OK, the Oscar nominations are in. "Chicago" tops the list with 13, followed by "The Hours," with eight. But let's put those two aside for a moment.
"The Two Towers," the spectacular second installment of director Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy (see " 'The Two Towers': The Movie You're Not Gonna Miss, By Kurt Loder"), has nominations in six categories (including, quite rightly, Best Picture, Film Editing, and Visual Effects). But that's down from 13 nominations last year for the first installment, "The Fellowship of the Ring." And while Jackson didn't win in the Best Director category last year, this year he's not even nominated. Possible reason for this faint praise: the Academy will have virtually no choice next year but to shower statuettes on this project after it wraps up with "The Return of the King," due out in the fall.
"Road to Perdition" is nominated in six categories, a happy surprise, considering the mixed response the film received on its release (see " 'Chicago' Nabs Most Oscar Noms; Eminem, U2 Get Props"). There's no nod for Tom Hanks, who gave a muted and carefully considered performance (maybe he's just won too many Oscars by now); but there is a well-deserved Cinematography nomination for the esteemed Conrad Hall, who died in January. Hall won two previous Oscars (most recently, in 2000, for "American Beauty," the first film by "Road" director Sam Mendes), and his ability to, among other things, capture the splashy feel of falling rain and the raw chill of bare, snow-scraped landscapes may have been unsurpassed in his lifetime. He deserves, not just a sentimental award next month, but a full-fledged win on the merits of his work here.
"Adaptation" — what a great movie! — could get Nicolas Cage his second Academy Award. (His first was for "Leaving Las Vegas" in 1995.) And Chris Cooper — so memorable as the screwed-up ex-Marine dad in "American Beauty" — would seem to be a definite contender for his performance as the orchid-thieving backwoods intellectual in this film. (Then again, he's up against 78-year-old Paul Newman, who's been nominated for six Best Actor awards over the course of a long career, but has only won once, and is thus a possible sentimental favorite. Nicolas Cage, for his part, will be facing off for Best Actor against Daniel Day-Lewis, whose acclaimed performance as Bill the Butcher in "Gangs of New York" seems likely to nail that category.)
"Adaptation" screenwriter Charlie Kaufman scores an Oscar first for his insistence on being credited and nominated along with his non-existent brother, Donald. (Both are played by Cage in the film.) Director Spike Jonze should have been nominated, too. Should've! But no.
"Spirited Away" gets a Best Animated Feature Film nomination. Excellent. (Surely it tromps Disney's much-derided "Treasure Planet." Not that I'd actually know.)
And let's hear it for the rappers: Eminem (of course, of course — and very deserving); and Queen Latifah! She gets a Best Supporting Actress nomination — good for her! We love the Queen! (However, she is going up against Catherine Zeta-Jones, Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore, so ...)
You'll notice that "Spider-Man" is only nominated for two measly technical awards. But given the fact that the movie has grossed more than $400 million domestically to date, it's unlikely that anyone associated with the picture will be wiping away tears.
You'll also notice that "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," one of the most inventive films of 2002, doesn't figure in this year's nominations at all. This may be because Miramax didn't release it till December 31, the last possible day to qualify for Academy consideration. The result, presumably: the Academy didn't have time to consider it. Director George Clooney and the film's star, Sam Rockwell, definitely deserve some sort of tribute. Maybe you can help out by going to see it (see "The Oscar Nominations Aren't Even Out Yet But I Already Disagree With Them, By Kurt Loder").
And now, "Chicago" and "The Hours." Let's take the latter film first. There are some people — bad, unevolved people — who've written this one off as a chick-flick, an unendurable agony-fest. Not me, necessarily. Not necessarily. In any event, it could well suck up a number of awards as a prestige feature, not unlike the 1982 Best Picture winner, "Gandhi," a musty, three-hour-plus epic (without hobbits!) that no one in his or her right mind would sit through today.
And "Chicago"? Well, "Chicago"'s a musical. A very, very good musical. But a musical. Old-line Hollywood loves a musical, and I'm willing to bet two, maybe three bucks that this one sweeps the Oscars next month. However, in the grand scheme of things — war, famine, heartbreak — that won't mean a whole lot. If anything at all.