NEW YORK – The countdown to Hollywood's highest honor is on.
Stars are putting the finishing touches on their red carpet outfits, scribbling notes on whom to thank, and practicing their 'it's just nice to be nominated' looks all in preparation for the 76th annual Academy Awards Sunday.
Meanwhile, entertainment journalists and armchair critics are making their lists of who they believe will walk away with a golden statuette — and who really deserves the award.
Foxnews.com spoke to Bill McCuddy and Lisa Bernhard, Fox News Channel's entertainment reporters, to get their predictions for the big day.
Foxnews.com: Let's start with Best Supporting Actress. There's been a recent push for Shohreh Aghdashloo from "The House and Sand and Fog," but the buzz is that Renee Zellweger will get it for "Cold Mountain." What do you each think?
Bill McCuddy: I think it’s Renee Zellweger’s to lose. I mean, I think she was channeling Granny Clampett from "The Beverly Hillbillies," but a lot of people think she was amazing and I won’t go against that tide. Although if there’s an upset, I think it would probably be either for Marcia Gay Harden in "Mystic River" or Shohreh Aghdashloo. In fact, I would like to see that.
Lisa Bernhard: I think, ironically, that the strongest three performances are the three you didn’t mention. I think Patricia Clarkson was terrific in "Pieces of April" as a woman who has cancer, but does this great, poignant and humorous turn. Marcia Gay Harden, I thought, was pretty seamless and realistic in "Mystic River," and Holly Hunter was really compelling having to be a mother of an extremely troubled teen in "Thirteen." "Pieces of April" ... is too light of a film for Clarkson to be given the award. "Mystic River," I think will take many other prizes. And Holly Hunter, I think will also be overlooked. I agree that it’s Renee Zellweger’s to lose. I wouldn’t mind seeing her lose and I think Shohreh was very good in "House of Sand and Fog," but I think that role didn’t have as much breadth to it as those other three. I would love to see Marcia Gay Harden get it — don't think she will. I think Renee Zellwegger will get it.
Foxnews.com: Now for Supporting Actor. Alec Baldwin ("The Cooler") is pushing hard for this. A lot of people think Tim Robbins ("Mystic River") can't be stopped. What do you think?
Bill McCuddy. I think Tim Robbins’ portrayal in "Mystic River" was so by-the-book, so expected — but I think he’ll probably win. I’m worried that his speech will last until "Good Morning America" even though he’s promised not to get political. I thought Benicio Del Toro gave the performance of this category in "21 Grams." My pick is: Will win, Tim; should win, Benicio.
Lisa Bernhard: This is where Bill and I almost totally disagree. I loved Tim Robbins in "Mystic River." I thought you couldn’t see him acting, which is the mark of a brilliant performance. I am not rooting for Alec Baldwin in "The Cooler" because I don’t think that role is so far away from who Alec Baldwin is. Benicio Del Toro is a terrific actor. I feel that the role (in "21 Grams") was fairly similar to what he played in "Traffic." Loved Djimon Hounsou in "In America." He’s a fantastic actor overlooked for "Amistad." Would be very happy with him getting the award. Ken Watanabe, solid performance (in "The Last Samurai"), but I absolutely think Tim Robbins deserves to win.
Foxnews.com: There were some unexpected nominees this year in the Best Actress category and it's still an open race. Many people think Diane Keaton could get it. Others think Charlize Theron absolutely will and should win.
Lisa Bernhard: I'm absolutely thrilled that there were some unexpected choices in this category. Keisha Castle-Hughes ..."Whale Rider" is one of the most gorgeous films I have ever seen. She clearly won't win, but it's lovely that she got acknowledged. Samantha Morton ("In America") also gave a lovely performance. Naomi Watts ("21 Grams"), unfortunately, ... will lose. She’ll be compared to Charlize Theron and Charlize will clearly have the edge. Diane Keaton was charming in "Something’s Gotta Give." Even though she has won an Oscar before, I really think this will be the competition of the body of work and the retrospective of the career versus a single transformation that was Charlize Theron's role in "Monster." I was blown away by "Monster." I think it’s much more than just a beautiful woman looking ugly. I think she captured the role with her posture and her body movements. Every ounce of her being was in this role. I think she deserves every award she’s gotten including, hopefully, the Oscar.
