NY Mirror

Definitely honor-free will be Joseph Fiennes for Shakespeare (sorry, but the Bard didn't look like Rob Lowe).

In the land of Oscar buzz, it's truly been the year of death. On top of those war epics with exposed kidneys, there were two cancer mamas, a high-strung cellist with MS, some kids who got leukemia from drinking water, and a brave babe with Lou Gehrig's. And none of these spunky victims had Patch Adams to cheer them up! Still, all this suffering garners Oscars— and Oscar predictions, like my own life-affirming ones, which I've been working on all year, not that I care. The official nominations will be announced on February 9, but in the meantime, chew on these guesses.

BEST PICTURE: The award-grubbing Saving Private Ryan pretty much stank, but— for reasons Oscar followers learned at birth— it's as guaranteed of a nomination as Meet Joe Black isn't. And the other front-runners are an art-house aficionado's wet dream. There's Elizabeth— because period costumes automatically signify quality, right?— and Shakespeare in Love because occasionally they really might. The Holocaust fable Life Is Beautiful is an instant classic, but may be nominated anyway, and that old-Hollywood sexual tango, Gods and Monsters, also seems to have aroused historians (not to mention chicken hawks). Those— and The Truman Show, which combined faux art with real commerce, and The Thin Red Line, which was loved by those who stayed awake during it— are the biggest contenders. But lost in the shuffle will be Happiness, The General, and even some movies that deserve to be lost in the shuffle.

The nominees: Saving Private Ryan, Elizabeth, Shakespeare in Love, Life Is Beautiful, The Truman Show.

Three British queens in the Oscar race: Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth, Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters, and Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love
Three British queens in the Oscar race: Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth, Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters, and Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love

ACTRESS: This field is dominated by hoity-toity grandes dames, like Meryl Streep, who was practically nominated before they even started filming One True Thing. (The Academy will forgive Dancing at Lughnasa.) Also toss in Emily Watson, who does a disease and virtuoso finger-synching in Hilary and Jackie. And while Cate Blanchett was no Bette Davis,her Elizabeth nomination is as cinched as her waist. Don't forget Gwyneth Paltrow, who's radiant in Shakespeare— plus she cross-dressed, she helped get her boyfriend a part, and she respects her parents. And Central Station's haunting Fernanda Montenegro could be this year's Norma Aleandro.

The shutouts? Oprah Winfrey blew her Beloved nomination when she started acting like she'd already won. Down in the Delta dabbles in autism and Alzheimer's, but it's too TV-style for Alfre Woodard to leave the house on Oscar night. And though Jane Horrocks gamely kept quiet in Little Voice, Brenda Blethyn should be paddled— as opposed to nominated— for not shutting up in the same movie. Also falling through the cracks: Ally Sheedy for High Art (low viewership), Holly Hunterfor Living Out Loud (the movie seemed really fresh until the next day), Cameron Diaz for There's Something About Mary (her sperm perm will make Oscar squirm), and Susan Sarandon for Stepmom (Meryl did cancer better, though neither exactly exuded documentary realness).

The nominees: Streep, Watson, Blanchett, Paltrow, Montenegro.

ACTOR: Expect a dark bunch of lifetime-achievement nods dressed up in acting honors' clothing. Tom Hanks not only saved Ryan's privates, but he needs to keep chalking up nominations to rival Jimmy Stewart. (The Academy will forgive You've Got Mail.) Jim Carrey was tamed and spayed in a way people loved— and Adam Sandler had better get used to. Ian McKellen was commanding in Gods and Monsters and gets a gold star for being the British F. Murray Abraham. And while Warren Beatty showed he still has it in Bulworth, Nick Nolte proved he just got it in Affliction.

Those guys are fairly solid, though Roberto Benigni may squeak in for blossoming from a schlemiel into a star in less than three hours. But definitely honor-free will be Joseph Fiennes for Shakespeare (sorry, but the Bard didn't look like Rob Lowe), John Hurt for Love and Death on Long Island (it didn't even play Long Island), Stephen Fry for Wilde (wrongly perceived as impersonation more than acting), John Travolta for Primary Colors (ditto), Brendan Gleeson for The General (this year's Ian Holm), George Clooney for Out of Sight (out of mind), and Robin Williams for whatever.

The nominees: Hanks, Carrey, McKellen, Beatty, Nolte.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: It's another would-be highbrow festival for the Angelika lover in you, with lots of high camp posing as art. Lynn Redgrave, as the Gods and Monsters servant who goes on about "buggering,"belonged in a Mel Brooks movie, but she is a Redgrave, after all. Judi Dench snarled regally in Shakespeare in Love, and will be the year's second nominated Queen Elizabeth (make that three queens if you count Ian McKellen). Kathy Bates is a lock for Primary Colors because the Academy loves happy straights playing doomed queers. (They'll forgive The Waterboy.) And Joan Allen has to be nominated every time she appears in public, even if it's in Pleasantville.

The nonchosen: Leelee Sobieski helped drearify A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries (though she did have a good phone scene and looks like last year's Best Actress, Helen Hunt). Hilary's Rachel Griffiths will probably have to let sis steal her husband and her Oscar thunder. Renée Zellweger broke hearts in One True Thing— but if she's supporting, then I'm Mahatma Gandhi. And though Laura Linney and Queen Latifah rocked Truman and Living Out Loud, respectively, their roles had too much inner— as opposed to showy, flashy, outer— pathos to make Oscar hard. The Opposite of Sex's Lisa Kudrow and Christina Ricci and High Art's Patricia Clarkson were also way too subtle, but voters might whimsically ignore that, just to be perverse.

The nominees: Redgrave, Dench, Bates, Allen, Kudrow.

SUPPORTING ACTOR:In contrast to all those heroic leads, this category will be filled with mid- and late-life moral complexity, served with a lite dressing. Michael Caine's Little Voice sleazebag has a shot, even though they're sleazily pushing him for Best Actor. Ed Harris could be recognized for directing the show within The Truman Show (and for putting up with the two screaming harridans in Stepmom). Billy Bob Thornton may have played one too many lovable retards, but his A Simple Plan one has an edge that spells Oscar. Geoffrey Rush maintained dignity in tights in Shakespeare, Elizabeth, and Les Miserables. And though Rushmore doesn't quite come off, Bill Murray's bittersweet performance is the kind of surprise turn the Academy likes. (Remember Red Buttons?)

The uninvited? Dylan Baker's sympathetic Happiness perv will not be Oscar's cup of cum. Brendan Fraser will be sadly overlooked— too cute— for Gods and Monsters. The Ryan and Thin Red Line guys meld into one big sanctimonious yet violent blur (though Nolte has a slight chance to pull a Sigourney Weaver and get a twin nod, for Line). Donald Sutherland's triumph in Without Limits was without patrons. Robert Duvall stole the roll— and the movie— in A Civil Action, but that was petty larceny. James Coburn made the line "Don't you sass me, goddammit!" soar in Affliction, but you can't get nominated for a line. And Bulworth's Oliver Platt can't get nominated for a line of coke.

The nominees will be: Caine, Harris, Thornton, Rush, Murray.

The Best Song will be that ghastly Mariah and Whitney duet from The Prince of Egypt— but at least you can count on them to brawl on the Oscars. Also, if any of the above contenders has a tracheotomy appointment or a house with children and no window guards, award them extra points.

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