Oscars 2003

While the rest of the world doesn’t have much to sing about, Hollywood seems primed for the musical Chicago to make an Academy Awards sweep

After about 35 years of shunning musicals, it appears almost certain that Oscar is ready to sing and dance again.

It was in 1968 that Oliver! won the Oscar for Best Picture, part of what had been the academy’s long-running tradition of smiling upon films featuring sunny actors and actresses lip-synching catchy tunes. In the ‘60s alone, 40 percent of the Best Picture winners were musicals (West Side Story, The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady and Oliver!). Since then, a few musicals have been nominated, including Fiddler on the Roof and last year’s unique Moulin Rouge, but no Best Picture Oscars.

Now that Chicago has swept the Golden Globes, scored some big wins at the Screen Actors Guild Awards and netted a Directors Guild Award for first-time director Rob Marshall over sentimental favorite Martin Scorsese, the film seems unstoppable. The movie has a total of 13 nominations, the most of any this year. In a time of great political and international tension, it seems that critics, audiences and voters are suddenly OK with a film in which the main characters just bust out singing.

For the following prelude to awards night, the nominees are listed in order of my perceived chances for them to win, from best to least.

Best Actor

Daniel Day-Lewis, Gangs of New York

Jack Nicholson, About Schmidt

Adrien Brody, The Pianist

Michael Caine, The Quiet American

Nicolas Cage, Adaptation


In my year-end wrap-up article, I joked about Daniel Day-Lewis, advising readers not to expect the reclusive star’s presence at this year’s ceremonies. I thought his recent denunciations of Hollywood and repeated retirement warnings would render him unwilling to sit around in a tuxedo, smiling for ABC’s cameras and hobnobbing with the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow.

Since that article, Day-Lewis has shown up at both the Golden Globes (where he lost to Nicholson) and the Screen Actors Guild Awards (where he triumphed), all shaven-headed with a big, boyish grin on his face. He seems to be eating this stuff up and has announced plans for future films.

Without a doubt, he has moved back into the position of frontrunner for his astonishing turn as Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York. This is as it should be. His performance was the year’s best in this category.

Should Win: Day-Lewis deserves it over Nicholson.

Will Win: Day-Lewis gets another reason to avoid early retirement.

Best Actress

Renee Zellweger, Chicago

Nicole Kidman, The Hours

Julianne Moore, Far From Heaven

Salma Hayek, Frida

Gangs of New York

Diane Lane, Unfaithful

There was a time when I thought Julianne Moore was a lock for Best Actress this year, but now I see her as a distant third in the running. Chicago has the momentum, and Zellweger’s surprising turn as Roxie the Man Killer, complete with decent toe-tapping and singing pipes, has her in the position of favorite. Nicole Kidman’s remarkable performance in The Hours seems to be the only other true contender in this category. History has not treated Kidman well at the Oscars, and I’m not betting that this year will be any different.

Should Win: Julianne Moore was riveting, easily scoring the best performance in this category. Naturally, she will be sent home empty handed.

Will Win: Renee Zellweger, unless the Oscar hex is lifted off Kidman, who should be next in line after Moore.

Best Supporting Actor

John C. Reilly, Chicago

Chris Cooper, Adaptation

Christopher Walken, Catch Me if You Can

Paul Newman, Road to Perdition

Ed Harris, The Hours

The Hours

This category could go in any direction. Walken got the SAG award, so that makes him the frontrunner, although not a lock. Still, Reilly was one lovable goofball in Chicago, and that could be enough to put him over. Cooper seemed destined to take this award as of a month ago, but his toothless turn in Adaptation seems to have lost momentum, as has the film.

The year’s biggest snubs occurred in this category. Miramax pushed Richard Gere of Chicago for a Best Actor nomination, but would’ve been wise to submit him in this category, where he would’ve likely gained notice. Dennis Quaid’s not getting a nom for his performance as a conflicted gay man in Far From Heaven constitutes this year’s nastiest Oscar crime.

Should Win: Chris Cooper and Walken were both magnificent, so either winning would be a nice turn.

Will Win: A tight race, but I give the edge to Reilly, who had a big year with Chicago, The Good Girl and The Hours.

Best Supporting Actress

Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago

Meryl Streep, Adaptation

Julianne Moore, The Hours

Kathy Bates, About Schmidt

Queen Latifah, Chicago

Double nominee Julianne Moore, nominated here for her heartbreaking work in The Hours, looks destined to be a double loser this year, and that’s a shame. Still, Zeta-Jones was a dazzling superstar in Chicago, and this award appears to be hers for the taking.

Far From Heaven

That’s not to say hers was the best work in this category. That distinction belongs to Kathy Bates, who surpassed herself as the freewheeling divorcee in About Schmidt.

Should win: Bates

Will win: Zeta-Jones

Best Director

Martin Scorsese, Gangs of New York

Rob Marshall, Chicago

Stephen Daldry, The Hours

Roman Polanski, The Pianist

Pedro Almodóvar, Talk To Her

I’ve never been an advocate of giving an Oscar for sentimentality … until now. Scorsese made a great movie with Gangs of New York, and while I would argue that Stephen Daldry did a slightly better job directing The Hours, Scorsese deserves an Oscar.

The Good Girl

Gangs of New York is an excellent movie, but some critics have branded it a mess. Rob Marshall is probably Scorsese’s stiffest competition with Chicago, his feature directing debut. It’s a good movie but one with many flaws, especially from a directing standpoint. Passages of the film are choppy, too dark or awkwardly staged. Scorsese’s work on Gangs is consistently better.

Should Win: Miramax’s bizarre Oscar campaign for Scorsese is hurting his chances, but it would still be shocking to see the academy pass up another chance to honor the guy.

Will Win: God willing … Scorsese.

Best Picture


The Hours

The Pianist

Gangs of New York

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Moulin Rouge was a musical that probably baffled many academy voters, but Chicago is a more straightforward, traditional movie musical. While I put forth the argument that this film is the weakest one nominated in this category, it is a good film, and its inevitable win will not raise my ire.

Should Win: In an ideal Oscar world, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, would claim victory.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Will Win: Chicago, with only a slight chance of The Hours staging an upset.

Other Predictions:

Best Animated Feature: Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Hours

Best Original Screenplay: Far From Heaven

Best Original Song: The Hands That Built America, U2

Best Cinematography: Road to Perdition

Best Editing: The Hours

Documentary Feature: Bowling for Columbine

Foreign Language Film: Nowhere in Africa

Sound Editing: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Sound: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Costume Design: Chicago

Original Score: Far From Heaven

Visual Effects: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Make-up: Frida