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| The Nominations

Gibson's Epic Gets 10, 'Babe' Ties for Third

Movies: 'Braveheart' leads the list of Oscar nominations. Top honors go to 'Apollo 13,' 'Sense and Sensibility,' Italy's 'The Postman' (Il Postino) and the little pig that could.


"Braveheart," actor-director Mel Gibson's violent but inspiring battlefield epic set in medieval Scotland, captured 10 nominations Tuesday to lead all contenders as the race for the 68th annual Academy Awards officially got underway in Beverly Hills.

In what is considered a wide-open contest, other nominees included "Apollo 13," a tense drama about astronauts in peril; "Sense and Sensibility," a romantic costume drama based on the Jane Austen novel; "Babe," a barnyard fable featuring talking animals; and "The Postman (Il Postino)," a tender Italian comedy made all the more poignant by the death of its star shortly after filming ended.

"Apollo 13" had nine nominations overall, while "Sense and Sensibility" and "Babe" had seven apiece and "The Postman" had five.

If a theme could be discerned from this year's top picture nominations, it was that films with strong story lines that tug at emotions held sway. Heroism, romance and whimsy scored big among academy voters. With the exception of "Braveheart," which was rated R, the other nominees were rated either PG or, in the case of "Babe," G.

Darker, grittier fare such as "Leaving Las Vegas" or "Dead Man Walking" were bypassed in the best picture category, although their directors were nominated.

Gibson, long an international box-office star known more for his action movies like "Mad Max" and "Lethal Weapon" than for his directing talents, has attempted in recent years to break out of the mold of heartthrob actor and become a heralded filmmaker like Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood.

Gibson, who got his first Oscar nomination for directing "Braveheart," said he never expected to lead the pack with 10 nominations. "It's a nice round number, isn't it?" he said from New York, where he is shooting "Ransom," a thriller directed by Ron Howard.

"A few months ago, I would never have suspected it," the actor-director said. But in the recent weeks, he has won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated for best director by the Directors Guild of America.

"It was just a real good surprise this morning," Gibson said. "I was in the middle of a take. Gary Sinise and I were having a kind of heated discussion. They said, 'Cut!,' and my assistant came in and put all his fingers up. I thought he was pulling my leg."

Going up against Gibson in the director category will be Chris Noonan for "Babe," Tim Robbins for "Dead Man Walking," Mike Figgis for "Leaving Las Vegas" and Michael Radford for "The Postman." It was the first time that all directors selected were first-time nominees.

Ironically, the films that Robbins and Figgis directed were overlooked by the academy in the best picture category. And, in something of a surprise, Ang Lee was not nominated for "Sense and Sensibility," although the film had a best picture nomination.

Just as the competition will be fierce among the films, the contests among actors will also likely be hard to predict.

Richard Dreyfuss was nominated for "Mr. Holland's Opus" and Anthony Hopkins for "Nixon." Both men are previous Oscar winners and will face first-time nominees Nicolas Cage for "Leaving Las Vegas," Sean Penn for "Dead Man Walking" and the late Massimo Troisi for "The Postman."

Troisi, who died of a heart ailment in June 1994 shortly after filming ended, also shared a screenwriting credit with four other writers nominated for the film. His is the first posthumous lead acting nomination since Peter Finch's for "Network" in 1976.

Troisi's sister told the Italian news agency AGI that the family was "feeling a mix of crossed emotions" because of the nomination.

"It's a very great satisfaction, but satisfaction doesn't signify joy," Rosaria Troisi said in an interview quoted by the Associated Press. "What can I say? We're smack in the middle of an emotional storm. I can say that Massimo has given another happy moment to all those he already gave joy to. We're proud."

Cage, meanwhile, said he had not expected to be named even though he had won every critics' group award and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Ben Sanderson, an alcoholic hellbent on drinking himself to death.

"I'm never one to assume," Cage said. "Every step of the way, I've been thrilled and just tried to be happy for what was occurring at that particular moment. Now I feel like I can relax and be happy about this."

Cage said that the film's four nominations are a testament to the low-budget film's appeal, even though it was turned down by nearly every studio before being picked up by MGM/UA.

"It's kind of ironic that there was a best actress, director and actor nomination for a movie that almost didn't get a release," he said.

The best actress nominees included previous winners Meryl Streep in "The Bridges of Madison County" and Emma Thompson--who also was nominated for the screenplay--in "Sense and Sensibility." They'll face Sharon Stone in "Casino," Elisabeth Shue in "Leaving Las Vegas" and Susan Sarandon in "Dead Man Walking."

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