Hollywood prepares for 2003 Oscars

Paul Benedict

With the decorations and ornaments safely stored away, we can be rest assured that the holiday season has officially come to a close. This of course means all of the production companies are slipping in their best films before the new year’s deadline, so the Oscar race can begin!

Perhaps this year is the most wide-open race in recent memory, with no clear favorite stepping up just yet. Both “Chicago” and “Gangs of New York” have been widely speculated as shoo-ins long before their releases due to their strong Oscar credentials. The musical “Chicago” hopes to comfort its hopes off of the fire sparked by “Moulin Rouge” left after receiving seven nominations last year. “Gangs of New York” has three-time Oscar nominated director Martin Scorsese to its credit as well as the historical aspect of the most popular city in the world right now. “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” has the success of last year’s “The Fellowship of the Ring” (which received an astounding 13 nominations) to aid its cause, especially since this year’s sequel was widely considered to be an improvement upon the first. “Far From Heaven” is considered the best film of the year by the critics thanks to 12 critics awards for best picture, but it remains to be seen if it has a wide enough appeal to garner enough votes for a nomination. The same can be said for Alexander Payne’s “About Schmidt,” which seems tailor-made for the Academy with three-time Best Actor winner Jack Nicholson to its benefit and a story about discovering a purpose to life post-retirement, but may prove too low-profile to attract enough voters. “The Hours” and “The Pianist” just won the two biggest critics awards for best picture with “The Hours” claiming The National Board of Review’s Best Film Award and “The Pianist” surprising many by taking The National Society of Film Critics award for Best Picture.

There are a few darkhorses that just may sneak in. “Catch Me If You Can” is hoping to ride on the Academy-adored tag team of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, but may be viewed as too much fun with little substance, similar to last year’s “Ocean’s 11.” Denzel Washington is on a hot streak after his triumph at last year’s Oscars, and perhaps that will propel his emotionally driven directorial debut “Antoine Fisher,” but few accolades from critics could be a negative sign. “Road to Perdition” may have hit screens too early to be remembered during voting time, but that never hurt 2000’s winner “Gladiator” and last year’s nominee “Moulin Rouge.” “Adaptation” received about as much critical appraisal as any film out there, but if things play out like Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s last collaboration, “Being John Malkovich,” the film will be rewarded for its screenplay rather than the film itself. Although its still somewhat early, here are my predictions for Best Picture… (from best to worst) “Chicago,” “Gangs of New York,” “About Schmidt,” “Lord of the Rings: Two Towers” and “The Hours.” And as for the favorite to claim the top prize, “Chicago” currently stands as the frontrunner thanks to its hype, critical appeal and remarkable start to what could be a magnificent run at the box office.