And the winner should be...

Will Chicago or The Hours dominate the Oscars this year? Has Martin Scorcese's time come? Our expert panel say who they think deserves to win

What's your opinion? Talk about it here

The 2003 Academy Awards are shaping up to be a more intriguing event than usual. Early favourites such as The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Scorsese's Gangs of New York and Polanski's The Pianist are starting to fall back into the pack. Instead, it's turning into a two-horse race. On the one hand, Chicago seems determined, like Moulin Rouge, to drag the musical into the twenty-first century. It is the slick, cynical entertainment that owes more to MTV than Rodgers and Hammerstein. On the other, there is The Hours - an intelligent, beautifully acted film with a literary pedigree, based on the life and work of Virginia Woolf.

It's been a long time since the Oscars have been dominated by what can loosely be described as 'women's' pictures. Between them, The Hours and Chicago boast five star roles for Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep, with strong supporting roles for Miranda Richardson, Toni Collette and Queen Latifah. This year's dark horse is Far From Heaven, a homage to Douglas Sirk's Fifties melodramas, starring Julianne Moore as a middle-class housewife who falls in love with a black man.

Aside from Stephen Daldry, director of The Hours , there are few opportunities for British glory. Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs of New York) has been the critics' favourite; Michael Caine (The Quiet American) is much admired. Both men will get Best Actor nominations. There are no obvious Best Actress contenders from Britain, but Zeta-Jones (Chicago), Samantha Morton (Minority Report) and Richardson, who plays three roles in Spider, are in the running for Best Supporting Actress.

Akin Ojumu, Screen editor

Best Film

Philip French: No American film released in 2002 is as good as City of God or Talk to Her, though only the former will be competing in the Foreign Language section. I'd like to see this year's Oscar go to John Sayles's Sunshine State, an urgent commentary on key issues in American life by the country's major independent moviemaker, with a great ensemble cast. It won't, of course.

Asif Kapadia: The best films this year were from outside Hollywood. I particularly admired Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, a folk tale about Inuit life in the Arctic Circle. But in my ideal world, City of God would win Best Foreign Language Film and Best Film: it's brilliant, full of modern ideas and powerful moments. Of course, this won't happen and The Hours will win.

Julian Fellowes: I like The Hours because it's unusual to find a grown-up, complicated film these days. Every character has a kind of justification for their behaviour, and you're constantly changing your mind about them. I previously thought the Lord of the Rings trilogy was unfilmable, but I think director Peter Jackson has achieved an extraordinary cinematic experience, so my hat goes off to him. I was not impressed by Gangs of New York - it was like watching someone else's nightmare.

Mariella Frostrup: The Hours should win but Gangs of New York will. The Hours is an extraordinary piece of filmmaking that is moving and thought-provoking. I love The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and think it should just get everything going in the technical categories.

Graham Fuller: Chicago and The Hours are probably going to dominate. I think The Lord of the Rings will get short shrift. It's not as good as the first one but it is a very good film. I'd be pretty pleased if The Hours won because it is clearly a great picture. I would be disappointed if Chicago won: it is fluffy, superficial entertainment.

Best Director

PF: The Academy has proved itself a very fallible organisation these past 75 years, and has established a tradition of belatedly crowning many great filmmakers either with special prizes or Oscars that put the spotlight on their lesser works. For this reason I think Martin Scorsese will win for Gangs of New York, a decision I'll applaud.

AK: Honourable mentions should go to Steven Soderbergh for his remake of Solaris, which was a brilliant concept and blew me away. I think Michael Winterbottom has made two excellent, original films - 24 Hour Party People, which the Americans probably won't understand, and In This World , about asylum-seekers, which is outstanding. Spielberg was back on form with Catch Me If You Can. But I was above all impressed by young British director Christopher Nolan who, after Memento, made the really fine studio film Insomnia, working with big-name actors and doing a polished, skilful job of directing a mainstream thriller.

JF: Stephen Daldry (The Hours) and Peter Jackson (The Two Towers) for the same reasons as above. I'm always surprised when there's a difference between the nominations for films and directors. I think the two categories are inextricably linked.

MF: It's totally understandable that a man of Scorsese's talents should win an Oscar, but Gangs of New York is probably his least deserving film. It's an incredibly visual film but it doesn't make much impact - it's just a vast exercise in nothing. Stephen Daldry should win for The Hours .

GF: Martin Scorsese will definitely be nominated and has a very good chance of winning, despite the fact that the film has had mixed reviews. But obviously he deserves to win as a career acknowledgment. Personally, I think Spike Jonze [Adaptation] would be a worthy winner.

Best Actor

PF: This year, veterans are fighting it out again, most of them previous winners - Michael Caine (The Quiet American), Al Pacino (Insomnia), Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt), whose names have been in the sealed envelopes year after year. Nicholson's middle-aged American widower in About Schmidt will certainly be nominated and deserves to win.

AK: There's only one winner for me and that's Nicolas Cage in Adaptation, where he is moving, funny, intense and hypnotic playing two brothers. I haven't seen him this good in years. I'd also like to give a special nomination to the entire non-professional cast of kids in City of God .

