Who'll be up for Oscars? Here are the likely suspects

Our WAY early list of Oscar contenders

Need something to discuss over this year’s Thanksgiving feast? Allow us to suggest three turkey talking points: Can ”Chicago” become the first Oscar-winning musical since ”Oliver!” in 1969? Can three actresses from ”The Hours” all earn nominations? And come February, could Eminem be an Academy Award nominee? Pass the stuffing and check out our early shortlists (okay, longlists) for the six main categories.

Best Picture

Our way early look at Best Picture contenders

”Chicago” will try to surpass ”Moulin Rouge”’s Oscar success, while ”The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” aims to become the first nominated sequel since 1990’s ”The Godfather Part III.” ”The Hours” boasts an impressive pedigree — its cast includes six past nominees or winners — while other book-into-movie contenders include the Holocaust drama ”The Pianist” and two period crime sagas: ”Road to Perdition” and ”Gangs of New York” (pictured). ”Perdition” star Tom Hanks also returns with Steven Spielberg’s ”Catch Me if You Can,” which will compete with a push by Twentieth Century Fox for another Spielberg project, ”Minority Report.” Quirkier candidates could include the Jack Nicholson comedy ”About Schmidt,” the trippy biopic ”Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” Spike Jonze’s even trippier ”Adaptation,” and the Mexican crossover hit ”Y Tu Mama Tambien,” which could get an early boost from critics’ groups. Reviewers may also lend some awards heat to the 1950s throwback ”Far From Heaven” and the bizarre romance ”Punch-Drunk Love,” while crowd-pleaser ”My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and potential crowd-pleaser ”Antwone Fisher” could win over the Academy as well. And then there’s the latest entry from Spike Lee, ”25th Hour,” which — Oscar history alert! — if things also go well with ”Adaptation,” could make this the first year two Best Picture nominees were directed by men named Spike.

Best Actor

Our way early look at Best Actor contenders

It could be veterans’ day at the Oscars next year. Jack Nicholson’s turn in ”About Schmidt” (pictured) could lead to a 12th acting nomination, a feat equaled only by Katharine Hepburn and Meryl Streep, and the rest of this category could easily be filled by previous winners: Tom Hanks as a conflicted Mob enforcer in ”Road to Perdition”; Nicolas Cage, who plays twin screenwriters in ”Adaptation”; ”The Quiet American”’s foreign correspondent Michael Caine; Daniel Day-Lewis as ”Gangs of New York”’s murderous Bill the Butcher; ”The Emperor’s Club”’s prep-school teacher Kevin Kline; Al Pacino as ”Insomnia”’s sleep-deprived cop; and Robin Williams as the creepy counterman of ”One Hour Photo.”

That’s not to say a mere past nominee or two couldn’t also make the cut: Two-time nominees Edward Norton (as a drug dealer in ”25th Hour”) and Ralph Fiennes (playing the emotionally disturbed title character in ”Spider”) will try for a hat trick. Greg Kinnear shoots for nod No. 2 as Bob Crane in ”Auto Focus”; ditto Leonardo DiCaprio, recognized for 1993’s ”What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” with ”Gangs of New York” or (more likely, per early buzz) ”Catch Me if You Can.”

The rest of the competitors might all receive their first nominations. Richard Gere shows off his musical-theater skills in ”Chicago.” From earlier in the year, Dennis Quaid and Hugh Grant earned some of the best reviews of their careers for ”The Rookie” and ”About a Boy,” respectively. Three young up-and-comers — ”Antwone Fisher”’s Derek Luke, ”Igby Goes Down”’s Kieran Culkin, and ”The Pianist”’s Adrien Brody — all fill tough title roles, while Campbell Scott (who comes with Oscar pedigree courtesy of his late father, George C.) is winning raves as misogynist ”Roger Dodger.” Anthony LaPaglia plays a fire chief post-9/11 in ”The Guys,” while Sam Rockwell embodies ”Gong Show” host Chuck Barris in ”Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” directed by George Clooney, himself a possibility for ”Solaris.” Finally, Adam Sandler and Eminem could earn nods for their turns in ”Punch-Drunk Love” and ”8 Mile.” Maybe.

Best Actress

EW’s early look at Best Actress contenders

A nomination for ”The Hours”’ Meryl Streep would be her 13th, the most for any actor — male or female — ever. Her ”Hours” costar Nicole Kidman (pictured), unrecognizable as Virginia Woolf, could score a second straight nod after making the list for last year’s ”Moulin Rouge.” And her other ”Hours” costar, Julianne Moore, has already won the best-actress award at the Venice film festival for ”Far From Heaven.” As murderess Roxie Hart in ”Chicago,” Renee Zellweger, up for 2001’s ”Bridget Jones’s Diary,” tries for her second nod in a row, while Emily Watson shoots for three with ”Punch-Drunk Love,” and Sigourney Weaver aims for No. 4 with ”The Guys.” Diane Lane could earn her first nomination for last summer’s ”Unfaithful,” but she’ll have to fend off fresher first-time candidates like ”White Oleander”’s Alison Lohman, ”Secretary”’s Maggie Gyllenhaal, and ”Frida”’s Salma Hayek.

