Oscars Preview — Best Costume, music and art

As we end the first quarter of February, the Oscar race is finally beginning to heat up. Studio execs are doing everything within their power to sway Academy voters to pick their “masterpiece” as the year’s best. Press junkets are more numerous than primaries at this point (and it seems the candidates for the Oscars this year have almost as difficult a time as the Democratic presidential hopefuls).

Are you still not sure of who to bet on for the Feb. 28 ceremony? Look no further than this article!

Everyone knows that the Academy is partial to period pieces. The question is will this favoritism come into play with the Best Achievement in Costume category? “Girl With a Pearl Earring” has this issue, competing against the Tom Cruise surprise “The Last Samurai,” Russell “The Rebel” Crowe’s sea-adventure “Master and Commander,” underdog “Seabiscuit” and, of course, “Return of the King.” This is a close call, and any of these films could take it. I wonder if the very presence of “Pearl Earring” means it has a fighting chance. My instincts say that this will be another “King”-ly victory.

When you see a quality film, the last thing you probably pay attention to is the sound of the movie. But what if your favorite sword fight had the usual clangs replaced with wind chimes or gongs? No dice: hence the category for Best Sound Mixing. Here, “Samurai” rattles sabers with “King,” while “Commander” and “Pirates of the Carribean” open fire on one another – with “Seabiscuit” trailing behind. While an accurate representation of a horse race is an accomplishment, it doesn’t have the power behind it that a sword fight or high-seas battle has. This could be where “Pirates” or “Commander” takes home the crown. “King” probably can’t win every award, and here is where it may suffer from awards overexposure.

My bet is on “Commander,” with “Pirates” as the outside chance.

The score of a film sets the tone. While it shouldn’t distract the audience, it should add another dimension to the experience. This year, perennial nominee James Horner up for “House of Sand and Fog” has stiff competition with Danny Elfman’s score for severely underrepresented “Big Fish,” Thomas Newman for summer splash “Finding Nemo,” Gabriel Yared’s “Cold Mountain” country mix and Howard Shore’s rousing “Return of the King.”

I am hoping Danny Elfman pulls out a win, as his score added to the unique style of “Big Fish” – and “Big Fish” deserved more nominations regardless.

Horner and Newman are probably low on the totem pole, and Yared’s score probably doesn’t have the power behind it. Elfman or Howard Shore will take the statue here.

Okay, no offense to foreign film directors, but the odds of their soundtracks’ leading track winning a Best Song statue are slim to none.

So in this category, you can essentially rule out “The Triplets of Belleville” (of the same movie). “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow” by acting couple Michael McKean and Annette O’Toole was a pleasant surprise, but the film it is from, “A Mighty Wind,” is not exactly a household name. “Cold Mountain” actually has TWO songs nominated (“Scarlet Tide” by Elvis Costello and “You Will Be My Ain True Love” by Sting-note that is NOT misspelled), which could work against it.

Sting and Annie Lennox (nominated for “Return of the King’s” tearjerker “Into the West”) will most likely be the top two choices, as Lennox has clout and Sting is a Hollywood darling.

Finally, we reach the battle for Best Art Direction. The combatants: “Pearl Earring,” “Samurai,” “Seabiscuit,” “Commander” and “King.”

Now, “Pearl Earring,” from the clips I’ve seen, looks like it has literally walked out of a painting- so it has the Academy advantage there. “Seabiscuit” has the retro look working for it, and “Commander” is a period piece but my bet is that “Samurai,” with its picturesque Japanese setting, will compete with the fantasy world of “Return of the King.”

If “King” were to be dethroned, this could be the category.

Can you feel the tension mounting? The studios are sweating dollar bills to get the edge. Next week, I’ll take a look at Best Screenplay, Animated Film (hint: it involves a fish.) and Best Supports!