HOLLYWOOD'S ANNUAL EXTRAVAGANZA No favorite film is expected to sweep this year's Oscars

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Is it that time of year again, already? How did 365 days race by so quickly? Time flies when you're having fun, eh, moviegoers? And yes, indeed, tomorrow night is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Award ceremony, better known as the Oscars, that annual orgy of vulgarity, earnestness, self-promotion, cleavage and whimsy that nevertheless will manage to be as mesmerizing as any movie this year. The key is Sincerity: Once Hollywood learned how to fake it, all good things followed. This is the night that Hollywood pretends that it cares.

It's a strange year in the Oscar-predict beat. There's not an overwhelming favorite that everybody, critics and public, believes in. My sense is that this year there will not be a steamroller movie, but that the awards will be fairly evenly distributed among the five best picture nominees. No film should win more than four Oscars.

Here's how the major categories line up, according to the tea leaves in my cup.

Best Supporting Actress

Isn't it, oh, I don't know, kind of sweet that a mom and daughter are both up in the female categories for the same movie? That's Diane Ladd in this category and her daughter Laura Dern in Best Actress. Yes, it's sweet. And here's what it'll get from Oscar: nada. As in, nothing, zilch, zip, zee-row, nuttin' honey. Juliette Lewis won't win for "Cape Fear" either, because she's too new. Kate Nelligan is a possibility because Hollywood always loves it when a former leading lady does a folksy character part, and Jessica Tandy may win it for "Fried Green Tomatoes," because, well, because she's Jessica Tandy. But I think Mercedes Ruehl will win, because her performance was the most dynamic thing in "The Fisher King," and because her work has been so uniformly good for a number of years.

Best Original Screenplay

Two of the candidates can be dismissed instantly: They are Lawrence Kasdan and his wife Meg for "Grand Canyon," which not many people liked; and Richard LaGravenes for "The Fisher King," which not many people understood.

John Singleton is an outside possibility, but his nomination will be seen as honor enough for "Boyz N the Hood"; James Toback has a long, controversial career as a screenwriter and director and he's finally hit the bigs with "Bugsy," which probably is the best original script of the year.

But neither of them will win. The winner will be Callie Khouri for "Thelma & Louise," a movie more passionately loved in film circles than it was by the general public.

Best Supporting Actor

Tommy Lee Jones, playing an outrageous swish in "JFK"? Yeah, right, in light of the industry's targeting by some gay groups. Not a chance.

Michael Lerner as a crass, repulsive studio head in "Barton Fink"? In your dreams, buster, or, rather, in Michael Lerner's, although he was the best thing in "Barton," which, unfortunately or not, zero people saw.

That leaves the three-way race between Ben Kingsley for "Bugsy," Harvey Keitel for "Bugsy" and Jack Palance for "City Slickers." I think the same-picture cancellation factor will apply here, particularly as it favors old pro -- he's been up with two Oscar nominations in the early '50s, he's been down with "Rivak the Barbarian," and now he's back up again -- Jack Palance.

I know he looks like a saddlebag. I know he doesn't really "act," but no one in this rather light category could be said to "act."

Best Adapted Screenplay

The temptations to be politically correct here must be overwhelming. There are so many things to vote for and feel virtuous. You can vote for Pat Conroy and Becky Johnston for the touchy-feely "Prince of Tides," and also avenge the Academy's sexist snub of director Barbra Streisand. You can vote for Agnieszka Holland's script for "Europa Europa" and thereby strike a blow at the antisemitic Germans who refused to nominate it for best foreign film. You can vote for Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar for finally ripping the veils off the conspiracy and proving at last that the CIA-FBI-NYT-USMC-BSA-AFSCME-USF&G; combined murdered John Kennedy. But for once Hollywood won't do the politically correct thing; instead, it will do the right thing, and give the Oscar in this category to Ted Tally for his job on "Silence of the Lambs," which managed to compact that novel into cinematic form, and yet sustain its sense of deep weirdness, its evocation of the dank horrors of the psychotic mind.

