While talking about Monday night’s Academy Awards telecast, a friend of mine kept making the classic Oscar mistake.
In raging for perhaps the hundredth time about those 13 Oscar nominations for “Forrest Gump,” she kept up a familiar refrain: “I just can’t believe that (film) will win Best Picture.”
Here’s her mistake: She was letting her emotions get in the way of her intellect. In attempting to predict what the Academy is going to do, who cares what any of us outsiders think? It’s what those 5,000 or so Hollywood-connected voters are going to do that makes a difference.
So once again, let’s look at the Oscar races and try to figure out what might conceivably happen when the curtain opens Monday on David Letterman and the American movie industry.
The contenders: Morgan Freeman “The Shawshank Redemption,” Tom Hanks “Forrest Gump,” Nigel Hawthorne “The Madness of King George,” Paul Newman “Nobody’s Fool,” John Travolta “Pulp Fiction.”
While overall not as strong a category as past years, at least a couple of the performances here are fun to watch. Hawthorne gives “Madness” its reason for being. Travolta not only shoots drugs and people with style, but even 30 pounds of extra weight can’t completely erase his dance-floor
moves. As the narrator and co-star of “Shawshank,” Freeman almost missed being noticed by blending near-seamlessly into the action.
But the front-runner is likable and, therefore, liked. His movies, even aside from the “Gump” phenomenon, make money. But the clincher is that Tom Hanks has talent, even if “Gump” isn’t his most sterling performance on film (neither, for that matter, was “Philadelphia”). Much the same can be said of Newman, though remember the blue-eyed veteran had to endure six nominations before he won his first acting Oscar. So maybe he’s liked but not well-liked.
Likely winner: Hanks.
The contenders: Jodie Foster “Nell,” Jessica Lange “Blue Sky,” Miranda Richardson “Tom & Viv,” Winona Ryder “Little Women,” Susan Sarandon “The Client.”
This much is clear from the start: This is not a banner year for women’s roles. The fault is not due to the women in question, all of whom have put in Oscar-worthy performance at one time or another during their careers.
No, what did them in this time was product. The roles just don’t warrant the gold (and really, how could such a list NOT include Jennifer Jason Leigh from “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle” and Juliet Lewis from “Natural Born Killers”).
Foster spouts nonsense syllables for much of her film, only to end up sounding like Shakespeare’s Shylock in his climactic scene in “The Merchant of Venice.” Ryder wasn’t even the strongest performer in an ensemble piece. Sarandon was merely capable in an action/thriller. Richardson (the only performance I didn’t see) is a capable British actress in an art film receiving mixed reviews. And Lange, though superb, is sunk by a script that falls apart halfway through.
The two front-runners are probably Foster and Lange. This would be Foster’s third Oscar in seven years, and the woman is just 33.
Likely winner: Lange.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The contenders: Samuel L. Jackson “Pulp Fiction,” Martin Landau “Ed Wood,” Chazz Palmintieri “Bullets Over Broadway,” Paul Scofield “Quiz Show,” Gary Sinise “Forrest Gump.”
Here’s a category that is likely to trip even the most astute Oscar prophet. It features actors of talent performing in worthy roles. The difference is the intangibles that go into Academy attitudes.
Scofield, a Best Actor winner in 1966 for “A Man for All Seasons,” does well in a small role from a film that many people admired but few really liked. Palmintieri stands out, but his success is as much due to director Woody Allen as it is to his own acting abilities. Sinise is fine as a disabled Vietnam vet, and he may profit from a “Forrest Gump” sweep. Jackson is the soul of “Pulp Fiction,” just as Travolta is the film’s heart.
But in his third try at gold, Landau has to be considered the top contender. As the aging horror star Bela Lugosi, he broke hearts in a Tim Burton film that, a la John Waters, is more cute than quality.
Likely winner: Landau.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The contenders: Rosemary Harris “Tom & Viv,” Helen Mirren “The Madness of King George,” Uma Thurman “Pulp Fiction,” Jennifer Tilly “Bullets Over Broadway,” Diane Wiest “Bullets Over Broadway.”
Few people saw “Tom & Viv,” and that probably includes many Academy voters, so you can rule Harris out. Mirren, though better known and certainly talented, is forgettable as the queen of King George III. Tilly is funny in “Bullets,” but she’s essentially her typical, goofy self. Thurman is just what she needs to be as a drug lord’s wife in “Pulp Fiction,” but she’s overshadowed by the flashier men around her.
Wiest, on the other hand, creates a role for the ages. She chews up scenery, intentionally and hilariously, as greedily as her character does any man within reach. If there is a lock to this acting awards being given out this year, this is it.
Likely winner: Wiest.
The contenders: Woody Allen “Bullets Over Broadway,” Robert Zemeckis “Forrest Gump,” Quentin Tarantino “Pulp Fiction,” Robert Redford “Quiz Show,” Krzysztof Kieslowski “Red.”
This one is easy. All are capable. All are deserving. But Allen’s work isn’t nearly his best, Redford’s is too cerebral, Kieslowski’s is too obscure and Tarantino is simply too youthfully brash to warrant Academy attention. The Director’s Guild went with Zemeckis, and that says it all.
Likely winner: Robert Zemeckis, “Forrest Gump”
The contenders: “Forrest Gump,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Quiz Show,” “The Shawshank Redemption.”
This is not as clear as the directing award, though it does come down to only two films. About “Four Weddings and a Funeral” - what is this film doing on this list anyway? “Quiz Show” would be an honorable choice, but it does seem to lack the kind of overall depth of emotion that the Academy typically favors. The same holds for “Shawshank,” which wasn’t able to overcome its Stephen Kingish maudlin sensibilities.
That leaves us with the year’s two phenomena: “Pulp” and “Gump.” It’s a sign that the Academy is getting less tightly wrapped that “Pulp” not only received this nomination but six others as well. Still, deserving as it is, it’s hard to figure the Academy has loosened up enough to pick a Tarantino film as its representative to the world. In the end, those 300 million-plus box-office dollars will have their say.
Likely winner: “Forrest Gump”
Best Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, “Pulp Fiction.” Look out, however, for Krzysztof Kieslowski of “Red.”
Best Adapted Screenplay: Robert Zemeckis, “Forrest Gump.”
Best Foreign Language Film: “Before the Rain,” Macedonia. It’s from a political hot spot, it was directed by a smooth music-video-type director and, despite script incongruities, it features several powerful performances.
Best Documentary feature: The only nominee I saw was “Maya Lin: A Strong, Clear Vision,” and my notebook contains a simple, four-word critique: “It ain’t ‘Hoop Dreams.”’ But that might be just what the Academy wants. If not, “A Great Day in Harlem” is getting good reviews.
Best Cinematography: “Forrest Gump.” The cinematographers association voted this way, so why argue?
Best Art Direction: “Forrest Gump” in the spirit of things.
Most Oscars: “Forrest Gump,” 8.
MEMO: This sidebar ran with story: READERS’ PICKS A record 1,089 ballots were sent in by readers to IN Life’s Oscar contest as of Friday. Here are your picks for the Adacemy Awards in the major categories: Best picture “Forrest Gump” Best actor Tom Hanks Best actress Jodie Foster Best director Robert Zemeckis Supporting actor Martin Landau Supporting actress Uma Thurman
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