Two Emmy winners — Edie Falco and Jennifer Aniston — are also in the running for their notable big-screen turns in ”Sunshine State” and ”The Good Girl,” respectively. And screenwriter-star Nia Vardalos could score her first two nominations for the surprise smash ”My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

Best Supporting Actor

Our way early look at Best Supporting Actor contenders

Several of this category’s top candidates come in pairs. ”Far From Heaven” features Dennis Quaid (pictured) and Dennis Haysbert as the two men in Julianne Moore’s life, while Paul Newman and Jude Law appear as Tom Hanks’ father figure and would-be killer in ”Road to Perdition.” Leonardo DiCaprio eludes FBI agent Tom Hanks and his own father (Christopher Walken), in ”Catch Me if You Can,” Barry Pepper and Philip Seymour Hoffman play Edward Norton’s buddies in ”25th Hour,” and Christopher Plummer and ”Billy Elliot”’s Jamie Bell could stand out from the Nicholas Nickleby ensemble. Then there’s ”The Two Towers,” for which New Line could launch no fewer than five supporting-actor campaigns, including ones for 2002 nominee Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, and Gollum voice actor Andy Serkis.

Reigning Best Actor Denzel Washington could land in this category (where he won for ”Glory” in 1990) as a psychiatrist in ”Antwone Fisher.” Other possible repeat winners include Robin Williams as ”Insomnia”’s hunted killer and Dustin Hoffman as ”Moonlight Mile”’s grieving dad. Three-time nominee Ed Harris’ two scenes as a dying poet in ”The Hours” could do the trick, while Willem Dafoe shoots for his third nom in this category as swinging pal John Carpenter in ”Auto Focus.” And five respected vets might score their first nods: John C. Reilly as the jilted husband in ”Chicago”; Chris Cooper as ”Adaptation”’s charismatic orchid thief; Ray Liotta as a temperamental cop in ”Narc”; Alfred Molina as painter Diego Rivera in ”Frida”; and mullet-headed Dermot Mulroney as ”About Schmidt”’s waterbed-selling groom.

Best Supporting Actress

Our way early look at Best Supporting Actress contenders

Put simply, if you’re in ”The Hours,” you’re a potential candidate in this category. For starters, Julianne Moore has a juicy role as depressed housewife Laura Brown. Three of her ”Hours” costars could also compete, albeit for different projects: Meryl Streep as author Susan Orlean in ”Adaptation” (pictured), Toni Collette as Hugh Grant’s suicidal semifriend in ”About a Boy,” and Miranda Richardson for her multiple roles in ”Spider.” Past winners who could be up for the statuette include Kathy Bates as one of ”About Schmidt”’s in-laws (her on-screen daughter-in-law Hope Davis might compete as well), ”Insomnia” cop Hilary Swank, and acerbic ”Moonlight Mile” mom Susan Sarandon.

Michelle Pfeiffer could earn her fourth nod for ”White Oleander.” ”Chicago” costars Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah might hear their names called for the first time, as could ”Gangs of New York”’s Cameron Diaz, ”Far From Heaven” gossip Patricia Clarkson, ”Tadpole” cradle robber Bebe Neuwirth, and two lovably domineering movie moms, ”Kissing Jessica Stein”’s Tovah Feldshuh and ”My Big Fat Greek Wedding”’s Lainie Kazan.

Best Director

Our way early look at Best Director contenders

In 2001 a director named Steven (Soderbergh) earned dual nominations for ”Traffic” and ”Erin Brockovich.” Can another Steven — — pull off the same feat next year with ”Catch Me if You Can” and ”Minority Report”? To get even one nomination, he’ll have to fend off recent winner Sam Mendes, who followed up 1999’s ”American Beauty” with ”Road to Perdition,” and a host of other previous nominees. Martin Scorsese could rack up directing nod No. 4 (and his first in more than a decade) for ”Gangs of New York,” while Peter Jackson might make it two years in a row with ”The Two Towers.” Meanwhile, ”The Hours”’ Stephen Daldry and ”Adaptation”’s Spike Jonze are also each gunning for their second citations in this category. And after winning prizes at Cannes, ”Punch-Drunk Love”’s Paul Thomas Anderson and ”The Pianist”’s Roman Polanski could be recognized by Oscar as well.

As for the potential rookies, Alexander Payne (a writing nominee for ”Election”) could make the list for ”About Schmidt,” while past foreign-film winner Pedro Almodovar may break through with ”Talk to Her,” and Spike Lee, who’s earned nods in the writing and documentary categories, looks to enter this race for the first time with ”25th Hour.” First-timers Rob Marshall, who directed ”Chicago,” and Denzel Washington, behind the camera for ”Antwone Fisher” (pictured), may also experience beginner’s luck. Indie filmmakers like ”Far From Heaven”’s Todd Haynes and ”Y Tu Mama Tambien”’s Alfonso Cuaron can’t be counted out. And ”Solaris”’ Steven Soderbergh himself may return two years after his historic Oscar twofer.