his performance is that good. His character is so powerful and so perfectly acted that you feel Bill’s presence even when he’s not on screen. Quite simply, Day-Lewis has given us a character who will undoubtedly go down as one of the great movie villains of all time. The Academy should and will give Day-Lewis his second Best Actor award, if only because if they don’t, they’ll regret it five years from now. Of course, this is the same Academy that in 1998 awarded Roberto Benigni for “Life is Beautiful” over Norton and his amazing transformation into a neo-nazi in “American History X.” Let’s hope they don’t make another mistake so glaring.

Best Director
Pedro Almodóvar, “Talk to Her” (“Hable con Ella”)
Stephen Daldry, “The Hours”
Rob Marshall, “Chicago”
Roman Polanski, “The Pianist”
Martin Scorsese, “Gangs of New York”

The academy helped Pedro Almodóvar flip off Spain by giving him a nomination for “Talk to Her” when it wasn’t selected as the country’s best foreign film selection. This was the surprise, as the two legends and two newcomers were both shoe-ins. Roman Polanski can’t come to the ceremony to receive the award because they’ll arrest him for his decades-old statutory rape conviction. Come on, it’s not like she was 13…Oh, nevermind.

Chris’s pick: It’s make-up time, and I’m not talking about Richard Gere’s eyeliner. For three decades, Martin Scorsese has established himself as one of the premier filmmakers of all-time. And now, 30 years after his astonishingly realistic “Mean Streets” catapulted him onto the national scene, he still doesn’t have an Oscar to show for it. Mind you, there have been other great directors (notably, the late Stanley Kubrick) who never won either. But that doesn’t take away from the injustice of Scorsese’s snubbing. He should have won Best Director for “Raging Bull,” the best film of the ’80s. He should have won for “GoodFellas,” the best film of the ’90s. And as far as I’m concerned, though he didn’t even get a nod, he damn well should have won for “Taxi Driver” in 1976 as well. Who, you might ask, has he lost out to? Actors, that’s who. Robert Redford (“Ordinary People,” 1980) and Kevin Costner (“Dances With Wolves,” 1990) both brought us great films. But the fact that they both defeated Scorsese for Best Director is laughable.

This year Scorsese has given us “Gangs of New York,” a historical epic and labor of love 30 years in the making for Marty. While it isn’t in the same class as “Raging Bull” or “GoodFellas,” I believe it is still an extraordinary achievement, especially after having seen it multiple times. As he always does, with “Gangs” he once again surprised me, entertained me and moved me. He created a stunning vision of 1860s New York, fleshed out with three-dimensional characters and remarkably fascinating plots and subplots. He sandwiched all this between a thrilling opening and a powerful climax, two of the most amazing battle scenes I’ve ever seen. Miramax’s Scorsese campaigning has been going on for months now. That means that he will most likely take home his first little gold man this month, though it won’t necessarily be for the right reasons. The Oscars are as political as ever these days, and that is—in part—what will net Scorsese the win. But regardless of the reasons, it will be nice to see a legend finally receive his long overdue recognition.

Jeremy’s pick: Hell yeah. Chris didn’t mention “The Last Temptation of Christ,” “Casino,” “Bringing Out the Dead” and “After Hours,” among other Scorsese masterpieces. The man most likely to make the best film of this decade didn’t do it with “Gangs,” but with the almighty Miramax on his side, he’ll bring home a win. Just look at the shot in which he tells the entire story of Irish immigrants coming into the country and fighting in the Civil War in one shot.


Best Motion Picture
"Gangs of New York"
"The Hours”
“Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”
“The Pianist”

This year saw “The Two Towers” become the first sequel since “The Godfather, Part II” to receive a nomination. Since this will probably be “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy’s least-hyped year, we can expect to see “The Return of the King” on the list for 2003.

Miramax had a hand in four of these films (although, to be fair, that hand handed “The Lord of the Rings” to New Line and Paramount co-produced “The Hours”). Dreamworks didn’t have a hand in any of them. Hmmm…There’s going to be trouble next year. They’ll even campaign for “Head of State” (if Scorsese had a film, Chris Rock could win for best director). So, barring an upset from “The Pianist,” Miramax can laugh all the way to next year.

Jeremy’s pick: In a year with several impressive films, I wouldn’t have nominated any of these films. Where’s the labyrinthine genius of “Adaptation.,” which exuberantly looked at life and the struggle for meaning? Or “Y Tu Mamá También,” a poetic comedy that took teenagers’ sex lives head on? Or “Far From Heaven,” writer/director Todd Haynes’s look at prejudice and hatred in a stylized, melodramatic, Douglas Sirk-style 1950s? And while I’m complaining, I’d like to point out that “Minority Report” received only a sound editing nomination, even though Alex McDowell’s brilliant art direction was more deserving than any of the nominees in the category because it created a whole new future, not a standard period study.

But anyway, on to the matter at hand. Of the nominees, “The Pianist” is the strongest film, a return to form for master director Roman Polanski, who, in one excellent shot, follows a character over a fence to gradually reveal a Warsaw street that’s completely destroyed. If Bob Marshall was the director credited for “Gangs of New York,” I might have loved it, but with the credit of Martin Scorsese, possibly the greatest living director, I was slightly disappointed, but would still like to see it win. After that, I admire “The Hours,” with its strong cast and interesting cross cut stories, and the second installment of Peter Jackson’s epic “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.”

Which brings us to the winner. I’m not sure how “Chicago” earned its good will. It’s a standard musical with standard direction and a few strong supporting performances. You say it reinvented the musical? Try Baz Lurhmann’s radical “Moulin Rouge” last year. All “Chicago” does is alter a stage play to make it cinema-friendly. If that makes a great film, then I guess the makers of “Moulin Rouge” should have been less creative.

Chris’s pick: With the exception of “The Two Towers,” which was nominated simply to appease the masses, I could realistically see all this year’s best picture nominees walking away with the big one. But, since everyone has a general feeling about which way the voters are going to go, maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part.

Much to my chagrin, none of my favorites from a year ago were honored with a best picture nod, as the Academy added “Amélie,” “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” “Memento” and “Ghost World” to its long list of snubs. This year, to my delight, they got a couple of things right and nominated the best film of the year, Polanski’s “The Pianist.”

An inspirational, but far-from schmaltzy, true story chronicling Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman’s escape and survival during the Holocaust, “The Pianist” moved me as no other film has in years. Unfortunately, this powerful, flawless epic has only a slight chance against the other heavyweights. Since that’s the case, I’d love to see “Gangs of New York” rewarded in the show’s top category, and I believe it has a strong shot. But the Academy can’t be counted on to surprise anyone this year. “Chicago” has all the hype, all the momentum and all the attention.

Look out for “Gangs,” or even “The Hours,” and I’ll pray for “The Pianist,” but if you’re playing for money, count on “Chicago.”

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