Check out the top contenders for Oscar 2003. Will it be Jack vs. Cusack? Get a jump on the race with our fall movie lineup
Jack Nicholson, About Schmidt
Credit: Jack Nicholson: © New Line Cinema

Conventional wisdom says the later the month, the greater the number of potential Academy Award contenders. Here’s the very early line on how the fall could fill out the ballot.

SEPTEMBER ”Elizabeth” director Shekhar Kapur returns with ”The Four Feathers,” while two other movies are packed with previous Oscar winners: ”Moonlight Mile” (Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon) and ”The Banger Sisters” (Sarandon, Goldie Hawn, and Geoffrey Rush).

OCTOBER Celebrated directors abound, with projects by Mike Leigh (”All or Nothing”), Jonathan Demme (”The Truth About Charlie”), and Paul Thomas Anderson (”Punch-Drunk Love”). Meanwhile, Salma Hayek and onetime nominee Greg Kinnear tackle formidable biopics with ”Frida” and ”Auto Focus,” respectively, while the ensemble piece ”White Oleander” stars Renée Zellweger and Michelle Pfeiffer.

NOVEMBER Pedro Almodovar, whose ”All About My Mother” scored a best foreign film Oscar, aims to repeat with ”Talk to Her.” Two-time nominee Julianne Moore reteams with her ”Safe” director Todd Haynes in ”Far From Heaven,” while past supporting-actor winner Kevin Kline turns serious with ”The Emperor’s Club”; and ”My Left Foot” director Jim Sheridan leaves Ireland with his latest (untitled) project. The Sundance hit ”Blue Car” has the buzz of a ”You Can Count on Me.” And could teaming up with ”L.A. Confidential” Oscar winners Curtis Hanson and Kim Basinger lead to golden glory for ”8 Mile”’s Eminem?

DECEMBER Call it the Big Directors club: Martin Scorsese (”Gangs of New York,” featuring long-lost Best Actor winner Daniel Day-Lewis), Steven Spielberg (”Catch Me if You Can,” starring two-time winner Tom Hanks), Stephen Daldry (”The Hours,” with Meryl Streep, the busy Julianne Moore, and last year’s Best Actress nominee Nicole Kidman), Spike Jonze (”Adaptation”), Spike Lee (”The 25th Hour”), Roman Polanski (”The Pianist”), and Roberto Benigni (”Pinocchio”) all deliver new features. Meanwhile, last year’s Best Actor, Denzel Washington, directs and costars in ”Antwone Fisher,” and three-time winner Jack Nicholson won raves at Cannes for ”About Schmidt.” The stars of ”The Life of David Gale” (Kevin Spacey, Laura Linney, and Kate Winslet) boast six nominations among them, while John Cusack and Noah Taylor are gunning for their first nods in ”Max.” ”The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” will try to match the 13 nods and four awards its predecessor earned. And could ”Chicago” be this year’s ”Moulin Rouge”?