It's a good thing the Academy Awards aren't next week, because the Kodak Theatre would be nearly empty. With only ''Finding Nemo'' and ''Seabiscuit'' attracting any Oscar talk, fall movies will have to fill the ballots (and quickly, since next year's ceremony takes place a month earlier, on Feb. 29). Here's the early line on who could be contenders:
September ''The Human Stain'' features Oscar winners Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman, and is directed by three-time winner Robert Benton, while past critics-award winners Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson try for their first nominations with ''Lost in Translation.'' (Johansson also has the December drama ''Girl With a Pearl Earring.'')
October The Clint Eastwood-directed ''Mystic River'' began earning momentum at Cannes as a potential Best Picture and for Sean Penn's lead performance. Quentin Tarantino is back in action with ''Kill Bill.'' And Gwyneth Paltrow could find herself in the race for the first time since her ''Shakespeare in Love'' win thanks to her Sylvia Plath biopic ''Sylvia.''
November A puppet show starring Russell Crowe would make anyone's Oscar shortlist, so imagine what Academy voters might think about his period epic ''Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.'' Other nominees could emerge from the smaller-scale pool, namely Tim Burton's ''Big Fish'' (starring Albert Finney and Ewan McGregor), Jim Sheridan's ''In America,'' the grim drama ''21 Grams'' (Sean Penn again), the ensemble romantic comedy ''Love Actually'' (Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, and Laura Linney), and ''House of Sand and Fog,'' featuring Academy faves Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley.
December What a shocker -- Christmastime will be stuffed with Oscar bait. ''The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King'' will hope the third time is the charm, but it will have stiff competition from three other lavish productions -- ''Cold Mountain,'' ''The Alamo,'' and ''The Last Samurai.'' ''The Missing'' and ''Veronica Guerin'' star Cate Blanchett will have to compete against herself. And never count out the ''Mona Lisa Smile'' of Julia Roberts.