Hoodlums and hobbits, tormented women and holocaust survivors, musicals and gangland epics. This year's Best Picture nominees cover the cinematic spectrum. And while Chicago will likely win the big prize at L.A.'s Kodak Theatre on March 23, the stage has been set for some of the closest races in recent Oscar memory.
Will Nicole Kidman nab Best Actress for her unglamorous turn in The Hours? Can rookie Adrien Brody upset his competitors, all of whom have already won Oscars? And after 35 years of feature filmmaking, will Martin Scorsese finally become ''Oscar winner Martin Scorsese''? The lower-profile categories are just as interesting: Can My Big Fat Greek Wedding writer-star Nia Vardalos turn box office phyllo dough into Oscar gold? Does the acclaimed anime film Spirited Away have a shot against the mammoth hit Ice Age? And will U2, Eminem, or Paul Simon take home an Academy Award to go with their Grammys? In this special Oscar feature, we'll also look at some of this year's unsung nominees, find out EW critics' picks, and recall Oscar's most memorable moments.
Most important, we offer our Oscar odds. With balloting almost over (votes must be received by March 18), we've conferred with Academy members, studied the myriad pre-Oscar awards, and added a dash of guesswork to predict a winner in every race. Don't even think of attempting the office pool without us. But remember -- it wouldn't be the Oscars if there weren't a few surprises!
FOR HIM The star of The Pianist is this category's one true find and the only first-time nominee of the bunch. But there's nothing rookie-ish about his moving performance, the anchor of Polanski's much-admired film. This could be the way the Academy honors the movie. AGAINST HIM He's not as charismatic off screen as he is on. Might he have other chances later?
FOR HIM After a string of duds, the Leaving Las Vegas Oscar winner provided double the pleasure as Adaptation's odd-couple twin brothers. Though he eschews outward tics to differentiate between the genius and the hack, he almost makes us forget they're being played by the same man. AGAINST HIM Which is precisely the problem; the achievement may be too subtle for its own good. Voters looking for a flashier performance will likely look elsewhere.
FOR HIM The two-time supporting-actor winner has been The Quiet American's single biggest booster, attending many screenings and events in support of his beautifully calibrated performance as a lovelorn foreign correspondent in 1950s Vietnam. AGAINST HIM Caine has said that he craves this trophy (he's a four-time Best Actor nominee); his intense campaigning may turn off as many members as it wins over.
FOR HIM In only his sixth film since winning in this category for 1989's My Left Foot, the British actor fully transformed into Gangs of New York's mobster Bill the Butcher and proved he's worth the wait. Everyone thinks his equally humorous and terrifying turn is the best thing in the movie, and he's its only acting nominee. AGAINST HIM Is he too over-the-top? Many say yes. And his speech probably wouldn't be as entertaining as Jack's.