Best Picture: It would have been nice for the elegiac, stately Road to Perdition to have been recognized with a nomination. That didn't happen, though, and this has long been a two-horse race between Chicago and The Hours, with the movie musical pulling ahead in recent weeks. The larger-than-life Chicago is everything a Best Picture should be, a dazzling combination of amazing performances and directorial derring-do. Best of all, it's a gracious way to get out of honoring a movie as technically brilliant but as fatally flawed as the pretentious The Hours. Chicago takes this one going away and rightfully so.
Best Actor: The puckish Michael Caine has been unabashedly lobbying for a win, and he's such a good guy that his ultimate success wouldn't be hard to swallow if it weren't for The Quiet American's wrongheaded mediocrity. Lord knows Hollywood loves Jack Nicholson, who could win on force of personality alone, but there's little question that Daniel Day-Lewis gave the most unforgettable performance of the year. It's time to welcome the eccentric and elusive Day-Lewis back into the family, and Uncle Oscar's the man for the job.
Best Actress: Ah, the match-up everyone's been waiting for. Nicole Kidman and the prosthetic nose vs. Renée Zellweger and the performance of a lifetime. Kidman's got quite a bit in her corner -- the Academy took a pass on her Moulin Rouge effort, she got big-time Hollywood sympathy after her divorce from Tom Cruise, and she played Virginia Woolf, for crying out loud, even if the only acting that went on there was the audience pretending they weren't distracted by that nose. All of these together could propel Kidman to the podium, but Zellweger's a bit of an Academy darling herself and ought to be able to pull off a win.
Best Supporting Actor: It is inconceivable that Paul Newman could lose this one for his mesmeric performance in the woefully overlooked Road to Perdition. Having said that, the race is probably between Chris Cooper and Christopher Walken, with Cooper perhaps finally getting rewarded for all that time in the John Sayles trenches. Incidentally, the Luddite Academy embarrassed itself by failing to nominate Andy Serkis, the actor behind Lord of the Rings' Gollum, a stunning marriage of man and machine.
Best Supporting Actress: Double-nominee Julianne Moore could win this one for emoting her way through The Hours, and Meryl Streep is a frontrunner just because she's Meryl Streep. Catherine Zeta-Jones should win, however, for the sizzling surprise party she made of Chicago.
Best Director: Unbelievably, Peter Jackson sets the standard for 21st century filmmaking with The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers yet fails to receive a nomination -- scandalous. Word is, Miramax head Harvey Weinstein is going door to door for Martin Scorsese, the Oscar winner that already should have been. Scorsese seems the obvious choice for sentimental reasons, even if Gangs of New York hardly qualifies as his best work. Weinstein has to walk a fine line -- he's not the most popular kid in the class (even if he's had a phenomenal year), and manhandling the members is never a good idea. Still, no matter what, Weinstein will be the big winner come Oscar night: if Scorsese is snubbed once again, the golden statue will fall to the deserving Rob Marshall, whose Chicago (also a Miramax property) was as audacious as it was artful.
Best Animated Film: In this snoozer category, Spirited Away will and should win.
Best Foreign Language Film: El Crimen del Padre Amaro is the soap-opera-with-a-conscience du jour, and those can be hard to beat, although Hero and Nowhere in Africa could potentially be contenders, judging from their warm critical receptions.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Charlie and "Donald" Kaufman would be the cute, aren't-we-all-grown-up-enough-to-appreciate-the-irony selection here, since Adaptation wasn't really an adaptation at all. Still, David Hare deserves -- and will get -- kudos for the precision and intricacy of his screenplay for The Hours. Structurally, Hare's work is mature beyond his peers; the sophisticated clarity of his mental calculus transcends the narrow nature of this film.
Best Original Screenplay: God save us from My Big Fat Greek Wedding -- although there is no underestimating the popularity of producers Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks. Still, Far from Heaven ought to be able to pull off one of its only wins.
Outside the main categories, the very definition of justice would be Eminem snagging Best Original Song for his 8 Mile anthem "Lose Yourself." Happy Oscaring!