LOS ANGELES, March 10 (UPI) -- There's no question about it now, there is a real "Chicago" bandwagon and it's gathering momentum two weeks before the 75th Academy Awards.
There's always the chance that academy voters will not run to form, but it seems to have become a remote possibility in recent weeks. The film version of Bob Fosse's hit Broadway musical has its credentials in order to become the first musical to take the Best Picture Oscar since "Oliver!" in 1968, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hands out its 75th Academy Awards less than two weeks from now.
"Chicago" has won the Producers Guild of America's Darryl F. Zanuck Award for best picture of 2002, and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Golden Globe for best musical or comedy.
Renée Zellweger established herself as a front-runner for Best Actress on Sunday with a Screen Actors Guild Award for best performance by a female actor in a leading role -- to go with her Golden Globe for best actress in a musical or comedy.
Rob Marshall goes into the Oscars as a heavy favorite to win the Best Director Oscar, bolstered by his win at the Directors Guild of America Awards last week.
"Chicago" goes into the home stretch under the whip of Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein, who has less than one week to drive the movie to the finish line -- which arrives next Monday when Oscar ballots are due. Of all the historical precedents the movie has in its favor, perhaps none is more significant than Weinstein's amply demonstrated passion for going all out to promote his favorite projects.
The movie almost certainly picked up some votes after SAG honored Zellweger and her cast mates on Sunday. Catherine Zeta-Jones won for best performance by a female actor in a supporting role, and the cast -- including SAG nominees Richard Gere and Queen Latifah -- won for outstanding performance by an ensemble in a motion picture.
Zellweger and Zeta-Jones might march through the next two weeks as relentlessly as Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly -- the singing, dancing man-killers they played in Marshall's energetic satire on social corruption and ruthless ambition.
Gere, who wasn't nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, nevertheless said that he didn't know "what it really meant to be an actor" until he made "Chicago" with Marshall and company.
"I think we all feel the same way," he said. "We all felt we were in the 'Rob Marshall Vaudeville & Medicine show.' There's one guy that made this whole thing work and that's Rob Marshall."
The corrupt characters of "Chicago" -- including Gere's money-grubbing lawyer, Billy Flynn -- somehow managed to connect with movie fans, despite their considerable personal shortcomings.
Even Gere acknowledged that the characters are "all scumbags," but he thinks he knows why the public loves them.
"Basically because they're all human," said Gere.
Zellweger said the movie is probably benefiting from a combination of factors.
"It could be timing," she said. "It could be that Rob Marshall conceptualized it in a way that appealed to modern audiences. It's beautiful to look at. It's satire. It's fun. It's really entertaining. It's been a while since you had a movie where you went, 'Yeah! I'm glad I'm here!'"
Christine Baranski, who played the reporter Mary Sunshine, practically guaranteed Oscar gold for "Chicago." She said she felt that way since she first saw the finished product.
"I thought, 'There can't be a better movie this year. There can't be a greater achievement,'" said Baranski. "I think it will win the Oscar. But I'm prejudiced."
Zellweger wasn't so sure Sunday.
"I don't know from the process so I can't speak eloquently about it," she said. "But were sure are having a good time tonight."