Oscars nominations could offer a number of firsts

Monday, February 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ This year's Oscar show will feature one definite first, some possible firsts, and maybe a first or two in a long time.

When nominees are announced Tuesday, the definite first will be cartoons competing in a new category for best feature-length animated film. ``Shrek'' and ``Monster's, Inc.'' are expected to duke it out for that honor, with one other animated nominee as second runner-up.

The best-actor category might include two black nominees for the first time. And it could be the first time since 1972 that three blacks are nominated for lead acting roles.

In the best-picture category, the live-action musical could score its first nomination in more than 20 years. The fantasy epic, never a favorite among Academy Awards voters, may have its best shot ever to win.

With the clout accumulated from other recent film honors, the drama ``A Beautiful Mind,'' the fantasy ``The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring'' and the musical ``Moulin Rouge'' are good bets as best-picture nominees.

Other possibilities include the combat thriller ``Black Hawk Down,'' the class-war satire ``Gosford Park'' and the dark drama ``In the Bedroom.'' ``Shrek'' has an outside chance at a best-picture nomination, as well.

``Moulin Rouge'' would be the first live-action musical nominated for best picture since ``All That Jazz'' in 1979. The animated musical ``Beauty and the Beast'' was nominated for best picture in 1991. The last musical to win was ``Oliver!'' in 1968.

Awards attention for ``Moulin Rouge'' and its respectable box-office receipts worldwide may help revive the movie musical, director Baz Luhrmann said.

``I've been on that mission, and I feel like I've done my part to kick the door in,'' Luhrmann said. ``Give it 24 months and see how many new musicals are around.''

Academy voters rarely have taken such flights of fancy as ``The Lord of the Rings'' seriously. The sci-fi fantasies ``Star Wars'' and ``E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial'' earned best-picture nominations, as did ``The Wizard of Oz'' and such fanciful adventure flicks as ``Raiders of the Lost Ark'' and ``King Solomon's Mines.'' But none of these won.

``Lord of the Rings,'' perhaps the most universally acclaimed film of last year, has a shot at being the first. It won top honors at the American Film Institute Awards last month.

``I'm thrilled the film is sort of transcending the genre a little bit,'' the movie's director, Peter Jackson, said.

Top dramatic honors at the Golden Globes for ``A Beautiful Mind'' may help give that film a slight front-runner status in Oscar's best-picture race, though. Starring Russell Crowe as schizophrenic math scholar John Nash, it also has the more traditional, straight-drama style that Oscar voters often favor.

A Golden Globe winner for ``A Beautiful Mind,'' Crowe could be nominated for the third straight time for best actor, after last year's ``Gladiator'' and ``The Insider'' the year before. Were he to win, he would be the first actor since Tom Hanks to take home back-to-back Oscars.

Denzel Washington for ``Training Day'' and Will Smith for ``Ali'' could become the first two black actors nominated for a lead role in the same year. Halle Berry for ``Monsters Ball'' could become the first black lead actress nominated since Angela Bassett for ``What's Love Got to Do With It'' in 1993.

If all three were nominated, it would be the first time that three black actors competed in the lead categories since 1972, when Paul Winfield and Cicely Tyson for ``Sounder'' and Diana Ross for ``Lady Sings the Blues'' were in the running.

Besides Crowe, Smith and Washington, lead-actor contenders might include Gene Hackman (``The Royal Tenenbaums''), Kevin Kline (``Life as a House''), Sean Penn (``I Am Sam'') and Tom Wilkinson (``In the Bedroom'').

Along with Berry, best-actress prospects include Judi Dench (``Iris''), Nicole Kidman (``Moulin Rouge'' or ``The Others''), Sissy Spacek (``In the Bedroom'') and Tilda Swinton (``The Deep End'').

Jackson and Luhrmann join Ron Howard (``A Beautiful Mind'') as likely nominees for best director. Among other possibilities: Ridley Scott (``Black Hawk Down''), Robert Altman (``Gosford Park'') and Christopher Nolan (``Memento'').

Possible supporting-acting candidates include Jim Broadbent (``Iris''), Steve Buscemi (``Ghost World''), Ethan Hawke (``Training Day''), Ben Kingsley (``Sexy Beast''), Ian McKellen and Viggo Mortensen (``Lord of the Rings''), and Jon Voight (``Ali'').

Possible supporting-actress contenders are Jennifer Connelly (``A Beautiful Mind''), Judi Dench (``The Shipping News''), Anjelica Huston (``The Royal Tenenbaums''), Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith (``Gosford Park''), Marisa Tomei (``In the Bedroom'') and Kate Winslet (``Iris'').