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'Return Of The King' leads Oscar nominations

January 26, 2004
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The long wait for the Oscar nominations has finally come to an end, with a tear-jerking drama and a jaw-dropping fantasy leading the charge. Clint Eastwood's heart-wrenching Mystic River will go up against the final installment of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy in both the best picture and best director categories.

But the coveted best film statuette will also be contended by Lost In Translation, Master And Commander and Seabiscuit, so it is far from a one-horse race.

British heart-throb Jude Law meanwhile got the nod in the best actor category, for his role as a Civil War solder in Cold Mountain. Industry insiders say he has only an outside chance of winning the trophy, however, because Sean Penn's portrayal of a bereaved father in Mystic River is the favourite. The controversial actor has already picked up a Golden Globe for his work on the film.

Other hopefuls include Bill Murray, for Lost In Translation, Ben Kingsley for The House of Sand And Fog and Johnny Depp for his swashbuckling Captain Sparrow in Pirates Of The Caribbean.

And there's also a swordsman contesting the supporting actor category, with The Last Samurai's Ken Watanabe going up against Alec Baldwin (The Cooler), Benicio Del Toro (21 Grams), Djimon Hounsou (In America) and Tim Robbins (Mystic River).

Rings director Peter Jackson is likewise hoping for a personal honour, in the best director section. The other contenders here include Fernando Meirelles (City Of God), Sofia Coppola (Lost In translation), Peter Weir (Master And Commander) and, of course, Clint Eastwood for Mystic River.

Charlize Theron is thought to be the front-runner for best actress, thanks to her portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos in the film Monster. But her victory is far from a foregone conclusion, because the South African beauty will have to fend off the challenge of Naomi Watts, for 21 Grams, Samantha Morton for In America,Diane Keaton for Something's Gotta Give and Keisha Castle-Hughes for Whale Rider. Notable by her absence from the shortlist was last year's winner Nicole Kidman, whose performance in Cold Mountain failed to make the cut.

Her co-star Renee Zellweger is in the running for a statuette, however, in the supporting actress category. She will be facing an equally tough contest, as there are some remarkable performances in this section too. The contenders include Holly Hunter for Thirteen, Patricia Clarkson for Pieces of April, Marcia Gay Harden for Mystic River and Shohreh Aghdashloo for House Of Sand And Fog.

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Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King is the frontrunner for best picture, thanks in part to the magical performance of Sir Ian McKellen
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Sean Penn's portrayal of a father tormented by rage and regret over the death of his daughter tops the best actor shortlist
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An almost unrecognisable Charlize Theron has stunned critics around the world with her treatment of a serial killer in Monster

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