Think of the 66th Annual Awards Presentation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as a Super Bowl game in which the final score -- which movie puts the biggest number after its name on Tuesday -- isn't that interesting, or even suspenseful. So, to enjoy it, you must key on how some of the smaller stories play out.
There's not a lot of suspense about the outcome, though in the interest of preserving a modicum of suspense I'll hold the big awards till late in my prognostication, but some smaller dramas look interesting. Which of the two very good commercial thrillers -- "In the Line of Fire" and "The Fugitive" -- will garner the most minor awards? Will Martin Scorsese's "The Age of Innocence," once a prime contender for the Big Award but ultimately passed over, salvage a few motes of respect? Will the fast-closer "In the Name of the Father" ace out the initially better known "The Remains of the Day"? Will there be any remains at all for "Remains," or will the other art house favorite, "The Piano," take -- the wind out of its sales?
Let's see how it shakes out across the Big Ten major nominations.
This one gives "In the Line of Fire" its best shot at a major award, but I don't think it's going to happen; the four nominations will largely be enough for the best picture Clint Eastwood has made since he worked for Sergio Leone. Nor will the three-writer "Sleepless in Seattle" script get the nod: Hollywood, which lives off genre pictures, pretends to be too good for them one night a year. For that reason, also forget "Dave." (Nearly everyone else has.) The real race here is between Jane Campion for "The Piano" and Ron Nyswaner for "Philadelphia." Very tough call: clashing political correctness in one of America's most progressive industries. All liberal virtues being equal, I think quality will decide, and for that reason "The Piano" will win because it's really original, while the very problem with "Philadelphia" was the dreariness of its script.
"Shadowlands" is strictly an honorary nomination, more for being British than for being good. Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese might have once had a chance, but some really great pictures that were released after "The Age of Innocence" pretty much blew it away. The brilliant job by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala would have won in many an average year, even in a strong year, for "The Remains of the Day." But this is a very strong year. It comes down here to a contest between two documents of outrage, Terry George and Jim Sheridan's "In the Name of the Father" and Steven Zaillian's job for Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List." Zaillian will win.
This is an especially tough one for a critic in this town, as the Charles, which would normally play most of these films, has been dark for four months. I've only seen two of them and felt that "The Wedding Banquet" was over-reviewed on the basis of its novelty -- a Taiwanese movie shot in New York that was a comedy about gays. So, I'll vote my heart and argue that "Farewell My Concubine," which is not only an epic but an intelligent, ironic and provocative epic, will cop the Oscar; if it doesn't, either the fix is in, or one of the unseens ("Belle Epoque" from Spain, "Hedd Wyn" from Great Britain or "The Scent of Green Papaya" from Vietnam) is unbelievable!
This should be an easy win for "Schindler's List," because, for one thing, most people, including most Academy voters, will note that it is in black and white and will think that's "harder" than color. And it is. Still, what needs to be said is how fluent and supple was Janusz Kaminski's photography, as it slid through black-and-white styles, moving from the highly burnished German expressionism of the early scenes to the over-exposed banality of the camp scenes to the mystery and romance at the end upon the deliverance. Gu Changwei's work in "Farewell My Concubine" is on an artistic plane with Kaminski's, but the movie is too forbidding to win in a broad-based category such as this one. As for the others -- "The Fugitive," "Searching for Bobby Fisher," even "The Piano" -- child's play.
Best supporting actress
Probably the hardest category to handicap. My sense is that Holly Hunter can't possibly win in two categories (it's never happened before), so this'll be the one she won't win. Emma Thompson's role in "In the Name of the Father" was more a cameo than a full-fledged performance. Rosie Perez is getting strictly an honorary nod for "Fearless." The real race is between Winona Ryder, for "The Age of Innocence," and little Anna Paquin, for "The Piano." The same theory explains a victory for each: that the Academy, relieved of its obligation to honor "Schindler's List," will find a way to praise a film it admires extravagantly. I'll take Ryder: She's done good work (better work) before and is a known quantity, a Hollywood pro. Paquin may just be a novelty item; besides, she's grown really irritating in that MCI information highway series of commercials.
