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HIGH WATER MARK With 14 Oscar nominations, 'Titanic' should be tough to sink at this year's Academy Awards.

James Cameron's "Titanic," the juggernaut that has proved all number of naysayers wrong by becoming one of the most successful films in history, sailed through the 70th Academy Award nominations yesterday, leaving a few small surprises in its wake.

As expected, "Titanic" led the day with 14 nominations, tying with the 1950 film "All About Eve" for the record. The film has made more than $600 million worldwide since it was released to critical and audience acclaim in December, rendering silent the pundits and industry insiders who just months earlier predicted that the $200 million deep-sea epic would wind up an expensive wet blanket.

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Not only was "Titanic" nominated for best picture, but Cameron, Kate Winslet and Gloria Stuart were nominated for best director, best actress and best supporting actress. "Titanic" was also nominated in such technical categories as visual effects, editing and sound effects editing. In addition, the film received nominations for its art direction, cinematography, sound, musical score, original song, costumes and makeup.

As predicted, the comedy "As Good As It Gets," the neo-noir drama "L.A. Confidential" and the coming-of-age tale "Good Will Hunting" were nominated for best picture. And, also predicted, such veterans as Julie Christie, Judi Dench, Anthony Hopkins, Burt Reynolds, Robert Duvall, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson all received nominations. Nicholson, who was nominated for a best actor award for his portrayal of an obsessive - compulsive romance author in James Brooks' "As Good As It Gets," received his 11th nomination from the academy. He now holds a record number of best actor nominations, having previously tied with Sir Laurence Olivier with 10.

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What happened to ...?

But there were upsets. "Amistad," Steven Spielberg's film about an 1839 uprising on a slave ship, was virtually shut out, its place taken by the low-budget British comedy "The Full Monty," which emerged as the sleeper hit of the summer. "Amistad" was nominated in four categories, including Hopkins for best supporting actor. Brooks was not nominated for best director of "As Good As It Gets," even though he is up for best screenplay, three of his principals were nominated for acting awards, and the movie was nominated for best picture.

And there were a good number of surprises in the acting categories. Sigourney Weaver, who earned critical plaudits for her portrayal of a chilly suburban housewife in Ang Lee's "The Ice Storm," failed to receive a nomination for supporting actress. Debbi Morgan, who was lauded for her performance in the small but critically acclaimed "Eve's Bayou," was passed over as well.

Indeed, although 1997 produced a good share of films featuring stand-out performances by African-Americans - including Pam Grier in "Jackie Brown," Samuel L. Jackson in "Eve's Bayou" and "Jackie Brown," Don Cheadle in "Boogie Nights" and Dimon Hounsou in "Amistad" - none of them was nominated.

Neither Jodie Foster, who many thought would be recognized for her starring role as a passionate scientist in last summer's "Contact," nor Robin Wright, who turned in a surprisingly potent performance in Nick Cassavetes' "She's So Lovely," made the cut in a year that was considered thin in women's roles.

Kevin Spacey, who gave two highly regarded performances in "L.A. Confidential" and "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," did not receive an expected nomination, but Robert Forster, whose quietly effective portrayal of a bail bondsman in Quentin Tarantino's "Jackie Brown" was overlooked by many critics, did.

In past years, Woody Allen has often elicited Oscar-winning performances from his stars. But no one starring in Allen's "Deconstructing Harry" was nominated. Instead, Allen was nominated for best original screenplay for his vulgar and mean-spirited portrait of a novelist who is willing to sacrifice family, friends and his own soul for his arts.

Some curiosities

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Still, the nominations, which were announced at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in Los Angeles, held their share of pleasingly surreal juxtapositions. Who would have thought that Greg Kinnear and Anthony Hopkins would ever be mentioned in the same sentence? Or Burt Reynolds and Anthony Hopkins, for that matter? Gus Van Sant, nominated for best director for "Good Will Hunting" and known for his edgy, out-there sensibility, probably never foresaw sharing a bill with the bombastic, super-commercial James Cameron. What on earth could the micro-budget and small canvas of "The Full Monty" share with a grand-scale production like "Titanic" - except an uncommon appeal for audiences?

Perhaps the biggest shock of the nominations was in the documentary category, which has historically ignored critically and commercially successful films. Consistent with that pattern, Errol Morris' highly acclaimed and widely seen "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control" was ignored by the academy. (Morris, who directed "The Thin Blue Line" and "A Brief History of Time," has never been nominated for an Oscar.)

Still, the academy did manage to recognized some highly praised and popular nonfiction films: Spike Lee's "4 Little Girls," about the 1963 Birmingham church bombing; "The Long Way Home," Mark Jonathan Harris' film about the liberation of the concentration camps after World War II; and "Waco: The Rules of Engagement," Dan Gifford and Amy Sommer Gifford's explosive indictment of the federal government's role in the 1993 Branch Davidian tragedy.

Reason to 'Wag'

"Wag the Dog," the prescient political satire directed by Baltimore native Barry Levinson, received two nominations: one for Dustin Hoffman, for best actor, and another for screenwriters Hilary Henkin and David Mamet, for their adaptation of the Larry Beinhart novel "American Hero," on which the film was based.

Last year was commonly called "the year of the independents," when such "small" films as "Fargo," "Shine" and "Sling Blade" were represented at the film industry's glitziest advertisement for itself.

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This year, pundits predicted the return of the big studios, which came to pass - "Titanic" was co-financed by Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox - but not entirely: "The Full Monty," "Good Will Hunting" and "L.A. Confidential" were all produced by independent production companies or studios.

The 70th annual Academy Awards will be conferred at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on March 23 and will be broadcast live.

Pub Date: 2/11/98


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