Imagine police cars and fire trucks racing toward a building where a fat man, a short guy and a woman teeter on the roof’s ledge while the crowd below yells, “Jump!” Fantastical, sure. But clearly the message Academy Award voters sent this year to Harvey Weinstein, Tom Cruise and Amy Pascal is: Drop dead.

The snubbing of Cold Mountain (Weinstein’s Miramax), Last Samurai (Cruise for Warner’s) and Big Fish (Sony’s Pascal) is the only scintillating news to come out of Tuesday’s Oscar nominations announcement. The rest is a total snore. Well, it gets worse because we can expect even less buzz from the actual broadcast on February 29.

You heard it here first: It will be a crushing bore. No suspense. No surprises. No Michael Moore. And with Joe Roth producing, expect lots of “Young Hollywood” stuff, which translates into crotch shots of Ashton Kutcher and acne close-ups of Hilary Duff.

As far back as October, it became clear who was going to win this year’s Oscars. Jeez, even the I-watch-movies-therefore-my-opinion-is-authoritative blogging mouth-breathers — and you know who you are — can get it right this time around. That is, if they finally accept the fact that the Oscars have nothing to do with art or performances and everything to do with old scores to settle, runaway egos to lasso and flagrant jealousies gone amok.

So let’s handicap this lame race, shall we?

Best Actor

If readers of Us, YM and In Style were giving out awards, Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean) would win hands down. If I were giving out awards, Ben Kingsley (House of Sand and Fog) would get another one because he scared the bejesus out of me in Sexy Beast. As for Jude Law, sorry, no Brits need apply this year. (Blame Tony Blair for partnering with Bush in all that war mongering.) No, this year it’s between Sean Penn (Mystic River) and Bill Murray (Lost in Translation).

Here are two of the most disliked people in Hollywood, with a difference. Penn has always been talented. Murray has always been toxic. The comedian spent years squandering the good will he’d built up in this town thanks to blockbusters like Caddyshack, Stripes, and Ghostbusters by acting like a total asshole the minute he had any success. He demanded to be cast in that remake of The Razor’s Edge, then singlehandedly ruined an otherwise good film. But on Quick Change, he really blew it. It wasn’t just the wooing sessions he demanded of studios. (Dawn Steel ordered authentic deep-dish pizza from his adopted hometown of Chicago.) It was the awful arrogance he displayed. (At the movie’s completion, he insisted that Geffen Films remove its logo from the picture.) Yes, he fell on hard times. Yes, he made amends with Rushmore. But here Oscar voters have a choice of rewarding bad behavior and worse behavior. Besides, some of Hollywood’s anti-Iraqi war fervor may tilt in Penn’s favor. And the geezers who fill out the ballot want to honor geriatric Clint. Sean Penn wins.

Best Actress

Whoever thought Nicole Kidman (Cold Mountain) would get another nomination (that’s you, Harv) had to be smoking something. Look, she had to disguise and disfigure herself (not to mention get dumped by Cruise) to win the Oscar last year. And the Academy is not going to feel sorry for her twice in a row. Forget Samantha Morton (In America) and Naomi Watts (21 Grams) because they’re relative newcomers to the Oscar race with lots of years to win ahead. (Translation: Their racks still hang high.) This is the category that usually goes to a sentimental favorite with a long body of work or a public tale of woe. Not to the 13-year-old kid from Whale Rider who, unlike Tatum O’Neal, didn’t have to put up with the horror of having Ryan as a father. (If she throws a tantrum, shut her up with a Juicy Couture velour hoodie.)

So it’s between Diane Keaton (Something’s Gotta Give) and Charlize Theron (Monster). Diane deserves to win. After all, she gave virtuoso performances living in sin with all those nutty superstars like Woody Allen, Al Pacino, Warren Beatty. Both her boobs and her butt will soon drag the floor. And she even made some incredible films. Unfortunately, the old broad is going to lose this year to stunt work by that annoying Theron, who pulled every trick to score this win. She gained 30 pounds. (Oh, like that’s sooo hard.) She dyed her blond locks mousy brown. (Again, a no-brainer.) She kissed Christina Ricci. (Lesbianism is so mainstream now.) And she told of the tragedy — to Diane Sawyer, no less — that her mother shot and killed Theron's drunken, gun-toting father when the actress was 15 years old. The only thing that could sink Charlize’s chances between now and final balloting is if she gives too many interviews. Have you heard her speak? She’s a moron who’s so in love with herself that Shrek’s egomaniacal Lord Farquaad could pick up pointers. Charlize Theron wins.

Best Supporting Actor

This is the category where the old or the infirm, the teen or the tiny, usually win. Yet for some reason, that dwarf from The Station Agent was overlooked. If the Academy decides to be racially correct, then Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai) is a shoo-in. But the race is really between Alec Baldwin (The Cooler) and Tim Robbins (Mystic River).

Remember the days when the oldest Baldwin bro was a heartthrob? He was thin, he was funny, he could act. But then people got to know him, and to know Alec is to loathe him. Oy, his double chins developed offspring, he passed on Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan character, and he divorced Kim Basinger. He hit bottom when the far right put a hit out on him. Luckily, for him, that made Hollywood take another look. Now the bloated loser is accepted as a character actor as long as he eats humble pie. (Can that waist get any bigger?) Robbins, too, is in the cross hairs of conservatives. But, unlike Baldwin, Robbins is slim and successful. He’s an accomplished director who still acts, a talented actor who can also direct. And unlike Baldwin, Robbins won’t succeed or suffer if he doesn’t win this Oscar. This town hates flop sweat. Besides, Robbins should have won something for directing Dead Man Walking years ago. Tim Robbins wins.

Best Supporting Actress

Same weirdo category as above. Both Marcia Gay Harden (Mystic River) and Holly Hunter (Thirteen) are kaput since they’ve won before. Iran’s Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog) is a we-don’t-hate-Mideasterners choice if Hollywood wants to showcase tolerance. But they don’t. The real race is between Patricia Clarkson (Pieces of April) and Renee Zellweger (Cold Mountain). As the queen of the indies, Clarkson may get the nod just because she’s never in competition with other actresses for major studio jobs. But Renee is Weinstein’s new Gwyneth, and the Academy may want to punish her for that sin alone. Patricia Clarkson wins.

Best Director

Do I really have to be clever when the Oscar’s so obvious? Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) made three movies back-to-back and didn’t fuck up even one. And he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize just for putting up with Bob Shaye.

Best Picture

The real story here is how Universal bought the nomination for Seabiscuit after spending Miramax-like money on its Oscar campaign. (And took it away from Pascal’s Big Fish. Look for Oscar marketing wiz Tony Angelotti to be wooed by Sony next year.) That said, there’s a faint rumbling of a potential showdown between Mystic River and The Return of the King. But, like the aged voters who’ll decide, you’ll need a hearing aid to monitor it. True, the Academy hates any movie that makes too much money, much less a trio that has earned gazillions. But these elitists also hate looking out of step with the masses, so one cancels out the other. Lord III wins.

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Read Finke's earlier column on how to fix the Oscars.

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