Published February 27, 2005
Will it be "Million Dollar Baby" or "The Aviator" for best picture? Hilary Swank or Annette Bening for best actress? Jamie Foxx or Leonardo DiCaprio for best actor? Martin Scorsese or Clint Eastwood for best director?
In spite of the fact that there are fields of five and anything can happen at the Oscars Sunday night, prognosticators of the 77th Academy Awards (search) seem to have narrowed the big categories into dueling matchups.
"The Aviator" (search) leads all films with 11 nominations, including best picture, best actor (DiCaprio), best supporting actress (Cate Blanchett), best supporting actor (Alan Alda) and best director (Scorsese).
Scorsese, arguably the most prominent modern filmmaker who has never won an Oscar, also has never delivered a best-picture winner. "The Aviator," with its epic scope and dazzling re-creation of early Hollywood, offers him a shot to finally triumph on Oscar night.
"Bringing 'The Aviator' to the screen took years of effort by an extraordinary group of individuals, and I am thrilled that so many of the people who poured their heart into the film have been recognized by the academy," Scorsese said.
But Eastwood's emotional boxing saga "Million Dollar Baby," which ties Peter Pan movie "Finding Neverland" for the second-largest number of nominations (they both got seven), is a formidable competitor. Eastwood (best actor), Morgan Freeman (supporting actor) and Swank have all been nominated for acting Oscars.
In the best-actor category, Jamie Foxx has long been considered a shoo-in for the statuette, for his dead-on impression of music legend Charles in "Ray." Foxx is also nominated in the supporting actor category as a taxi driver whose cab is hijacked by a hit man in "Collateral."
Starring as aviation trailblazer and Hollywood rebel Howard Hughes (search), DiCaprio is also nominated for best actor.
He and Foxx compete against Johnny Depp as "Peter Pan" playwright J.M. Barrie (search) in "Finding Neverland"; Eastwood as a cantankerous boxing trainer in "Million Dollar Baby" and Don Cheadle for "Hotel Rwanda," starring as hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, who sheltered refugees from the Rwandan genocide.
The best-actress category presents a rematch of the 2000 showdown, when underdog Swank won the Oscar for "Boys Don't Cry" over Bening, who had been the front-runner for "American Beauty."
This time, Swank was nominated as a bullheaded boxing champ whose life takes a cruel twist in "Million Dollar Baby." Bening was chosen for "Being Julia," in which she plays an aging 1930s stage diva exacting wickedly comic revenge on the men in her life and a young rival.
Swank is the favorite on Oscar night.
Also nominated for the best-actress Oscar: Catalina Sandino Moreno (search) as a Colombian woman imperiled when she signs on to smuggle heroin in "Maria Full of Grace"; Imelda Staunton as a saintly housekeeper in 1950s Britain who performs illegal abortions on the side in "Vera Drake"; and Kate Winslet as a woman who has had memories of her ex-boyfriend erased in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."
In the best director contest, the favorite is Eastwood, a past Oscar winner for best picture and director for 1992's "Unforgiven." But many feel the acclaimed Scorsese could take home the trophy on Oscar night, at least for the fact that he has never won.
Joining Eastwood and Scorsese in the directing category are Taylor Hackford for "Ray," Mike Leigh for "Vera Drake" and Alexander Payne for "Sideways."
The supporting actor and actress categories are less predictable. There has been buzz about Foxx's performance in "Collateral" and Freeman's in "Baby," but Clive Owen won the Golden Globe for his performance as a coarse lover in the sex drama "Closer"; Thomas Haden Church amused and moved critics as a bridegroom out for a final fling in "Sideways"; and Alda gave a strong performance as a senator tussling with Hughes in "The Aviator."
In the supporting actress category, Blanchett is getting the most buzz, for her turn as Katharine Hepburn in "The Aviator." But many are hailing the comeback of Virginia Madsen (search) as a deceived lover in "Sideways," and Natalie Portman (search) won the Golden Globe for her role as a gutsy stripper in "Closer."
The other nominees are Sophie Okonedo (search) for "Hotel Rwanda" and Laura Linney for "Kinsey."
Viewers will also notice some changes to the Oscar ceremony this year. In some categories, all the nominees will appear onstage as their names are read, with the winner stepping forward to accept. In others, the nominees will be grouped together in a section of the audience, where the presenter will open the envelope.
ABC will broadcast the show live (with a five-second delay) Sunday night from Hollywood's Kodak Theatre. Chris Rock is the show's host, the first time since 1996 that either Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg or Steve Martin has not been master of ceremonies.
And given Rock's recent comments about straight men not watching the Oscars, perhaps the most pressing pre-telecast question is: What will he say?
FOX News' Jennifer D'Angelo and The Associated Press contributed to this report.