The countdown to the Oscars has begun

Buzzing about Oscar
The bad news is that Chris Rock will host the February 27th Oscar ceremony.
The godo news is tha the studios are beginning to roll out the films they hope will be among the top contenders.
It’s been a lean year for early Oscar hopefuls. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ will likely fill one of the five slots for best picture even though it is already out on DVD.
It’s become too much of a phenomenon for the academy to ignore.
Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 would have been a shoo-in for best documentary, but the man has an ego as big as his waistline, so he’s demanding it be considered for the best picture category instead.
The most likely contenders for best picture of 2004 will be rolling out over the next 10 weeks. High on the list is Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, which offers a glimpse at the high-flying, high-rolling life of eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes. Unless Oliver Stone’s Alexander is a compete dud it will nab one of the coveted spots because Hollywood loves a spectacle.
Musicals are popular once again with both audiences and academy voters, so Joel Schumacher’s Phantom of the Opera looks like another safe bet for a best picture nod.
No film is getting more positive advance buzz in Hollywood these days than Mike Nichol’s Closer, a story of four people’s love and betrayal of one another. It’s based on a stage play and stars Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Clive Owen.
In recent years, the academy has looked for at least one little movie, art film or foreign flick to champion which bodes well for the Che Guvara road movie The Motorcycle Diaries, Bill Murray’s quirky The Life Aquatic and Kinsey, the story of America’s famous sex therapists.
The most hotly contended category for the 2004 Oscars will be for best actor. There are at least twice as many possibilities as there are slots. Jim Caviezel heads the pack with his performance as the tortured Christ in The Passion of the Christ with Leonardo DiCaprio a close second for his transformation into the power-hungry playboy Howard Hughes in The Aviator. Jamie Foxx does a staggering job of bringing the legendary Ray Charles to life in Ray, as does Liam Neeson in portraying Alfred Kinsey in Kinsey. Hollywood’s new-found love affair with Johnny Depp could find him getting nominated for playing J.M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan in Finding Neverland — and Colin Ferrell may get nominated for Alexander even though he’s wearing a mini-skirt for much of the film.
Jude Law could get a nod for being the unfaithful lover in Closer and don’t count Bill Murray out for Life Aquatic.
Law’s co-star Julia Roberts will likely head the best actress category by being nominated for Closer. Roberts swears she’s putting her career on hold to be a stellar mom. A second Oscar will be a way for Hollywood to show Julia how much they love and need her.
The old guard in Hollywood love Annette Bening and she gives a rousing turn as the fading actress in Being Julia. Nicole Kidman is back in her best haunted mode in the creepy psychological drama Birth.
Kate Winslet could be nominated for Finding Neverland and Laura Linney is a match for Neeson in Kinsey. Gwyneth Paltrow has a good chance of recognition this year for Proof in which she plays a woman haunted by the ghost of her famous father (Anthony Hopkins).
The deciding factor is performance, not only on screen, but at the box office. If pictures such as Birth, Proof, Kinsey, The Life Aquatic, Beyond the Sea and Ray fail to connect with audiences, they’ll be just as quickly forgotten by academy members who are swayed as much by popularity as they are by talent and hype.