On Sunday, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presents its 74th annual awards for excellence on film in the past year. Alan Silverman has this look at the nominees for the top acting awards: Best Actor and Best Actress of 2001.
Will Smith has a best actor nomination for his portrayal of boxing champ Muhammad Ali in Ali. It's the first Oscar nomination for the former rap music star.
"I was with Russell Crowe the other night and I told him I would feel much better if this category was at the Grammies," he said. "If this was the rap category at the Grammies, I'd feel like I had a much better shot."
It's the third consecutive year New Zealand-born Australian actor Russell Crowe is up for the best actor Oscar: this time, for his performance in A Beautiful Mind.
"What I'm really enjoying at the moment is we've made a movie about a schizophrenic mathematician and we've taken over $140 million dollars at the box office," he says. " That to me says a wonderful thing about the intellect of the film-going public. This is a very complicated movie. It's a thorny lead character. It's a strange situation. There's a perspective shift in this film, which makes people really uncomfortable, and yet they're having such a great experience in the cinema. I'm really happy."
In The Bedroom, the intimate story of a family in crisis, gave English actor Tom Wilkinson his first Oscar-nominated role as a grieving father.
"He's a good guy who does a bad thing. This is a a true tragedy. This is about people who are forced to do things that they don't want to do things that they don't want to do or they couldn't possibly contemplate doing in life," explains Mr. Wilkinson. "I think part of the greatness of this film... and I choose my words carefully... is that it pushes you to the point where you see people who are under tremendous pressure and stress. The very core of their being has been exposed by what's happened to them."
A dark situation also confronts Sean Penn's character in I Am Sam . He earned a best actor nomination, the third of his career, for playing a retarded father desperately trying to raise his young daughter.
"To me, a dark place is bad acting and cynical picture and it's a very dark place in Hollywood today," says Mr. Penn. "This to me is not that."
Denzel Washington got the fifth Oscar nomination of his career, his third time in the best actor category, for his portrayal of a corrupt policeman in Training Day.
"I just try to be honest and play the part," he says. "I just try to be true to the character and play the part."
Nicole Kidman says she was n-o-t expecting her first-ever best actress nomination for playing the tragic heroine of the musical Moulin Rouge.
"The thing that makes the Academy awards special is that it has such a tradition," she says. "It has such a history. You see all these photos of these icons holding these gold statues through the years and it's something. I quite like tradition, so it's nice."
First-time nominee Halle Berry is emotional about the prospect of making Oscar history. If she wins for the impoverished, love-starved widow she plays in Monster's Ball Berry would be the first African-American best actress.
"I never think I'm ever going to win anything and it's been such a long journey," she says. "Not just for me, but every actor... everybody, whatever they do in life: the journey is long and if you really love what you do and you appreciate any acknowledgement, I don't know how I could not fall to peices. I never think it's going to happen to me."
Renee Zelwegger is also a best actress finalist for the first time. She's up for playing the romantically challenged title character in the film adaptation of Bridget Jones' Diary.
"I really liked this character and I recognized what a gift this experience would be as an actress, she says, " both to have the life experience and the education that would come along with it. To animate such a multi-dimensional character is a dream come true and I never lost sight of that. "
In 1998, Judi Dench won best supporting actress for playing the Queen in Shakespeare in Love In Iris the English actress's portrayal of Alzheimer's afflicted author Iris Murdoch earned Dame Judi the fourth Oscar nomination of her career, her second in the best actress category.
"You start with the guts of the person and you somehow fill up the inside of you," she explains. "Whether she was Queen Victoria or whoever, it's exactly the same process inside."
Six-time nominee Sissy Spacek won best actress in 1980 for "Coal Miner's Daughter. This time she's nominated as the grief-stricken mother in In The Bedroom.
"You know you compete with yourself. You try to do the best work you can do. It's not a horse race," she says. "Although sometimes we geet caught up in the excitement surrounding it, but you have to keep you 'rescue remedy' handy and remember that it's really about the performances....and the parties."
The big party is Sunday in Hollywood when the Oscars are presented in a start-studded ceremony hosted by Whoopi Goldberg.