- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2002

"The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," a superlative first installment in a three-part movie epic based on J.R.R. Tolkien's famous adventure trilogy, emerged with a substantial lead in the preliminary round of voting for the 74th annual Academy Awards.
"Fellowship," the most auspicious production ever shot in New Zealand, collected 13 nominations, including best motion picture, best director for Peter Jackson and best supporting actor for Ian McKellen, cast as the valorous wizard Gandalf.
The closest competitors were the biographical drama "A Beautiful Mind," the flamboyant show-business romance "Moulin Rouge," and the country house murder comedy "Gosford Park," which also made the finals as best movie. "Mind" collected eight total nominations and "Moulin" and "Gosford" seven each when finalists were announced yesterday in Beverly Hills, Calif., by the sponsoring organization, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The fifth best movie contender, the domestic crime drama "In the Bedroom," had five nominations.
The winners will be announced at the annual Oscar ceremony, scheduled for Sunday, March 24, at the newly constructed Kodak Theater on Hollywood Boulevard at Highland Avenue, in Hollywood itself. The event will be nationally telecast by ABC, starting at 8:30 p.m.
Australian actors loomed as strong contenders in the races for leading actors. Russell Crowe, last year's Oscar winner as best actor in "Gladiator," is a repeat finalist, cited for his performance as the mentally deranged mathematician of "A Beautiful Mind," John Forbes Nash Jr. Nicole Kidman is a first-time nominee for best actress in "Moulin Rouge," which showcased her as a glamorous performer at the Parisian nightclub of the same name a century ago.
Mr. Crowe could duplicate the Oscar feat of Spencer Tracy and Tom Hanks, who won consecutive awards for 1937 and 1938 and 1993 and 1994, respectively. However, he could also be thwarted by serious competition from Denzel Washington as a corrupt and sinister cop in "Training Day" and Tom Wilkinson as a grief-stricken, vengeful father in "In the Bedroom," which placed three cast members in the Oscar finals.
The more distant threats for Mr. Crowe would appear to be comedy and action star Will Smith in the biographical drama "Ali," portraying boxing immortal Muhammad Ali, and Sean Penn as a mentally retarded single dad in "I Am Sam."
Mr. Wilkinson's co-star, Sissy Spacek, who won as best actress of 1980 for "Coal Miner's Daughter," appears the early favorite this year for playing the embittered mother of "In the Bedroom." She dominated the awards season conducted by press and critics. However, Miss Kidman, who also won praise for her performance in the thriller "The Others" and rallied a good deal of personal sympathy during a marital split with actor Tom Cruise, could pose a serious threat.
So could American actress Halle Berry as a young woman sent reeling by misfortune in the polemical love story, "Monster's Ball," which also showcases her in explicit sex scenes with co-star Billy Bob Thornton, an industry favorite who failed to make the Oscar finals this year. Incidentally, the nominations for Miss Berry, Mr. Smith and Mr. Washington, a previous Oscar winner as best supporting actor of 1989 in "Glory," represent the strongest showing to date by black performers.
The other finalists for best actress of 2001 are England's revered Judi Dench as the late novelist Iris Murdoch in "Iris," which opens this week in the Washington market, and the young American actress Renee Zellweger, cast against type as a lovelorn Englishwoman in the romantic comedy "Bridget Jones's Diary."
Miss Dench won previously as best supporting actress of 1998 for "Shakespeare in Love." Her co-star in "Iris," the English actor Jim Broadbent, cast as Miss Murdoch's devoted spouse John Bayley, joined compatriot Ian McKellen as a finalist for best supporting actor. There's also a third British nominee, Ben Kingsley, a previous winner as best actor of 1982 for "Gandhi," as a contemptuous gangster in the crime melodrama "Sexy Beast."
Jennifer Connelly, who plays the alarmed but loyal spouse of "A Beautiful Mind," appears a secure favorite as best supporting actress.
There was a certain disparity between the best movie and best direction candidates. Ron Howard of "A Beautiful Mind," Peter Jackson of "Fellowship of the Ring" and Robert Altman of "Gosford Park" are finalists for the directing Oscar. However, Ridley Scott of "Black Hawk Down" and David Lynch of "Mulholland Park" outpolled the directors of the other two best movie contenders, Todd Field of "In the Bedroom" and Baz Luhrmann of "Moulin Rouge."
There's an additional best movie category this year, reserved for animated features. The three finalists are "Shrek," "Monsters, Inc." and "Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius."
The academy will present honorary Oscars for career achievement to actors Sidney Poitier and Robert Redford. The veteran director Arthur Hiller, also a former academy president, will receive the organization's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
Oscar-winning actress Whoopi Goldberg has agreed to return as master of ceremonies for the March 24 Academy Awards presentation.

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