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75th Academy Awards: Dazzled by 'Chicago'

Oscar voters won't deny this killer musical its due

Saturday, March 22, 2003

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

When the Academy Award nominations were announced Feb. 11, I was sure of one thing: On Oscar night, "Chicago" might win Best Picture, but in the director's race, Pittsburgh's own Rob Marshall would finish behind the fabled Martin Scorsese ("Gangs of New York"), who has never won Hollywood's biggest prize.

 
 
The 75th
Annual Academy Awards

dot.gif WHEN: 8:30 p.m. tomorrow on ABC

dot.gif HOST: Steve Martin

Pre-Shows

dot.gif ABC: At 8 p.m., Jann Carl, Chris Connelly, Jim Moret and Shaun Robinson will co-host "Oscar Countdown 2003."

dot.gif E! Entertainment cable network: Coverage begins at 7 a.m. tomorrow with an "11-hour countdown," before turning coverage over to Joan and Melissa Rivers from 6 to 8 p.m. There's also E! post-show revelry from midnight to 2 a.m.


Related Coverage
The show will go on

Previous Coverage
Pittsburgh director
swept up in social whirl
as Oscar approaches

Official Site
The 75th Annual Academy Awards

   
 

When Nicole Kidman won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf in "The Hours," I was sure it meant she would win the Academy Award as well.

When I saw Chris Cooper's vivid portrayal of orchid thief John Laroche in "Adaptation," I was sure he'd be hard to beat for the Oscar.

So now that Hollywood's big night is almost upon us, I'm not so sure any of these early predictions will prove correct -- except in that Best Picture category.

With the usual trepidations, here are my guesses at who goes home happy tomorrow.

Best Picture: No musical has won the top Oscar since "Oliver!" in 1969. The nomination of "Chicago" for Best Picture following last year's nomination of "Moulin Rouge!" marks the first time in 30 years that musicals have been up for this award in consecutive years. But "Chicago" has everything going for it -- critical acclaim, box-office success, the old razzle-dazzle and the most nominations of any film this year.

What about the competition? "Gangs of New York" is the kind of historical epic Oscar usually likes, but it has been dogged by controversy over comparisons to other Scorsese films and over Miramax (which also released "Chicago") campaigning too vociferously for Scorsese. "The Hours" is a prestige pick with three Oscar-nominated performances but may be too rarefied for Academy voters. "The Pianist" is hurt by controversy over director Roman Polanski's difficulties with the law, and "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" got half the nominations of last year's installment in the series, and IT didn't win Best Picture.

The gin is cold and the piano's hot. Best Picture? That's "Chicago."

Actor: Despite well-earned nominations for Nicolas Cage ("Adaptation"), Michael Caine ("The Quiet American") and Adrien Brody ("The Pianist"), this has been a two-man race all along between Daniel Day-Lewis, who swaggers through "Gangs of New York" as Bill the Butcher, and Jack Nicholson, who buries himself under the guise of a befuddled retiree in "About Schmidt."

A closely split vote could let Brody sneak in, but that seems unlikely. If Nicholson wins, he joins Katharine Hepburn as the only performer with four acting Oscars and becomes the first man to win three Best Actor awards. Day-Lewis has one, for "My Left Foot." King Jack might win not just for his work but also because of his popularity in Hollywood. But acting awards tend to go to showy roles and not restrained ones (Jack should know), so I'm picking Screen Actors Guild award winner Daniel Day-Lewis.

Actress: For a while, Julianne Moore appeared to be Nicole Kidman's chief competition for this prize. Moore was widely admired in "Far from Heaven" and also nominated in the supporting category for "The Hours." But Kidman got the most attention in that movie for her performance as Virginia Woolf and for playing down her looks with a fake nose. Both have paid their dues with past nominations, but the Golden Globes seemed to put Kidman over the top.

Now comes Renee Zellweger in "Chicago," who like Kidman was nominated last year. Winner of the Screen Actors Guild award, she benefits not only from being in a movie Hollywood seems to love, but also for learning to sing and dance well enough to carry off the potentially unsympathetic role of murderess Roxie Hart. It feels like a dead heat at this point. On the theory that the showier role wins, I'll pick Renee Zellweger.

Supporting actor: As much as I enjoyed Chris Cooper in "Adaptation," I also greatly admired Christopher Walken's performance in "Catch Me If You Can," which gave him the rare chance to play a regular guy, and he did so with great panache. Then there's Ed Harris, who plays the AIDS-ravaged artist in "The Hours." It's the fourth nomination for this skilled and popular actor, still awaiting his first Oscar. I'm sticking with Chris Cooper, also popular and also skilled.

Supporting actress: When two performers in the same movie are nominated in the same category, you usually figure on them splitting the vote. If Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah, both from "Chicago," cancel each other out, it would open the door for Julianne Moore ("The Hours"), Meryl Streep ("Adaptation") or Kathy Bates ("About Schmidt"). But the "Chicago" bandwagon is so strong that it should carry Catherine Zeta-Jones to victory, giving her a bookend for husband Michael Douglas' acting statuette.

Director: Never say never. Sentimental favorites have not fared well at the Academy Awards in recent years, and Martin Scorsese, who probably should have won for "Raging Bull" or "Goodfellas" (and was not even nominated for "Taxi Driver") has had his share of headaches this year. Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman wrote that Scorsese shouldn't win for as flawed a film as "Gangs of New York." Now, Hollywood is in an uproar over a Miramax-inspired column-cum-advertisement by director Robert Wise plugging Scorsese for the award.

