- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 23, 2002

The Academy Awards are a year shy of a traditional landmark, the "Diamond Jubilee" anniversary. However, tomorrow evening's 74th annual ceremony to hand out Oscars involves a historic change of scene. The ceremony will be held at the new Kodak Theatre, which is at Highland Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard in the heart of Hollywood and intended as a permanent home for the spectacle.
The last Oscar show staged in Hollywood itself dates to 1960. Seeing the new site will be one of the novelties of the event, telecast live by ABC Television starting at 8:30 p.m. A half-hour "arrival segment" begins at 8 p.m., but the greeters no longer include the fabulously aggressive duo of Meredith Vieira and Tyra Banks.
An outbreak of food poisoning at an academy luncheon and unsporting accusations aimed at "A Beautiful Mind," the likeliest contender for best motion picture (and four other major prizes), have clouded the run-up to tomorrow's gala. Minions of Miramax studio, represented in the finals by the domestic vengeance thriller "In the Bedroom," are suspected of encouraging Internet muckraker Matt Drudge to harp on the unsavory aspects of the real-life protagonist of the movie, the Nobel Prize-winning mathematician and economic theorist John Forbes Nash Jr., played by Russell Crowe.
The book "A Beautiful Mind," by Sylvia Nasar, did contain unsavory revelations that were diplomatically and perhaps "creatively" ignored by screenwriter Akiva Goldsman and movie director Ron Howard, but these omissions should not surprise people with reading and moviegoing experience. That's why nonfiction literature often is preferred to the movies if one seeks a full and authentic story.
The same fictions are unlikely to prevent "Mind," the story of Mr. Nash's battle with schizophrenia, from collecting the Oscars for best film, movie direction, actor, supporting actress and adapted screenplay.
While harboring no ill feeling toward "A Beautiful Mind," I would prefer Peter Jackson's adventure spectacle, "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," to win in all 13 eligible categories. Twelve or more would set an Oscar record, surpassing the 11 shared by "Ben-Hur" and "Titanic." Although it's the only finalist in a position to rewrite the record book, "Fellowship" probably will have to settle for seven or eight Oscars from the so-called craft categories, plus an overdue award for Sir Ian McKellen, as best supporting actor.
The numerical bragging rights for the evening favor "Fellowship," but "A Beautiful Mind" probably will prevail for the major prizes. Some of what signals this: Mr. Howard has been named best director by the Directors Guild. Mr. Crowe has won as best actor at the Golden Globes and within the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). Mr. Goldsman got good omens from the Globes and the Screenwriters Guild. Jennifer Connelly, who plays Mr. Nash's wife, Alicia, was the supporting actress choice at the Globes but came up short in the SAG balloting, which favored Helen Mirren of "Gosford Park."
The wild cards are "Gosford Park" and "Moulin Rouge." Although "Gosford Park" directed by Robert Altman has emerged as a considerable hit, it remains a hit for the art-house subsidiary of Universal, USA Films, whose hottest previous contender was "Being John Malkovich." This makes it difficult to imagine that the Altman film would upset either "Mind" or "Fellowship" unless a wave of quixotic sentiment has overtaken the voters. If Mr. Altman fails to win as best director tomorrow evening, let's hope that the board of the academy will not continue to drag its feet about an honorary career prize for him. That little act of generosity would have been timelier this year than the career statuettes that will be handed out to Sidney Poitier and Robert Redford, both previous Oscar winners.
"Gosford Park" probably will receive the original screenplay Oscar as consolation (screenwriter Julian Fellowes has already won in this category among his colleagues). The idea of something similarly quixotic elevating "Moulin Rouge," Baz Luhrmann's stupefying mishmash, gives me the willies.

A we-love-you consolation Oscar for Nicole Kidman as best actress for her role in "Moulin Rouge" would not be surprising, although the race still appears to favor Sissy Spacek and Halle Berry as suffering housewives in "In the Bedroom" and "Monster's Ball," respectively. Miss Kidman gave a far more impressive performance as a suffering mother in "The Others," one of the conspicuously neglected movies in the Oscar balloting. Academy voters seemed to prefer the gaudy humiliations orchestrated by Mr. Luhrmann in "Moulin Rouge" while insisting that Miss Kidman pretend to sing, dance and flirt.
The best actress competition is significantly weakened by the absence of Charlotte Rampling's performance in "Under the Sand," Tilda Swinton's in "The Deep End," Brooke Smith's in "Series 7" and Miss Kidman's in "The Others." Dame Judi Dench, nominated this year for "Iris," should win this category. Few would dispute that she's the most accomplished actress in the category. Miss Dench won a best-supporting-actress Oscar in 1998 for "Shakespeare in Love."
The other finalist, besides Miss Spacek, Miss Berry, Miss Kidman and Miss Dench, is Renee Zellweger for "Bridget Jones's Diary."
The best-actor finals would have been toned up by including Guy Pearce for "Memento" and old reliable Jack Nicholson for "The Pledge." A fine absurdity: The director of "The Pledge," Sean Penn, has ended up as a contender for best actor by playing a lovable simpleton in "I Am Sam." It would probably serve Hollywood right if he won for this mawkish fraud.
The prospect of an Australian double victory Miss Kidman and Mr. Crowe is eminently plausible, although it's hard to fathom why Mr. Crowe needs back-to-back Oscars, unless he plans to return the one awarded last year for "Gladiator," which pulled some kind of sleight of hand to be named best movie of 2000.
Denzel Washington seems a far more deserving choice for a second Oscar, although the character he portrayed in "Training Day" carried depraved vanity to near-parodistic extremes.
The other finalists for best actor are Will Smith in "Ali" and Tom Wilkinson in "In the Bedroom."

