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Oscar Preview: "You Like Me! You Really Like Me!"

Your Handy Guide to Hollywood's Annual Parade of Egos and Little Gold Trophies

By Nicole Columbus

Okay, so this is the first year of the Crimson Oscar preview, and what happens? A small Australian film about a pig, and a small Italian film about a letter carrier are nominated for best picture. Most of the nominations are for non-mainstream films. Several high-profile films did not receive major nominations (e.g., "Get Shorty," "The American President;" except for best-female actor nominations, "Casino" and "Bridges of Madison County" were ignored). All five director and all ten supporting-actor/female actor candidates are first-time nominees. In recent years, the Academy Awards have been dominated by a single film, but not this year. No "Schindler's List," no "Forrest Gump," no front-runners. This year, it's a free-for-all, and it's anyone's guess who will win. So, the following is an attempt to sort out the favorites and sum up what could help and what could hurt in the race for the Oscars.

Best Picture

This category reflects the prevailing opinion that 1995 was a year of mediocre movies--despite 153 releases in wide distribution. Aside from "Sense and Sensibility," all of the nominees were released early in 1995. This is extremely unusual, for serious Oscar contenders are typically released closer to the time of voting. With no clear front-runner this year, the campaigns--such as ads in trade papers like Variety--can make a difference.

"Apollo 13" is the only true big-budget Hollywood film on the list; "Braveheart" might count, as well, but it was filmed in England and Scotland. "Apollo 13" could also ride on the wave of Tom Hanks' popularity--though Hanks, who won the Best Actor Oscar the last two years, was not nominated this year. The film's director, Ron Howard, was not nominated either. The only films that have won without their directors having been nominated are "Driving Miss Daisy" (1989) and "Grand Hotel" (1931-32).

Despite the overwhelming critical acclaim that "Babe" has received, the film probably would not have been nominated in a year with more choices. Remember, more animal actors means less work for human ones. But this is a weak category and "Babe," the surprise hit of the year, might just carry away the top prize. "Braveheart" leads the pack with ten nominations, but don't expect a sweep comparable to that of "Schindler's List" or "Gump." "Brave-heart" may be deemed too gory--lots of big, violent battles--by many of the Academy members. But Mel Gibson will probably win Best Director.

Next is "The Postman (Il Postino)"--wait, you say, shouldn't that be in the foreign film category? However, "The Postman" was not entered into consideration for best foreign film. (There are conflicting reports as to the reasons behind this: some say that Italy was annoyed that a Briton--Michael Radford--was directing an Italian film. It has been said that since "The Postman" opened in Italy in 1994 it could not be nominated for Best Foreign Film of 1995; however, it opened in the U.S. in 1995 and thus could be nominated for best picture.) Many feel that "The Postman" nominations were achieved by the massive advertising campaign launched by Miramax, the film's American distributor. Nonetheless, when it comes to winning the actual award, "The Postman" will be hurt by its subtitles--no foreign film has ever won Best Picture.

Nominee number five is "Sense and Sensibility"--like "Apollo 13," its director (Ang Lee) did not receive a nomination. But "Sense" won the Golden Globe award for best dramatic picture, and in the past 16 years, the Globes have accurately predicted 12 best picture winners, 12 best actors, and 14 best female actors. But the Golden Globes also splits its awards into two categories, Drama and Comedy/Musical--this year, the latter award went to "Babe." Still, the odds are good for "Sense and Sensibility." It's not the clear favorite, but it probably has the edge.

My choice wasn't nominated. "Leaving Las Vegas" got shafted. Director, actor, female actor, and screenplay all received nominations--so how could it not be nominated for best film? Of the five nominated films, "Sense and Sensibility" is my personal favorite. "Apollo 13," aside from a few genuinely thrilling moments, was one of the most boring movies I've ever seen. The movie did not get off the ground until the astronauts did. To quote film critic David Denby, it's the Bob Dole of films. As for the rest: "Babe" stars animals and animatronics; who wants to see "Braveheart"?--not me; "The Postman" was sweet, but it has only received this much attention because its star died.

Best Actor

I guess eponymous characters spell success--four out of five of the best actor nominees play characters referred to in their film's title (Sean Penn is the "Dead Man Walking"). That may get you the nomination but not the award. The favorite in this race is Nicolas Cage for his role in "Leaving Las Vegas." And he would be my choice as well. Richard Dreyfuss? Big deal, so he ages 30 years in two hours in "Mr. Holland's Opus." Anthony Hopkins? Good, but not good enough; and he just won not long ago for "Silence of the Lambs." Massimo Troisi? He was good but a little annoying, and everyone knows that he was nominated solely because he died the day after filming for "The Postman" concluded. The last time an actor received a posthumous nomination was when Peter Finch won for "Network" in 1976. Sean Penn received excellent reviews, but if the Academy votes for a depressing role, it will be Cage.

Two big names were not included in the list of nominations: Tom Hanks and John Travolta. Early on, many people seemed to be expecting a repeat of the "Forrest Gump" - "Pulp Fiction" race of last year. But, I have to say, I'm happy that neither one was nominated. Hanks gave a stolid performance, unexciting and annoyingly self-righteous, as usual. Travolta was amusing in "Get Shorty" but his role gave him nothing to do; he was much better in "Pulp Fiction." An actor, however, who really should have been nominated is Jonathan Pryce, for his stellar performance as the eccentric Lytton Strachey in "Carrington."