There has also been a campaign for Roman Polanski, director of "The Pianist," but he fled the country in 1978 to avoid sentencing on a statutory rape conviction, which taints him in the eyes of Oscar voters. The result, therefore, is the one I thought impossible six weeks ago. My apologies for ever doubting him -- it's Rob Marshall, who deserves the award just for figuring out how to turn "Chicago" into a movie when no one else could.

Original Screenplay: This is the oddest duck in the Oscar menagerie this year, with two foreign-language films, "Talk to Her" and "Y Tu Mama Tambien," nominated alongside the unexpected box-office hit "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." I'm surprised by the number of people predicting a win for "Talk to Her." It's a great movie, but no foreign-language film has won in this category since "A Man and a Woman" in 1966. The screenplay may be the weakest element of a fourth nominee, "Gangs of New York." By process of elimination (but deserving of the award), the winner is Todd Haynes' "Far from Heaven," in effect a '50s film dealing with issues no real '50s film could.

Adapted Screenplay: The hip crowd wants "Adaptation" to win, if only to see how the Academy handles co-nominees Charlie Kaufman and his fictional brother Donald (I, at least, am not making this up). But "Adaptation" is this year's "Memento" -- too hip for the room. The Writers Guild selected David Hare's screenplay for "The Hours," but this year you can't ignore any nomination associated with "Chicago," so Bill Condon figures to be his main competition. I think this is where they go for the more serious film: "The Hours."

Animated Film: May I excoriate Disney once again for its shameless, deliberate mishandling of the best animated film of the year, Hayao Miyazaki's stunning "Spirited Away"? The Mouse House acquired this Japanese box-office sensation for U.S. distribution, but didn't want Miyazaki's film to turn people away from its own productions, "Lilo & Stitch" or the misconceived "Treasure Planet." Disney is pushing "Lilo," and DreamWorks is conducting a strong campaign for its "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron." I fear "Lilo" will win but can't bring myself to pick it. I'm hoping the sheer artistry of "Spirited Away" will sway the voters.

Foreign Language Film: Here's another odd category. The two foreign-language films with screenplay nominations, "Y Tu Mama Tambien" and "Talk to Her" (the latter also getting a director nomination for Pedro Almodovar), were not even submitted as the official entries of their respective countries, Mexico and Spain. That leaves five relatively unfamiliar movies up for grabs, including the official Mexican entry, "The Crime of Father Amaro." A serious European movie with American distribution usually wins, so I'll pick "Nowhere in Africa," a film from Germany.

Cinematography: It won the award from the American Society of Cinematographers. You could almost feel the movie's visual texture. And the man responsible for it, a two-time Oscar winner, died in January. In this case, sentiment does count. Conrad L. Hall wins his third and final Academy Award for "The Road to Perdition."

Film Editing: The American Cinema Editors, a usually reliable benchmark, gave their Eddie awards to "Gangs of New York" and "Chicago." Normally, this award goes to a war movie, an action film or a picture that cuts among multiple locations. As a result, you can't discount "The Hours." I was ready to call this category for "Gangs," especially because some have criticized "Chicago" for excess cutting. On the other hand, the musical works because it convinces us the songs are staged in Roxie Hart's imagination. That's editing. So I'll pick "Chicago."

Original Score: "Chicago" isn't eligible, being an adaptation of a Broadway musical. That leaves us with usual suspects John Williams ("Catch Me If You Can"), Thomas Newman ("Road to Perdition") and unusual suspect Elmer Bernstein ("Far from Heaven"), along with Philip Glass ("The Hours") and Elliot Goldenthal ("Frida"). I'll pick Hollywood old-timer Bernstein for "Far from Heaven."

Original Song: The safest bet of the night is that the Academy is not going to give the award to Eminem for "Lose Yourself" from his movie "8 Mile" -- especially now that he isn't attending. The one original song from "Chicago," titled "I Move On," could win. But I'll predict the Academy will give the award to U2 for "The Hands That Built America," from "Gangs of New York."

Documentary Feature: What scares me is that the fiercely iconoclastic Academy documentary branch for once actually nominated the most praised nonfiction film of the year, Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine." But will Moore's ambush interview with Charlton Heston (and the likelihood of Moore delivering an antiwar rant as his victory speech) tick off the old guard? They tend to be the voters in this category, because they have the time to meet the requirement of seeing all five nominees. Add a history of ignoring the most popular documentaries, and I'll predict the upset for "Daughter from Danang."

Documentary short subject: A film about civil-rights icon Rosa Parks will have its supporters, but how do you vote against a film called "Twin Towers"?

Animated short subject: In most years, this is simple. If Pixar, the "Toy Story"/"Monsters Inc." studio, has a nominated short, it will win. But Pixar's film this year features Sully and Mike from "Monsters Inc." in a short tacked on to the DVD release. Enough already! I'll pick the other American entry, "The ChubbChubbs!," which ran with "Men in Black 2."

Live-action short: Eliminate the comedies (usually a good idea with Oscar), and you're left with just a few contenders. I'll guess (and it is just that) the award will go to "Inja."

Art direction: Some view the visual design of "Chicago" as being derivative of the stage show, and this is the kind of award often reserved for films that don't win the big prize. So I'll predict "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers."

Costume design: It has to be a period piece and the clothes have to call attention to themselves. So rouge your knees and roll your stockings down: "Chicago."

Makeup: There are only two nominees, so what kind of competition is this? The winner is "Frida."

Sound: All that jazz. "Chicago."

Sound editing: The war film is usually a safe pick: "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers."

Visual effects: For Gollum alone, it's "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers."


Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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