|| BEST PICTURE
Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King
* Anthony Minghella's Cold Mountain wins points for effort and scale. I was overawed watching it, but couldn't recall a scene a few hours later.
* Kitschy scenes, but In America occupies a part of my heart even four weeks later.
* I don't know why the other films are even being nominated, because Return Of The King is, as my friend Suparn Verma says, A-W-E-S-O-M-E!
* Dark and occasionally patchy, but Mystic River was a revelation -- Clint Eastwood's meticulous direction and the tapestry of elegant performances.
* 21 Grams is the best film I have seen in a long time. It won't win. It is unlikely to be even nominated. The Academy doesn't like Intelligence.
|| BEST ACTOR
Johnny Depp, Pirates Of the Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
Ben Kingsley, House Of Sand And Fog
Jude Law, Cold Mountain
Bill Murray, Lost In Translation
Sean Penn, 21 Grams / Mystic River
A likely photofinish between Lost In Translation's Bill Murray for his turn as the sleep-deprived American movie star in alien Japan and Sean Penn for his turn as the vengeful father who goes berserk after his daughter is murdered in Mystic River.
I thought Penn's acting was a bit uneven and preferred him in 21 Grams as the mathematician who has a literal and tragic change of heart.
Murray is the critical favourite, but can Oscar voters ignore Penn's consistency?
Ben Kingsley's Iranian ex-colonel is getting favourable reviews and considered the actor's best shot at an Oscar after Gandhi.
Another Englishman -- Jude Law as the obsessed soldier-lover in the American Civil War epic -- may be the popular choice.
An American playing an Englishman gets my vote for his cheeky and winning Captain Jack Sparrow, though the Academy has rarely nominated a comic turn.
|| BEST ACTRESS
Cate Blanchett, Missing
Nicole Kidman, Cold Mountain
Charlize Theron, Monster
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill, Volume 1
Naomi Watts, 21 Grams
Highly unlikely that Nicole Kidman will do a Katharine Hepburn or a Tom Hanks and bag a back to back Oscar, even though her Ada Monroe has brought her accolades by the bushful. She is now acknowleged to be an actress in the Julia Roberts category, with the cachet to open a film on her name alone.
Cate Blanchett has won good reviews for Ron Howard's Missing. Reviewers believe Cate -- who appeared on Zee TV's Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai last week to salute starmaker Shekhar Kapur -- has inherited Meryl Streep's mantle. But the Aussie actress will lose some sheen for her flop Veronica Guerin.
Noticed one thing? There are three Aussies in the fray! With the frontrunner for Best Director a Kiwi, this is a good year for the folks Down Under.
While Naomi Watts was very good in 21 Grams, the Academy may opt for the South African who put on weight and made a hideous transformation as the murderous prostitute in Monster. The only way Charlize Theron may lose out is if voters think her acting didn't eventually help the movie rise from the ranks of the also-ran.
I know, I know, Uma won't make it even though she is the only Yankee on the list. But I adored her oh-so-sleek The Bride in the amazing Kill Bill.
|| BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Sean Astin, Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King
Benicio Del Toro, 21 Grams
Bill Nighy, Love Actually
Tim Robbins, Mystic River
Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai
The toughest category this year.
Sean Astin may be just a little ahead of the pack. If only because his work is the only acting from Return Of The King, the Academy will deem Oscar worthy. He could still lose out if voters think Best Film and Best Director are enough reward for the Epic.
Del Toro is startling as the evangelical ex-drug addict whose life comes apart after an accident.
In a film with such wonderful acting, Robbins is a class apart as the loser whose abused past comes to haunt him.
The Academy is snobbish about comic roles -- presumably in the erronerous belief that anyone can do comedy -- so Nighy the Englishman may not make the cut on nominations morning. If Depp modelled Jack Sparrow on Keith Richards, surely Nighy's raucously funny rock star-in-eclipse must take its cue from Rod Stewart.
If anyone can steal the trophy from Astin and Robbins, it is Watanabe. The critics may have skewered Tom, but no one quibbled with the way the Japanese actor etched Katsumoto, the Last Samurai, with such quiet dignity.
|| BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Shohreh Aghdashloo, House Of Sand And Fog
Marcia-Gay Harden, Mystic River
Scarlett Johannson, Lost In Translation
Samatha Morton, In America
Renee Zellweger, Cold Mountain
The second-toughest category this year, by a whisker.
If this is the year the Academy wants to go truly international, then the Iranian Aghdashloo could just edge out the tough competition, which includes yet another British actor (Morton).
The real contest is between two Americans -- 19-year-old Johannson as the lost bride in Lost In Translation and Zellweger as the cocky lass in Cold Mountain.
Zellweger could take home the Oscar. She went home disappointed last year -- despite her star turn in Chicago -- and the Academy will be anxious to make amends.
|| BEST DIRECTOR
Clint Eastwood, Mystic River
Alexander Gonzales Iñárritu, 21 Grams
Peter Jackson, The Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King
Anthony Minghella, Cold Mountain
Jim Sheridan, In America
I adore Peter Jackson for the way he transformed J R R Tolkien's epic into three epic films. That for me is cinematic achievement! I also love him for the person he is -- quirky and unpretentious (anyone who wears shorts and goes barefoot almost all the time has my unqualified affection). The Academy ignored him last year and the year before. Conventional wisdom had it that voters would wait to see if Peter would deliver three times in a row before handing them the Oscar. He has. With elan, power and style.
Even while we herald Peter the King, folks, do make a note of this Mexican name -- Alexander Gonzales Iñárritu. You are going to hear a lot about him in the years to come. 21 Grams demonstrates an unbelievable command over cinema. His countryman Alfonso Cuaron is making the next Harry Potter, but forget all those wizards at Hogwarts. Iñárritu is the real alchemist!
Heptanesia Mumbaikar plans to make a movie next year
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