'Lord of Rings' leads Oscar field

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" may have earned a leading 13 Academy Award nominations Tuesday, but the fantasy epic faces a hurdle in a best-picture race against a more traditional drama, "A Beautiful Mind."

"Lord of the Rings" is last year's No. 2 box-office hit. But fantasies have rarely been taken seriously by Oscar voters, and an otherworldly epic such as the first film installment of J.R.R. Tolkien's classic has never won best picture.

"A Beautiful Mind" -- tied with "Moulin Rouge" for second place with eight nominations -- is the sort of heavy drama members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences often favor. "A Beautiful Mind" beat "Lord of the Rings" for top dramatic honors at last month's Golden Globes. "I certainly would say, being a realist, we're definitely in a sort of underdog situation," said "Rings" director Peter Jackson. "You certainly have to look at what's happened in the past."

Among nominations for "Lord of the Rings" were best picture, best director and supporting actor for Ian McKellen, while "A Beautiful Mind" -- a dramatization of math genius John Nash's battle with schizophrenia -- received nominations for best picture, director Ron Howard, actor Russell Crowe and supporting actress Jennifer Connelly. Other best-picture contenders are "Gosford Park," Robert Altman's murder-mystery and class-war satire; "In the Bedroom," a low-budget tale of family tragedy and vengeance; and "Moulin Rouge," a glitzy, tragicomic musical set in 1899 Paris.

Besides Howard, Jackson and Altman, best-director picks were David Lynch for "Mulholland Drive" and Ridley Scott for "Black Hawk Down."

"Lord of the Rings" may be positioned to dominate the technical categories and come away with the most statuettes come Oscar night March 24. The film's nominations include cinematography, costume design, editing, makeup and visual effects.

"A Beautiful Mind" has the advantage of two great performances that already have grabbed major film honors. Crowe and Connelly won Golden Globes, and Crowe has become a favorite among Oscar voters, scoring his third straight best-actor nomination and winning last year for "Gladiator."

Taxing math

Attending the Berlin Film Festival, where "A Beautiful Mind" was playing, Crowe joked that portraying a brilliant mathematician taxes his acting talent.

"Mathematics and I parted company when I was about 14," Crowe said.

Along with Crowe, the lead-actor category includes two black actors for the first time, Will Smith as boxer Muhammad Ali in "Ali" and Denzel Washington as a bad cop in "Training Day." With Halle Berry nominated as an executed inmate's widow for "Monster's Ball," it was the first time since 1972 that three blacks were nominated in the lead-acting categories.

Smith said commercial hits for himself, Washington, Berry, Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence have opened doors to more serious roles for blacks. "As blacks have proven we can make money at the box office, proved we can open a movie and take it around the world and be successful, from that standpoint, I think other things will be created from that," Smith said. "That's always been my approach, make as much money as I can at the box office in order to open up the other roles for myself."

Other best-actor nominees are Sean Penn as a retarded dad in "I Am Sam" and Tom Wilkinson as a vengeful father in "In the Bedroom."

Joining Berry in the best-actress field are Judi Dench as British writer Iris Murdoch for "Iris"; Nicole Kidman as a star-crossed lover in "Moulin Rouge"; Sissy Spacek as a grieving mother in "In the Bedroom"; and Renee Zellweger as a Londoner pursuing romance in "Bridget Jones's Diary."

Spacek, a five-time nominee who won best actress for 1980's "Coal Miner's Daughter," said she was thrilled to be back in the Oscar hunt. Her last nomination came for 1986's "Crimes of the Heart."

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