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Who will win? Get our Oscar predictions

Entertainment Weekly predicts the victors in Oscar 2004’s top six races

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Oscar Illustration by Thomas Fuchs

Who will win? Get our Oscar predictions

With a roster of shocking nominees — Keisha Castle-Who? — this Oscar season presents some exciting — and novel — match-ups. There’s the deglammed (Charlize Theron) vs. the reglammed (Diane Keaton). For Best Actor, it’s Bill Murray (a comic actor in a serious role) vs. Johnny Depp (a serious actor in a comic role) vs. Sean Penn (Mr. Serious on both counts).

The victors are as unpredictable as Gollum without his lithium. But don’t panic, Oscar-pool pals: After much deliberation, we at Entertainment Weekly offer you the smartest picks for your party wagers. Get ready for the Feb. 29 ceremony (8 p.m., ABC) by studying our predictions on the following pages.

Best Actor

Who’ll win Best Actor in 2004?

Throughout awards season, best-actor honors have been split almost evenly between ”Mystic River”’s Sean Penn and ”Lost in Translation”’s Bill Murray; the prelims culminated in Golden Globes for both, but we expect Penn to prevail here. He’s a four-time nominee who has achieved iconic status without ever winning (no, not even for ”Dead Man Walking”); he gave two standout performances last year (see also ”21 Grams”); and his work as ”River”’s bereaved and enraged father was both moving and menacing, a combo few actors can master. In Murray’s favor, he’s an underrated star in an underappreciated genre (comedy); and given his work in ”Groundhog Day” and ”Rushmore,” this should be his third nomination, not his first. But Penn’s emotionalism probably beats Murray’s minimalism, and the presence of Johnny Depp in ”Pirates of the Caribbean” skims off some of Murray’s comedy votes. As for ”House of Sand and Fog”’s Ben Kingsley and ”Cold Mountain”’s Jude Law, their emotionally constricted roles aren’t the best ticket to the podium. /* <![CDATA[ */ if ( '' == '' && tiiDetectFlash(6) ) { document.write('’); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); } else { document.write(”); } /* ]]> */

Best Actress

Who’ll win Best Actress in 2004?

A young up-and-comer who shocked critics with a transformative role in an indie drama versus a seasoned Hollywood actress who shone with a more comedic performance from a studio. Sound familiar? That’s because it happened four years ago, when ”Boys Don’t Cry”’s Hilary Swank faced off against ”American Beauty”’s Annette Bening in this category. After splitting some early prizes — Swank took the Golden Globe while Bening won the SAG Award — Swank landed the Oscar. This year, history should repeat itself when ”Monster”’s Charlize Theron narrowly tops ”Something’s Gotta Give”’s Diane Keaton. Both are admired performances (and the only nominations for each of their respective films), but the added heft of Theron’s real-life serial-killer alter ego, Aileen Wuornos, should clinch it, despite the vote-siphoning from Naomi Watts’ equally devastating performance in ”21 Grams.” Meanwhile, for Samantha Morton (”In America”) and 13-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes (”Whale Rider”), we think the nomination is their award. /* <![CDATA[ */ if ( '' == '' && tiiDetectFlash(6) ) { document.write('’); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); } else { document.write(”); } /* ]]> */

Best Supporting Actor

Who’ll win Best Supporting Actor in 2004?

For some Academy members, voting in this category might end up being simply a process of elimination. Veteran actor Alec Baldwin earned his first-ever nomination as the menacing casino boss in ”The Cooler,” but savagery, however convincing, didn’t do the trick for ”Sexy Beast”’s Ben Kingsley two years ago. After being overlooked for ”Amistad,” Djimon Hounsou made the list this year as the ailing neighbor from ”In America,” but the role isn’t as fleshed out as some of his competitors’. Ditto ”The Last Samurai”’s Ken Watanabe, whose noble swordsman lacks a big whopper of a scene. And Benicio Del Toro, who won this race in 2001 for ”Traffic,” might lose points from voters who find ”21 Grams” too bleak. That leaves ”Mystic River”’s murder suspect Tim Robbins, who brings spectacular spookiness to the film’s most enigmatic character. After taking home twin supporting- and lead-actor trophies at the Golden Globes and Broadcast Film Critics awards, Robbins and costar Sean Penn could very well do it again on Oscar night. /* <![CDATA[ */ if ( '' == '' && tiiDetectFlash(6) ) { document.write('’); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); } else { document.write(”); } /* ]]> */

Best Supporting Actress

Who’ll win Best Supporting Actress in 2004?

