Originally created 03/25/01

And the winners may be...



I understand that, by and large, the Academy Awards are meaningless. The choice of one particular film or performance as the best of the year is ridiculously subjective, and the fact that people take it so seriously is even crazier.

And, while I agree that the Oscars are superfluous, I love them still.

Forget college basketball or St. Patrick's Day or even my birthday (March 7, mark your calenders). For me, March is all about the Oscars. I eat them, sleep them and, much to the chagrin of friends and family, spend endless hours discussing them. It all culminates when I, to very little fanfare, put myself out on a celluloid limb and unleash on the world my Oscar predictions.

So, a little drum roll please ...

BEST PICTURE

NOMINEES: Gladiator, Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Chocolat

WHAT WILL WIN: Gladiator
Never bet against the epic. The academy always recognizes those pictures with scope, scape and a cast of thousands. Call it the Ben Hur syndrome. Expect Gladiator to step up like a schoolyard bully and kick Oscar sand in the face of smaller pictures.

WHAT SHOULD WIN: Traffic
Steven Soderbergh's drug-war movie is a courageous experiment in storytelling and cinematography that, against all odds, succeeds in epic fashion. Expect this to be one of those movies that - 20 years from now - people can't believe didn't win the Oscar.

BEST ACTRESS

NOMINEES: Joan Allen - The Contender; Juliette Binoche - Chocolat; Ellen Burstyn - Requiem for a Dream; Laura Linney - You Can Count on Me; Julia Roberts - Erin Brockovich.

WHO WILL WIN: Julia Roberts
The Best Actress category is the closest thing Oscar has to a shoe-in this year. Hollywood is ecstatic to discover that America's sweetheart has some acting chops, and only the deluded believe that it won't reward her for this artistic step forward.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Ellen Burstyn
One of the cinema's finest actresses on her worst day, Ms. Burstyn's performance in Requiem for a Dream raised her own bar with a high-octane portrayal of an addict beaten down by her own demons. A raw, heartfelt performance that will sadly, go unrecognized.

BEST ACTOR

NOMINEES: Javier Bardem - Before Night Falls; Russell Crowe - Gladiator; Tom Hanks - Cast Away; Ed Harris - Pollock; Geoffrey Rush - Quills.

WHO WILL WIN: Tom Hanks
I'm going to be honest here. I have no idea who will walk away with this prize. Mr. Crowe may ride the Gladiator wave to the podium, and Mr. Rush's Marquis De Sade is the kind of showy role the academy loves. But Mr. Crowe's brooding doesn't really qualify as a performance, and it seems unlikely that voters will feel comfortable giving Oscar to a man playing history's most famous sexual deviant. If the award in fact goes for the best performance, Mr. Harris might sneak in. But my gut tells me that Tom Hanks will win his third because, well, he is Tom Hanks and everybody loves Tom Hanks.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Ed Harris
Mr. Harris spent years preparing to play the tortured painter Jackson Pollock, learning to re-create not only his hot-then-cold personality but also his distinctive and highly physical painting technique. Sadly, Mr. Pollock was not enough of a public figure for most people to appreciate Mr. Harris' picture-perfect portrayal.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

NOMINEES: Jeff Bridges - The Contender; Willem Dafoe - Shadow of the Vampire; Benicio Del Toro - Traffic; Albert Finney - Erin Brockovich; Joaquin Phoenix - Gladiator.

WHO WILL WIN: Benicio Del Toro
This should be one of those rare occasions when the most deserving nominee takes home a statue. It might be argued the Mr. Del Toro's smoldering Mexican border town cop was, in fact, a leading role. But it's too late to cry over that now. This is the standout performance in a film that Oscar voters will desperately want to recognize, and one of the finest cinema characterizations in several years.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Benicio Del Toro

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

NOMINEES: Judi Dench - Chocolat; Marcia Gay Harden - Pollock; Kate Hudson - Almost Famous; Frances McDormand - Almost Famous; Julie Walters - Billy Elliot.

WHO WILL WIN: Kate Hudson
The real shame here is that Almost Famous, one of last year's great films, wasn't nominated for more. It shouldn't go home empty-handed though. Ms. Hudson has already won the Golden Globe for her wounded yet winsomely appealing groupie/band aide Penny Lane and I'd lay even money that she'll continue her streak. She'll win the award for her complex portrayal and because the supporting actress category often rewards new faces.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Julie Walters
The hardest thing for an actor to do is create a complex character, acerbic and kind, funny and somehow sad, who doesn't dominate every scene. Ms. Walters rich portrayal of a community dance teacher in Billy Elliot will probably go unnoticed because, understanding that this story was not about her, she did that very thing.

BEST DIRECTOR

NOMINEES: Stephen Daldry - Billy Elliot; Ang Lee - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Steven Soderbergh - Erin Brockovich; Steven Soderbergh - Traffic; Ridley Scott - Gladiator.

WHO WILL WIN: Ang Lee
Although Gladiator will easily walk away with the Best Picture prize, its director, Ridley Scott, should come up empty-handed. The reason? The same reason Ron Howard and Stephen Spielberg (pre-Schindler's List) found it so difficult to wheedle their way into academy voters' hearts. Mr. Scott is seen as a movie-maker and not a film director. Hollywood isn't ready to declare a man with G.I. Jane and 1492 on his resume as this year's finest. Instead, they'll recognize Mr. Lee, who, after making such art house fare as The Ice Storm and Sense and Sensibility has made a martial arts fable that proves his only limitation is his own imagination.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Steven Soderbergh
Traffic was the work of an auteur. Not only did Mr. Soderbergh direct Traffic, he also filmed and edited it. Everything seen on the screen has his thumbprint on it. That is astonishing in itself. The fact that the movie was so beautifully rendered makes it even more deserving.

Tune in

A live broadcast of the 73rd annual Academy Awards presentation at 8:30 tonight on ABC (WJBF-TV, Channel 6). Steve Martin is the host of the awards show at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Oscars Countdown airs at 8.

Live from The Red Carpet airs at 6 p.m. on E! Joan and Melissa Rivers watch the arrivals for the awards, interview some of the celebrities, and perhaps offer some of their own thoughts about the event.

Oscar challenge

At press time, readers had submitted their Oscar guesses in an attempt to outpick our arts and entertainment writer, Steven Uhles. Readers who correctly predict the winners in the top six categories will have their names entered in a drawing for $100. Those who have more correct answers than Mr. Uhles will have their names printed in the newspaper on Sunday, April 1. The deadline for entries was Saturday.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or suhles@hotmail.com.

Here are the nominees Mr. Uhles predicts will win Academy Awards:
Best Picture: Gladiator

Best Actor: Tom Hanks - Cast Away

Best Actress: Julia Roberts - Erin Brockovich

Best Supporting Actor: Benicio Del Toro - Traffic

Best Supporting Actress: Kate Hudson - Almost Famous

Best Director: Ang Lee - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon