I'll be sipping an inordinate amount of Chardonnay during this year's Academy Awards ceremonies, cringing at the usual series of injustices. Still, it is fun to watch. Here are some reasons why:
Best Picture: In a thin year for great films, this category is clearly a two-horse race. The second Lord of the Rings installment has gotten no love despite its critical success (and nomination here), while The Hours was too depressing and literary, and not enough people saw The Pianist. Gangs of New York is a strong contender, but fell short of its ambitions. Chicago didn't and appeals to the broad range of Oscar voters. Who will win: Chicago. Who should win: Chicago. Who got screwed: Adaptation.
Best Director: In keeping with Oscar's grand tradition of going to the right person for the wrong reason (see Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman), Martin Scorsese -- who's done far superior work -- is a mortal lock for this award. It's no big crime this time, though Rob Marshall did a solid job of bringing Chicago to the big screen, and Stephen Daldry at least tried to make sense out of The Hours. Roman Polanski (The Pianist) and Pedro Almodovar are trendy foreigner picks. Who will win: Martin Scorsese. Who should win: Rob Marshall. Who got screwed: Spike Jonze, Adaptation.
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs of New York), clearly the best of this bunch, could get squeezed out in a sentimental slugfest between Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt) and Michael Caine (The Quiet American). Nicolas Cage was better than both of them in Adaptation, but doesn't stand a chance. Adrien Brody (The Pianist) is a dark horse. Who will win: Jack Nicholson. Who should win: Daniel Day-Lewis. Who got screwed: Campbell Scott (Roger Dodger) and Gael Garcia Bernal (Y Tu Mama Tambien).
Best Actress: This category is solid in talent only; the performances ranged from solid to overrated. Otherwise worthy Diane Lane (Unfaithful) doesn't even belong here. Salma Hayek was fiery in Frida, but not enough people saw it. In a three-horse race, Renée Zellweger's spunky turn in will overshadow Nicole Kidman's dour performance as Virginia Woolf in The Hours and Julianne Moore's crying in Far From Heaven. Who will win: Renée Zellweger. Who should win: Salma Hayek. Who got screwed: Meryl Streep (The Hours).
Best Supporting Actor: Usually strong Ed Harris over-emoted in The Hours, while John C. Reilly turned in a standard John C. Reilly performance in
This will come down to whether either Chris Cooper (Adaptation) or Christopher Walken (Catch Me if You Can) can overcome the legendary Paul Newman (Road to Perdition). Who will win: Paul Newman. Who should win: Chris Cooper. Who got screwed: Dennis Quaid (Far From Heaven).
Best Supporting Actress: Queen Latifah (Chicago) has no business being here. Otherwise, it's perhaps the strongest category. Meryl Streep (Adaptation), Kathy Bates (About Schmidt) and Julianne Moore (The Hours) are all worthy, but Catherine Zeta-Jones finally found her groove in Who will win: Catherine Zeta-Jones. Who should win: Anyone but Queen Latifah. Who got screwed: Edie Falco (Sunshine State).
Best Original Screenplay: A surprisingly thin but wide-open category. The best of the bunch was the woefully overlooked Y Tu Mama Tambien, co-written by director Alfonso Cuaron and Carlos Cuaron. Otherwise, Gangs of New York (Jay Cocks, Steve Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan) reeked of too many chefs in the kitchen, while Far From Heaven rode Edward Lachman's cinematography and the performances. Nia Vardalos' My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Groan. Talk to Her is all about Pedro Almodovar's directing pyrotechnics. Who will win: Vardalos, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Who should win: Alfonso Cuaron and Carlos Cuaron, Y Tu Mama Tambien. Who got screwed: Dylan Kidd, Roger Dodger.
Best Adapted Screenplay: A strong category might surrender to whatever momentum Chicago develops over the evening, which is a pity considering the wit and sophistication of Adaptation -- which will get screwed elsewhere and at least deserves this trophy. About a Boy was the kind of script that makes Hugh Grant a delight to watch but may lack heft, while The Hours and The Pianist were earnest but muddled and rambling, respectively. Who will win: Bill Condon, Chicago. Who should win: Charlie Kaufman and the (fictitious) Donald Kaufman, Adaptation.
Best Animated Film: I saw only three of the nominees, missing Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and Treasure Planet. Spirited Away was overrated, and Lilo & Stitch might have been too cute. Ice Age puts the competition into a deep freeze here. Who will win: Ice Age. Who should win: Whatever.
Best Foreign Language Film: Due to the woeful state of movie-going in New Orleans (see cover story), we were graced with only one of the nominees this year, the critically mixed El Crimen del Padre Amaro. Why, oh why did Mexico submit this instead of the superior Y Tu Mama Tambien? Who will win: How the hell should I know? Who should win: See above. Who got screwed: You, the New Orleans moviegoer.