Actress in a supporting role
* Nominees: Rene Zellweger, "Cold Mountain"; Patricia Clarkson, "Piece of April"; Shohreh Aghdashloo, "House of Sand and Fog"; Holly Hunter, "Thirteen"; and Marcia Gay Harden, "Mystic River."
I think it'd be nice for Clarkson, whose penchant for indie films I love, to win because she's good and she also was in a locally-grown flick called "Pharaoh's Army." But I kinda think Clarkson is not topping the list for this award.
Harden, who was great in "Mystic River," already has a statue for "Pollock," which probably will work against her. Hunter's film wasn't a blockbuster, and a lot of the Academy members likely will be less familiar with it. Aghdashloo is a remote pick; the Oscar probably will go to Zellweger, who many thought should have gotten the award last year for her role as Roxie Hart in "Chicago."
Actor in a supporting role
* Nominees: Alec Baldwin, "The Cooler"; Benicio Del Toro, "21 Grams"; Djimon Hounsou, "In America"; Tim Robbins, "Mystic River"; and Ken Watanabe, "The Last Samurai."
Watanabe's film wasn't the blockbuster Warner Bros. expected it to be, and the film garnered critical acclaim at best. While "The Cooler" apparently has rejuvenated Baldwin's fading career, it's unlikely that's enough for him to walk away with gold.
Del Toro already has an Oscar in this category for "Traffic," which could work against him. Many believe Hounsou should have gotten a statue for his role in "Amistad," so he's probably a close second for this award. But Tim Robbins terrifyingly tormented, addled, near-childlike performance in "Mystic River" could bring him this coveted award.
Actress in a leading role
* Nominees: Keisha Castle-Hughes, "Whale Rider"; Diane Keaton, "Something's Gotta Give"; Samantha Morton, "In America"; Naomi Watts, "21 Grams"; and Charlize Theron, "Monster."
This is a tough, tough category to predict. You have Keisha Castle-Hughes for "Whale Rider," the youngest person ever to be nominated in this category, who turns in an engaging performance in the film.
You have Naomi Watts for "21 Grams," who uglies up a bit for her moving performance in the film. There's Samantha Morton for "In America," a film that garnered a lot of critical acclaim.
Then there's Diane Keaton for "Something's Gotta Give," who knocked off a lot of socks with her frank, lively performance in the film.
Finally, there's the unrecognizable Charlize Theron in "Monster," an indie in which the South African-born actress plays murderer Aileen Wuornos, apparently with enormous conviction. For the last few years, the Academy has rewarded lovely actresses for changing their appearance, namely Nicole Kidman for "The Hours" and Halle Berry for "Monster's Ball." Could three be a charm for Theron? Possibly. But Keaton appears to be the sentimental favorite at this point. Who to choose?
I pick Theron to walk away with the prize Feb. 29.
Actor in a leading role
* Nominees: Jude Law, "Cold Mountain"; Bill Murray, "Lost in Translation"; Johnny Depp, "Pirates of the Caribbean"; Sean Penn, "Mystic River"; and Ben Kingsley, "House of Sand and Fog."
Ben Kingsley ("House of Sand and Fog") won an Oscar many years ago for "Gandhi." Jude Law ("Cold Mountain") has a slight chance, but the film didn't do as well at the box office - or in Oscar nominations - as Miramax hoped.
Johnny Depp ("Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl") wowed audiences with his quirky turn as an eccentric pirate captain in the film. But the role was primarily comedic, which likely will work against Depp.
Bill Murray apparently turns in a heckuva performance in "Lost in Translation." Many thought he should have been nominated a few years ago for "Rushmore." Sean Penn turns in a wrenching performance as a grieving then vengeful father in "Mystic River." Penn has garnered three other nominations in the past decade, for films "Sweet and Lowdown," "I Am Sam" and "Dead Man Walking."
My theory is that this race is a tossup between Murray and Penn. I'll give the edge to Murray for the win.