With just three weeks till Oscar nods are announced Feb. 13, here's the inside track on the eight lead contenders

By Dave Karger
Updated January 26, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

Welcome to crunch time. With Oscar ballots now sitting on Academy members’ countertops, Best Picture is still up for grabs. On Jan. 10, the Producers Guild named its five Golden Laurel Award nominees. (Last year, the group gave a boost to The Cider House Rules, which had been virtually shut out of previous awards.) Alongside expected candidates Gladiator, Erin Brockovich, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were surprises Almost Famous and Billy Elliot. That’s a setback for Traffic and Cast Away, and a blow to Miramax’s hopes for Chocolat. Its eight-year Oscar streak on the line, the studio is betting voters will be swayed by its stepped-up campaign — which has recently begun touting the sweet-toothed fable as an ”issue” movie with endorsements from Rev. Jesse Jackson and Anti-Defamation League head Abraham Foxman.