No favorite film is expected to sweep this year's Oscars

HOLLYWOOD'S ANNUAL EXTRAVAGANZA

March 29, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

Is it that time of year again, already? How did 365 days race by so quickly? Time flies when you're having fun, eh, moviegoers? And yes, indeed, tomorrow night is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Award ceremony, better known as the Oscars, that annual orgy of vulgarity, earnestness, self-promotion, cleavage and whimsy that nevertheless will manage to be as mesmerizing as any movie this year. The key is Sincerity: Once Hollywood learned how to fake it, all good things followed. This is the night that Hollywood pretends that it cares.

It's a strange year in the Oscar-predict beat. There's not an overwhelming favorite that everybody, critics and public, believes in. My sense is that this year there will not be a steamroller movie, but that the awards will be fairly evenly distributed among the five best picture nominees. No film should win more than four Oscars.

Here's how the major categories line up, according to the tea leaves in my cup.

Best Supporting Actress

Isn't it, oh, I don't know, kind of sweet that a mom and daughter are both up in the female categories for the same movie? That's Diane Ladd in this category and her daughter Laura Dern in Best Actress. Yes, it's sweet. And here's what it'll get from Oscar: nada. As in, nothing, zilch, zip, zee-row, nuttin' honey. Juliette Lewis won't win for "Cape Fear" either, because she's too new. Kate Nelligan is a possibility because Hollywood always loves it when a former leading lady does a folksy character part, and Jessica Tandy may win it for "Fried Green Tomatoes," because, well, because she's Jessica Tandy. But I think Mercedes Ruehl will win, because her performance was the most dynamic thing in "The Fisher King," and because her work has been so uniformly good for a number of years.

Best Original Screenplay

Two of the candidates can be dismissed instantly: They are Lawrence Kasdan and his wife Meg for "Grand Canyon," which not many people liked; and Richard LaGravenes for "The Fisher King," which not many people understood.

John Singleton is an outside possibility, but his nomination will be seen as honor enough for "Boyz N the Hood"; James Toback has a long, controversial career as a screenwriter and director and he's finally hit the bigs with "Bugsy," which probably is the best original script of the year.

But neither of them will win. The winner will be Callie Khouri for "Thelma & Louise," a movie more passionately loved in film circles than it was by the general public.

Best Supporting Actor

Tommy Lee Jones, playing an outrageous swish in "JFK"? Yeah, right, in light of the industry's targeting by some gay groups. Not a chance.

Michael Lerner as a crass, repulsive studio head in "Barton Fink"? In your dreams, buster, or, rather, in Michael Lerner's, although he was the best thing in "Barton," which, unfortunately or not, zero people saw.

That leaves the three-way race between Ben Kingsley for "Bugsy," Harvey Keitel for "Bugsy" and Jack Palance for "City Slickers." I think the same-picture cancellation factor will apply here, particularly as it favors old pro -- he's been up with two Oscar nominations in the early '50s, he's been down with "Rivak the Barbarian," and now he's back up again -- Jack Palance.

I know he looks like a saddlebag. I know he doesn't really "act," but no one in this rather light category could be said to "act."

Best Adapted Screenplay

The temptations to be politically correct here must be overwhelming. There are so many things to vote for and feel virtuous. You can vote for Pat Conroy and Becky Johnston for the touchy-feely "Prince of Tides," and also avenge the Academy's sexist snub of director Barbra Streisand. You can vote for Agnieszka Holland's script for "Europa Europa" and thereby strike a blow at the antisemitic Germans who refused to nominate it for best foreign film. You can vote for Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar for finally ripping the veils off the conspiracy and proving at last that the CIA-FBI-NYT-USMC-BSA-AFSCME-USF&G combined murdered John Kennedy. But for once Hollywood won't do the politically correct thing; instead, it will do the right thing, and give the Oscar in this category to Ted Tally for his job on "Silence of the Lambs," which managed to compact that novel into cinematic form, and yet sustain its sense of deep weirdness, its evocation of the dank horrors of the psychotic mind.

Best Actress

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