- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

The dynamic and stylish "Chicago" has emerged as the favorite among major contenders for the 75th annual edition of Hollywood's Academy Awards. Adapted from a Broadway musical that took a jaundiced backward glance at tabloid journalism and show-business opportunism at the end of the Roaring '20s, the film leads all finalists with 13 nominations, including best motion picture, director, actress, supporting actor and supporting actress.
Two "Chicago" cast members, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah, will be in competition for the supporting-actress Oscar when winners are announced at a gala ceremony March 23 at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood. Renee Zellweger and John C. Reilly, cast in the brassy musical as an estranged married couple, are nominees for best actress and supporting actor. Fellow cast member Richard Gere, named best actor at the Golden Globe Awards, did not make the Oscars cut.
The runners-up for total nominations are "Gangs of New York" with 10, "The Hours" with nine and "The Pianist" with seven. They also will challenge "Chicago" as best picture, along with "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," the second installment in a three-part epic derived from J.R.R. Tolkien's famous literary trilogy.
If it prevails in the final round of voting by members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which announced the nominations yesterday in Beverly Hills, Calif., "Chicago" would be the first traditional song-and-dance musical chosen best picture since "Oliver" in 1968. The genre itself has been in relative decline in recent decades. The first feature of an enterprising Broadway recruit, director-choreographer Rob Marshall, "Chicago" has been welcomed by many admirers as heralding a resurrection for the movie musical.
Mr. Marshall is joined by three other directors of best-movie finalists in the race for best direction: Martin Scorsese of "Gangs of New York," Stephen Daldry of "The Hours" and Roman Polanski of "The Pianist." The Spanish director Pedro Almodovar confirmed his popularity in Hollywood circles by crashing the finals with his latest import, "Talk to Her," which nevertheless failed to secure an Oscar nomination as best foreign-language feature of 2002. Peter Jackson, the director of the "Ring" series, was an Oscar nominee last year but failed to repeat with "Two Towers."
In a year regarded as particularly impressive for actresses, Miss Zellweger may face an uphill battle against Nicole Kidman in "The Hours" and Julianne Moore in "Far From Heaven" as best actress. The other finalists are first-time nominees: Salma Hayek in "Frida" and Diane Lane in "Unfaithful." Both Miss Kidman and Miss Hayek impersonated famous artists of the early 20th century, the English author Virginia Woolf and Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, respectively.
Miss Moore, who may have a seniority edge over such candidates as Miss Kidman and Miss Zellweger, also was nominated as best supporting actress for "The Hours," a time-traveling melodrama that contrasts a crisis in Virginia Woolf's life with the fictional situations of women in later time frames.
All three of the younger actresses in the supporting category may encounter a more formidable seniority challenge from previous Oscar winners Kathy Bates, nominated for "About Schmidt," and Meryl Streep, nominated for "Adaptation." This is Miss Streep's 13th nomination as a performer, a new Academy record. She won her first Oscar in 1979, as best supporting actress in "Kramer vs. Kramer." Three years later, she added a best-actress prize for "Sophie's Choice." Miss Bates was named best actress of 1990 for "Misery."
Former winners also dominate the best-actor category, where three-time winner Jack Nicholson is expected to collect a fourth award for his portrayal of a disconsolate Midwesterner in "About Schmidt." His awards came for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Reds" (as best supporting actor) and "As Good as It Gets." Adrien Brody, nominated for the title role in "The Pianist," the biographical account of a Polish Jewish musician forced into hiding during the Nazi conquest, is the only newcomer to the category.
Nicolas Cage, nominated for playing a dual role as twin brothers in the demented comedy "Adaptation," has won for "Leaving Las Vegas." Michael Caine, nominated for "The Quiet American," won twice in the supporting category, for "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "The Cider House Rules." Daniel Day-Lewis, the imposing villain of "Gangs of New York," which recalls brutal ethnic rivalries in Manhattan in the mid-19th century, won as best actor for "My Left Foot."
John C. Reilly is likely to be the long shot in the supporting-actor category, where a venerable Hollywood star, Paul Newman, could attract a last-hurrah plurality for playing a Chicago gangster in "Road to Perdition." A frequent nominee, Ed Harris, could finally become an Oscar winner for playing a suicidal writer in "The Hours."
The numerous awards competitions that anticipate the Oscars tend to favor the candidacy of Chris Cooper, cast as the gnarly orchid poacher of "Adaptation." The final nominee, Christopher Walken, cast as the father of the felonious protagonist of Steven Spielberg's "Catch Me if You Can," was a previous winner in the category for "The Deer Hunter." Mr. Newman ended a prolonged career as an Oscar also-ran in 1986 when he was named best actor for "The Color of Money."
The category for best original screenplay includes a number of quixotic selections. The sleeper hit "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" ended up with its only major nomination, for actress-writer Nia Vardelos; she had been considered a plausible contender for best actress as well.
Mr. Almodovar received a second nomination for writing "Talk to Her." In addition, there's another Spanish-language finalist: the Mexican sex comedy "Y Tu Mama Tambien."
The more traditional candidates, "Far From Heaven" and "Gangs of New York," actually have antecedents despite being regarded as originals: a vintage Douglas Sirk tear-jerker titled "All That Heaven Allows" in the first case and a 1928 social history, also titled "Gangs of New York," in the second.
Best-movie contenders "Chicago," "The Hours" and "The Pianist" also are matched in the category for best adapted screenplay. The other finalists are "About a Boy" and, logically, "Adaptation."
The latter implicates screenwriters and now Academy members in an open hoax. The official credit lists Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman as co-writers, although it is well-known that Donald is a fictional creation. Nicolas Cage purports to embody them as fanciful brothers in the movie.
The diamond-jubilee renewal of the Oscar show will be hosted by Steve Martin. The board of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences a professional association organized by film mogul Louis B. Mayer in 1927 and now administered by the principal Hollywood guilds and unions has announced that an honorary award will be presented to actor Peter O'Toole, a seven-time nominee who never has won the Oscar. A national telecast by ABC begins at 8 p.m. Eastern time on March 23.

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