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Posted: Monday, March 8th 2004 at 1:06pm

Better Late Than Never ... 2004 Oscar Preview

By by Bill Wilson
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Bill Wilson
I know, I know. The Oscars are probably over by the time that you read this. You'll just have to accept, on my word, that this was posted prior to showtime ... at about 6:15pm Eastern Time on Sunday evening.

Why the delay? Well, I suppose I wanted to wait until the last possible minute before I committed to all this. The Academy awards, frankly, is not a spectacle for which I usually have much use. Like the Emmys, the awards can alternately exhilarate and infuriate me, often within the span of one acceptance speech.

Case in point: the nomination of "Finding Nemo" in the "cartoon" category, rather than considering it for Best Picture. Ludicrous. Is it inferior to "Seabiscuit"? I don't think so.

Also, where are the acting nominations for "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" and for "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World"? Both received numerous TECHNICAL nominations. Perhaps it's an unknown rule within the Academy that films with colons in the title can't be considered for acting honors. I don't care WHO wins tonight, the Best Supporting Actor of the past year was, hands-down, Sean Astin for "Lord." Or perhaps Sir Ian McKellan. But I digress ...

The leading actor trophy will likely go to Sean Penn tonight. I didn't see "Mystic River," but I understand that it was quite good. I also understand a few things about Hollywood. They LOVE director Clint Eastwood, they ADORE Tim Robbins, and they simply go GAGA over Sean Penn, especially on his Iraq policy. I mean, what's to argue. However, Johnny Depp won the SAG award for his performance in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl" (Hey! A colon! Did they miss one?), and he could turn up as a spoiler. The one lock of the night is this. If Penn DOES win, he won't have the class to show up to accept the award. I think he's over in Haiti helping with the transitional government.

Tim Robbins will probably win as Best Supporting Actor, since no hobbits were nominated. But I'd really like to give it to Alec Baldwin. I know, he's politically vacuous, too, and I didn't even SEE "The Cooler." Who did? But frankly, he amazed me twice this year at the movies, once in "The Cat in the Hat" and once in "Along Came Polly." This guy has come a long way since the days when he killed an entire potential franchise in "The Shadow."

Best Actress: Charlize Theron. Didn't see "The Monster," either, but did you see her makeup? Hollywood will honor her just for leaving the house LOOKING like that. Bravo.

I really hope that Renee Zellweiger scores for her performance in "Cold Mountain." Not because she was necessarily better than her competition in the category, but because she seems so SURE that she's going to win. She said as much on television. That kind of humility simply HAS to be recognized.

Animated Feature: "Finding Nemo." No sense in anyone else even showing up. Sorry to see, though, that "Pokemon 4" didn't make the cut.

Art Direction: Better be "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King." Let's face it, in the span of those three LOTR films, we believed that there WAS a Middle Earth, a Shire, and Hogwarts. Wait. That was something else, wasn't it?

Cinematography: "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World." I mean, PLEASE! You could feel the salt water blowing in your face, you could sense the biting wind of winter, and the foreboding shadows of an impending nemesis. This was a great film, and since it probably won't win Best Picture, it deserves everything else it can get. Easily my favorite film of the year.

Costume Design: "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" or I'll know why.

Directing: Peter Jackson for "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King." As a consolation prize. Yep. Keep reading. Seriously, though, his achievement through this trilogy is phenomenal and timeless. Now's the perfect chance to give him his due. Can't wait for "King Kong," by the way.

Documentary Feature: "Capturing the Friedmans." I heard of it. That elevates it amongst the other nominees. Didn't actually see it. But heard of it.

Documentary Short: "Chernobyl Heart." Didn't hear about it. But sounded Communist, and this IS Hollywood.

Film Editing: "Lord of the Rings." Come on. I sat through a three hour and twenty minute movie and never squirmed. That's great editing.

Foreign Language Film: "Twin Sisters." No reason. Just sounded kinda sexy.

Makeup: "Lord of the Rings." Golem. Elves, dwarves, orcs. 'Nuff said.

Original Score: Surprisingly weak category this year. I'm going with momentum here and saying "Lord of the Rings." Don't know why "Master and Commander" wasn't nominated, though.

Original Song: See above. "Into the West," "The Lord of the Rings."

Short Film: Gone Nutty (from "Ice Age," I think) animated, and "Two Soldiers" live action. Just think it would be neat if the Two Soldiers and the Two Sisters won together.

Sound Editing and Sound Mixing: Don't know the difference, but "Master and Commander" deserves both. You could practically feel the boat rocking due to that meticulous soundtrack. And that salt water and sea air thing I mentioned earlier. What a film!

Visual Effects: "Lord of the Rings." Come on! Mount Doom! Breathtaking!

Screenplay: "Mystic River" (adapted), "Finding Nemo" (original).

O.K. Here's where I hope I'm wrong. Tinseltown has always had a stigma against science fiction and fantasy films. "2001" was never even NOMINATED for Best Picture. The first two "Lord of the Rings" films were nominated but lost. Sorry gang.

The Best Picture of 2003, for the record, WAS "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King," and frankly, even if it weren't, it would deserve the prize as acknowledgement of the first two movies. But I'm picking "Mystic River" as the film that the Academy will choose. Again, I hope I'm wrong.

Also, I won't shed too many tears if it's "Master and Commander" that upsets Middle Earth, as that was my personal favorite film of the year.

I also predict a very bad anti-Bush acceptance speech from Mr. Robbins, a very funny Billy Crystal dressed as a hobbit, and a ceremony that won't wrap up until March.

Some things are just so easy to predict.

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