The 2003 Academy Awards race has been marked with strong showings by grand (Lord of the Rings, Master and Commander) and the grim (Mystic River, House of Sand and Fog, Monster) with a few oddball eccentrics (Lost in Translation, Pirates of the Caribbean) thrown in for good measure.
The result is one of the more interesting Oscar contender fields in some years. It's also one of the hardest to predict.
But predict we must. I threw down the gauntlet, challenging all comers to out-predict me in the six top Oscar categories, and about 250 readers picked it up and tossed it right back at me. The winner of The Augusta Chronicle contest will be announced in Tuesday's Your Life section. Here are my picks for the performers and pictures that will and should win.
WHO WILL WIN: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - Even if this had not been the strongest of the now-complete trilogy, which it is, the Academy would be hard pressed not to finally acknowledge what might be the most impressive display of extended storytelling in cinema history. Consider this award repayment for the repeated snubbings these movies have received at the hands of Academy voters.
WHO SHOULD WIN: Lost in Translation - It says a lot that a movie about people meeting, hanging out a little and then going their separate ways can be as engaging and engrossing as anything released in the past year.
WHO WILL WIN: Peter Jackson - Mr. Jackson is coming into the Oscars hot off a win at the Directors' Guild Awards, an award that has predicted Oscar victory on all but six occasions. He's also an artist that Hollywood has been dying to anoint and the almost- assured Best Picture victory only reinforces his position.
WHO SHOULD WIN: Peter Weir (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) - Combining accuracy and action, Mr. Weir managed to make a movie that both entertains and educates. That's a tough trick under the best of circumstances, much less while afloat.
WHO WILL WIN: Bill Murray (Lost in Translation) - This is a tight race, with Mr. Murray and perennial nominee Sean Penn the frontrunners. However, I believe the Academy would like to reward Translation with a big win, and this seems the best bet. Also, Mr. Murray's skillful merger of pathos and comedy represents a greater acting challenge than Mr. Penn's now well-practiced angry angst.
WHO SHOULD WIN: Bill Murray
WHO WILL WIN: Charlize Theron (Monster) - Oscar loves it when a glamour queen uglies up in the name of art. But even if Ms. Theron's dark and dangerous serial killer had been played as one of the Beautiful People, she would still be a near lock. She brings a deeply bruised ferocity to this role that few people could have seen coming, and the result is one of the most fully developed screen performances in years.
WHO SHOULD WIN: Charlize Theron
Best supporting actor
WHO WILL WIN: Tim Robbins (Mystic River) - Although widely acknowledged as one of the cinema's finest actors, Mr. Robbins has never won, or been nominated for that matter, for an acting Oscar. His is also the most convincing, balanced and well-rounded characterization in Mystic River, a movie that seems destined to win something.
WHO SHOULD WIN: Alec Baldwin (The Cooler) - One of Hollywood's most underrated actors, Mr. Baldwin plays slick and slimy villainy better than anyone working today. Of course, Oscar hates the heavy, so Mr. Baldwin better be practicing his gracious loser smile.
Best supporting actress
WHO WILL WIN: Shoreh Agh-dashloo (House of Sand and Fog) - Every year, there is an Oscar surprise, and more often than not, it comes from the supporting categories. A lot of attention has been given to Renee Zellweger's Beverly Hillbillies redux role in Cold Mountain, but I believe an upset is in order. Why? Because I believe voter's will find Ms. Aghdashloo's story (she is, herself, and Iranian expatriate) and her sweet, sad portrayal of a wife caught up in events she doesn't understand compelling.
WHO SHOULD WIN: Shoreh Aghdashloo