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You'll have to go far down ballot to find suspense

March 20, 2003
By Franklin Harris

So much for suspense.

It is a foregone conclusion that "Chicago" will walk away with most of the Academy Awards this year. And in keeping with their tradition of righting past wrongs, Oscar voters are likely to hand Martin Scorsese the best director award he should have won ages ago, even if "Gangs of New York" is one of his lesser efforts.

Slightly less certain is whether they will give Nicole Kidman the Oscar she should have won last year. (The next time you watch "X-Men," repeat to yourself, "Oscar winner Halle Berry." I dare you not to laugh.)

The real races, the ones that are truly up for grabs, are down ballot.

Best Animated Feature

This is a real horse race. So, ironically, "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron" doesn't have a chance, and neither does "Treasure Planet." But any of the other three films in this category has a shot at winning.

"Ice Age" isn't great cinema, but it received decent reviews and, more importantly, earned a lot of money. From "Gladiator" to "Titanic," Oscar voters have a history of rewarding middlebrow blockbusters. Plus, any Oscar voter with children probably owns a copy of "Ice Age" and has seen it dozens of times.

Much the same can be said for Disney's "Lilo and Stitch," which did good business, even if it was almost a sleeper by Disney standards.

"Lilo and Stitch" also has the advantage of being Disney's best in-house production since "The Lion King."

Then there is "Spirited Away," a Disney-distributed import by famed Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki.

"Spirited Away" is the darling of the critics, but it had only a limited release in North America, earning just $5.6 million. (In Japan, it's the highest grossing film of all time.) Still, it has a chance if Oscar voters are paying attention.

I'm betting they're not.

Who should win: "Spirited Away"

Who will win: "Ice Age"

Best Makeup

This category is interesting because of who isn't nominated. "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"? No. "Gangs of New York"? No again.

Instead we have Salma Hayek's biopic, "Frida," going up against one of the worst movies of 2002, "The Time Machine."

How did it come to this?

Well, perhaps making Jeremy Irons' character in "The Time Machine" look like some sort of albino Rastafarian is a worthy achievement. But the greater challenge had to be making Hayek appear unattractive for her starring role as Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.

Who should win: "Frida"

Who will win: "Frida"

I'm just happy that whoever was responsible for Nicole Kidman's nose in "The Hours" wasn't nominated. Then this category really would be a joke.

Best Visual Effects

George Lucas may have forgotten how to tell an engaging story, but he is still the master of special effects, as "Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones" demonstrates. Nobody else would have even tried to pull off a lightsaber duel between a 6-foot-5-inch horror-movie icon (Christopher Lee) and a 3-foot Muppet (Yoda). Lucas not only tried it, he succeeded.

Lucas' official competition is Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" and Sam Raimi's superhero adventure, "Spider-Man." But his biggest obstacle is himself. Academy voters cannot abide a filmmaker who abandons the Hollywood system, and Lucas hasn't made a Hollywood movie since "American Graffiti."

Who should win: "Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones"

Who will win: "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"

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