Picking The Best Of A Humdrum Lot

March 23, 1986|SHEILA BENSON

I'm going to venture into tricky ground here--the business of guessing what direction Academy members will take. In some ways L'Affair Spielberg has served to call attention away from the fact that these nominations, by and large, are hardly what you could call bracing.

There are only a few tremors to distract us from the truth that, yet again, it's still business as usual in a company town. You can find more freshness and daring in the range of nominations from the 700-some members of the Independent Feature Project/West (which included such films as "After Hours," "Trouble in Mind," "Dream Child," "The Hit," and "Smooth Talk," in a variety of categories) than in the bulk of the Academy ballot. One omission in particular, Norma Aleandro in "The Official Story," will stand forever as a mark of our provincialism.

Ah well, by the time this is fish wrap you will know the facts for certain. And two months later no one will be able to remember all five nominees in any category.

Let's begin at the less controversial end of the spectrum.

The Supporting Actress category would seem to be one of the one or two areas where there's a clear-cut favorite: Anjelica Huston in "Prizzi's Honor." Roles as good as Maerose don't come along all that often; Huston defined her with nerve and enormous personal style. She seems to be an emotional and an artistic favorite.

Next, but trailing well back, might be Oprah Winfrey or Margaret Avery, but double nominations from the same picture ("The Color Purple") have a way of canceling each other. Amy Madigan ("Twice in a Lifetime") and Meg Tilly ("Agnes of God") both seem very long shots; their films are the traditional kind beloved to Academy members, but not widely seen.

For Supporting Actor, although you can feel enormous sentimental feeling for Don Ameche ("Cocoon") wherever he appears, and although Robert Loggia's ("Jagged Edge") detective seems, single-handedly, to have put a particularly useful phrase on more than a few lips, Klaus Maria Brandauer ("Out of Africa") seems to have the inside track here. He took the character of Bror Blixen, who would be the first to admit that his vices completely overshadowed his virtues, and by sheer force of personal charm made him appealing, understandable and memorable. Brandauer's strength was in exactly the right proportion to balance Meryl Streep's complex and powerful performance, you'd hate to think where the picture would have been without him.

William Hickey's sly, mandarin Don ("Prizzi's Honor") was diabolically good, but I don't think he will pick up enough votes. And even if Cannon Pictures' Golan and Globus screen "Runaway Train" nonstop around the clock, I still don't think Eric Roberts stands much of a chance.

In the Best Actress slot there would also seem to be a genial favorite: Geraldine Page in "A Trip to Bountiful." Being a bridesmaid eight times is something a lot of Academy voters can empathize with and it's an enormously popular performance in a popular film.

The only upset might come from Whoopi Goldberg ("The Color Purple"), and when you see her personal popularity at pre-Oscar functions, combined with her high visibility right now and the poignant qualities of her film character, that might be a very real threat, indeed. ( Nine times a bridesmaid? . . . Unthinkable.)

You pick up no buzz at all about Anne Bancroft ("Agnes of God") and fine as Meryl Streep's performance in "Out of Africa" was (and, although we've seemed to say this as every new film of hers appears, this is the most astonishing of all), she's not exactly Oscar-less. And Jessica Lange ("Sweet Dreams") suffers from the same embarrassment of riches.

Ask your barber, newspaper seller, or tennis partner who's gonna win Best Actor and you'll hear Jack Nicholson ("Prizzi's Honor"). Sounds just about right. A grand, nervy comic performance with everything going for it. Nicholson is supposed to have a lock on the prize.

But out of the six "top" categories, every few years there's an upset which knocks the wind out of people--until they decide they rather like the idea. Linda Hunt's win for "The Year of Living Dangerously," or Maggie Smith's for "California Suite" were two of those. We may just see one of those surprises brewing with William Hurt's tour de force in "Kiss of the Spider Woman," if enough voters saw the film.

Once the ice has broken with this nomination, I suspect Harrison Ford ("Witness") will be recognized again in future years for the effortlessly good actor he is, but I don't think it will happen now. Jon Voight ("Runaway Train") might stand a sliver of a chance to be one of those upsets, although his previous award might work against him.

And with James Garner's surprising nomination (surprising because it came from a "little" film ("Murphy's Romance") without a lot of noise behind it) he may have gotten recognition at last, but it may be all he'll get. This year at least.

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