And the nominees are.... Predicting a few good men, and women, for the Oscars

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Three-hundred-sixty-four days a year, Hollywood's a late-night kind of place, with the after-hours clubs on the Strip wailing almost till dawn and the bright and beautiful young butterflies of the industry seeking pleasure in all its forms and costs.

But one day a year -- it falls on Wednesday this year -- the town gets up with the cows, like any hick burg -- at 5:30 a.m.

Groundhog Day?

No. It's something else. It's . . . Producerhog day!

That's because 5:30 a.m. Western Standard Time is 8:30 A.M. Eastern Standard Time, the last and most viewed half hour of New York morning talk-show frenzy, and that's when the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences hauls a few has-been stars out of the rehab centers to reel off the nominations for the 1992 Oscars.

Handicapping the nominations is a lot more difficult than handicapping the winners, because of course so much of it depends on industry promotion, which outsiders (such as moi) aren't privy to; and also, the possibility pool is so much larger. Only a fool would try.

Did I hear my name called?

Anyway, for the sheer masochistic hell of it, here's a fearless prognostication on the names Hollywood will get up early to hear on Wednesday. But if I'm wrong, please don't call: I'll still be in bed.

Generally, I'm betting that Spike Lee won't be a happy young man come Wednesday, but that it will be a very good day to be a pretend Englishman, a pretend Marine or a pretend woman. Hollywood loves pretending.

In Best Supporting Actor, the sure nomination and almost sure winner will be Jack Nicholson for his dynamic 10-day job as the demonic Marine Colonel Nathan Jessep in "A Few Good Men." It's probably pointless to mention others, but here goes anyway: Gene Hackman will get the nod for his violent and avuncular sheriff in "The Unforgiven." Anthony Hopkins will get a de rigueur inclusion for his powerhouse in "Howards End," everybody's favorite pretend-British movie (it was directed by an American, produced by an Indian and written by a German); Sidney Pollock should be nominated for his excellent performance in Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives," because, after all, he is Sidney Pollock, powerful director; and the last one will be a real long shot, Wes Studi, who was so magnificent as Magua in Michael Mann's "Last of the Mohicans."

The Supporting Actress nominations will certainly include Joan Plowright for her acerbic turn in "Enchanted April," Judy Davis for her role as the wife half of the equation in "Husbands and Wives" (she was married to Pollack in that film). Geraldine Chaplin will probably be nominated as well for her wonderful turn as her own grandmother in the utter failure "Chaplin". Though it's a film that debuted last spring, I believe memories will linger long enough to secure a nomination for Marisa Tomei in "My Cousin Vinnie," a negligible item remarkable only in that it marked the first film role of a great actress. Last but not least, in another nod to solemn mock-Brit "classiness," Vanessa Redgrave will get a nomination for her role as the dotty and doomed mother in "Howards End."

I'm in big trouble in Best Actress because I can only come up with three possibilities. Certainly the leader is Emma Thompson, the absolute soul of "Howards End," a crisp no-nonsense woman who also has a core of feminity and sexuality too powerful to be denied. Susan Sarandon is a ferocious mother in "Lorenzo's Oil," and will get a nomination, though the movie's star seems to be setting under the weight of charges that most of its medicine is bogus. I believe Whoopi Goldberg will get nominated for the wondrous turn in the delightful though lightweight "Sister Act." From there on it's strictly a crap shoot. Michelle Pfeiffer in "Batman Returns"? An Oscar nomination for a meow? Possibly she'll get one for the more "actressy" "Love Field," which has been seen by at least six people, none of them in Baltimore. The John Sayles film "Passion Fish" is said to do great things for Mary MacDonnell and Alfre Woodard. What about Jaye Davidson for "The Crying Game"?

The Best Actor category is bursting out everywhere, on the other hand. Surely Robert Downey Jr. will get a nod for his astonishing impersonation of Chaplin in "Chaplin"; Jack Lemon really put himself back on the map with an astounding turn as the greedy yet pathetic Shelly Levine, the salesman's salesman, in "Glengarry Glen Ross." Who could deny glowering Clint Eastwood his nomination after his mean-spirited, back-shooting turn in his own brilliant film, "Unforgiven." Al Pacino, who might have gotten a nod as the silky Romano in "Glengarry Glen Ross", will certainly get one for his self-loathing show-offy blind Army officer in "Scent of a Woman," a movie which, among other things, appears to have Universal's powerful marketing department fully behind it. And Denzel Washington, on screen for close to 3 1/2 hours as Malcolm X in Spike Lee's epic biography, "Malcolm X" is a sure bet.

Of course much theorizing has been offered on the appearance in this category of Jack Nicholson, for his work in "Hoffa." The possibility has its own attractiveness because it would certainly generate a lot of ink; however, it's hard to believe, since the movie is such a dog. If it does happen, Nicholson will bump the hapless Robert Downey Jr., since "Chaplin" was the only movie that under-performed "Hoffa" at the box office.

Best Picture is a tough category this year. In November, "Malcolm X" looked like a sure bet, but a batch of Christmas pictures emerged, from some surprising sources, to push it to the furthest category, outside chance. Certainly, "Howard's End" will get a nomination, as it's this year's prime cut of mock-Brit beef, allowing the sleazy rug merchants of La La Land the amusing fantasy of seeing themselves as elegant, cultured, veddy, veddy British. "Unforgiven" has already picked up a lot of momentum on the pre-Oscar award circuit, and, moreover, it represents a chance to tip the hat to the grand old guy whose shoot-'em-ups have kept Warner Bros. in business in the modern era. "A Few Good Men" is also a fantasy item: It's another version of what Hollywood could be if it wanted, which of course it doesn't -- that is, the maker of a coherent, well-crafted piece of mainstream entertainment that even seems to be about a serious issue (although it's really not). It's also a chance to salute Rob Reiner's extremely efficient Castle Rock, which has turned out moneymaker after moneymaker. Another possible is "The Crying Game," unheralded but packing such a wallop that no movie has generated more word of mouth, and even critics have kept their mouths shut as to the movie's "big secret." No one wants to be the first to let it slip that . . . Oh, I want to tell so bad! The last spot will probably go to either "Scent of a Woman" or "Aladdin," and probably the former, because it's being pushed so hard and because the last Disney cartoon, "Beauty and the Beast" already achieved the novelty breakthrough of being first animated feature to get a Best Picture nomination.

And, as I said before: Zzzzzzzz-zzzzz.

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