By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

Page 2's Oscar preview ...

Best Picture
This is a really tough category, but I'll be really ticked if "Mystic River'' wins.

In case you didn't see "Mystic River,'' here's the plot. Three kids are playing in their Boston neighborhood. A car stops and a guy pretending to be a cop makes one of the kids get in the car and tells the other two kids to scram. The man and another creep drive off with the kid and then lock him in a cellar someplace, where they molest him. After a couple days, the kid escapes, runs home and grows up to be Tim Robbins.

Mystic River
Does that face come with the hat?

That's where the movie starts to unravel for me.

The first problem is that everything that happens is so darn predictable. With a wife and son, Robbins is supposed to appear to have his life reasonably together; but the audience immediately knows this movie is going to end badly for him. For one thing, his childhood friends grew up to be Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon, and when was the last time any movie character associated with those two ever wound up riding happily into the sunset? And two, when we first see Robbins, he's wearing a Red Sox cap. Clearly, this man is still being haunted.

I won't give the ending away to the five people who haven't seen the movie, other than to say that "Mystic River'' does not end badly for Robbins. It ends very, very badly for him. But as terribly as the movie begins for his character and as horribly as it ends for him, I couldn't help but think, well at least he didn't have to sit through Game 7 and watch Grady Little stick with Pedro.

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Damn. Everybody knew Pedro was done. The only pitcher I wouldn't have welcomed in from the bullpen at that point was Tim Robbins.

My pick: "Lost in Translation.''

Best Actor
But let's get back to Sean Penn, who is the prohibitive favorite in this category. I agree, he is a great actor. But c'mon, look at his filmography -- "Mystic River," "21 Grams," "Thin Red Line," "Dead Man Walking," "Carlito's Way," "Casualties of War." Sheesh, compared to those, "Colors'' was practically a comedy for him. It's hard to believe this man once played Jeff Spicoli. All I can figure is being married to Madonna must have really messed him up.

My pick: Bill Murray, "Lost in Translation.''

Best Supporting Actor
Tim Robbins is up for this award, which reminds me of another problem with "Mystic River.'' In that first shot we see of Robbins wearing the Red Sox cap, he's just finished playing baseball with his son and he's giving him some pointers as they walk home. This is supposed to establish Robbins as a loving, All-American father; but the only thing it made me think of was his horrible mechanics as pitching phenom Nuke LaLoosh in "Bull Durham.'' That performance easily placed him in the top three least-convincing baseball players in movie history, along with Robert DeNiro in "Bang the Drum Slowly'' and Gary Cooper in "The Pride of the Yankees.''

Bull Durham
Somebody please take Tim Robbins out of the rotation when making baseball scenes.

Yet now, in "Mystic River,'' we're supposed to believe Robbins is suddenly going to teach his son how to play baseball? With that arm? Give me a break. I kept expecting him to call up Kevin Costner so his son could practice his clichés or hand his son a garter belt and send him off to Susan Sarandon. And then I remembered: Robbins and Sarandon are like married or have a Goldie Hawn-Kurt Russell thing, so the thought of his son having sex with her just creeped me out and it was a good 15 minutes before I could get my mind back on the movie.

My pick: Alec Baldwin, "The Cooler.''

Best Actress
You know what I wondered while I was watching "Whale Rider?" If you had a race between Keisha-Castle Hughes riding on the back of her whale and Toby Maguire atop Seabiscuit, who would win? I guess it would depend on the track conditions.

My pick: Charlize Theron, "Monster.''

Best Supporting Actress
Renee ("You had me at hello'') Zellweger is up for her over-the-top performance in "Cold Mountain,'' a movie that had way too much Renee Zellweger and not nearly enough Philip Seymour Hoffman. If you haven't seen "Along Came Polly'' yet, don't bother. It's dull and it's not funny. Except for Philip Seymour Hoffman, who almost makes the movie worth renting for his performance as a bladder-challengingly bad basketball player. As basketball scenes go, it ranks right up there with "Hoosiers'' and the one-on-one between Robert Duvall and Michael O'Keefe in "The Great Santini.''

My pick: Holly Hunter, "Thirteen.''

Best Director
Clint Eastwood is up for "Mystic River,'' which reminds me: On second thought, I would have rather had Robbins pitch to Jorge Posada.

My pick: Sofia Coppola, "Lost in Translation.''

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com




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