EW.com tells you why the ingenue may win out in a race where experience can be a liability

By Dave Karger
Updated March 22, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST
Almost Famous: Neal Preston

To give you the inside track on this year’s likeliest Oscar winners, EW.com is talking to industry watchers, studying the early awards show victors, and reading those mysterious but meaningful Hollywood tea leaves. Read on to see who’s nominated and who’s likeliest to win. And check back often — one category is being updated EACH DAY until the night of the ceremony itself (March 25). And the nominees are…

Usually as Oscar night approaches, the acting races become more clear cut. But this year’s Supporting Actress competition is still tough to call, considering that Kate Hudson and Judi Dench split the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild awards. This is the one category where any of the nominees could feasibly win –”Pollock”’s Marcia Gay Harden delivers a fierce performance, while ”Billy Elliot”’s Julie Walters has to qualify as the sentimental favorite. Knowing that the Academy has a soft spot for nymphet Hollywood offspring, especially in this category (think past winners Mira Sorvino and Angelina Jolie), you can give the edge to Hudson — but don’t count out an upset.

In recent Oscar history the Supporting Actor category seems to follow one of two main trajectories: edgy or stodgy. Sometimes the Academy hands the trophy to a respected but not entirely well known actor (think Kevin Spacey for ”The Usual Suspects”); other times, they go for the veteran star who delivered a career capping performance (Martin Landau in ”Ed Wood,” or even last year’s winner ”The Cider House Rules”’ Michael Caine). This year the voters could go either way. Edgy is represented by ”Traffic”’s Benicio Del Toro, while in the stodgy corner sits Albert Finney for ”Erin Brockovich.” They both emerged victorious at the Screen Actors Guild (since Del Toro was submitted in the lead actor category). Considering Del Toro eked out a win among that super tough competition, count on edgy to carry the torch this year.

Hmmm. What on earth is there possibly to say about the Best Actress race? Well, we could tally up all the major awards Julia Roberts has received in her lifetime. There’re three Golden Globes, two ShoWest awards, three Blockbuster awards, five People’s Choice Awards, and a Screen Actors Guild Award. What’s missing? Oscar. She’s been nominated twice, for Supporting Actress for ”Steel Magnolias” (she lost to ”My Left Foot”’s Brenda Fricker) and for Best Actress for ”Pretty Woman” (Kathy Bates won for ”Misery” instead). But on Sunday, her loser status is bound to change, unless Ellen Burstyn or Laura Linney is able to pull off one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history. Yeah, right.

In its first six years of existence, the Screen Actors Guild awards successfully predicted the Best Actor Oscar winner every single year. But this year’s SAG ceremony won’t help clarify the Academy race one bit, since ”Traffic”’s Benicio Del Toro was mysteriously submitted in the lead category and ended up winning. Had Tom Hanks or Russell Crowe picked up the SAG award, his chances would have looked very strong going into the big day March 25. But Del Toro’s victory means it’s still a three way race — between Hanks, Crowe, and SAG snubbee Ed Harris. Hanks’s Golden Globe win and two previous Oscar victories give him the edge, but this race seems ripe for an upset.

With less than a week left before the big night, Oscar’s most important race is definitely tightening up. At the Screen Actors Guild awards, the ensemble trophy (SAG’s version of Best Picture) went to the cast of ”Traffic.” Some might consider that an upset, since ”Gladiator” was also in the running, but it really wasn’t that much of a surprise — ”Gladiator”’s acting isn’t exactly its strong suit. Surmising that ”Gladiator”’s Oscar chances are hurt by ”Traffic”’s SAG victory, therefore, is like saying ”Titanic” didn’t have a shot after ”The Full Monty” won the SAG ensemble award. If a Best Picture upset is in the cards, ”Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is the movie that’ll deliver the blow. But count on ”Gladiator” to emerge victorious yet again.

Read All About Oscar 2001 for EW.com’s comprehensive Academy Awards coverage.

Or see photos from the nominated movies at People.com