- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2004

Gary Arnold

Best picture:

Heart: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”

Head: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”

In short, a no-brainer.

Best director:

Heart: Peter Jackson

Head: Peter Jackson

In recognition of “The Return of the King” in particular, but also the entire “Rings” trilogy.

Best actor:

Heart: Ben Kingsley

Head: Bill Murray

Sir Ben’s work in “House of Sand and Fog” easily laps the field. Nevertheless, it would be a little anti-climactic to see the Murray bandwagon run out of steam on Oscar night.

Best actress:

Heart: Samantha Morton. She is the most believable and touching of the nominees, but the truth is my heart remains with the un-nominated Gwyneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett, for “Sylvia” and “Veronica Guerin,” respectively.

Head: Charlize Theron, who plays the shock-effect card successfully and wins for “Monster.”

Supporting actor:

Heart: None of the above. There are seven better alternatives: William H. Macy in “Seabiscuit,” Paul Bettany in “Master and Commander,” Peter Sarsgaard in “Shattered Glass,” Wentworth Miller in “The Human Stain,” Mel Gibson in “The Singing Detective,” Andy Serkis in “The Return of the King” and teenager Max Pirkis in “Master and Commander.”

Head: Tim Robbins, for being terminally woebegone in “Mystic River.”

Supporting actress:

Heart: Shohreh Aghdashloo. Remarkable as Ben Kingsley’s wife in “House of Sand and Fog,” this Iranian actress would be a quixotic and maternal upset choice to match Samantha Morton as best actress.

Head: Renee Zellweger, who cashes in on the year-later tradition and wins for “Cold Mountain” instead of “Chicago.”

Original screenplay:

Heart: A toss-up between “Finding Nemo” and “Dirty Pretty Things.”

Head: Sofia Coppola. A safe bet for “Translation,” although the script is tongue-tied in ways that an experienced writer might have been able to

repair.

Adapted screenplay:

Heart: Peter Jackson, wife Fran Walsh and collaborator Philippa Boyens

In condensing “The Lord of the Rings,” they made the source material “readable” to all of us who never managed to outlast the books.

Head: Brian Helgeland. Probably a consolation category for “Mystic River,” which has one of the most disreputable murder plots ever contrived.

Christian Toto

Best picture:

Heart: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” Shooting three films in a row paid off as well as the most ardent Tolkien fan could have hoped.

Head: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” If the above isn’t recognized, it will be a stain on Oscar history.

Best director:

Heart: Sofia Coppola. The young Coppola escapes Daddy’s shadow with an elegant ode to friendship.

Head: Peter Jackson. Helming the “LOTR” trilogy has earned Mr. Jackson the respect of his peers.

Best actor:

Heart: Bill Murray. His thoughtful “Lost in Translation” performance caps his maturation from “Saturday Night Live” funnyman to insightful leading man.

Head: Sean Penn. He’s due, and Hollywood knows it. He turned in stunning work in both “Mystic River” and “21 Grams.”

Best actress:

Heart: Diane Keaton.

The 50-something actress is sexy, smart and unpredictable in the wry “Something’s Gotta Give,” which crumbles in the final act through no fault of her own.

Head: Charlize Theron. Oscar loves transformations, and what presto-chango routine was more impressive than Miss Theron’s unrecognizable role in “Monster” as an ugly, blotchy-faced serial killer?

Best supporting actor:

Heart: Alec Baldwin. Yet another terrific supporting turn (“The Cooler”) by a former leading man who shifted gears midcareer to embrace character roles.

Head: Tim Robbins. Mr. Robbins’ haunted face is the troubled soul of the dark “Mystic River.”

Best supporting actress:

Heart: Renee Zellweger. The actress has played a pudgy Briton, a dancing girl from “Chicago” and now a feisty Southerner in “Cold Mountain.” That range deserves recognition.

Head: Renee Zellweger. For all the reasons above, plus the Academy can show the expertly crafted “Mountain” some love.

Best original screenplay:

Heart: Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson and David Reynolds. In a weaker year for films, their “Finding Nemo” earns Best Picture consideration.

Head: Sofia Coppola, “Lost in Translation.” Miss Coppola’s penance for her acting performance in “The Godfather: Part III” is complete.

Best adapted screenplay:

Heart: Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman, “American Splendor.” It’s cinematic magic that the duo’s script makes us care for this nebbishy file clerk.

Head: Brian Helgeland, “Mystic River.” The film’s rich visuals are matched by its penetrating, though occasionally overwrought, dialogue.

Scott Galupo

Best picture:

Heart: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”

Head: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”

The year’s best and, even more important, the trilogy’s best.

Best director:

Heart: Peter Jackson

Head: Peter Jackson

Just hurry up and do this; it’s probably his last chance.

Best actor:

Heart: Bill Murray

Head: Sean Penn

The Academy’s always a sucker for flamboyant emotionalism.

Best actress:

Heart: Samantha Morton

Head: Charlize Theron

Little demon says, “Anyone but Diane Keaton here, please.”

Best supporting actor:

Heart: Alec Baldwin

Head: Tim Robbins

Maybe they can both move to France and share.

Best supporting actress:

Heart: Holly Hunter

Head: Renee Zellweger

Holly could’ve played “Cold Mountain’s” Ruby in her sleep.

Best original screenplay:

Heart: Jim, Naomi and Kirsten Sheridan, “In America”

Head: Sofia Coppola, “Lost in Translation”

I’ll take New York over Tokyo every day of the week.

Best adapted screenplay:

Heart: Brian Helgeland, “Mystic River”

Head: Brian Helgeland, “Mystic River”

In the year of our “Lord,” “River” will need a few charity trophies.

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