John Sayles is too far to the outside of everything for a shot; the nomination for his "Passion Fish" is strictly filler.
The race is between David Webb Peoples for his more than 10-year-old script to "Unforgiven" and Neil Jordan for "Crying Game." Now ask yourself: In "Unforgiven" did anybody pull down his pants and set the whole country talking for five full months? Neil Jordan, in a walk.
The Best Foreign Language Film is always the mystery category. Where do they get these things? One of them has already been disqualified -- the Uruguayan "A Place in the World," which wasn't really Uruguayan.
I haven't seen the others, except for "Indochine," which is wonderful, but French films never win in this category because they tend to be insolently, casually and consistently better than American films. However, the French complained bitterly last year. So, just to show it's the big-hearted kind of town, yes, indeed, "Indochine" will win Best Foreign Language Film.
The tightest category of all is Best Supporting Actor. Of the five nominees, only one, David Paymer, can be discounted. He was brilliant in "Mr. Saturday Night," but hey, he's only David Paymer.
Three big Americans
The three big Americans are about as big as it gets: Gene Hackman, who was the avuncular and evil sheriff Little Bill Daggett in "Unforgiven," has won some pre-Oscar critics' awards; Jack Nicholson was explosive in "A Few Good Men," as a bellicose Marine colonel whose unyielding willingness to do the hard thing brought the movie to life and his career to disgrace. Al Pacino was a good sport as Romano, the successful salesman in "Glengarry Glen Ross," playing a tightly coiled second banana to Jack Lemmon's seething Shelly Levine.
The long shot here is Jaye Davidson in "The Crying Game." If you haven't seen the movie and don't know what the buzz is, get off the train. That's all the warning you're going to get.
Now, on with the show: Davidson is utterly convincing in the film playing a woman, until it's revealed he's a man, thus turning the terrain topsy-turvy for the rest of the movie. It's quite well-done . . . but is it acting? Or is it being? My suspicion is that as phenomenal as Davidson is, old pro Hackman will sneak out a victory, as part of what's beginning to look like a We-Like-Clint night.
Best Actress is another snooze. Three of the nominees clearly have no chance, and a fourth has very little chance.
Catherine Deneuve is commanding in "Indochine," but her odds of winning the Oscar for Best Actress are about the same as mine. Ditto for Mary McDonnell in John Sayles' "Passion Fish," and poor Michelle Pfeiffer in the misbegotten bad-hair-from-hell movie, "Love Field." At least "Indochine" and "Passion Fish" were good.
Susan Sarandon has a wisp of a ghost of a chance for her passionate and primal role as the grieving mother in "Lorenzo's Oil," whose will and intelligence drove her and her husband to bypass conventional medical channels in an attempt to cure their son of a rare disease.
But who's kidding whom? The winner will be the primly efficient Emma Thompson from "Howards End," whose sublime humanity was the prime force in that twisted tale of class hatred.
Best Actor will be the one Eastwood setback. Alas, in its infinite anti-wisdom, Hollywood will pass on the Man with No Name, turning him in this, his only chance, to the Man with No Oscar. He shouldn't lose any sleep over it, however.
Robert Downey Jr. will be passed over for his role in "Chaplin" as well; his nomination was only symbolic in the first place. Denzel Washington's nomination was a grudging token handed to Spike Lee for his "Malcolm X," when the director and true auteur got no recognition. But Lee took it like a man and didn't whine to the press and call the Academy racist, probably his smartest career move in years. It may win him an Oscar next time.
Stephen Rea, in "The Crying Game"? Hey, he was a superb actor, but what did he show?
No, the winner will be Al Pacino for "Scent of a Woman." I think it's a mistake -- Pacino was demonstrably better in at least 10 of his movies, including "Glengarry Glen Ross" this year and particularly in "Sea of Love," but the role was conceived with such show and Pacino brought such eye-popping earnestness to what was basically a movie of sheer bombast and cheapness, it'll be enough to get him over the top.
Best director certainly won't go to Robert Altman, although he was. His "The Player" was savage and brilliant, but although the Academy loves the theme of the Old Lion rewarded in his dotage, his critique of the system was probably too insightful to win the kind of embrace the Oscar would represent.
Not a normal year