To give Miss Connelly a supporting actress Oscar for "A Beautiful Mind," which might have languished without her, would make sense. Miss Connelly has been one of the most exquisite creatures on the screen since appearing as an adolescent in Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time in America" almost 20 years ago. Now her beauty is enhanced by a maturing expressive control and eloquence.
Of course, the track record for young actresses who've won as supporting actress in recent years has been a little treacherous. Marisa Tomei and Mira Sorvino went into tailspins after being cited for comic performances in "My Cousin Vinny" and "Mighty Aphrodite," respectively. Miss Tomei is back in contention in the same category this year for "In the Bedroom." The contenders from "Gosford Park," Miss Mirren and Maggie Smith, are competing not only with each other but with the self-evident fact that three other cast members, Emily Watson, Eileen Atkins and Kelly Macdonald, would have been just as deserving as Oscar finalists.
It might also be foolish to discount Kate Winslet in "Iris." A voluptuous asset in her own right, she can draw on associations with "Titanic," the pre-eminent blockbuster of recent years. She and Miss Dench might pull off the singular coup of winning while playing the same character, the late English novelist Iris Murdoch Miss Winslet as the young Iris and Miss Dench as the older Iris although the same situation failed to work for "Titanic." It was denied a record when neither Miss Winslet nor Gloria Stuart won acting Oscars four years ago.
If naked exposure is a crucial factor with voters, Miss Berry and Miss Winslet should trump the competition in their respect categories.

This year's contest pits perhaps the most outlandish spectacle ever shot in Australia, "Moulin Rouge," against the most elaborate spectacle ever shot in New Zealand, "Fellowship of the Ring." It's uncertain whether being the first installment in a trilogy will help or harm the candidacy of "Fellowship."
My hunch is that it's now or never. "Star Wars" was a major Oscar contender in 1977, when it won seven craft awards but was denied the major categories, dominated by "Annie Hall." The sequels to "Star Wars" never have been in serious contention. The only sequel that has outperformed its predecessor as an Oscar finalist is "The Godfather, Part II."
One of the novelties of the 2001 inventory is a new best-movie category: animated features. At least eight such attractions must be released in any calendar year to justify a trio of finalists. There can be five contenders if as many as 16 animated features appear in a given year. "Shrek" may have a lock on the inaugural prize, although "Monsters, Inc." would be a better choice. An award for the third finalist, "Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius," would be a quixotic surprise of the first magnitude.
Although John Lasseter the prime mover of computer-animated features as the founder of the Pixar studio deserves to receive the first Oscar in this category, he already did, in a manner of speaking, when he was awarded previous Oscars for Pixar shorts. He also can be trusted to behave graciously as a runner-up. This might not be the case with DreamWorks executive Jeffrey Katzenberg if "Shrek" falls short. Moreover, Pixar is likely to win for best animated short again, with the wonderful cartoon "For the Birds," which served as the appetizer for "Monsters, Inc."
Whoopi Goldberg returns for the fourth time to preside over the Oscars ceremony, only this time at the Kodak. The first ceremony was held across the street in 1929 in a banquet room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The most frequent location in recent years has been the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music Center.
John Williams will be musical director for the first time, and 30 acrobats from the Cirque du Soleil troupes have been recruited for a production number.
Enya, Sting and Faith Hill will be singing best song nominees. Alas, no indication that Jeremy Northam and his brother Christopher, the invisible piano accompanist of "Gosford Park," will be doing a medley of Ivor Novello tunes. Even a reprise of "The Land of Might-Have-Been" would suffice. It was the most evocative movie song of the year, albeit too old to be eligible. Come to think of it, nothing could be better as an official Oscar ballad. Every year 80 percent of the nominees must linger in the Land of Might-Have-Been.


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