Oscar 2002 : Christmas Stocktaking


The 2002 Oscar race is, as always, divided into to clear sections. Speculations about nominees is one thing – speculation about eventual winners is another. And the race will, effectively, start all over again on February 11th when the nominations are unveiled.

But even at this early stage, it is possible to have a pretty clear idea about the possible winners in each major category. The following analysis, therefore, will divide the various contests into two parts – the most likely nominees, and then a run-down of those with a serious chance of potential victory.


FOR NOMINATION : The Two Towers, Chicago and Gangs of New York are the only candidates which seem to have already done enough to secure their place on the ballot. I’d imagine that the remaining two berths will be filled by a pair from the following six: Antwone Fisher, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, The Hours, Far From Heaven, About Schmidt and The Pianist.

Everything else is a longshot: Adaptation, Road To Perdition, Catch Me If You Can, Talk To Her, Nicholas Nickleby and Y Tu Mama Tambien. I would be amazed if anything else came into the frame.

TO WIN : Best Picture winners are invariably box-office hits. At the moment this restricts potential win candidates to The Two Towers (fundamentally a good-vs-evil war movie) and the escapist My Big Fat Greek Wedding – which has a profile alarmingly similar to Best Picture winner Rocky from 26 years ago. But the ‘Scorsese factor’ means Gangs of New York can’t be discounted, and there’s every chance that Chicago will do sufficiently well to become a viable win candidate.

It’s the only ‘landslide’ possibility that I can foresee, but the film’s darkly cynical mood doesn’t exactly capture the mood of these uncertain, war-expectant times, making a sweep unlikely. Antwone Fisher will also have to perform well at the box-office to be a contender, but this may well happen – and the ‘Denzel Factor’ means it can’t be ruled out for the win. The Academy-friendly subject-matter, meanwhile, means The Pianist isn’t entirely without a hope – if it can get nominated.


FOR NOMINATION: Gangs of New York has done sufficiently well with the critics to ensure the long-overdue Martin Scorsese will notch his fourth nomination. The other four slots could go to one of fifteen rivals, making this the toughest major category to call. Marginal front-runners would appear to be Denzel Washington (Antwone Fisher) and Peter Jackson (Two Towers), with Rob Marshall (Chicago), Roman Polanski (The Pianist), Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven), Stephen Daldry (The Hours) and Spike Jonze (Adaptation) breathing very hard down their necks. There’s then a slight gap to Phillip Noyce (The Quiet American), Alexander Payne (About Schmidt) and the Spanish-lingo duo of Pedro Almodovar (Talk To Her) and Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien), though this pair may cancel each other out and look safer bets for Original Screenplay recognition, as neither of their movies is eligible for the Foreign-Language Oscar.

TO WIN: As with Best Picture, this tends to go to a director whose film has been a box-office success. But such is Scorsese’ standing, even a ho-hum performance from Gangs of New York may not be enough to prevent him finally picking up his first Academy Award. He won’t need reminding, of course, that he’s twice been beaten by actors-turned-directors making their feature debut – and Denzel Washington must fancy his chances of emulating Robert Redford and Kevin Costner with Antwone Fisher. Unless the improbable sweep for Rob Marshall’s Chicago materialises, the only other serious candidate is Peter Jackson for The Two Towers – a film which is, by common consent, likely to outstrip The Fellowship of the Ring both in terms of critical acclaim and worldwide box-office.


FOR NOMINATION: A notably weak category, which Adaptation would surely have walked if it hadn’t been shoehorned into the ‘Adapted Screenplay’ contest. Far From Heaven looks the only certainty for nomination, and there’s a huge stack of candidates which could fill the remaining berths. The Spanish-language pair of Talk To Her and Y Tu Mama Tambien have coasted along on an impressive wave of critical acclaim and must be strong candidates, while Punch-Drunk Love‘s disappointing box-office won’t sway the writers’ section of the Academy voters who hold Paul Thomas Anderson in high esteem. Antwone Fisher and Gangs of New York are the only other Best Picture candidates based on original screenplays, while it would be no surprise whatsoever to see the more indie-flavoured likes of Narc, Thirteen Conversations About One Thing, Lovely and Amazing, Igby Goes Down, All or Nothing and Roger Doger sneak into the frame. And the colossal box-office performance of Signs means M Night Shyamalan can’t be ruled out of a very open contest.

TO WIN : Despite its ‘lock’ status for nomination, I feel sure that many Academy voters will look for excuses not to vote for maverick Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven. They won’t exactly go a bundle on the un-rated Y Tu Mama Tambien either, and Pedro Almodovar looks like a relatively ‘safe’ middle-to-highbrow choice in comparison. Antwone Fisher and Gangs of New York clearly can’t be ruled out, and there may well be a desire to anoint ‘new Spielberg’ Shyamalan with a ‘surprise’ Oscar for Signs – getting nominated may be the hard part.


FOR NOMINATION : Very possibly the strongest of all categories. In an average year Miramax’s heavyweight literary adaptation The Quiet American would seem a lock for nomination. But in 2002 it’s a relative outsider. Adaptation, The Hours and About Schmidt appear to be fairly sure-fire candidates, with Chicago firming up for previous winner Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters). Then there’s the ‘Cinderella candidate’ My Big Fat Greek Wedding – the astronomical box-office will surely translate to some kind of Oscar recognition, and this looks like the most plausible means. Which leaves the following strong contenders apparently out in the cold: Catch Me If You Can, The Two Towers, The Pianist and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Longshots include Nicholas Nickleby, Road To Perdition, About A Boy, Frida and Personal Velocity.

