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Oscar Dances With 'Wolves' : Costner Film Leads Pack With 12 Nominations

February 14, 1991|DAVID J. FOX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A herd of buffalo stampeded through the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences headquarters on Wednesday, and when the dust cleared, Kevin Costner's sweeping tale of the American frontier had landed 12 Oscar nominations, including best picture, best actor and best director.

Its 12 nominations is the most by any film since "Reds" in 1981.

If the number of nominations for "Wolves" was a surprise to onlookers, the fact that the Orion Pictures release was singled out in the top categories was not. Costner's film had been high on the betting lists of Hollywood insiders, done well with the ticket-buying public and critics, and won the top Golden Globe Awards--often a weathervane for the Oscars.

Still, there were surprises. As the nominations were announced for the 63rd annual Oscar presentation, during a pre-dawn press conference at the academy's Beverly Hills offices, an audible gasp could be heard when two of 1990's biggest-grossing pictures, "Ghost" and "Pretty Woman," popped up among nominees. In previous years, it hasn't been uncommon for such popular films--grossing more than $400 million between them--to be overlooked in Oscar competition.

Paramount Pictures' romantic thriller "Ghost," the sleeper hit from the summer, continued to astonish onlookers. It claimed five Oscar nominations, including ones for best picture and Whoopi Goldberg's portrayal of a besieged psychic in the supporting actress category. Meanwhile, Julia Roberts was nominated for best actress for her role as a hooker who falls in love with millionaire Richard Gere in Disney/Touchstone's release of "Pretty Woman."

Other surprises were Diane Ladd's nomination for supporting actress in iconoclastic director David Lynch's "Wild at Heart" and the exclusion of Barry Levinson and his "Avalon" cast from the major categories.

Oscar watchers also noted the omission of director Penny Marshall from the best director category, since her film "Awakenings" received a best picture nomination. It is sure to provoke more accusations that the directors' branch of the academy has a "men only" policy when it comes to Oscar nominations. Five years ago, Randa Haines received a Directors Guild nomination for "Children of a Lesser God," and the movie was nominated for best picture by the general academy membership. But Haines was not nominated by the directors.

In the 63 years of the awards, the only nominated woman director was Italy's Lena Wertmuller, for her 1976 "Seven Beauties."

The Oscars will be presented in a live, international TV broadcast on March 25 from the Shrine Auditorium.

"I'm completely numb," said "Wolves" co-producer Jim Wilson, minutes after he had heard the news of the film's dozen nominations. Wilson said that the film, set in the 1860s as white settlers began claiming the lands of American Indians, had been a three-year project--from inception to last November's release--for him and Costner.

"Now comes this moment and it's unbelievable," he said.

The directing and acting nominations for Costner, who has appeared in a number of hit films, including the popular "Field of Dreams," are his first. If he goes on to win for best actor, Costner would find himself in the rarefied company of Laurence Olivier as the only two men to direct themselves to best actor Oscars. With these nominations, he has already joined Olivier ("Hamlet"), Orson Welles ("Citizen Kane"), Woody Allen ("Annie Hall"), Warren Beatty ("Reds") and Kenneth Branagh ("Henry V") as best actor nominees from films they directed.

Westerns have scored surprisingly few Oscar triumphs in academy history. Only one Western--the 1931 "Cimarron"--has won as best picture, and a Western hasn't been nominated in that category since 1969's "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." If "Wolves" wins five Oscars, it will become the most celebrated Western in Hollywood history, and many people expect it to prompt a revival of the genre.

Among "Wolves' " other nominations: stage actress Mary McDonnell, best supporting actress for her role as a white woman raised by a tribe of Sioux Indians; Graham Greene, supporting actor for his role as the tribal holy man Kicking Bird; Michael Blake, best adapted screenplay; John Barry, original musical score and Elsa Zamparelli for costume design. The film was also nominated in the technical categories of sound, film editing and art direction.

Disney/Touchstone's "Dick Tracy," directed by and starring Warren Beatty, and Paramount's "The Godfather Part III," co-written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, tied for second place in the number of nominations, with seven each. While "Godfather" drew nods for best picture and Coppola for best director, among other categories, the nominations for "Dick Tracy" were mostly in technical fields and for best song.

The Martin Scorsese gangland drama, "GoodFellas," which has swept the best picture prizes among the Los Angeles, New York and National Society of Film Critics, rounded out the five nominees for best picture.

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