Get Your Ballot Ready

As usual, the bulk of this year’s Oscar contenders will hit theaters in a frenzied three-week rush before the end of the year.
The heaviest expectations await Martin Scorsese’s 18th-century epic “Gangs of New York,” which stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz. Carrying a price tag well north of $100 million, Miramax postponed its original December 2001 release – supposedly out of concern that post-9/11 audiences wouldn’t be receptive to its bloody depiction of New York City draft riots.
DiCaprio also headlines as Frank Abnagale, a real-life con man who successfully impersonated a pilot, professor and other professionals, in Steven Spielberg’s “Catch Me if You Can,” co-starring Mr. Oscar himself, Tom Hanks, as the FBI man on Abnagale’s trail.
“Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” the second episode in the trilogy with Elijah Wood and the rest of the hobbit-dwarf-elf gang, is aiming to be the first sequel to nab a Best Picture nomination since “The Godfather Part III.”
And then there’s the long-in-the-works version of the Broadway musical “Chicago,” starring the unlikely song-and-dance trio of Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere and RenĂˆe Zellweger.
Nicole Kidman is back with “The Hours,” unrecognizably de-glammed as early 20th-century author Virginia Woolf. Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Ed Harris co-star in this adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
Major stars’ turns are anticipated from Oscar winners Jack Nicholson, as a crisis-stricken retiree in Alexander Payne’s “About Schmidt;” Kevin Spacey in Alan Parker’s “The Life of David Gale,” as a falsely accused prof who ends up on death row; Edward Norton as a stockbroker busted for dealing drugs in Spike Lee’s “The 25th Hour” – and the irrepressible Roberto Begnini as “Pinocchio.”
Streep plays a magazine writer and Nicolas Cage stars as screenwriter Charlie Kaufman in “Adaptation,” another mind-blowing comedy from director Spike Jonze and, well, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, the team behind the bizarre “Being John Malkovich”
That may be mild stuff next to “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” which depicts “Gong Show” host Chuck Barris’ claim that he was simultaneously a CIA hit man. Sam Rockwell stars with Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts and George Clooney, in his directorial debut.
Newly minted Oscar-winner Denzel Washington is also working behind the cameras for the first time on “The Antwone Fisher Story,” directing newcomer Derek Luke as a juvenile offender turned screenwriter.
And finally, a couple of contenders for the second Oscar in the new Best Animated Picture category: Disney’s big-budget “Treasure Planet” and “The Wild Thornberries,” a TV spinoff from Paramount and Nickelodeon.