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Oscars And All That Jazz

Chicago is their kind of town -- and movie

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Let's begin with a forceful declaration: Without question, Chicago will win the Best Picture Oscar when the awards are handed out next Sunday, March 23. Why start with this bold assertion? Because hopefully it will give me confidence in calling the other races in the organization's 75th annual celebration.With at least two viable candidates in practically every other category besides Best Picture, this has shaped up to be one of the most difficult years in recent memory to predict. A key factor, of course, will be whether this is one of those "sweep mentality" races, when the front-runner wins every award that isn't being secretly swiped by Roberto Benigni. You know the mindset -- for example, when the thatched huts of eight-time winner Gandhi beat the revolutionary cityscapes of Blade Runner for the Best Art Direction & Set Decoration Oscar, or when nine-time winner The English Patient, with its handful of explosions, toppled Independence Day, wall-to-wall with racket, for the Best Sound prize. If Academy members are as ga-ga over Chicago as they appear to be, then there could be no stopping its juggernaut jaunt through the evening's festivities.

With that in mind, let's now move on to predicting the victors in the Big 8 categories. May the Force -- or, in this case, Harvey Weinstein -- be with me.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAYAbout a Boy, Peter Hedges, Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz; Adaptation, Charlie Kaufman; Chicago, Bill Condon; The Hours, David Hare; The Pianist, Ronald Harwood.Prediction: The Hours. In all likelihood, the potential Chicago sweep won't extend to this category. Instead, look for Hare's literary script (the Writer's Guild pick) to take this tony award.

Preference: The Hours. For a story that's largely about introspection and inner demons, it's remarkable to what extent Hare has managed to translate a reportedly "unfilmable" novel into a flesh-and-blood experience that truly comes alive on screen.BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAYFar From Heaven, Todd Haynes; Gangs of New York, Jay Cocks, Steve Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan; My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Nia Vardalos; Talk to Her, Pedro Almodovar; Y Tu Mama Tambien, Carlos Cuaron, Alfonso Cuaron.Prediction: Gangs of New York. Only the script from the Cuaron brothers is out of the running. Gangs is the only Best Picture nominee in this category; Wedding might be rewarded for its potent box office; Heaven might win as a consolation prize for Haynes, who was overlooked in the director category; and the buzz surrounding Talk's daring script has never subsided. This one's extremely hard to call; I'll go with Gangs, if only because it will need a few victories to show for its 10 nominations.

Preference: Far From Heaven. An easy pick. From its "taboo" subjects to the retro rhythms of the dialogue, Haynes' intricate script manages at once to be old-fashioned while also maintaining a modern edge.BEST DIRECTORPedro Almodovar, Talk to Her; Stephen Daldry, The Hours; Rob Marshall, Chicago; Roman Polanski, The Pianist; Martin Scorsese, Gangs of New York.Prediction: Rob Marshall, Chicago. Until Marshall won the Director's Guild Award (an extremely accurate Oscar barometer), I was certain that this would be the year that Scorsese would win his long overdue Oscar. It could still happen -- he certainly places better odds than Polanski (still soiled by that long-ago rape charge) or Daldry and Almodovar (no chance for either). But with Chicago steamrolling its way through all the recent guild awards, it's hard to believe the Academy won't honor the man most responsible for its success.

Preference: Martin Scorsese, Gangs of New York. Here's the funny thing: This isn't a sentimental or career achievement nod on my part. Of the five nominees, I honestly think he most deserves the win (now, add Far From Heaven's Todd Haynes or Minority Report's Steven Spielberg to the ballot and the equation changes). He spent decades trying to get this off the ground, tangled with Miramax head Harvey Weinstein in several well-publicized feuds, and still had enough strength to bring his powerful epic to the screen just as he had envisioned it.BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESSKathy Bates, About Schmidt; Julianne Moore, The Hours; Queen Latifah, Chicago; Meryl Streep, Adaptation; Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago.Prediction: Meryl Streep, Adaptation. Moore might win this as a consolation prize for not taking the Best Actress Oscar, but more likely it's a down-to-the-wire race between Streep and Zeta-Jones. It's been 20 years since Streep's last win, and the all-time record holder for most nominations (13) deserves at least one more statue to go along with her previous two. But Zeta-Jones won the Screen Actors Guild award, is married to Hollywood royalty (Michael Douglas), is presently pregnant (that "aw, how sweet" thing, you know), and is featured in the likely Best Picture winner. Of course, these exact four factors also informed Annette Bening's bid a few years ago for American Beauty, and she still lost. I'll go with Streep, though just barely.

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