Best Actress

Conventional wisdom, not always accurate, predicts that Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis of "Thelma & Louise" willcancel each other out. At least once that didn't happen: when both Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger were nominated for "Terms of Endearment," and MacLaine won. The only sure no-win in the category is Bette Midler, strictly a pity nominee who got the nod after the dismal failure of her dismal film "For the Boys," in which she was just mediocre anyhow. Laura Dern is a long shot for "Rambling Rose." I think Jodie Foster will win Oscar No. 2 for "Silence of the Lambs," even though the movie was a February release. The reason is the VCR, which, by the way, has been a great help to movies released in the first half of the year, doing much to undercut the Academy's usual late-year release bias. "Silence" has been on tape for two months, a great help.

Best Actor

This is probably the hardest of the categories to pick. There's a nice theory to explain a victory by each of the nominees. Warren Beatty has finally found himself the center of a movie all Hollywood seems to like; moreover, he produced it himself, virtually willing it into existence. Then there's Nick Nolte, a former bad boy, who's finally settled down. Moreover, he actually cries, and Hollywood loves it when tough guys break down and make with the weepy-weepy. Then there's Robert De Niro; he's always good, and in "Cape Fear" he's devouring, he's demonic, he's De Niro. And Robin Williams has a sad, jangled, poignant turn in "The Fisher King." But the winner will be the meanness of them all, the grinning, chortling, evil Dr. Hannibal Lecter as personified in "The Silence of the Lambs" by Anthony Hopkins.

Best Film Editing

This is as close to a gimme as it gets. Go ahead, bet the house. Not my house, your house. Anyway, no one but editors really knows if a film is well-edited or not, just as no one but directors of photography knows if it's well-photographed. But everybody knows showy editing, and no picture was more showily edited than Oliver Stone's "JFK," a phantasmagoria of film snippets and flash cuts. The others ("Terminator 2," "The Commitments," "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Thelma & Louise") haven't a chance.

Best Cinematography

Another gimme, for the same reason as above. As a photographic document, "JFK" was insistent, vivid, compelling; the camera was an active participant in the storytelling. Is this "good?" Not necessarily, but it's also impossible to ignore. "JFK" all the way.

Best Director

John Singleton made a wonderful debut movie with "Boyz N the Hood," but Hollywood usually gives first time directors Oscars only if they are major stars like Kevin Costner or Robert Redford. Sorry about that, John. Barry Levinson did a wonderful job on "Bugsy," but he's already won an Oscar and most people see the movie as Warren Beatty's, anyway. "JFK" was masterfully directed, but it's got A.) homosexuals angry and B.) conservatives angry. Any validation of it with a major award such as this is bound to have unpleasant repercussions that nobody really cares to live with. Everybody in Hollywood loved "Thelma & Louise," and it ended up on a lot of news-mag covers, and it was such a change of pace from the usual Ridley ("Blade Runner," "Black Rain") Scott bombast, but -- it faded quickly. The winner of the Best Director will be Jonathan Demme, again for the brilliant "Silence of the Lambs."

Best Movie

. . . but if you think something is building for "Silence," guess again. That's because the whole Academy votes on Best Movie, as opposed to the members of each group as with the other categories. "Silence," with its oh-so-ooky psychosexual subtext, gave too many of them the creeps. "JFK" was much too controversial; the Academy tends to use this category to put its best face forward, and therefore it tends to take middle-of-the-road pieces of moral uplift. So it's between the three nicey-nices: "Prince of Tides," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Bugsy." "Prince" probably won't get it, because then everybody would have to explain that snub of Streisand in the director's category; as for "Beauty," it seems unlikely, because the very fact that it's been nominated in "Best Picture" category will seem honor enough. That leaves "Bugsy," which is serious, entertaining, moral (crime doesn't pay, in the end), glamorous and not tainted by excessive success. It's also a way to reward both Beatty and Levinson, two of Hollywood's most admired players, without stooping to give them actual Oscars.

Baltimore's best

The eyes of Baltimore tomorrow night will be on the work of favorite sons Barry Levinson and the late Howard Ashman during the 64th annual Academy Awards (broadcast on ABC at 9 p.m.). Mr. Levinson's "Bugsy" received 10 Oscar nominations in nine categories, while Mr. Ashman's "Beauty and the Beast" got six nominations in four categories. The following are the categories for which each are nominated:

"Bugsy"

* Picture

* Actor, Warren Beatty

* Supporting Actor, Ben Kingsley, Harvey Keitel

* Director, Barry Levinson

* Original Screenplay, James Toback

* Art Direction

* Cinematography

* Costume Design

' * Music, Original Score

"Beauty and the Beast"

* Picture

* Music, Original Score

* Music, Original Song

* Sound

Other nominees

Here is a list of additional nominees for tomorrow night's 64th annual Academy Awards presentations:

* Foreign Film: "Children of Nature," Iceland; "The ElementarSchool," Czechoslovakia; "Mediterraneo," Italy; "The Ox," Sweden; "Raise the Red Lantern," Hong Kong.

