The Oscars: "Chicago" Is Chic

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MIRAMAX

JAZZED: 'Chicago' nabbed 13 nominations, including a Best Actress nod for Renee Zellweger

For the first time in decades, the Hollywood Hills are alive with the sound of music. Top touters are predicting that Oscar will reward "Chicago" with this year's Best Picture statuette — that first place will go to a snazzy musical set in the Second City. (Actually, in terms of population, the Third: the toddlin' town could use a little affirmative action.)

In nominations announced today by the Motion Picture Academy, "Chicago" garnered 13 nominations, most of any film. Among the other films nominated for Best Picture, Martin Scorsese's "Gangs of New York" earned 10 citations, "The Hours" got nine, "The Pianist" seven and "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" six.

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In all but two of the past 18 years, the film with the most nominations won Best Picture. One of those years was 2002, when "A Beautiful Mind" took the top award, though "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" had received more nominations.

Today was a happy one for Harvey and Bob Weinstein. Their Miramax Films totaled 39 nominations, including three of the five Best Picture nominees ("The Hours" is a Miramax co-production with Paramount). The list also validated the current studio practice of back-loading its prestige product as a hedge against long-term memory loss: this was the first time since 1989 that all five films had been released in December. The question now is how these films, released about six weeks ago, will play on Oscar night six weeks from now: Sunday, March 23, to be exact.

Let's see what gives in the major categories, and tell you our preferences and predictions in each.



BEST ACTOR

Adrien Brody, "The Pianist"
Nicolas Cage, "Adaptation"
Michael Caine, "The Quiet American"
Daniel Day-Lewis, "Gangs of New York"
Jack Nicholson, "About Schmidt"

DDL might win in another year — for the ferocity of his early De Niro-style performance as Bill the Butcher, and for deigning to make a movie after five years of being what Charlie Rose referred to as "a cobbler." Brody is a one-man show, and there's a boldness to the passivity he exudes as a Jew hiding from the Nazis in war-torn Warsaw. Cage pulled off a decent stunt as the Kaufman brothers in "Adaptation"; he just couldn't keep his mouth from hanging open — the twins looked like identical members of an Iditarod sled team. Caine, at 70, is on the roll of his career, but he won Supporting Actor two years ago.

Nicholson got a lot of praise for not playing himself in the comedy about a widower in a Winnebago, though some of us figured that all those plaudits meant that Jack hadn't exactly disappeared into the role. (Caine achieved just that in "The Quiet American.") But he'll win. He has sexagenarian star quality and always seems to enjoy himself at award shows, purring like a fat cat at a fish market. He's one of the few who realizes that these gigs are supposed to be parties.

HOPE: Caine
THINK: Nicholson



BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Chris Cooper, "Adaptation"
Ed Harris, "The Hours"
Paul Newman, "Road to Perdition"
John C. Reilly, "Chicago"
Christopher Walken, "Catch Me If You Can"

A category full of killers, losers and charlatans, sometimes all three in one role. The showiest are Harris' body-punishing turn as a dying writer and Cooper's impersonation of a toothless tiger who loves orchids too much. Reilly, as Mr. Cellophane in "Chicago," pulled off the year's most eye-catching disappearing act. Newman and Walken snagged DreamWorks' only two prominent nominations. Five worthies — yet there doesn't seem much at stake here. Our hopes and guesses are wan. Nonetheless...

HOPE: Walken
THINK: Cooper



BEST ACTRESS

Salma Hayek, "Frida"
Nicole Kidman, "The Hours"
Diane Lane, "Unfaithful"
Julianne Moore, "Far from Heaven"
Renée Zellweger, "Chicago"

It's the year of the woman, at least in the Oscar genre. This category was so vigorously contested that it had no room for Miss Meryl Streep, who gave her best performance of the year in "The Hours." The Hayek nomination is a reward for her seven-year doggedness in pursuit of Frida Kahlo. Sexy Lane and fretful Moore would win in a tamer year than this one, which looks to be a face-off between Kidman's nicely articulated despair and Zellweger's self-mutilating ambition.

Hollywood loves the emergence of an actress from a glamour-girl, and Kidman may get points for which what she could do, dammit, once she got that Cruise guy out her life. Oscar applauds actors who put putty on their noses for the sake of art (it's the Paul Muni syndrome); Kidman put a whole nose on her nose. But Zellweger made her entire personality ugly and prominent. In a close race, we say...

HOPE: Lane
THINK: Kidman



BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Kathy Bates, "About Schmidt"
Julianne Moore, "The Hours"
Queen Latifah, "Chicago"
Meryl Streep, "Adaptation"
Catherine Zeta-Jones, "Chicago"

Three of these are, arguably, lead performances; Moore, Streep and Zeta-Jones are all billed above the title. Though Latifah radiated as much movie charisma in her small role as we saw last year, and while we'd love to see an Oscar Night clip of the naked Bates in a hot tub, they won't crowd the three leading ladies in the supporting category.

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