The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presents its 74th annual awards for excellence in filmmaking on Sunday in Hollywood. Alan Silverman has a look at the nominees for Oscar night's top award: Best Picture of the year.
Will it be a beautiful evening for A Beautiful Mind?
Or will Academy voters believe that Moulin Rouge sang and danced its way to the top honor?
What about the film with the most nominations? Could the epic adventure Lord of the Rings be lord of Oscar night?
Will they scream for the drawing room murder mystery Gosford Park? Or will the surprise winner be the drama of a family in crisis, In the Bedroom?
Probably the most modest production in the group, In the Bedroom is the intimate story of a husband and wife dealing with heart-wrenching grief. Their performances earned acting category nominations for co-stars Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson and Marisa Tomei. In the Bedroom writer/director Todd Field says they realistically became the characters in his script.
"I didn't think about actors. I thought about people that I knew," he explains. "Those characters are based on people that I know very well; but they were the actors I was interested in playing these roles and I pinch myself on a daily basis about the fact they actually agreed to do the film and to play these roles."
The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring is the first film of a trilogy based on the epic novels by J.R.R. Tolkien. Peter Jackson filmed all three consecutively in his native New Zealand and this first to be released also earned him a best director nomination.
"They've been known for 50 years as unfilmable books," says Mr. Jackson. "At the same time, what countered that was the sheer excitement about what I was involved in. It was daunting and incredibly difficult, but it was exciting. I'm going to be spending eight years of my life on this project [from 1995 to 2003 when we're relasing the third movie] and I think it's worth it." he notes. "I love what I'm doing. I love making movies. I've always wanted to make a fantasy film and I'm lucky enough to have this wonderful book as my material to use."
Robert Altman is also a best director contender for his best picture nominee. For Gosford Park , a classic 1930s murder mystery set in a high class British estate, the veteran American filmmaker gathered a top-notch ensemble of English actors.
" I find that the more actors you have, the more they take care of themselves and the less work I have to do," says Mr. Altman. " It was a great experience."
Two of Altman's Gosford Park players, Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith, also earned acting nominations.
Nicole Kidman is a best actress nominee for Moulin Rouge, a new-style musical set in the decadent Parisian nightclub at the turn of the 20th century. The film has eight nominations, including best picture, but apparently it directed itself. Academy voters overlooked Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrman.
"My singular mission has been to find a way of making the musical cinema work again for this time and this place, " explains Mr. Luhrman. "A musical for the first time in 20 years was nominated for an Academy award [and I was somewhere else] with excitement because it's all about the film. Every one of the directors nominated has done fantastic work. They're incredible directors. I have no problem with that," he says. "Really, it's not about one picture better than the other. There are five or six films that have pushed the medium this year and they have a light shone on them. If nothing else happens with Moulin Rouge, we're done. We're already there. An audience has embraced it. It's been recognized. Nothing can change that."
Best picture finalist A Beautiful Mind is also up for eight awards. The romantic drama inspired by the life of Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash has acting nominations for co-stars Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly and a best director nod for Ron Howard.
"Almost everybody in this business has dreamed of it and, like everybody else, I've given the speech in the shower over the years many times....and I can't remember the speech," Mr. Howard says. "Now there's a possibility I might need it, I can't remember the hook that I've had in the shower over the years, so I'll have to start afresh to try to have a plan."
Only one of those five will be crowned Best Picture of 2001 according to the 5700 voting members of the Motion Picture Academy, which is made up of the actors, directors, writers, producers, cinematographers and other craftspeople who make the movies.