JF: In this category you want to see something more than a star well-cast in a good film. You want to see an actor reaching further than they have before. Daniel Day-Lewis should win. He achieves the consistency and dimensions of a character who is not like him at all. He steals Gangs of New York, although it's not as if the rest of the movie is heavily guarded.

MF: Daniel Day-Lewis has to be the favourite. He's an incredible actor and his performance is the best thing in Gangs of New York. Nicolas Cage gives a good performance. It's one of those times when he's in a role that suits him perfectly. It happened to him with Leaving Las Vegas - a great performance - and it happens again here, but this isn't in the same class.

GF: Nicolas Cage is very good in Adaptation. I'd like to see him win it. Daniel Day-Lewis is very impressive but I think the shine has come off that film so it won't win many awards. Michael Caine deserves a nomination for Best Actor. It would be nice if he won but I don't think he will.

Best Actress

PF: I haven't seen the much vaunted The Hours, so arguably I'm disqualified from commenting on a category in which Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman are competing against each other. Still, I'd be surprised if Jennifer Aniston wasn't nominated for burying her Friends persona in The Good Girl. It might well be that she could pick up an Oscar as a hometown challenger to the high-profile major contenders.

AK: Nicole Kidman will win for The Hours and she deserves it. She's graceful and intelligent in it and it's a great part. There haven't been many other great roles for actresses this year, although I'd love to see Paz Vega from Julio Medem's Sex and Lucia get recognised - that was a cool, beautiful and classy performance in a very striking European film.

JF: It has to be Nicole Kidman. Both Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore are very good in The Hours but they are playing within their accepted range. In this film, Kidman has reinvented herself as an actress. It is a restrained and ungrabby performance which is beguiling for that reason.

MF: Nicole Kidman should probably win for The Hours, although all three leading actresses from that film should be nominated. Each role is equally important to the film and they are performed brilliantly. Diane Lane [Unfaithful]? I think people are desperately scrabbling around if she is nominated. Renée Zellweger [Chicago]? Oh, please. Spare me. I think Catherine Zeta-Jones should get the Best Supporting award, though. She's the only reason I enjoyed Chicago.

GF: Clearly, Nicole Kidman should be nominated for The Hours. It's a great performance and 10 years ago it would have been hard to believe that she could have built up to something like this. But Samantha Morton (Morvern Callar) gives the most interior performance in recent cinema. It's a really hard role, as the character she portrays is unfathomable, but I doubt many voters have seen it. I think the race will come down to Kidman versus Diane Lane (Unfaithful).

The Observer panel

Philip French: Observer film critic

Asif Kapadia: Director, The Warrior, nominated for three Baftas

Julian Fellowes: Oscar-winning scriptwriter for Gosford Park

Mariella Frostrup: Writer and broadcaster

Graham Fuller: Film critic, Interview magazine

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Hollywood throws out the script...

Strange days at the Oscars last week.

Anne Thompson

30, Mar, 2003 @2:43 AM

Glitz out as stars ponder Oscar protest
Anti-war feeling leads to tight security and crackdown on glamour at ceremony.

Amelia Hill, London and Edward Helmore, New York

23, Mar, 2003 @3:17 AM

This show will run and run

As the bombs fell on Iraq, the debate went on. To hold the Oscars or not to hold the Oscars?

Anne Thompson

23, Mar, 2003 @3:17 AM

Focus: Gangs of Los Angeles

Bruising, bad-tempered movie producer Harvey Weinstein is at loggerheads with director Martin Scorsese over their epic $100m movie, out this week in the US. And if it proves a flop, the industry sharks are circling, reports Lawrence Donegan.

15, Dec, 2002 @3:13 AM

Letter from LA: 10 films you need to see if you want to be in the Oscar loop

There are 10 films you need to see if you want to be in the Oscar loop. And here they are... with accompanying gossip.

Anne Thompson

17, Nov, 2002 @12:59 AM

The 10 hottest films for the Oscars

This year, the drama and intrigue that surround the Oscars began even earlier than usual.

Anne Thompson

09, Nov, 2003 @1:28 AM

Julianne, Renée... they're all just so much window dressing
At the Oscars, don't let a handful of super-glamorous Hollywood actresses pull the wool over your eyes. Take a look at the list of nominations and you will get an all too familiar picture of the gender inequality in the movie business today.

Cherry Potter

23, Mar, 2003 @3:17 AM

Freebies for the stars

It's not just recognition from one's peers that makes being an Oscar nominee so worthwhile. Stars love freebies, and it's like Christmas again for them.

23, Mar, 2003 @3:17 AM

Phillip French: Let's see Pedro up at the podium

Phillip French: ...But don't hold your breath for Roman Polanski.

Phillip French

16, Feb, 2003 @4:25 AM

Our tips to tonight's Oscars

Who will be going home with a statue? We pick the likely winners...

23, Mar, 2003 @3:17 AM