* Art Direction: "Barton Fink," "Bugsy," "The Fisher King," "Hook,"The Prince of Tides."

* Costume Design: "The Addams Family," "Barton Fink," "Bugsy,"Hook," "Madame Bovary."

* Documentary Feature: "Death on the Job," "Doing Time: LifInside the Big House," "In the Shadow of the Stars," "The Restless Conscience: Resistance to Hitler Within Germany 1933-1945," "Wild By Law."

* Documentary Short Subject: "Birdnesters of Thailand (ShadoHunters)," "Deadly Deception: General Electric, Nuclear Weapons and Our Environment," "A Little Vicious," "The Mark of the Maker," "Memorial: Letters From American Soldiers."

* Makeup: "Hook," "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,"Terminator 2: Judgment Day."

* Music, Original Score: "Beauty and the Beast," "Bugsy," "ThFisher King," "JFK," "The Prince of Tides."

* Music, Original Song: "Beauty and the Beast" from "Beauty anthe Beast"; "Belle" from "Beauty and the Beast"; "Be Our Guest" from "Beauty and the Beast"; "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" from "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves"; "When You're Alone" from "Hook."

L * Animated Short Film: "Blackfly," "Manipulation," "Strings."

* Live Action Short Film: "Birch Street Gym," "Last Breeze oSummer," "Session Man."

* Sound: "Backdraft," "Beauty and the Beast," "JFK," "ThSilence of the Lambs," "Terminator 2: Judgment Day."

* Sound Effects Editing: "Backdraft," "Star Trek VI: ThUndiscovered Country," "Terminator 2: Judgment Day."

* Visual Effects: "Backdraft," "Hook," "Terminator 2: JudgmenDay."

The 64th annual Academy Awards

A list of nominees for the top categories

PICTURE

"Beauty and the Beast,"

"Bugsy,"

"JFK,"

"The Prince of Tides,"

"The Silence of the Lambs,"

ACTOR

Warren Beatty, "Bugsy";

Robert DeNiro, "Cape Fear";

Anthony Hopkins, "The Silence of the Lambs";

Nick Nolte, "The Prince of Tides";

Robin Williams, "The Fisher King."

ACTRESS

Geena Davis, "Thelma & Louise";

Laura Dern, "Rambling Rose";

Jodie Foster, "The Silence of the Lambs";

Bette Midler, "For the Boys";

Susan Sarandon, "Thelma & Louise."

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Tommy Lee Jones, "JFK";

Harvey Keitel, "Bugsy";

Ben Kingsley, "Bugsy";

Michael Lerner, "Barton Fink";

Jack Palance, "City Slickers";

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Diane Ladd, "Rambling Rose";

Juliette Lewis, "Cape Fear";

Kate Nelligan, "The Prince of Tides";

Mercedes Ruehl, "The Fisher King";

Jessica Tandy, "Fried Green Tomatoes";

DIRECTOR

John Singleton, "Boyz N the Hood";

Barry Levinson, "Bugsy";

Oliver Stone, "JFK";

Jonathan Demme, "The Silence of the Lambs";

Ridley Scott, "Thelma & Louise";

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

John Singleton, " Boyz N the Hood";

James Toback, "Bugsy";

Richard LaGravenese, "The Fisher King";

Lawrence Kasdan and Meg Kasdan, "Grand Canyon";

Callie Khouri, "Thelma & Louise."

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Agnieszka Holland, "Europa Europa";

Fannie Flagg and Carol Sovieski, "Fried Green Tomatoes";

Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, "JFK";

Pat Conroy and Becky Johnston, "The Prince of Tides";

Ted Tally, "The Silence of the Lambs."

CINEMATOGARPHY

"Bugsy,"

"JFK,"

"The Prince of Tides,"

"Terminator 2: Judgement Day,"

"Thelma & Louise."

FILM EDITING

"The Commitments,"

"JFK,"

"The Silence of the Lambs,"

"Terminator 2: Judgement Day,"

"Thelma & Louise."

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