Best supporting actor
Again, too hard. I don't like the hard ones. I do much better in the easy ones. You might think that Ralph Fiennes is a shoo-in because, after all, he's the terrible Nazi in "Schindler's List." But the full horror of his performance, I believe, will work against him; it's great acting, but will leave voters a little squirmy as they try to separate man and role. In "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," Leonardo DiCaprio is truly brilliant as Gilbert's retarded brother, but the movie has had a limited, late release and probably has not been seen by enough voters. A very good case can be made for Pete Postlethwaite as the dad in "In the Name of the Father," as it's a way for Hollywood to acknowledge a movie it truly admires. But I think the race comes down between two Yanks in the thrillers "In the Line of Fire" and "The Fugitive" -- that is, John Malkovich and Tommy Lee Jones. No contest. This is the year of Tommy Lee Jones.
Easy, thank you very much. Angela Bassett was brilliant in "What's Love Got to Do With It?" but the movie is old and memories are short. Stockard Channing has no chance at all for "Six Degrees of Separation," an extremely New York project which Hollywood, as a tribe, probably didn't much get. Debra Winger, for "Shadowlands," is an honorary nod; zero chance. Emma Thompson is brilliant in "The Remains of the Day," but she did win just a little while ago, didn't she, and it's unlikely she'll win again. The winner will give Hollywood a chance to honor a significant American actress, as well as a significant feminist film from an exotic foreign country. Holly Hunter, for her wordless but passionate and expressive role in "The Piano."
Again, quite easy. This is another one, I believe, where "Schindler" gets the short list. Liam Neeson's Schindler is less the star of the picture than is Steven Spielberg's direction; more, the role is conceived in a curiously performance-irrelevant way, a kind of passive charmer without a lot of self-examination. His one great moment is the movie's worst: that speech at the end. Hopkins was great in "The Remains of the Day," but he, too, won just a little time ago, and wouldn't it be nice if an American won? That's also why Daniel Day-Lewis probably won't win, too. Laurence Fishburne has an outside shot, but the age of "What's Love Got To Do With It?" will have eroded, in the voter's memories, his edge. The winner will be Tom Hanks, absolutely the best thing about "Philadelphia." He brought grace and passion to an otherwise generic movie.
Not as open and shut as it looks. Robert Altman is the only one with no chance, for "Short Cuts," very much an honorary nod to an old pro. James Ivory directed a tough and rigorous and unsentimental thing in "The Remains of the Day," but it may have been too austere for Tinseltown tastes. They didn't get it in the way they got "Howards End." Jim Sheridan is much beloved for "In the Name of the Father" but -- not that beloved. I think Jane Campion had a fighting chance, but then Miramax mounted an excessive and, many thought, irritating campaign on her behalf in the trades, which may have caused a backlash. So this has to be the year of Steven Spielberg. After failing in four previous nominations, he's finally made a movie that Hollywood regards as "grown-up," and besides, he himself isn't so irritatingly young anymore.
Not really close. "The Fugitive," amusing as it was, probably shouldn't have been nominated. Neither "In the Name of the Father" nor "The Remains of the Day," good as they were, developed enough notoriety to defeat the front-runner. "The Piano" again suffered from that ill-advised campaign; you can't seem to want these things too badly. In a walk, and by a landslide, the winner as inevitable as the Dallas Cowboys: "Schindler's List."
Stephen Hunter's picks
Here are Stephen Hunter's remaining selections for Oscars, to be presented tomorrow:
"Schindler's List": art direction, Allan Starski; set decoration, Ewa Braun
"The Age of Innocence," Gabriella Pescucci
"The War Room," a Pennebaker Associates production; D.A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus, producers
Michael Kahn, "Schindler's List"
L "Mrs. Doubtfire," Greg Cannom, VeNeill and Yolanda Toussieng
John Williams, "Schindler's List"
"Streets of Philadelphia" from "Philadelphia"; music and lyric by Bruce Springsteen
"Schindler's List," Andy Nelson, Steve Pederson, Scott Millan and Ron Judkins
SOUND EFFECTS EDITING
"Jurassic Park, Gary Rydstrom and Richard Hymns
"Jurassic Park," Dennis Muren, Stan Winston, Phil Tippett and Michael Lantieri