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Oscar nominations announced - Lord of the Rings leads the way (2004)

Story by: Jack Foley

AS MANY people predicted, the final Lord of the Rings film leads the field at this year’s Oscar nominations, with nods in no less than 11 categories.

The Return of the King is up for best picture prize, as well as best director, for its creator, Peter Jackson, and best adapted screenplay, best score and best song, among others.

Its biggest challengers will be Clint Eastwood’s psychological murder thriller, Mystic River, and Sofia Coppola’s enticing Lost in Translation, which have picked up a number of prestigious wins en route to the showpiece event, as well as Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, which secured ten nominations, and Cold Mountain, with seven.

Of these films, Cold Mountain missed out on a best film nomination, which went to horse-racing drama, Seabiscuit, instead, although it would require a feat every bit as spectacular as the horse’s achievements itself, in winning the statuette, with odds of 100-1.

Needless to say, Return of the King is the favourite, with Mystic River offering odds of 3/1 and Lost in Translation at 5/1.

Rings helmer, Jackson, will compete against Eastwood, Coppola, Peter Weir and Fernando Meirelles (City of God) for the best director prize.

In the best actor category, British stars Sir Ben Kingsley and Jude Law will compete against joint favourites, Sean Penn and Bill Murray, as well as outsider, Johnny Depp, for the golden statuette, while the women’s category will see Golden Globe winner, Charlize Theron, pitted against Diane Keaton, Naomi Watts, Samantha Morton and, one the biggest surprises, 13-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes.

Incredibly, some big names have missed out, with Nicole Kidman a notable absentee from the best actress category, despite critically-acclaimed turns in Cold Mountain and Dogville.

Tom Cruise has also been snubbed in the best actor category, for his performance in The Last Samurai, even though his co-star, Ken Watanabe has landed a nomination as best supporting actor.

Awards favourite, Russell Crowe, also missed out, for his turn in Master and Commander.

The smart money will, of course, be on recent Golden Globe winners, Murray and Penn, although Sir Ben Kingsley could be a strong outside bet for his powerful turn in The House of Sand and Fog.

Johnny Depp, while popular with audiences for his comic turn in Pirates of the Caribbean, will no doubt be disappointed on the night, despite single handedly keeping the Summer blockbuster season afloat.

In the best actress category, Theron received recognition for her performance as a real-life serial killer, in Monster, and is viewed by many as the favourite, although Diane Keaton’s Golden Globe winning turn in Something’s Gotta Give, and Naomi Watts’ powerful performance, in 21 Grams, could well give her a run for the money.

Thirteen-year-old Castle-Hughes received her nomination for highly-rated New Zealand flick, Whale Rider, a nomination which makes her the youngest person to be nominated for best actress in the Academy Awards’ history.

In the supporting actress category, Renee Zellweger followed her Golden Globe victory with a nomination, and will face off against Marcia Gay Harden (for Mystic River), Iranian actress, Shohreh Aghdashloo, (for House of Sand and Fog), Holly Hunter (for Thirteen), and Patricia Clarkson (for Pieces of April).

The best supporting actor category will be contested between Benicio Del Toro (21 Grams), Alec Baldwin (The Cooler), Djimon Hounsou (In America), the aforementioned Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai) and Golden Globe winner, Tim Robbins (Mystic River), who probably just about edges it as favourite, off the back of that recent win.

The nominations were announced on Tuesday (January 27, 2004) by triple Oscar nominee, Sigourney Weaver, and the awards will be handed out, in Hollywood, on February 29 - one month earlier than usual.

Last year’s big winners were hit musical, Chicago (best picture), Adrien Brody (best actor, The Pianist) and Nicole Kidman (best actress, The Hours).

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