LOS ANGELES, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- With the Golden Globe Award for best drama movie securely in hand, "A Beautiful Mind" may have established itself as the picture to beat for the best picture Oscar, while Russell Crowe and Sissy Spacek appear to be headed for second helpings of Oscar gold.
But the 59th Annual Golden Globe Awards left open any number of questions about the upcoming 74th Annual Academy Awards -- including the question of whether any one movie is in position to dominate the proceedings.
Certainly, there is no "Titanic" in the field, steaming toward a near sweep as James Cameron's maritime disaster epic did with 11 Oscars in 1996.
The awards season track record of "A Beautiful Mind" more closely resembles that of last year's best picture Oscar winner, "Gladiator" -- which won a slew of critics and professional awards, including the Golden Globe for best drama movie, before going on to take five Oscars, including the top prize.
This year's field does not look so formidable, and Crowe is a strong favorite to win a second straight Oscar for his performance as the schizophrenic, Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Forbes.
Denzel Washington -- who was nominated for a Golden Globe for best actor in a drama for his performance as a rogue cop in "Training Day" -- is the only other obviously strong contender. He already has bagged best actor awards from the American Film Institute and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and shared the Boston Film Critics Association best actor honor with Brian Cox, who was recognized for his portrayal of an honorable pedophile in "L.I.E."
Gene Hackman won the Golden Globe for best actor in a musical or comedy -- and stands a good chance of winning his third Oscar -- for his work as the patriarch of a dysfunctional family in the dark comedy, "The Royal Tenenbaums." Hackman won best actor in 1971 for "The French Connection" and best supporting actor in 1992 for "Unforgiven."
Will Smith was the subject of some Oscar buzz before the release of "Ali" last month -- and was nominated for a Golden Globe -- but the buzz has diminished to a barely audible low-grade hum, if that.
Billy Bob Thornton got good notices for his performances in "Monster's Ball" and "The Man Who Wasn't There" but there doesn't seem to be much of a Thornton bandwagon. A dark horse for best actor is British veteran Tom Wilkinson, named best actor by the New York Film Critics Circle for his performance as a grieving father intent on avenging the murder of his son in "In the Bedroom."
Wilkinson's performance is, perhaps understandably, overshadowed by that of his co-star, Sissy Spacek, as the grieving mother. Spacek, who won the best actress Oscar in 1980 for her portrayal of country music legend Loretta Lynn in "Coal Miner's Daughter", isn't exactly running the table of best actress awards but she's coming pretty darn close.
Before winning the Golden Globe, Spacek had already pocketed awards from the American Film Institute, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.
British actress Tilda Swinton, playing a mother who goes to extraordinary lengths to shield her son from a murder rap in "The Deep End," was named best actress by the Boston Society of Film Critics and the Las Vegas Film Critics Society. Like Judi Dench in "Iris" and Halle Berry in "Monster's Ball," Swinton was up for a Golden Globe.
Berry won best actress honors from the National Board of Review for her performance opposite Thornton as a black woman who falls passionately in love with the white corrections officer who executed her husband.
Swinton, Dench and Berry are likely to watch Spacek deliver another acceptance speech when the Oscars are handed out.
The most realistic challenge to Spacek that night will likely come from Nicole Kidman, who won the Golden Globe for best actress in a musical or comedy movie for her performance as a dying dance hall girl in "Moulin Rouge."
A dark horse prospect for a best actress Oscar nomination is Naomi Watts, one of the stars of "Mulholland Drive."
Although conventional wisdom suggests that "A Beautiful Mind" is the front-runner for the best picture Oscar, there is a wild card that must be reckoned with -- "Black Hawk Down."
The top Oscar has gone to a Golden Globe winner in all but three of the last 16 years, but because "Black Hawk Down" was apparently submitted too late to be considered for the Golden Globes, Hollywood can only guess whether it might have taken the prize from "A Beautiful Mind."
Certainly, director Ridley Scott's recreation of the U.S. military misadventure in Somalia in 1993 is highly regarded. It finished at No. 6 on the National Board of Review's list of the 10 best movies of 2001, and was a nominee for best picture at the American Film Institute Awards earlier this month.
Another strong contender for best picture has to be "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" -- even though it came away empty-handed from the Golden Globes, despite having four nominations.
Director Peter Jackson's first movie adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's literary trilogy is one of the most heavily nominated and most honored movies of the year so far.
It won the first-ever AFI Award for best picture and is one of five finalists for the Producers Guild of America Darryl F. Zanuck Producer of the Year Award -- the PGA's best picture award. The NBR honored Jackson with an award for special achievement in filmmaking.
"Moulin Rouge" has to get some consideration for best picture, although Oscar wins have been rare for musical or comedy Golden Globe winners. The exceptions in recent years were "Shakespeare in Love" (1998) and "Driving Miss Daisy (1990).
"Gosford Park" and "Shrek" will probably also get some consideration for best picture, although "Shrek's" prospects for the top Oscar seem to be fading. The computer animated comedy about the gruff but lovable ogre remains the leading contender for the Academy's first-ever Oscar for best animated feature.
The guessing game about Oscar nominations will be over in three weeks, when the Academy announces the nominations for this year's Oscars. Then the serious guessing and handicapping can begin in earnest, leading up to Oscar night, March 24, at the new Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.