12 nominations give Spielberg an Oscar edge

February 10, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Stephen Spielberg's "Schindler's List," an epic story of evil and redemption set against one of the darkest events in history, received 12 nominations, including Best Picture, for the 66th Annual Academy Awards yesterday in Los Angeles.

Other Best Picture nominees were Jim Sheridan's "In the Name of the Father," James Ivory's "The Remains of the Day," both of which received eight nominations, Jane Campion's "The Piano" and, most unexpectedly, "The Fugitive," directed by journeyman Andrew Davis.

The Spielberg film won the director his fourth Best Director nomination and his best chance of an Oscar, as well as Best Picture, Best Actor (Liam Neeson), Best Supporting Actor (Ralph Fiennes) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Steven Zallian). "Schindler's List" also was nominated for art direction, cinematography, costume design, editing, makeup, original score and sound.

In a curiosity, all three of the top-nominated films are set in the past: "The Remains of the Day" takes place primarily in the '30s as a butler recalls the goings on at a Great House while coming to terms with his own missed emotional opportunities; Sheridan's muckraking expose of a miscarriage of British justice, "In the Name of the Father," about Irishmen unjustly imprisoned for IRA terror bombings, is set in the '70s.

The universal adoration of "Schindler's List" should come as sweet tonic to Spielberg, who has had a love-hate relationship with the Academy over the length of his extremely successful career. In three previous nominations, he has never won, despite having created films of enduring popular and critical success.

At the same time, a major surprise was the exclusion of revered director Martin Scorsese, whose "The Age of Innocence" received critical acclaim last fall. It received only two major nominations, the Best Adapted Screenplay for Jay Cocks and Scorsese, and Best Supporting Actress for Wynona Rider.

"The Remains of the Day" appears to have taken up the literary prestige niche in the nominations and aced out the Scorsese film.

Academy members demonstrated a rare case of long and acute memory in recollecting the excellent performances of Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett as Ike and Tina Turner in "What's Love Got to Do With It?," released last spring.

They also offered tribute to the rare successful American genre picture by conferring a Best Picture nomination on "The Fugitive," producer Arnold Koppelson's dynamic late summer chase rouser that was taken from the legendary TV series.

Meanwhile, "Philadelphia," another major picture with Academy Award illusions, did poorly; it didn't receive a Best Picture nomination or a Best Director nomination for Jonathan Demme. Tom Hanks was nominated for Best Actor, and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner did win a nod for Best Original Screenplay.

After Neeson, Hanks and Fishburne, the other two Best Actor nominees were Daniel Day-Lewis as Gerry Conley, unjustly arrested and sentenced by the British to 15 years, and the almost de rigueur Anthony Hopkins, who offered a starchy essay in repression as the duty-haunted butler in "The Remains of the Day."

Both Emma Thompson and Holly Hunter won double nominations, in Supporting Actress and Best Actress categories. Thompson's role as a crusading lawyer in "In the Name of the Father" earned her the Supporting Actress nomination; the Best Actress nomination was for her role in "Remains of the Day," as an estate housekeeper. Hunter was rewarded as a Supporting Actress for her turn in "The Firm," where she played a folksy, gum-chewing secretary; the Best Actress nod was for playing a mute, repressed mail-order wife in Campion's "The Piano."

The double nominations may suggest Hollywood's congenital inability to come up with roles for women. Although actresses have received simultaneous nominations before in Oscar history, never happened twice. In the Best Actress category, the two surprises, after Bassett, Hunter and Thompson, were Stockard Channing for "Six Degrees of Separation" and Debra Winger for "Shadowlands."

In the Supporting Actress category, "The Piano's" child actress, Anna Paquin, is competing against her movie mother in Hunter. Others in the category are Thompson, for what really amounts to a cameo in "In the Name of the Father," Rosie Perez in the otherwise unhonored and forgotten "Fearless," and Winona Ryder in "The Age of Innocence."

In the Supporting Actor category, Ralph Fiennes's Amon Goeth, SS mass murderer from "Schindler's List," is the early favorite; it's the performance people have been talking about for months. Others in the category are Leonardo DiCaprio in the little-seen "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," Pete Postlethwaite as Gerry Conlon's long and nobly suffering father in "In the Name of the Father," and two nods to the genres with nominations for Tommy Lee Jones' Big Dog of a U.S. Marshal in "The Fugitive" and John Malkovich's ex-CIA assassin in "In the Line of Fire."

The Director's category should win Spielberg his first Oscar, but "The Piano's " Campion, who has just about evenly split with Spielberg in critics' awards, could give him some competition. The surprise in the category is the inclusion of Robert Altman, whose well-reviewed "Short Cuts," drawn from the short stories of Raymond Carver, won no other major nominations. Ivory's nod for "The Remains of the Day" was certainly expected, for he's become the essence of the "class" director that Hollywood loves to admire but hates to hire.

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