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Oscars Dead Ahead

Size matters. Money talks. That was the message in Tuesday’s Oscar nominations.

“Titanic” grabbed a record-tying 14 nominations as Hollywood’s so-called major studios made a strong bid to reclaim the field from last year’s Oscar-dominating independent films.

Independents weren’t shut out, however. “Good Will Hunting,” the Matt Damon-Ben Affleck Cinderella project filmed in Boston after indie Miramax stepped in with last-minute financing, got nine nominations, including best picture. So did “L.A. Confidential,” an independently made film about corruption and redemption on the Los Angeles police force of the 1950s, which was distributed by a big studio, Warner Bros.

The other two best picture slots went to “As Good As It Gets,” the romantic comedy that also got best acting award nominations for its principals - Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear - and the popular British film, “The Full Monty.” In an age of downsizing, its story of unemployed steelworkers becoming male strippers struck a responsive chord.

Surprises were few, unless you regard as a surprise the fact that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences mostly got it right this year.

Still, there were a few. Steven Spielberg’s “Amistad” got only one major nomination - Anthony Hopkins for best supporting actor. Leonardo DiCaprio, the “Titanic” star, was ignored. Although Hollywood usually ignores huge box office successes, such as last summer’s “Men in Black” and the “Jurassic Park” sequel, “Lost World,” the fact that “Titanic” has grossed $337 million on its way to a likely box-office record carried weight - although not as much as the fact that Hollywood wants and needs to believe in the kind of mammoth spectacle film it represents.

The directing nominations mostly paralleled the best film nods - James Cameron (“Titanic”), Gus Van Sant (“Good Will Hunting”), Curtis Hanson (“L.A. Confidential”), Peter Cattaneo (“The Full Monty”) and, breaking the pattern, Canada’s Atom Egoyan for “The Sweet Hereafter.”

Although its real star is bigness, “Titanic” did get two acting nominations. Kate Winslet got a best actress slot for her portrayal of the young upper-crust woman experiencing doomed love, and 87-year-old Gloria Stuart, coming out of retirement, was given one of five best supporting actress nods for playing the same character, framing the story by recalling it in old age in flashback.

Winslet’s co-nominees for best actress are Helena Bonham Carter for her scheming Edwardian woman in “The Wings of the Dove”; Judi Dench’s grieving Queen Victoria in “Mrs. Brown”; Helen Hunt’s patient and enduring working mom in “As Good As It Gets” and Julie Christie’s melancholy yet radiant actress in “Afterglow.” Here and in the other acting slates, independent films shone most brightly.

The nominators followed their pattern of going mainstream and favoring the heavily credentialed in the best actor race. In addition to Jack Nicholson’s curmudgeon in “As Good as It Gets,” the Academy smiled upon Robert Duvall’s conflicted preacher in “The Apostle,” a film he wrote, directed, and financed; Matt Damon’s blue-collar math genius in “Good Will Hunting”; Peter Fonda’s Florida beekeeper in “Ulee’s Gold” and Dustin Hoffman’s Hollywood showman concocting a phony war to divert attention from a presidential sex scandal in “Wag the Dog.”

Lined up with Hopkins in the best supporting actor field are Burt Reynolds for “Boogie Nights,” Robert Forster in “Jackie Brown,” Robin Williams in “Good Will Hunting” and Greg Kinnear in “As Good As It Gets.” Joining Stuart in the running for best supporting actress are Kim Basinger in “L.A. Confidential,” Joan Cusack in “In & Out,” Julianne Moore in “Boogie Nights,” and Minnie Driver for “Good Will Hunting.”

The announcements also contributed to the record books. Stuart is the oldest acting nominee ever. The 14 nominations for “Titanic” tied it with 1950’s “All About Eve.” Nicholson’s 11th nomination vaulted him past Laurence Olivier for the most by a male actor. Woody Allen’s 13th screenplay writing nomination carried him past Billy Wilder in that category.

Now it’s all over but the frantic campaigning and the ads in the trades until the envelopes are opened March 23.

Graphic: Oscar nominations


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