Predicting the Oscars

Every year, 5,607 artists in the film industry are sent ballots from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Their votes make up one of the most watched television events of the year.

And every year, we try to figure out who is going to win at the Oscars.

But with reports that some Oscar voters simply give their ballots to their secretaries or sometimes children, there is bound to be room for error. Not that there is an exact method to determine who actually deserves an Oscar more than another nominee. Rather it is nearly impossible to know who will actually win before the presenter fumbles with those hard-to-open envelopes.

But every year, there are a couple guarantees that help determine the outcome of some awards.

For example, there is always the ?belle of the ball? ? the female actress who no one expected to be there but walks away a winner. This year, Best Actress nominee Halle Berry and Supporting Actress Jennifer Connelly have a shot.

There is always the ?sympathy vote? ? the award that goes to a nominee who has either been nominated 10 times and never won or is too old to ever have another chance. This year, Composer Randy Newman, Director Robert Altman and Supporting Actor Ian McKellen are in the running.

There is always someone playing the ?race card? ? although usually deserved, a minority is almost assured an Oscar when more than one is nominated (especially in a year with three). So will it be Berry, or one of Best Actor nominees Will Smith and Denzel Washington?

Or will Russell Crowe repeat as Best Actor for two years in a row, like Tom Hanks did in 1993-94?

There is always the question of whether the Academy will split the best picture and director prizes. Two times in the past three years have, and it may happen again with A Beautiful Mind and Lord of the Rings going head to head.

And can a film that has the most nominations lose the Best Picture Oscar? It hasn?t happened in 10 years.

And even though all these questions will be answered Sunday evening when the 74th Academy Awards takes place, it?s fun to try and guess who will win, anyway.

The trend during the last decade has been to honor the Best Picture nominees for different achievements. Now, the question is, ?How do you figure out what part of the film gets honored??

Lord of the Rings leads the pack with 13 nominations ? tied for second most ever ? with A Beautiful Mind and Moulin Rouge close behind with eight each.

This year is reminiscent of 1998 when Shakespeare In Love had the most nominations while Saving Private Ryan was still the favorite for Best Picture. Although Shakespeare won, Steven Spielberg won the Best Director Oscar. The split could happen again because Mind director Ron Howard has been given a newfound respect as a director (he wasn?t even in the running when his film Apollo 13 was nominated in 1995). However, A Beautiful Mind has recently been on the receiving end of negative press regarding inaccuracies about its subject, John Nash, and therefore, it may not be respected enough to overtake Rings.

Crowe, who plays Nash, is on the Best Actor short list for the third consecutive year. He will be up against Washington for what some say is the most menacing character he ever played in Training Day. Washington, who is known for playing nice guys, showed a range many did not expect he could pull off and may be rewarded with a second Oscar for his efforts. But the Academy may want to stick to honoring its best picture nominees and give it to humble British actor Tom Wilkinson for his powerful fatherly role in In the Bedroom.

If Wilkinson doesn?t take the cake, his co-star Sissy Spacek almost surely will after giving what some people are calling a ?comeback performance.? However, the momentum has swayed in favor of Berry for her turnaround role in Monster?s Ball.

While the Best Actress race is down to two, the Best Supporting Actor competition is an open field. With the exception of Training Day?s Ethan Hawke, this award could be handed out to any of the older gentlemen honored here. But look for The Academy to pay tribute to Ian McKellen for his work in Lord of the Rings. However, Las Vegas oddsmakers are putting money on Jim Broadbent for Iris, while Hollywood buzz surrounds Sexy Beast?s Ben Kingsley.

Buzz has also been on the side of previous winner Marisa Tomei in the Best Supporting Actress category for her work in Bedroom. But it may not be enough to overtake Screen Actor?s Guild winner Helen Mirren (Gosford Park) or Golden Globe winner Connelly.

With Connelly likely to be the belle of the ball, it appears as if Gosford Park will be the nominated film that walks away empty handed this year, which will mark director Robert Altman?s seventh time as only a bride?s maid.

But what about Moulin Rouge? While Kidman doesn?t appear to be much of a threat to Berry and Spacek, the pseudo-musical is still in the running for Editing, Art Direction, Costume Design and Makeup.

Rings looks like it will take most of the remaining technical awards, with Sound and Visual Effects adding to its likely Screenplay Adaptation win.

In the Original Screenplay category, Memento looks like a lock if you consider the film was widely whispered a Best Picture snub. Not to mention it is the most original ? or weirdest ? film to show up on the silver screen last year.

Other locks include Shrek in the inaugural Animated Feature category and The Man Who Wasn?t There for its black-and-white Cinematography. There?s nothing that Oscar loves more than films poking fun at the movie industry and modern movies shot in black and white.

It?s down to Amélie and No Man?s Land in the Foreign Film category (the only one not open to all Academy members), but the cheeky French import will likely draw from its box office appeal as well as its four other nominations to take the Oscar.

But as far as who and what will actually win on Sunday, one person?s opinion is just as good as the next.