Since the very beginning, Oscar has been all about power, popularity and persuasion. The actual performances themselves come in a distant fourth, making a fantastic free-for-all of the prediction game. Lest we forget, though, this is Hollywood's game, and what kind of awards would the Oscars be if they didn't reflect our favorite fishbowl's mores and values? (Using both of those words lightly, of course.) Besides, agreeing with Oscar in hindsight would take all of the fun out, so let this year's game begin.
Best Picture: A Beautiful Mind is a mediocre movie masquerading as an intelligent film, and way too many people seem to have fallen for its charade. It's going to win, unless -- in some weird planetary alignment -- it splits the smarty-tarty vote with Gosford Park, and Moulin Rouge slips in. Who should win: the film not nominated, Black Hawk Down.
Best Actor: God help us all if Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind) wins; his Australia-sized ego will have to spawn a Crowe clone to carry itself around. Thankfully, salvation might appear in the form of Denzel Washington (Training Day), whom Academy voters would no doubt love to welcome back into the fold after such a long travail in cinema suckdom. My money's on Big D, not because he's particularly appealing but because Hollywood has its sentimental streak. Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom) is the only one here man enough to actually deserve the award, although this year's choices are all yawners.
Best Actress: Sissy Spacek (In the Bedroom) seems to have this one all sewn up. Here's hoping. Unfortunately, Halle Berry is coming on strong, evidenced by her annoying win at the recent Screen Actors Guild Awards. Look, no matter how solid her turn in Monster's Ball, this future Bond girl should continue to be punished for B.A.P.S., Losing Isaiah, Swordfish and a stupid Pepsi commercial with that irritating curly-haired kid.
Best Supporting Actor: Who will win: Jim Broadbent of Iris. Who should win: Ben Kingsley of Sexy Beast.
Best Supporting Actress: Voting for Helen Mirren or Maggie Smith (both of Gosford Park) will make Academy members feel like they appreciate class, but the lovely ingenue wins this one every time. That's not a bad thing this time around: Jennifer Connelly was one of the few smart things about A Beautiful Mind and has toiled in the trenches unnoticed for far too long.
Best Director: Because the Academy completely failed him when it came to the stellar Apollo 13 and because he's been a working citizen of Hollywood since he was 2 weeks old, Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind) is the hands-down favorite here. Robert Altman (Gosford Park) presents a worthy challenge, but you have to figure voters feel worse about ignoring Howard in the past than they feel warm and fuzzy about the old guy. Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) deserves a lifetime achievement award for mastering J.R.R. Tolkien, but that shouldn't be enough to propel him to the stage. None of which matters much because, while one of these might bring home the golden statue, Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down) will claim the night's biggest prize: third most-shafted director in Oscar history, behind Orson Welles and Martin Scorsese.
Best Animated Film: Why were any other movies even nominated in this category? Mike Myers is a god; Shrek rocked and probably deserved a Best Picture nod. Create a new category all you want, but 'toons still get no respect.
Best Foreign Film: Judging from the buzz, Amelie will win; No Man's Land should win.
Best Screenplay (written based on material previously produced or published): Those of us still choking over Akiva Goldsman's Golden Globes win for A Beautiful Mind know that Rob Festinger and Todd Field will probably bring this one home for In the Bedroom. But the screenplay of Shrek had heart and humor, originality and an offhand brilliance, and that makes writers Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio and Joe Stillman most deserving.
Best Screenplay (written directly for the screen): This is the category where excellent but under-nominated movies come to commiserate. History proves that wild cards do well here. There is an outside chance that, if Gosford Park does poorly elsewhere, Julian Fellowes could take this distinction. But odds are that Christopher and Jonathan Nolan will snag this one for Memento, the most underrated of the underrated.
Outside of the main categories, expect The Lord of the Rings to rack up in the technical categories and rightfully so. If there's any justice, Black Hawk Down will snag Best Cinematography over the visually monotonous Moulin Rouge. If there's any mercy, Whoopi Goldberg will keep herself to a minimum.