Best Female Actor

In recent years, Hollywood has had difficulty finding five best-film nominees and five best-female actor nominees. While the former category is still weak, this year there were more than enough candidates for best female actor. Some female studio executives regard this increase in good women's roles as a mere fluke and not the sign of a shift in Hollywood. Others cite the increase in women directors, producers and executives, as well as the influence of stars like Emma Thompson and Nicole Kidman, who were pivotal in creating "Sense and Sensibility" and "To Die For." Note, however, that three of this year's nominated female actors--Elisabeth Shue and Sharon Stone for Best Actress, Mira Sorvino '90 for Best Supporting Actress--play prostitutes. Oscars have often gone to female actor in prostitute roles, including Jane Fonda, Susan Hayward and Elizabeth Taylor. Playing a prostitute in "Pretty Woman" turned Julia Roberts into a star. It seems that women's roles tend to fall into one of two categories: the wholesome girlfriend or the "woman of loose morals," the saint or the slut.

This year there were so many Best Actress contenders that some of them had to be left out. Omitted from the list of nominees were Nicole Kidman, for her role as an overly ambitious newscaster in the black comedy "To Die For" and Jennier Jason Leigh, for her portrayal of a drug-addicted would-be rock star in "Georgia." Also missing is Vanessa Redgrave, who received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in "A Month by the Lake." She was not expected to be an Oscar nominee, but I, for one, am of the opinion that every time Vanessa Redgrave appears in a film, she should be nominated.

Who's going to win? This is perhaps the most competitive race. Thompson won three years ago for "Howards End," and we've seen her do this kind of role before. But look for her in the adapted screeplay category--it is the one sure thing this year that Emma Thompson will win for her "Sense and Sensibility" screenplay. Some critics complained that Thompson's script was too streamlined, jettisoning too much of the book and updating parts, but she has primarily won kudos for turning Jane Austen into today's hottest writer.

This is Streep's tenth Oscar nomination--an accomplishment matched by only two other female actors, Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn. But her chances of winning are hurt by the fact that she was won twice before--these days, it seems that Streep is always nominated but never expected to win.

Elisabeth Shue received critical acclaim as the hooker with a heart of gold in "Leaving Las Vegas." She was named Best Actress by the National Society of Film Critics and the Los Angeles Film Critics. But she will not win the Oscar. Sharon Stone received terrific reviews for her performance in "Casino," showing that she can now be taken seriously as an female actor. Remember, lots of media exposure can help in the awards race, so Stone's March "Vanity Fair" cover article could give her a push. Stone has also been described, as a tireless campaigner. Plus, she won the Golden Globe for best female actor--the Golden Globes used to be considered laughable, but they have slowly gained respect because they often predict the Oscar winners. Since 1989, the Golden Globes have been 75 percent correct in predicting the Oscars in the four acting categories.

Then there is Susan Sarandon. This is her fourth nomination in years. "Dead Man Walking" was really more Sean Penn's picture, but if she wins, the award will be in recognition of her earlier work as much as for this role. There is a definite feeling that Sarandon truly deserves an Oscar, and so she could definitely win it this year. Plus, she was the Hasty Pudding Theatricals Woman of the Year!

Supporting Female Actor

Why was Kathleen Quinlan nominated for "Apollo 13"? This is the kind of "waiting wife" role that Hollywood female actor are too often forced to play. In a year with great female roles, Quinlan need not have been nominated for this nothing part. And why Mare Winning-ham for "Georgia"? Jennifer Jason Leigh is the female actor in "Georgia" that everyone was talking about.

The race is between two contenders, Mira Sorvino and Joan Allen. Each claims her share of devotees, but this is the category where newcomers often seem to be rewarded--Marisa Tomei and Anna Paquin, for example. Last year, Dianne Wiest won for her supporting role in another Woody Allen film. I would be happy if either one took home the Oscar, but Sorvino, a Harvard grad, is the sentimental favorite.

Supporting Actor

And the winner is...not James Cromwell, who was one of the few people in "Babe" (unless there's a surprise "Babe" sweep), not Tim Roth (I didn't see "Rob Roy," did you?), perhaps Brad Pitt--he left his pretty boy roles behind, donned brown contact lenses to cover up those baby blues and played a crazy animal rights activist in "12 Monkeys." Hollywood likes to reward people who break from typecasting, but remember when Winona Ryder was supposed to win Best Supporting Actress for "The Age of Innocence?" (She won the Golden Globe, but Anna Paquin won the Oscar.)

Why is everyone mentioning Ed Harris? Sure, he was fine as ground control in "Apollo 13," but he did not really do anything (I liked Gary Sinise more). Suddenly, however, he is discussed as a possible favorite for the Oscar. But the best bet is Kevin Spacey in the ultra-hip, ultra-gimmicky "The Usual Suspects." The New York Film Critics Circle named him best supporting actor for his body of work this year, which also included "Swimming with Sharks," "Seven," and "Out-break."

Well, there you have it. Stay tuned next Monday to see who wins. But remember, this year, anything goes. As Miramax head Harvey Weinstein said, "We're going to put the bookmakers out of business this year." So, dear reader, you ask, what did Yours Truly put down on her Harvard Dining Services Oscar ballot? Two words: multiple ballots.

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