With a whaddya gunna do shrug, it's often acknowledged that the Oscars are political rather than merit-based awards. However, this unsurprising fact is routinely submerged by the national pastime of celebrity fawning.
The beauty of the Oscars is that they offer something for everyone. Disgruntled cinastes can fulminate about the films the academy ignored; aspiring thespians can triumph ubiquitously through the stars teary-eyed acceptance speeches, and cultural conservatives can work themselves into a histrionic rage over the amassed presence of the Hollywood liberal elite. In one auditorium: adulterers, drug addicts, homosexuals, Democratic Party contributors, and the people who love them. And ya know what James Dobson, William Bennett, Pat Robertson, Robert Bork and Ed Bircham? They look gorgeous ... and America loves them. Hooray for Hollywood!
But what's never mentioned -- and perhaps it's because no one except a few film critics care -- is that the Oscars are about as democratic as a North Korean primary election. Academy Award members are not even required to see the films they vote on.
Studios like Paramount, Universal, and most notably Miramax, spend millions on their multi-media campaigns to court Oscar voters. Just last week, the Los Angeles Times broke a story about veteran director Robert Wise, who used his most recent Los Angeles Daily News column to endorse Miramax's Gangs of New York for best feature film. Turns out that every word was penned by Miramax publicist, Murray Weissman.
Still, we'll be watching on Sunday night, assuming the Oscars aren't pre-empted by the war -- to hear the political asides, to see the gowns and jewelry, and to see if there are any surprise winners. Here are our choices of who will likely win, who should win and who should have been nominated.
Best Picture: Chicago, Gangs of New York, The Hours, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Pianist
Dicker: Chicago will take it, though my vote is for The Pianist. It's unwise to bet against the marketing muscle that is Miramax, especially when it includes such brute star power (Zellweger, Gere, Zeta-Jones, Latifah, et al).
Eastburn: Chicago will win. Chicago should win, though of all these films, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers will be the one we're still watching 20 years from now.
Best Actor: Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt); Adrien Brody (The Pianist); Michael Caine (The Quiet American); Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs of New York); Nicolas Cage (Adaptation)
Dicker: Daniel Day-Lewis should and will win. I didn't much care for the jumbling historical mess that was Gangs of New York, but Lewis's menacing portrayal of Bill the Butcher made its epic length somewhat bearable.
Eastburn: Day-Lewis will win because, as always, he so completely inhabits the role. My sentimental favorite is Michael Caine in The Quiet American for his gentle rage against aging and inevitable change. Should have been nominated: Alfred Molina for Frida and Adam Sandler for his unexpectedly stunning performance in Punch-Drunk Love.
Best Actress: Salma Hayek (Frida); Nicole Kidman (The Hours); Diane Lane (Unfaithful); Julianne Moore (Far From Heaven); Rene Zellweger (Chicago).
Dicker: It's Julianne Moore's turn and I'm all for it. How the thinking man's supermodel manages to balance her perennial presence on women's magazine covers with unassailable cinematic bona fides is beyond me. To catalogue her films is to see a list of some of the best indy cinema of the last fifteen years. Far From Heaven is no exception.
Eastburn: I fear that Zellweger will win because of the pre-Oscar hype for Chicago, though Catherine Zeta-Jones kicked her butt in an equally strenuous role in that film. Diane Lane should win for her brave, sensual performance as a loving but cheating wife. Should have been nominated: Meryl Streep for The Hours, the best of the three main characters; Edie Falco for The Sunshine State.
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)
Dicker: I fear it's going to Paul Newman in the thoroughly pretentious Road to Perdition. Newman was actually delightful as a thug-in-tweed Irish mob patriarch, but it was a ray of light in a pandering and simplistic daddy tale. This should be Chris Cooper's award. He lends an unpredictable and strangely elegiac quality to Adaptation's orchid swindler.
Eastburn: Chris Cooper should and will win. A great category -- Walken was wonderful in Catch Me if You Can. Reilly played the cuckolded husband three times this year but was more interesting in The Good Girl where he was perpetually stoned and eternally good-hearted. Shoulda been contendahs: Brendan Fraser for The Quiet American; Dennis Quaid for Far From Heaven
Supporting Actress: Kathy Bates (About Schmidt); Julianne Moore (The Hours); Queen Latifah (Chicago); Meryl Streep (Adaptation); Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago)
Dicker: I think Catherine Zeta-Jones will get it for Chicago, which would not be undeserved. However, I stand solidly behind the bare behind of Kathy Bates, who nailed the passive-aggressive Colorado New-Ager to a tee in About Schmidt.
