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Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King—The third part of Peter Jackson's epic trilogy has already racked up $350 million in ticket sales in the United States alone. But its crowning achievement is likely to come on the night of Feb. 29. Having been passed over for Best Picture and Best Director twice now, Jackson's trifecta is all but guaranteed a sweep come Oscar night. Jackson is the odds-on favorite to take home Best Director and Best Picture, a cumulative reward for his 558-minute trip through Middle Earth. ... And if not, well, there's still that $350 million to comfort him.
City of God —Some viewers may be a bit stumped as to why this brilliant Brazilian epic is up for Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay but not Best Foreign Film, for which it seems a shoo-in. Actually, the film was submitted for a Best Foreign Film Oscar by Brazil for the 2002 Academy Awards. The Academy apparently felt it wasn't good enough and went with other choices. The film was released in America in 2003 and was therefore eligible for the other nominations. The film probably doesn't have a ghost of a chance, but writer/director Fernando Meirelles (currently shooting John Le Carré's The Constant Gardener with Ralph Fiennes) and his film (scheduled for release on DVD June 8) are sure to get a well-deserved boost from the publicity.
Keisha Castle-Hughes—At 13, this New Zealand teen is officially the youngest ever nominee in the Best Actress Category. (Taxi Driver's Jodie Foster and The Piano's Anna Paquin were both nominated in one Supporting Actress Category.) Castle-Hughes probably doesn't stand a chance against her more seasoned fellow nominees, but she gave one of the best performances of the year, and it's wonderful to see her up there. Plus, you never know. If the Academy is in the mood for a dark horse surprise this year, Best Actress is the category for it to happen in. Look for Keisha next as the Queen of Naboo in Star Wars: Episode III.
Music Lovers—Normally, Best Original Song is one of the saddest categories of the night, a last refuge for G-rated rockers like Phil Collins and Elton John. This year, not a single song from a Disney animated film made it in. We've got Annie Lennox doing the lush “Into the West” from Return of the King, Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy (we hope) doing the wonderful “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow” from A Mighty Wind, Sting with “You will be my Ain True Love” and Elvis Costello with “The Scarlet Tide” (both from Cold Mountain) and the infectious Andrews Sisters-meet-Stomp tune “Belleville Rendezvous” from Triplets of Belleville. Best line-up ever!
Documentaries—For the first time in a very long time, every one of the films nominated for Best Documentary has been released nationally in theaters. (That's more than we can say for the baffling choices in Best Foreign Language Film.) When My Architect hits the Guild Cinema on March 5, all five of the nominees will have been shown right here in Albuquerque (three of those at the Guild!) Here's to actually seeing the nominees!
Harvey Weinstein—For the first time in 11 years, Miramax does not have a film nominated for Best Picture. Weinstein, the perpetually grumpy head of Miramax Films, was allegedly so mad that his pet project Cold Mountain failed to lock up nods for Picture, Directing and Actress that he cancelled Miramax's annual Oscar night bash. When the film was geing made, Weinstein's boss, Disney chairman Michael Eisner, apparently told him to find another financier for the film after MGM dropped out. Other studios refused to participate, and Harvey wound up shelling out the $80 million-plus himself. Which means the film's tepid result rest entirely on Weinstein's pocketbook. Weinstein has thrown blame all over the Hollywood landscape, saying that a shortened voting season (Oscars were moved up by a month this year) gave his film short shrift. Has it occurred to you, Harvey, that the film wasn't all that great?
Chris Cooper—Anyone who saw the film knows that Cooper was the best part of Seabiscuit. Why he failed to land a nomination in Best Supporting Actor is a bit of a mystery. Looks like he got muscled out by Djimon Hounsou, whose saintly AIDS-infected artist from In America seemed like the essence of bad melodrama. Seabiscuit did land a dark horse nomination for Best Picture, but Cooper (who won last year for his role in Adaptation) got horse pucky.
The Cast of Return of the King—Never before has a film received so many nominations (11 to be precise) and not gotten a nod in one of the acting categories. Did this one act itself? Djimon Hounou's slot could at least have gone to Sean Astin.
Major Studios—It's getting harder and harder to separate the major film studios from the independents, but smaller studios made out quite well this year, despite an attempt by the majors to ban screener tapes (which would have made it harder for Academy members to view smaller films). Sure, Fox commanded plenty of attention off Master and Commander, Universal snuck Seabiscuit in under the wire and Warner Brothers floated several nominations for Mystic River. Still, Focus Features got a Best Picture nod for Lost in Translation, while indie projects like The Cooler, 21 Grams, In America, City of God, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Whale Rider, Monster, Pieces of April, Thirteen, The Barbarian Invasions, Dirty Pretty Things, American Splendor and The Triplets of Belleville racked up a sizable share of the nominations.