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Picking The Field For Oscar Race

December 27, 1985|JACK MATHEWS | Times Staff Writer

Despite strong discouragement from battle-weary film critics, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is going ahead with plans to distribute awards for superior achievement during 1985.

Nominating ballots will be mailed out Jan. 11, the nominees will be revealed Feb. 5, and on March 24, with millions curiously looking on around the world, they'll hand the Oscars out.

But to whom? And for what? Somehow, it always works out.

Sydney Pollack's "Out of Africa" and Steven Spielberg's "The Color Purple," both late entries in the Oscar race, appear to be the front-runners for best picture, even though both drew major fire from some critics.

"Out of Africa" and "The Color Purple," despite whatever flaws the critics found, are certifiable Academy Award material.

Both are adapted from important novels (academy voters love to look smart). Both are extraordinarily beautiful to look at (only the finest craftsmen were employed). And both were made by directors whose bodies of work have contributed to the general prosperity of the business.

You can jot their names on your score card right now, with "Out of Africa" as a slight favorite to win it all.

"Prizzi's Honor," which swept the major awards from the New York Film Critics Assn., also seems a certain best picture nominee, though it is something of a long shot for the Oscar itself.

John Huston's offbeat gangster comedy was too offbeat for a lot of people, and though the 79-year-old director is still working with the intellectual vigor of a young man, academy audiences may prove to be too old for him.

Peter Weir's "Witness," an intricate mixture of love and violence set in Pennsylvania Amish country, was a hit with both critics and audiences early this year, and that usually limits a film's chances at a nomination. But Paramount, a studio with little else to celebrate this year, is giving it a big academy push. Competition being what it is, "Witness" should make it.

The last nominee?

It could be Terry Gilliam's "Brazil," which dominated the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. awards. But the controversy that has swirled around it--not least, the decision by the Los Angeles critics to vote for a film that was not scheduled for release--may cause a backlash.

Will the directors branch of the academy support a director they perceive as an outsider (Gilliam lives and works in London, but grew up in Panorama City and went to Occidental College) in his successful public campaign to stop a studio from reediting his film?

As late as "Brazil" is in getting into the Oscar race, its producer (Arnon Milchan) and its reluctant distributor (Universal Pictures) shouldn't have trouble getting academy members to show up for a screening.

Other films with a shot at making the final five are Robert Zemeckis' "Back to the Future" (forget the taint of success; people like this movie), Ron Howard's "Cocoon" (academy members can identify with the cast), Peter Bogdanovich's "Mask" and Bud Yorkin's "Twice in a Lifetime."

The best director ballot will undoubtedly include the names of Pollack, Spielberg and Huston, with the remaining two spots likely being filled from a group that includes Akira Kurosawa ("Ran"), Gilliam, Weir, Howard and Zemeckis.

For best actor, Jack Nicholson ("Prizzi's Honor") and William Hurt ("Kiss of the Spider Woman") are certain to be nominated. Gene Hackman ("Twice in a Lifetime") and Danny Glover ("The Color Purple") probably will be.

It is a thin category. The only other actors being frequently mentioned as potential best actor nominees are Michael J. Fox ("Back to the Future"), Harrison Ford ("Witness") and Raul Julia ("Kiss of the Spider Woman"). Julia is more apt to nominated in the supporting class.

In contrast, there were enough quality performances among actresses this year to fill two ballots.

Four of the five spots will almost certainly go to Meryl Streep ("Out of Africa"); Whoopi Goldberg ("The Color Purple"); Cher ("Mask"), and Geraldine Page ("The Trip to Bountiful"), and Jessica Lange is routinely being mentioned as a nominee for a film ("Sweet Dreams") that has hardly been seen.

Norma Aleandro won the New York critics' award as best actress for the Argentine film "The Official Story," and was runner-up to Streep with the Los Angeles critics. But actors in foreign-language films are seldom nominated.

Others being mentioned as best actress: Ellen Burstyn ("Twice in a Lifetime"); Mia Farrow ("The Purple Rose of Cairo"); Kate Nelligan ("Eleni"); Kathleen Turner ("Prizzi's Honor"), and--take your pick--Anne Bancroft and Jane Fonda (both in "Agnes of God").

Meg Tilley, who came off best with critics for "Agnes of God," is likely to be nominated in the supporting category.

Besides Tilley, the most frequently mentioned names for best supporting actress are: Anjelica Huston, who has already won awards from the Los Angeles and New York critics groups for "Prizzi's Honor," Oprah Winfrey and Margaret Avery ("The Color Purple"), Amy Madigan ("Twice in a Lifetime") and Rosanna Arquette ("After Hours").

For best supporting actor, the list of contenders includes Julia ("Kiss of the Spider Woman"); William Hickey ("Prizzi's Honor"); Klaus Maria Brandauer ("Out of Africa"); Alan Arkin ("Joshua Then and Now"); Eric Stoltz ("Mask"), and Hume Cronyn and Don Ameche (both from "Cocoon").

Now, clip this out and if it proves to be substantially correct, remember where you got it. Otherwise, as the good-natured losers in Hollywood always say, "It's only the movies."

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