Eastburn: Catherine Zeta-Jones will win because hers was really a leading role that overwhelms the rest of these. All the women in Lovely and Amazing should have been nominated here.
Director: Rob Marshall (Chicago); Martin Scorsese (Gangs of New York); Stephen Daldry (The Hours); Roman Polanski (The Pianist); Pedro Almodvar (Talk to Her)
Dicker: Someone should dust off D.A. Pennebaker, grandfather of cinema vrit, and have him direct a version of his campaign trail classic, The War Room, about the Oscars. As Frank DiGiacomo pointed out in the New York Observer, Martin Scorsese has been carted out like an Italian Santa Claus to more red-carpet celebrity roasts in the pre-Oscar electioneering than it's worth naming. Scorsese certainly deserves an Oscar, but not for Gangs. I'd prefer to see Polanski take it for The Pianist, an infinitely more provocative and disciplined film.
Eastburn: Scorsese will win what should be a lifetime achievement award for one of his messiest, least satisfying films. I'd prefer any of the others, even a glowing nod to Almodvar for making one of the most original films of 2002. Spike Jonze (Adaptation) and Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) both deserved nominations.
Foreign Film: El Crimen del Padre Amaro, Mexico; Hero, China; The Man Without a Past, Finland; Nowhere in Africa, Germany; Zus & Zo, The Netherlands
Dicker: I haven't seen any of these, though the Inuit epic The Fast Runner should easily be on this list.
Eastburn: Why is Y Tu Mam Tambin not nominated? Is was made by the same director as El Crimen del Padre Amaro and is far superior.
Adapted Screenplay: Peter Hedges, Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz, About a Boy; Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman, Adaptation, Bill Condon, Chicago; David Hare, The Hours; Ronald Harwood, The Pianist
Dicker: The screenplay awards are always a tricky guess, I reckon this bone will be thrown to The Hours, in part due to the popularity of the novel. I'd like to see it go to Charlie Kaufman for Adaptation.
Eastburn: Possibly the most seriously competitive category of this year's awards. All are terrific. I'm predicting Adaptation in a well-deserved upset.
Original Screenplay: Todd Haynes, Far From Heaven; Jay Cocks, Steve Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan, Gangs of New York; Nia Vardalos, My Big Fat Greek Wedding; Pedro Almodvar, Talk to Her; Carlos Cuaron and Alfonso Cuarn, Y Tu Mam Tambin
Dicker: Given that it's nominated for only one award, it's only fair that it go to Y Tu Mama Tambien. This was a tremendous script and an example of voice-over narration used not as a crutch, but as an integral part of the story's texture.
Eastburn: The Academy will pick Gangs or Far From Heaven. I'm voting for Almodvar and Talk to Her.
Art Direction: Chicago, Frida, Gangs of New York, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Road to Perdition
Dicker: Scorsese's Five Points felt so real you could almost smell the sewage. For those who were intrigued by Gangs' Victorian New York setting, treat yourself to Luc Sante's -- one of the film's historic advisers -- wonderful book, Low Life: a thorough history of a time when New York was a lot more depraved than its post-Giuliani version.
Eastburn: I'm going with The Two Towers for sheer magnificence.
Cinematography: Chicago, Far From Heaven, Gangs of New York, The Pianist, The Road to Perdition
Dicker: The Pianist should take this, but Gangs likely will.
Eastburn: Road to Perdition just might be the dark-horse winner here. The cinematography was far and away the film's strong point.
Original Score: Catch Me if You Can, John Williams; Far From Heaven, Elmer Bernstein; Frida, Elliot Goldenthal; The Hours, Philip Glass; Road to Perdition, Thomas Newman
Dicker: Far From Heaven, though John Williams could always use another to add to his gold colony.
Eastburn: I love all these scores, but want Frida to win here. The music was beautiful and truly lifted the movie up.
Gross injustices: Minority Report not nominated for Visual Effects. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers not nominated for Makeup.
Couldn't care less about: Best Song. The category should be abolished since the songs really never have anything to do with the movie, but usually serve to promote the careers of washed-up, middle-aged rockers. Eminem should win.
Guilty pleasure we hope to enjoy: Seeing Michael Moore win the Best Documentary category for the flawed but compelling Bowling for Columbine.