When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announces the nominees Tuesday for the 75th Academy Awards, Oscar handicappers everywhere -- including Las Vegas -- will immediately launch a discussion about odds and probabilities. Studios and publicists will shift their Oscar campaign budgets around to move spending away from prospects who didn't make the cut and put their dough on any horses they might still have in the race.
The Oscar winners will be announced on March 23 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. In many cases, it will be impossible to know whether to attribute the outcomes to the magnificence of the performances onscreen -- or behind the scenes, in the marketing department.
Before we move on to the handful of prospects you might safely bet on, it's best to lay on a disclaimer: There are no guarantees in Hollywood.
Nevertheless, prospective Oscar nominees can be broken down into three main categories -- surefire, good bets and possible but not too darn likely. Let's get started with the surefire, the ones you can write down in indelible ink.
Best Director -- Stephen Daldry ("The Hours"), Peter Jackson ("The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"), Rob Marshall ("Chicago"), Roman Polanski ("The Pianist") and Martin Scorsese ("Gangs of New York").
Original screenplay -- "Gangs of New York" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."
Adapted screenplay -- "About Schmidt," "Adaptation," "Chicago" and "The Hours."
Best Picture -- "Chicago," "Gangs of New York," "The Hours" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers."
All of those performers, screenplays, directors and pictures are as good as nominated -- with the exception, of course, of the ones that are not. It's best to stay flexible when making iron-clad predictions.
Now, the good bets.
Best Director -- Spike Jonze, "Adaptation."
Original screenplay -- "Antwone Fisher," "Far from Heaven."
Adapted screenplay -- "About a Boy," "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," "The Pianist"
Best Picture -- "Adaptation," "Far from Heaven," "The Pianist."
Those performers, screenplays, directors and pictures stand a decent chance of being nominated -- with the exception of Jonze, who would have to shove Daldry, Jackson, Marshall, Roman Polanski or Scorsese aside to make room for himself. Stranger things have happened in Hollywood.
And finally, the possible but not too darn likely.
Best Actress -- Nia Vardalos ("My Big Fat Greek Wedding").
Best Picture -- "Antwone Fisher," "Bowling for Columbine."
If you can afford to lose, you can probably get great odds on those possibilities.
There are also a few movies and performances that probably should have gotten some consideration but were never mentioned as contenders.
A good case can be made, for example, that "Spider-Man" should have been in the running for best picture, adapted screenplay and supporting actress. After all, it is a stunning achievement in motion picture production, David Koepp's screenplay managed to find some personal depth and humanity in a comic book story and the great Rosemary Harris delivered a touching and utterly believable performance as Peter Parker's Aunt May.
But that's all wishful thinking, since -- with the possible exceptions of Danny Elfman's score and, of course, some technical awards -- academy voters are not likely to recognize "Spider-Man." It is not the sort of "important" or "prestige" movie that academy voters historically have tended to favor.
Still, the voters have frequently included crowd-pleasing blockbusters in their annual exercise in self-congratulation.
The list of big-money Best Picture-winners includes "Gladiator," "Forrest Gump," "Ben-Hur" and the biggest box-office draw of them all, "Titanic."
Either way, the Oscar race every year brings to mind the wisdom of Damon Runyon -- that the race may not always be to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet.
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