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Being Mind Full 

Ron Howard hit holds inside track in Oscar race

So many choices, so little certainty. Yet while that may wreak havoc on the winning percentages of Academy Award prognosticators, it should make for an unpredictable Oscar telecast that might actually keep viewers awake until the very end -- which, if recent history is any indication, will be around the time roosters rev their internal engines.

In the technical categories, it seems likely that most of the statues will be split up between The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Moulin Rouge. But in most of the major contests, anything goes. Here, then, is a look at what will win -- and what should win -- in the Big 8 categories.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

A Beautiful Mind, Akiva Goldsman; Ghost World, Daniel Clowes, Terry Zwigoff; In the Bedroom, Rob Festinger, Todd Field; The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson; Shrek, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman, Roger S.H. Schulman.

Prediction: A Beautiful Mind. Unless voters hold the fact that Goldsman previously foisted Batman & Robin upon an unsuspecting world, look for him to cop an Oscar in what seems to be the closest thing to a lock in these top eight categories. Although he was criticized in some circles for leaving a lot of the unsavory details of John Nash's life off the screen, he was praised in more quarters for effectively streamlining a highly, ummm, schizophrenic narrative.

Preference: Ghost World. I'm picking Ghost World by a sliver over A Beautiful Mind because, working from Clowes' comic book, Zwigoff and Clowes remarkably managed to breathe new life (and a quirky sense of humor) into the shopworn character of the alienated teen.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Amelie, Guillaume Laurant, Jean-Pierre Jeunet; Gosford Park, Julian Fellowes; Memento, Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan; Monster's Ball, Milo Addica, Will Rokos; The Royal Tenenbaums, Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson.

Prediction: Memento. Gosford Park and Memento divvied up most of the critics' prizes in this category, with Gosford Park going on to win the Writers Guild Award (for which Memento was ineligible). Gosford Park's heavyweight status (seven nominations versus Memento's two) would seem to give it the edge, but the cleverness of the twisty murder-mystery might help it inch into the winner's circle, much as The Usual Suspects did a few years back.

Preference: Memento. What other script from 2001 even compares to the refreshingly dense screenplay the Nolan brothers concocted to fuel their highly original neo-film noir outing? Last year's best picture deserves to win both its nominations, here as well as in the Best Film Editing category.

BEST DIRECTOR

Robert Altman, Gosford Park; Ron Howard, A Beautiful Mind; Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; David Lynch, Mulholland Drive; Ridley Scott, Black Hawk Down.

Prediction: Ron Howard, A Beautiful Mind. Not only did Howard win the Directors Guild Award, but the fact that he wasn't even Oscar-nominated for Apollo 13 should throw some extra sympathy votes his way -- enough, anyway, to beat out longtime vet Altman.

Preference: Ron Howard, A Beautiful Mind. Lynch travelled places no other director could even imagine, while Jackson worked on an impressively large canvas. But with A Beautiful Mind, Howard showed some real maturation as a technically savvy filmmaker while retaining his golden touch with his actors.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind; Helen Mirren, Gosford Park; Maggie Smith, Gosford Park; Marisa Tomei, In the Bedroom; Kate Winslet, Iris.

Prediction: Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind. This category is notorious for upsets in which a beautiful up-and-comer manages to vanquish the front-runner, but in this case, the beautiful up-and-comer is the front-runner. That may spell danger for Connelly, just as it did last year for Almost Famous's Kate Hudson (who unexpectedly lost to Pollock's Marcia Gay Harden). Yet while two-time Oscar winner Smith was the scene-stealer extraordinaire in Gosford Park, Connelly's real challenge seems to come from Smith's co-star: The highly respected Mirren has never won an Oscar, and her Screen Actors Guild victory a couple of weeks ago helped energize her campaign. It could go either way, but based on the popularity of her movie, I'll stick with Connelly.

Preference: Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind. More than just another pretty face, the long-obscure Connelly burst forth in 2000 with a rivetting performance in Requiem for a Dream. She's equally powerful here, transforming what could have been a standard "suffering wife" role into an embodiment of human resilience and fortitude.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Jim Broadbent, Iris; Ethan Hawke, Training Day; Ben Kingsley, Sexy Beast; Ian McKellen, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; Jon Voight, Ali.

Prediction: Ian McKellen, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. You can rule out the two Yankees, and while he won a bushel of critics' awards, I don't see Kingsley winning his second Oscar for this showboat role. Broadbent has more of a chance by virtue of a Golden Globe and additional exposure in Moulin Rouge, but this looks like McKellen's award to lose. Even before his SAG victory, he seemed like the logical choice: Not only will it be retribution for losing his previous bid (Gods and Monsters) to that clown Roberto Benigni, but it will allow the Tolkien fantasy flick to save some face by winning one major award to go along with its various technical nods.

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