By this point, you've probably read an infinite number of articles about the 76th Annual Academy Awards. That is, if you care at all. Well, I'm not going to offer any fancy odds or pretend that there won't be any surprises. Instead, I'll simply explain who I think will win, who I think should win, and why. Oh, and we'll also take a look at who might have been nominated but wasn't. (Somewhere, Nicole Kidman is crying on a bed of money. What, you thought I'd feel sorry for her?!)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; Lost in Translation; Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; Mystic River; Seabiscuit
Will Win: Return of the King. Because the final installment is expected to make $1 billion worldwide. Because Jackson's films have earned 30 Oscar nominations between them. Because you'd have to be crazy to bet against it.
Should Win: Lost in Translation. Because I'm not taken with impressive numbers. This is still the better film.
Overlooked for a Nomination: Cold Mountain. Oh, wait, Miramax's bully tactics didn't work this year? Maybe there is a Movie God after all.
Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation; Clint Eastwood, Mystic River; Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; Fernando Meirelles, City of God; Peter Weir, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Will Win: Jackson. This is his kudos for the entire trilogy and an apology for not nominating him in the directing category last year. Jackson is notorious for going barefoot on set. As long as he comes to the ceremony wearing shoes, he's a shoe-in!
Should Win: Meirelles. You don't have to like Seabiscuit to root for the underdogin this case, Meirelles, a first-time nominee.
Overlooked: Gus van Sant, Elephant. It's about time that America's answer to Lars von Trier was honored for his experimentalism. With Elephant and Gerry, he's back from the brink after selling out with Good Will Hunting.
Keisha Castle-Hughes, Whale Rider; Diane Keaton, Something's Gotta Give; Samantha Morton, In America; Charlize Theron, Monster; Naomi Watts, 21 Grams
Will Win: Theron. She proved she's not just another pretty face in what Roger Ebert called "one of the best performances in the history of the cinema." But what on earth will she do for an encore?
Should Win: Castle-Hughes. Normally, I don't like when they give the Oscar to some little kid. But this little kidexcuse me, young womanhad me sobbing in my seat.
Overlooked: Hope Davis, The Secret Lives of Dentists. She was good in American Splendor, too, but it looks like there's no Hope for us this year.
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl; Ben Kingsley, House of Sand and Fog; Jude Law, Cold Mountain; Bill Murray, Lost in Translation; Sean Penn, Mystic River
Will Win: Penn. Most of the buzz surrounds him, even though skipping the Golden Globes may have hurt his chances. (His publicist says he'll be at the Oscars.)
Should Win: Depp. Really. He brought the most to his movieand unlike any of the other roles, I can't imagine this one being played by anyone else.
Overlooked: Jack Black, School of Rock. Because our Andy Marchesseault said he deserved it, and I'm going to give Andy the benefit of the doubt.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Shohreh Aghdashloo, House of Sand and Fog; Patricia Clarkson, Pieces of April; Marcia Gay Harden, Mystic River; Holly Hunter, Thirteen; Renée Zellweger, Cold Mountain
Will Win: Aghdashloo. Best Supporting Actress is a notoriously unpredictable category. I figure that if the Academy loves Shohreh Aghdashloo enough to have nominated a complete unknown, she just might take home the big prizeunless DreamWorks's nasty campaign tactics hurt her.
Should Win: Hunter. She's crazy good in what could have been a Lifetime movie performance. I guess there's something about Hunter that just clicks with thirteen-year-olds since that was the age of The Piano's Anna Paquin as well.
Overlooked: Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation. Sure, in my last Oscars column, I griped about how she was the female lead and shouldn't be eligible for a Supporting Actress nod. But I would rather have her nominated here than ignored altogether.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Alec Baldwin, The Cooler; Benicio del Toro, 21 Grams; Djimon Hounsou, In America; Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai; Tim Robbins, Mystic River
Will Win: Robbins. Clint Eastwood's blue-collar melodrama is the most high-profile of these five films, and voters will look to honor it.
Should Win: Robbins. Script incongruities aside, he handled the role with remarkable skill. (Looking for a drinking game to play during the ceremony? Every time Robbins is mentioned, take a sip of a vodka-and-Sprite. To understand the Sprite reference, see the movie.)
Overlooked: Max Pirkis, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. In a year of great teen performances (Whale Rider's Keisha Castle-Hughes, Thirteen's Evan Rachel Wood), 15-year-old Pirkis still stood out as midshipman Blakeney in Peter Weir's nautical blockbuster.
And perhaps the most important question of all...will Oscar night have a shorter run time than Return of the King? That one, at least, is almost definitely a no.