Best Picture: At least Oscar gets credit for a little imagination in nominating alternately the magical Lord of the Rings and the dizzy (but undeserving) Moulin Rouge. The two indie faves, Gosford Park and In the Bedroom might win elsewhere, but not here, which leaves A Beautiful Mind as the sad, sad compromise pick. Who will win: A Beautiful Mind. Who should win: Gosford Park. Who got screwed: Memento and Mulholland Drive.
Best Actor: An interesting race but a relatively weak field features Sean Penn in the affliction performance du jour (I Am Sam) that generated zero buzz. Will Smith was capable but not luminous in Ali. Tom Wilkinson's subtlety was overshadowed by Sissy Spacek's emoting in In the Bedroom, which is unfortunate. Which leaves us with the perennially overlooked Denzel Washington in Training Day and the perennially overrated Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind. (Crowe gets the ticks of his characters down, but not their soul.) Who will win: Russell Crowe. Who should win: Tom Wilkinson. Who got screwed: Guy Pearce, Memento; Golden Globe winner Gene Hackman, The Royal Tenenbaums.
Best Actress: These nominees represent virtually all of the quality lead roles for women this year. Renee Zellweger carried Bridget Jones's Diary, but where? Judi Dench as Iris Murdoch with Alzheimer's in Iris presented that rarity: the affliction character that depressed more than it inspired. Nicole Kidman was better in The Others than in the slight Moulin Rouge. The battle comes down to two slightly overrated performances in Halle Berry's gritty single mother in Monster's Ball and Spacek's gritty grieving mother in In the Bedroom. Who will win: Sissy Spacek. Who should win: Sissy Spacek. Who got screwed: Naomi Watts, Mulholland Drive.
Best Supporting Actor: A fun category with no real head-turners in the bunch, except for maybe Ben Kingsley's very-scary gangster in Sexy Beast. Personal favorite Jim Broadbent was excellent, but still carries very little weight with Oscar. Ian McKellen's Gandalf in LOTR was fine, but the story and effects were the stars there. Jon Voight's Howard Cosell in Ali was more than a mimic job despite what critics say, but not crucial. Ethan Hawke is the one to watch here, as the rookie cop in Training Day. Who will win: Ben Kingsley. Who should win: Jim Broadbent. Who got screwed: Steve Buscemi, Ghost World.
Best Supporting Actress: Kate Winslet had zero character arc in Iris, while Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith (unfortunately) cancel each other out for their stellar work in Gosford Park. In this, the ingenue category, former ingenue/winner Marisa Tomei (In the Bedroom) is up against the incredibly poised Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind). Who will win: Jennifer Connelly. Who should win: Maggie Smith.
Best Director: Ridley Scott, who will never win here, gets the token nomination for Black Hawk Down, and the same could be said for the more-deserving David Lynch's Mulholland Drive -- the truly overlooked film this year. Equally deserving are Robert Altman's comeback film, Gosford Park, and Peter Jackson's mammoth mounting of LOTR. Yet the fear of some bizarro "lifetime achievement award" for Ron Howard (at age 48!) and his typically sappy direction of A Beautiful Mind is what makes this category so depressing. Who will win: Ron Howard. Who should win: Anyone but Ron Howard. Who got screwed: Christopher Nolan, Memento.
Best Animated Film: Oscar finally gets hip, yet, who cares? Three nominees? While none of the three nominees was altogether groundbreaking, Shrek is the one film that truly deserved Best Picture consideration for its subversive wit and joie de vivre. Who will win: Shrek. Who should win: Shrek. Who got screwed: Waking Life.
Best Foreign Film: A silly category, sure, because New Orleans rarely if ever gets to see all the nominees. This time, only the sugary Amelie made it here, but don't be surprised if Miramax's PR push falls short of the social relevance of No Man's Land. Who will win: No Man's Land. Who should win: Whatever.
Screenplay (written based on material previously produced or published): If it were a fair and just world, Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World would be duking it out with Rob Festinger and Todd Field's In the Bedroom. But it's not. What will win: Akiva Goldman. What should win: Rob Festinger and Todd Field.
Screenplay (written directly for the screen): Everyone's deserving here, except Milo Addica and Will Rokos' flawed Monster's Ball. Who will win: Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, Memento. Who should win: Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, Memento.