“A Beautiful Mind” could be a beautiful thing come Oscar time for its topnotch cast and director Ron Howard.

Russell Crowe is on a hot streak that could land him his third consecutive actor nomination. He plays schizophrenic mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr., who developed theories while a graduate student at Princeton in the 1950s that profoundly influenced modern economics.

With Crowe bringing an alternately touching and tragic touch to Nash, and having won the actor trophy for last year’s “Gladiator” and a nom the year before for “The Insider,” a best actor nom seems as sure a bet as possible in this year’s crowded field. Whether he can win the category is another thing since, Tom Hanks aside, the Academy rarely favors consecutive wins.

Howard is looking to make it on to Oscar’s director nominee list, a feat denied him on his 1995 picture nominee “Apollo 13.” Drama was showered with nine noms, and won trophies for sound and editing.

With “Mind,” Howard has chosen to tackle a complicated, sympathetic topic that could win him and his picture big points with Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voters. From “Equus” and “Charly” to “Rain Man,” “Awakenings” and “Forrest Gump,” the Acad has liked tales of individuals coping with various forms of mental and physical diseases, and “Mind” is an able player in that league.

A favorite of Howard and Oscar is three-time nominee Ed Harris, who plays a prominent fixture in Nash’s delusions of Cold War heroism. Harris’ role in “Mind” echoes those that earned him supporting actor nominations for “The Truman Show” and “Apollo 13.”

Jennifer Connelly, who plays Nash’s wife, could earn her first Oscar nom after her critically acclaimed turn in last year’s “Requiem for a Dream.”

Vet scribe Akiva Goldsman’s adaptation, based on the biography by Sylvia Nasar, could vault him into contention for adapted screenplay.

The film boasts a strong roster of technical Oscar nominees and winners on its crew, many of whom could contend again this year. Among them: double Oscar-winning composer James Horner; cinematographer Roger Deakins, a four-time nominee; editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill, Oscar winners for “Apollo 13″; costume designer Rita Ryack; and makeup artist Greg Cannon, seven-time nominee and two-time winner.

Noms Watch

  • Picture: producers Ron Howard, Brian Grazer

  • Actor: Russell Crowe

  • Supporting actor: Ed Harris

  • Supporting actress: Jennifer Connelly

  • Director: Howard

  • Adapted screenplay: Akiva Goldsman

  • Score: James Horner

  • Cinematography: Roger Deakins

  • Editing: Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill
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