The Oscar games begin! Here's a look at the players.

The Emmys might have been hampered by the events of Sept. 11, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences insists the Oscars will go on as planned. ”We’re committed to the safety of our guests,” says spokesman Ric Robertson, ”and we’ll be in Hollywood come March.” Does that mean we can start obsessing about who is going to be nominated? Absolutely. As the holiday movie season usually provides the majority of candidates, we’ve conferred with strategists to compile this preliminary rundown of what the playing field looks like in the six major categories.

BEST PICTURE Two high-profile true-life tales seem to be amassing a lot of buzz: Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind, featuring Russell Crowe as troubled mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr., and Michael Mann’s Ali, starring Will Smith as the titular boxing champ. Meanwhile, a pair of directors who’ve scored Best Picture nods with their last two films will try to make it three in a row. Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile) is back with The Majestic, and Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules, Chocolat) steps up with his adaptation of Annie Proulx’s acclaimed novel The Shipping News. Also receiving attention are the import Amelie (which happens to be France’s Best Foreign Language Film submission) and the Judi Dench starrer Iris.

In the blockbuster department, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring could impress voters with its scope and special effects, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone certainly hopes to conjure up Oscar’s attention. Nicole Kidman’s smash chiller The Others might snag a slot a la 1999’s The Sixth Sense. Shrek, the front-runner for Oscar’s new Best Animated Feature category, may also compete for the night’s biggest prize. And while the heist comedy Ocean’s 11 might not scream Oscar, anything directed by last year’s double nominee (and winner), Steven Soderbergh, practically demands to be considered. Other possible contenders: Vanilla Sky, which reteams Jerry Maguire’s Cameron Crowe and Tom Cruise; the war drama Black Hawk Down from Ridley Scott (whose Gladiator took Best Picture last year); and The Royal Tenenbaums, from Rushmore director Wes Anderson. But a pair of films from earlier in the year should not be ruled out: Moulin Rouge (being rereleased this month) and Memento (already doing brisk business on video).

BEST ACTOR Denzel Washington has been earning fantastic reviews cast against type in Training Day. And since the Academy is known to favor actors who play real people, strong candidates should include A Beautiful Mind’s Russell Crowe (last year’s winner for Gladiator, he’s angling for three nods in as many years) and Ali’s Will Smith. (Following that line of reasoning, Benjamin Bratt could slip into the mix for the gritty Pinero.) Playing to other Oscar soft spots, Sean Penn is a mentally challenged man in I Am Sam, and Kevin Kline’s a dying dad in Life as a House. It’s also conceivable that former winner Kevin Spacey will receive pushes for both K-PAX and the more Oscar-friendly Shipping News.

A Beautiful Mind
  • Movie
  • 135 minutes