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By Julie J. Hong

Staff Writer

In the midst of the war with Iraq, the 75th annual Academy Awards may seem increasingly trivial to some. This year, in light of the war, the ceremony’s organizers have scaled back on the glitz somewhat, with the elimination of the block-long red carpet walk, but as we all know, Hollywood marches to its own beat, so the show will still go on.

Here are my picks -- and predictions -- for Sunday’s Oscars ceremony, organized by category.

Best Picture

I was less than impressed by heavy favorites Chicago and The Hours. The former tries to disguise a thin plot with lots of flash and glitter (even for a musical) and is completely devoid of likeable characters, while the latter simply leaves me wanting. Gangs of New York isn’t even good, and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, being one-third of a trilogy, cannot stand on its own as a film. The Pianist is without contest the best film among these five; however, Chicago will probably undeservedly take the title.

Best Director

God, this is a hard one. Rob Marshall magically converted Chicago from a musical to a film. Stephen Daldry seamlessly intertwined three stories in The Hours. Roman Polanski’s The Pianist is perfect. Pedro AlmodÓvar exquisitely examines characters in Talk to Her. Though Polanski and AlmodÓvar may be more deserving, Polanski’s sexual indictments cannot be forgotten, while AlmodÓvar’s chances are diminished because he lacks a Best Picture nomination. Martin Scorsese, already winning the Golden Globe, will likely be awarded for his failed epic, Gangs of New York.

Best Actor

The Best Actor category is loaded: Adrien Brody is mesmerizing, Nicholas Cage is appropriately disgusting, and Daniel Day-Lewis is flawless as Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York, perfecting even the New York accent. I would love to see Day-Lewis recognized but Jack Nicholson will probably be awarded yet another coveted statue for being himself. By the way, did anyone actually see The Quiet American?

Best Actress

Am I the only one left unimpressed by the actresses here? While a number of them are good, none are stellar. I do not comprehend Salma Hayek’s nomination, nor will I give it any further thought. For Diane Lane, I can only speculate based on television commercials, and, though her performance appears impressive, I’m not in awe. The most deserving of this bunch is perhaps Julianne Moore for her work in Far From Heaven; her performance in The Hours certainly doesn’t hurt either. But sadly, the favorites are Nicole Kidman and RenÉe Zellweger. While I have to respect Zellweger for her singing and dancing Roxie Hart in Chicago, I’m scarcely left with a desire to reward her. Kidman looks so unlike herself that people play into an illusion and fail to notice that she actually does very little acting; her Virginia Woolf character has but two expressions: a permanent one of sadness and repression, with occasional bouts of thoughtfulness.

Best Supporting Actor

Ed Harris and John C. Reilly each gave acceptable performances, but I would hardly call the AIDS-stricken Richard Brown in The Hours a “supporting role.” Reilly, though appearing in The Hours and Gangs of New York in addition to Chicago, isn’t particularly captivating as any of his characters. Having had no desire to see Road to Perdition, I again resort to Paul Newman’s performance based on television commercials, but regardless, no one could have made me take my eyes off Christopher Walken, the well meaning Frank Abagnale Sr. in Catch Me If You Can. That is, no one except possibly Chris Cooper, who will probably walk away with the Oscar for his eccentric John Laroche in Adaptation.

Best Supporting Actress

The last thing I want to think about is Kathy Bates naked in About Schmidt. Queen Latifah and Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago are good but not exactly Oscar-worthy. Julianne Moore, though excellent as a member of the repressed trio in The Hours, faces stiff competition from Meryl Streep, Adaptation’s Susan Orlean. Being forced to choose, I’ll have to say Streep. The Academy may also want to make up for overlooking her performance in The Hours.

Best Animated Feature Film

Granted, I’ve only seen Spirited Away, but it is so outstanding that I can’t possibly imagine either Dreamworks or Disney producing anything superior. Call my judgment ignorant if you wish. On a side note, can anyone justify Treasure Planet’s nomination?

Best Documentary Feature

Every American owes it to himself or herself to see Bowling for Columbine. Enough said.

Best Foreign Language Film

With the exception of El Crimen Del Padre Amaro, which by the way does not deserve this recognition, have any of these films been released in America? Choosing under these circumstances is difficult; but I’ll go either with Hero, because it’s directed by Zhang Yimou, or Zus & Zo, because it’s Dutch.

Best Music (Song)

This one is easy: U2’s “The Hands That Built America.” I own every U2 album as well as several bootlegs. But of course I’m not biased or anything.

Best Adapted Screenplay

If only About a Boy had any serious chances of winning! The fantastic adaptation of Nick Hornsby’s novel is witty, comedic, and sensitive, while remaining faithful to the original. Returning to reality however, The Hours, though lacking in wit and humor, is well penned and will likely be rewarded.

Best Original Screenplay

I sincerely doubt anyone went to see Y Tu MamÁ TambiÉn for its writing. My Big Fat Greek Wedding, clever and hilarious as it is, also fell victim to being formulaic. Chances are Talk to Her will take home this award.