By Leah Rozen
March 25, 2002 12:00 PM

Oscar Choices

If all of life is just a continuation of high school, the Academy Awards are Hollywood’s ultimate popularity contest. From a vantage point outside the school gates, here’s who I think deserves to win at the 74th annual Oscars on Sunday, March 24 (ABC, 8:30 p.m. EST).

BEST PICTURE

A Beautiful Mind

Gosford Park
In the Bedroom
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Moulin Rouge

Talk about a tough year. For Best Picture, you want a movie you love, a movie that makes you want to stop strangers on the street and persuade them to head for the nearest movie palace. (Shrek, anyone?) None of this year’s nominees hits that mark; but each deserves praise—followed, of course, by the keyword “however.”

That said, I’ll take In the Bedroom. An intimate drama about a middle-aged couple whose adult son is murdered, the movie takes its own sweet time, but the emotional hooks are deep and the pain lingers. I saw Bedroom twice; perfectly calibrated performances and a nuanced screenplay made its impact even more affecting the second time around.

My backup pick? A Beautiful Mind, a moving, powerfully acted drama with a great central gimmick. I’m guessing it will win. In descending order, Gosford Park features a masterful ensemble cast but has a convoluted plot only Agatha Christie could love. The Lord of the Rings, while visually stunning, amounts to three hours of chase scenes and big-footed hobbits. And Moulin Rouge is a frantic music video stretched out to movie length.

BEST ACTOR

Russell Crowe, A Beautiful MindSean Penn, I Am Sam

Will Smith, Ali
Denzel Washington, Training Day
Tom Wilkinson, In the Bedroom

As a corrupt cop, a seductively evil Denzel Washington made the vilest of pronouncements sound reasonable. Bad guys rarely win Oscars, but Washington was so good that voters should make an exception. Backup pick: Crowe, for a restrained and compelling portrayal of a man going over the edge.

BEST ACTRESS

Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball Judi Dench,Iris

Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge
Sissy Spacek, In the Bedroom
Renée Zellweger, Bridget Jones’s Diary

All hail Halle Berry. Finally given a role that required more than beauty, the actress embodied raw, aching hurt as a woman who long ago learned life was short on favors. Backup pick: Spacek, whose intensity as a grieving mother resonated.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Jim Broadbent, Iris
Ethan Hawke, Training Day
Ben Kingsley, Sexy Beast
Ian McKellen, The Lord of the Rings
Jon Voight, Ali

Playing a vicious British gangster with a nasty sense of humor, Ben Kingsley scared our popcorn right out of the bucket, notably when he threatened to extinguish his cigarette in the eyes of a complaining fellow airline passenger. Given that Kingsley last won an Oscar for portraying Gandhi, the man has range. Backup pick: McKellen, because he still managed to emote behind that matted hair and cascading beard.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind
Helen Mirren, Gosford Park
Maggie Smith, Gosford Park
Marisa Tomei, In the Bedroom
Kate Winslet, Iris

Supporting Oscars often go either to relative newcomers or to performers in their golden years. Helen Mirren, at 56, qualifies as neither, but she certainly deserves recognition for her subtle turn as an English manor’s head housekeeper, who for years has been secretly nursing a serious grudge. Though part of an exceptional ensemble cast, Mirren remained a standout. Backup pick: Gosford costar Smith, because no one does snooty better.

AND THE OSCAR SHOULD ALSO GO TO…

Best Director

Robert Altman, Gosford Park
Altman’s latest, a period whodunit focusing on class differences in 1930s England, doesn’t compare to his best (M*A*S*H, Nashville, McCabe & Mrs. Miller), but he has never won an Oscar and is way overdue.

Original Screenplay

Memento, by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan

Every word counted, forward and backward, in last year’s coolest movie.

Best Adapted Screenplay

A Beautiful Mind, by Akiva Goldsman

The tricky central conceit, which allowed viewers inside genius John Nash’s mind, was nearly as brilliant as the character it helped us to understand.

Best Foreign Language Film

Amélie
This delectable French treat riffed inventively and with surreal good humor on Paris and its inhabitants.

Best Original Song

Monsters, Inc.‘s “if I Didn’t Have You,” by Randy Newman

Newman’s the man, year after year.

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