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Sunday, 6 January, 2002, 13:11 GMT
Oscar race gains clarity
By entertainment correspondent Tom Brook in New York
With Lord of The Rings winning Saturday's American Film Institute's top movie of the year award this epic fantasy has emboldened its position as a leading Oscar contender.
The AFI event was the first major awards ceremony of 2002 and it heaped honours on several films and performances that seem to be emerging as possible Oscar nominees in a field that is still far from certain.
Lord of The Rings, which also won AFI trophies for its production design and digital artistry, is widely expected to secure a nomination in the Academy Award best picture race.
But its fate in the best picture race remains uncertain, because in the past Academy voters have been quite resistant to recognising musicals.
Several other films now seem likely best picture Oscar candidates. They include A Beautiful Mind, director Ron Howard's portrait of a schizophrenic mathematics genius, and In The Bedroom, the first time feature from filmmaker Todd Field.
Another possible Oscar best picture challenger could be Robert Altman's ensemble murder mystery Gosford Park. Altman won the AFI's best director trophy.
Ridley Scott's combat film Black Hawk Down, which portrays a botched US military mission in Somalia in 1993, had gone into the AFI awards with five nominations.
Though it emerged empty handed, its Oscar momentum may increase as it goes into wide release in America and its depiction of US military heroics resonates with the country's current patriotic fervour.
The AFI awards also highlighted likely Oscar nominees in the acting categories.
Denzel Washington, who plays a rogue cop in Training Day, won the AFI best actor prize. His kinetic performance is expected to earn him an Oscar nomination alongside Russell Crowe, also considered a fairly safe bet for inclusion, for his leading role in A Beautiful Mind.
Sissy Spacek won the AFI's top actress prize for playing a grief stricken mother in In The Bedroom.
Spacek, who won an Oscar in 1981 for her role in Coalminer's Daughter, is now back as a top Oscar contender in 2002.
She is also scheduled to receive the New York Film Critics Circle best actress prize for her In The Bedroom role on Sunday night.
In the best actress race Spacek faces strong competition from Halle Berry for her critically lauded role in the racially charged romantic drama Monster's Ball, as well as from Nicole Kidman, who has been receiving plaudits for her performances in The Others and Moulin Rouge.
The only British winner who spoke at the AFI awards was Christopher Nolan, who won the best screenwriter prize for his clever mystery Memento, a film that starts with an ending and then works backwards.
But there are, once again, plenty of likely British Oscar candidates this year. Tom Wilkinson, who stars opposite Sissy Spacek in In The Bedroom as the father of a murdered son, is considered a strong favourite for a best actor nomination.
Wilkinson, who is perhaps best known for playing Gerard, the factory supervisor in The Full Monty, is also picking up the best actor prize for his In The Bedroom performance from the New York critics on Sunday night.
Jim Broadbent is expected to get a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for playing Iris Murdoch's husband John Bayley in the film Iris.
Sir Ben Kingsley is another possible British contender in that category for his portrayal of the menacing Don Logan in the crime drama Sexy Beast.
Several British actresses are also thought to be strong Oscar favourites.
Dame Judi Dench, whom the Academy seems to adore, could get recognition for her leading role in Iris. In the supporting actress category Kate Winslet, who played the young Murdoch in Iris, is also thought likely to snag a nomination, as are Dame Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren for their roles in Gosford Park.
Although the AFI Awards received considerable attention, their validity as a reliable Oscars bellwether is questionable.
The AFI Awards are decided by a jury made up of film critics, scholars and industry practitioners. Overall they represent a constituency that bears little resemblance to Academy members.
The Golden Globe awards, handed out by foreign journalists based in Los Angeles, may whittle down the Oscars field at their star-studded ceremony later this month, but it appears that this year the uncertainty may linger until the nominations are announced on 12 February.
In such an unclear year Oscar predicting is going to become a big business, as are the studio promotional campaigns to convince Academy members that their films really are the best.
06 Jan 02 | Film
Tolkien film wins top award
20 Dec 01 | Film
Golden Globes: 2002 nominations in full
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