Bill McCuddy: Women are always impressed when other women gain weight instead of lose it. I think Charlize Theron gives a great performance, but I like Diane Keaton as well. I’m happy for both Samantha and Keisha. I think it would be great if Keisha won. It would be the speech of the night. But we’re kidding ourselves. It’s a lock for Charlize unless she splits the vote with Diane Keaton. If that happens, I’m hoping that Naomi Watts wins for what I think was the greatest performance of the year. I just think she was outstanding. I hope she wins the day before at the Independent Spirit Awards because I don’t think she’s going to win at the Oscars, but I’d be very happy if she did. She’s my long shot for the night.
Foxnews.com: For Best Actor, some people think Bill Murray, who was in "Lost in Translation," could take it. Then there's Sean Penn ("Mystic River") who has been seen as the front-runner and Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean), who was the surprise winner at the SAG awards.
Lisa Bernhard: I think it’s got to go to Sean Penn. I loved Bill Murray in "Lost in Translation." That film has wonderful nuance to it and has a wonderful feel to it. To me though, it’s still too light to be a Best Actor winning performance. I don’t feel that way about Johnny Depp. His role had more texture to it and I think Johnny Depp is this amazing chameleon of an actor who thoroughly commits himself and inhabits every single role he does. I would root for Johnny Depp over Bill Murray in this category and I would still root for Sean Penn above all of them. Ben Kingsley ("The House of Sand and Fog") is always solid, but he’s outshined this year by some other great performances. And I thought I would be more impressed by Jude Law than I was in "Cold Mountain." It’s a very restricted kind of role emotionally, which I know if part of the point of that love story, but he still needed to be a sexy leading man.
Bill McCuddy: He walked across four states for [Nicole Kidman], didn’t he, barefoot?
Lisa Bernhard: He did and the great moments of that movie were when he comes up against all the people he meets through his travels. But the payoff of that movie should be when he’s reunited with Kidman. That was the whole crux of the film and that was lost on me. I didn’t feel anything when they were reunited.
Bill McCuddy: That’s another reason [Kidman] wasn't nominated.
Lisa Bernhard: I actually thought she was better at emoting during those scenes than he was and he got the nomination and she didn’t. I think Jude Law is a good actor, I just wasn’t impressed by him in that role and I think it should go to Sean Penn.
Bill McCuddy: It’s interesting that Lisa talks about a career that’s honored for somebody like Diane Keaton because I think that’s absolutely true of Bill Murray. I think every nuance on his face, every crinkle, every crack, every line is a sum total of everything he’s ever done before, and I was having a midlife crisis with him in Tokyo. He really took me there completely. He made something as mundane as ‘Something’s coming in over the fax machine,’ really sort of interesting for me. I think Johnny Depp’s nomination is a career nomination more for the stuff he’s done before than for "Pirates," but I don’t think he’s going to win. I loved him, I thought he was great, but I think Sean Penn will win. Bill Murray should win.
Foxnews.com: Let's talk about the Best Director. Who do you think?
Bill McCuddy: This is easy. This is, go out, buy a farm and bet it. There’s no way Peter Jackson is going to lose. By the way, if you bought the farm in New Zealand they'd be much happier. There is absolutely no way that anyone else in this category can win here because even if it doesn’t win for Best Picture, this Academy realizes what this man, who before the trilogy was almost virtually unheard of, has accomplished. He brought the whole thing in under budget, on time and made an incredible, incredible difference in the business of show business for a lot of those voters and they will not deny him. It’s my absolute lock of the night.
Lisa Bernhard: I have to agree with Bill. A lot of people in Hollywood have spoken out for Peter Weir and "Master and Commander," and that may be some of the resentment against Peter Jackson with this gazillion-dollar making machine, but I agree that Jackson absolutely should win. While I thought "Lost in Translation" was a great film, I have to say that Bill Murray’s performance in that movie and Scarlett Johansson made that movie. I think it’s a little premature to say that those performances were cultivated by Sofia Coppola.
Foxnews.com: Last one, Best Picture, will "Lord of the Rings" take it?
Lisa Bernhard: It’s got to be "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" because the two previous "Rings" films didn’t win.
Bill McCuddy: The Academy has never given a fantasy film an Oscar, but I think this is going to be the first time. You can make the case for "Mystic River." You can say Peter Jackson will get the director award and that’s all they have to give him. You can say that, as a director, both Clint Eastwood and Peter Weir got better performances out of the people who were in their movies. But at the end of the day, Oscar voters are voting for three movies instead of one. It’s almost unfair. It’s been sort of understood for the last three years that when the last "Rings" comes around, unless it really falls at the finish line, that it’s going to win. It would be a huge upset if it didn’t win now because the third one really does deliver.
Fox News' Lisa Bernhard and Bill McCuddy will be broadcasting from the Oscars' red carpet.