TO WIN : Adaptation has monopolised the critics’ awards, but is the kind of smart-ass fare the Academy may not warm to. My Big Fat Greek Wedding, however, is right up their alley – and if Nia Vardalos can get onto the ballot, she’d have to be considered a narrow favourite to notch a fairy-tale success. The Hours, About Schmidt and Chicago are the only alternatives with anything approaching serious hopes.


FOR NOMINATION: Michael Caine (The Quiet American) seems to have lost a little impetus in recent days, allowing Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt) and Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs of New York) to steal ahead. But all three look like locks, leaving two berths to be fought over by Leonardo DiCaprio (Catch Me If You Can), Adrien Brody (The Pianist) and Robin Williams (One Hour Photo). These six are some way ahead of the next-best: Nicolas Cage (Adaptation), Derek Luke (Antwone Fisher), Richard Gere (Chicago), Edward Norton (25th Hour) and Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind). It’s hard to see anyone else getting a look-in.

FOR WIN: Caine and Nicholson are hampered by the fact that they are relatively recent winners, though Caine has never won Best Actor and Nicholson’s As Good As It Gets victory was five years ago now. Nevertheless, Day-Lewis must be reckoned favourite at the moment, partly because voters guilty at not voting for Scorsese may use Day-Lewis as a chance to give Gangs one of the big awards. It isn’t impossible to imagine DiCaprio or Brody striking a blow for the younger age-group – except young performers are very rarely named Best Actor.


FOR NOMINATION: Awards juggernaut Julianne Moore (Far From Heaven) established her position as a lock some time ago. Then she was joined by The Hours pair Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman, leaving two slots to be squabbled over by Diane Lane (Unfaithful), Salma Hayek (Frida), Renee Zellweger (Chicago) and Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding). Vardalos is more likely to be nominated for Adapted Screenplay, while Zellweger’s chances will probably get a major knock when, as seems likely, her co-star Catherine Zeta-Jones pips her to the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. The enormously peer-popular Lane and I-got-this-picture-made-with-my-bare-hands Hayek look much safer bets.

TO WIN: The consensus seems to be that Moore is hot favourite. But Far From Heaven doesn’t strike me as the sort of movie the Academy will go for – it’s more of an In The Bedroom type picture which will rack up nominations and go home empty-handed. And there’s a very plausible alternative knocking around in the shape of Kidman – still very much the flavour of the month, and she’ll have attracted many votes for Moulin Rouge last time. Once again, Kidman isn’t really a ‘lead actress’ at all – but old-fashioned ‘star power’, plus a general groundswell that it is ‘her turn,’ may be enough to push her ahead. Of the remainder, Streep and Vardalos are the only plausible win candidates but both must be regarded as longshots who will need to mount strong campaigns to succeed.


FOR NOMINATION: Chris Cooper (Adaptation) and Paul Newman (Road To Perdition) secured lock status some time ago, leaving three berths. The leading quartet are Dennis Quaid (Far From Heaven), Christopher Walken (Catch Me If You Can), Alfred Molina (Frida) and Ed Harris (The Hours). But it wouldn’t surprise me at all if one or two from the following crept into contention: John C Reilly (Chicago), Denzel Washington (directing himself in Antwone Fisher) and Ray Liotta (Narc). The only longshots with realistic aspirations are Alan Arkin (Thirteen Conversations.), Brian Cox (Adaptation or possibly 25th Hour), Christopher Plummer (Nicholas Nickleby) and Andy Serkis (Two Towers).

TO WIN: Cooper is the closest thing to a certainty for the win out of all the major categories. It’s the right performance from the right actor in the right movie, and it must be considered an upset if he isn’t called the winner in March. It’s possible to imagine a success for Newman, Quaid, Walken or Harris – but hardly very likely.


FOR NOMINATION : Not an especially strong category, and Catherine Zeta-Jones’ wise decision to be considered here rather that in the lead race for Chicago will surely be rewarded with a first-ever nomination. Oscar favourites Kathy Bates (About Schmidt) and Meryl Streep (Adaptation) are the other locks, leaving two slots. Julianne Moore (The Hours) is firming up as a very probably nominee, which effectively leaves only one berth: Michelle Pfeiffer (White Oleander) was close to a lock at one stage but the film’s tepid box-office performance has seen her chances ebb. Could Patricia Clarkson (Far From Heaven), Joy Bryant (the ‘Minnie Driver role’ in Antwone Fisher), Queen Latifah (a showstopper in Chicago) or even Edie Falco (Sunshine State) benefit? Much-touted Cameron Diaz (Gangs of New York) looks like she’ll be passed over yet again. But you never know.

TO WIN: This could be where Julianne Moore, regardless of how she fares in the Best Actress race, gets her first Oscar after two defeats as Lead. Or it could be where Meryl Streep notches her third trophy, 20 years after her last, Sophie’s Choice. But the most likely winner by far, in a category that invariably favours younger starlets, is Zeta-Jones. A Bates win isn’t impossible, but would have to be considered something of a shock.

26th December, 2002

For the full Oscar predicitions click here.

by Neil Young
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