Best picture: Producers Peter Jackson, Barrie M. Osborne, Fran Walsh
Director: Jackson
Adapted screenplay: Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, Jackson
Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie
Editing: D. Michael Horton
Score: Howard Shore
Art direction: Dan Hennah, Phil Ivey
Costume design: Ngila Dickson, Richard Taylor
Makeup: Peter Owen, Jeremy Woodhead
Sound: Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Hammond Peek, Michael Semanick
Visual effects:Randall William Cook, Alex Funke, Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri

Last year’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” proved Oscar gold was no fantasy for director Peter Jackson and his colleagues.

Jackson’s first installment of the “Rings” trilogy was nominated for 13 Oscars, including picture, director, supporting actor and adapted screenplay, and took home four trophies in lesser categories.

With a more linear plot and an explosive and satisfying finale, “The Two Towers” can make a strong run at the picture, director and adapted screenplay categories. Writers Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh and Jackson were joined by Stephen Sinclair this time and were even more successful at bringing author J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy to the screen than with “Fellowship.”

Jackson’s direction brings the fantasy world of Middle-earth to vivid life and keeps the characters that inhabit it as fascinating and colorful as the exotic land in which they live. He and editor D. Michael Horton also keep the long and complex story moving clearly and at a breakneck, thrilling pace through its three-hour running time.

Howard Shore won an Oscar for his score to “Fellowship” and his music rises to new heights for this middle act.

With all three “Rings” episodes filmed back to back in one monstrous 15-month shoot, “Towers” easily lives up to and frequently exceeds the high technical standards set by the first film. As such, “Towers” should be a strong contender again in cinematography, art direction, makeup and sound. Ngila Dickson and Richard Taylor, Oscar winners for their costume design on “Fellowship,” should be back in the race.

Visual f/x — another category in which prior pic won an Oscar –in the film are outstanding, especially on slinking CGI character Gollum, and will make for an Oscar confrontation between “Towers'” Weta Digital and “Star Wars'” Industrial Light & Magic for the top f/x honor.

The one area “Towers” faces a harder road than “Fellowship” is in the acting categories. “Towers'” plot is more action-packed than the rambling “Fellowship,” and while each member of the large cast gets a moment to shine, no role is as dominant as Ian McKellen’s Oscar-nommed Gandalf was in the previous pic. With McKellen’s role much smaller in “Towers,” it will be hard for any one member of the cast to stand out enough for Oscar consideration.