Bad news for RenĂ©e Zellweger: The ”Cold Mountain” costar is the early front-runner in a race that the early frontrunner almost always loses. On paper, she seems all but a lock: A win would allow the Academy to grant her a consolation prize for losing to Nicole Kidman in last year’s Best Actress race, and her ornery farm girl in ”Mountain” was a scenery-chompin’ standout. Only problem: ”The Academy” doesn’t pick winners — voters do, and they love to upend expectations. The wrenching work of ”Thirteen”’s Holly Hunter and ”Mystic River”’s Marcia Gay Harden would probably make them strong contenders if both hadn’t won before, and first-timer Patricia Clarkson seems destined to win eventually — but for a stronger movie than ”Pieces of April.” That leaves one possible upset winner: Shohreh Aghdashloo, whose work as a frustrated wife in ”House of Sand and Fog” has knocked out moviegoers — and don’t discount the potentially history-making impact of honoring an Iranian actress. We’ll give Zellweger the edge, but barely. /* <![CDATA[ */ if ( '' == '' && tiiDetectFlash(6) ) { document.write('’); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); } else { document.write(”); } /* ]]> */

Best Director

Who’ll win Best Director in 2004?

Peter Jackson. What, you thought we were going to pussyfoot around? Peter Jackson. If we haven’t been clear, we’ll say it one more time. Peter Jackson. Let us count the reasons: three (movies), nine (hours), one billion (U.S. box office dollars). But let us also make clear that this is not about quantity: Jackson’s work on ”The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” is the kind of detailed, dauntless, visionary directing that the Oscars were invented to honor. How can he lose? Then again, since we, ahem, did not exactly, uh, call this race correctly for Roman Polanski last year, let us note that ”Mystic River”’s Clint Eastwood or ”Master and Commander”’s Peter Weir would probably deserve this in any other year, that ”Lost in Translation”’s Sofia Coppola did a pitch-perfect job, and that ”City of God”’s surprise nominee Fernando Meirelles got this far because voters were wowed by his movie. And let us also note that we know ”The Return of the King” has its detractors — but they aren’t likely to rally around a single alternative. So, in conclusion: Peter Jackson. /* <![CDATA[ */ if ( '' == '' && tiiDetectFlash(6) ) { document.write('’); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); } else { document.write(”); } /* ]]> */

Best Picture

Who’ll win Best Picture in 2004?

Sorry, competition: Those hobbits are on a roll. In addition to becoming the highest-grossing film released in 2003, ”The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” picked up the biggest prizes at the Golden Globe, Broadcast Film Critics, and Producers Guild awards. It could have won the Westminster dog show if it had entered. The entire trilogy has earned 30 Oscar nominations and six trophies so far, but only in technical categories. Will some Academy members check off ”King” in honor of all three films? Sure, but the finale alone will inspire just as many votes by itself. With the most acting nods this year (three), ”Mystic River” will likely place second thanks to heavy support from actors, the Academy’s largest branch, while the tiny-budgeted ”Lost in Translation” has the biggest emotional punch per dollar. Meanwhile, the high nomination count for ”Seabiscuit” and ”Master and Commander” indicates across-the-board support. But anything other than a hobbit stampede at the end of the telecast would mark the biggest upset in years. /* <![CDATA[ */ if ( '' == '' && tiiDetectFlash(6) ) { document.write('’); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); document.write(”); } else { document.write(”); } /* ]]> */