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Calendar's Big Oscars Issue : Oskar's Race Is All but Over

March 20, 1994|KENNETH TURAN | Kenneth Turan is The Times' film critic. and

Like any gambler's business, the movies love a sure thing. But the business also loves action, the rogue excitement of not knowing who is going to come out on top. Which is just the kind of uncertainty that looks to be largely absent from this year's Academy Awards.

So, oppressed by the near unanimity about who will win the top four Oscars, desperate action junkies have taken to constructing alternative scenarios based on this communitywide boredom. What if people have had enough of "Schindler's List" and decide to vote for "The Piano"? Or, conversely, what if people have had enough of "The Piano's" Holly Hunter and defect to everyone's favorite underdog, Angela Bassett in "What's Love Got to Do With It"? And so on into the night.

Like alternative universes in science fiction, these hypotheses are diverting but not necessarily relevant or convincing. For though it takes some of the fun out of the proceedings, the question for Monday night is not if "Schindler's List" will win but how broad the victory will be.

Fueled by a flood of timely news stories about the film's emotional openings in Germany and Israel (a coincidence or a canny move by Universal's marketing department?), the buzz around "Schindler's List" has, if anything, grown stronger. Nominated for 12 Oscars, it has a decent shot at every last one of them, making it possible (though unlikely) that it could surpass the two most successful films ever, "Ben-Hur" with 11 awards and "West Side Story" with 10.

Now for some specifics:

Best Picture. So powerful has the "Schindler's" machinery become that who among you can still name all four other nominees. (For the record they are "The Fugitive," "In the Name of the Father," "The Piano" and "The Remains of the Day.") Though "The Piano" has the most die-hard adherents, plus the most persistent advertising campaign, even its chances are considered slim at best.

The pick: "Schindler's List."

Best Director. Though share-the-wealth critics' groups make purists grumble by splitting the best picture and best director awards, the academy figures to do no such thing. Having given Oscars to the same film and director for three seasons running, the voters are unlikely to change in this of all years. Biggest suspense of the night will be to see if Steven Spielberg can come up with a new wrinkle for his acceptance speech.

The pick: Steven Spielberg.

Best Actor. As a good Hollywood soldier starring in the best-intentioned "Philadelphia," Tom Hanks has been the favorite in this category for months, and though his status has gotten a bit shaky, he is still the front-runner. If the support for "Schindler's List" turns into a tidal wave, Liam Neeson could get the win, and don't forget that Daniel Day-Lewis turned a lot of heads in "In the Name of the Father."

The pick: Tom Hanks.

Best Actress. Aside from Angela Bassett, who has emerged as a strong sentimental favorite, the rest of the contenders for Holly Hunter's throne (Stockard Channing, Emma Thompson, Debra Winger) have not worked up much momentum. Hunter has won every possible actress award from Cannes to now, and Oscar night shouldn't be any different.

The pick: Holly Hunter.

Best Supporting Actress. As if to make up for the way Hunter overshadows the actress category, this one is almost impossible to handicap. Neither Hunter nor Thompson figures to be factors here, and both Rosie Perez ("Fearless") and Winona Ryder ("The Age of Innocence") are well-liked actresses in not terribly popular films. Little Anna Paquin, Hunter's daughter in "The Piano," just might sneak in under the wire.

The pick: Anna Paquin.

Best Supporting Actor. Only marginally easier than the supporting actress category, this award looked like a lock for Tommy Lee Jones in "The Fugitive" until the "Schindler's List" express picked up momentum. A respected Hollywood veteran in a swell performance, Jones could still pull it out, but remember that many of the factors that point to him also pointed to Nick Nolte in "Prince of Tides," and he lost to Brit Anthony Hopkins.

The pick: Ralph Fiennes.

Best Original Screenplay. Though the scripts for "Dave," "In the Line of Fire" and "Sleepless in Seattle" were terribly entertaining, Jane Campion's screenplay for "The Piano" is probably the most accomplished of the bunch, as well as representing the film that has the most across-the-board support of all the nominees.

The pick: Jane Campion.

Best Adapted Screenplay. Despite the presence of classic novels like "The Age of Innocence" (Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese) and admired screenwriters like Ruth Prawer Jhabvala ("The Remains of the Day"), Steven Zaillian, who also did an artful adaptation of "Searching for Bobby Fischer," almost can't miss being rewarded for his exceptional work on Thomas Keneally's book.

The pick: Steven Zaillian.

Best Foreign-Language Film. Except for "Hedd Wyn," the Welsh film from Britain, all the other nominees are popular enough to have had successful theatrical releases. But the three Asian films ("Farewell My Concubine" from Hong Kong, "The Scent of Green Papaya" from Vietnam and "The Wedding Banquet" from Taiwan) look to cancel one another out, giving the trophy to Spain's "Belle Epoque." Anyone who remembers previous Oscar winners like "Mediterraneo," "To Begin Again" and "Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears" knows the value of well-placed sentiment with this particular group.

The pick: "Belle Epoque."

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