The big answer is easy other awards are harder to call

March 20, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Think of the 66th Annual Awards Presentation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as a Super Bowl game in which the final score -- which movie puts the biggest number after its name on Tuesday -- isn't that interesting, or even suspenseful. So, to enjoy it, you must key on how some of the smaller stories play out.

There's not a lot of suspense about the outcome, though in the interest of preserving a modicum of suspense I'll hold the big awards till late in my prognostication, but some smaller dramas look interesting. Which of the two very good commercial thrillers -- "In the Line of Fire" and "The Fugitive" -- will garner the most minor awards? Will Martin Scorsese's "The Age of Innocence," once a prime contender for the Big Award but ultimately passed over, salvage a few motes of respect? Will the fast-closer "In the Name of the Father" ace out the initially better known "The Remains of the Day"? Will there be any remains at all for "Remains," or will the other art house favorite, "The Piano," take -- the wind out of its sales?

Let's see how it shakes out across the Big Ten major nominations.

Original screenplay

This one gives "In the Line of Fire" its best shot at a major award, but I don't think it's going to happen; the four nominations will largely be enough for the best picture Clint Eastwood has made since he worked for Sergio Leone. Nor will the three-writer "Sleepless in Seattle" script get the nod: Hollywood, which lives off genre pictures, pretends to be too good for them one night a year. For that reason, also forget "Dave." (Nearly everyone else has.) The real race here is between Jane Campion for "The Piano" and Ron Nyswaner for "Philadelphia." Very tough call: clashing political correctness in one of America's most progressive industries. All liberal virtues being equal, I think quality will decide, and for that reason "The Piano" will win because it's really original, while the very problem with "Philadelphia" was the dreariness of its script.

Adapted screenplay

"Shadowlands" is strictly an honorary nomination, more for being British than for being good. Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese might have once had a chance, but some really great pictures that were released after "The Age of Innocence" pretty much blew it away. The brilliant job by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala would have won in many an average year, even in a strong year, for "The Remains of the Day." But this is a very strong year. It comes down here to a contest between two documents of outrage, Terry George and Jim Sheridan's "In the Name of the Father" and Steven Zaillian's job for Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List." Zaillian will win.

Foreign film

This is an especially tough one for a critic in this town, as the Charles, which would normally play most of these films, has been dark for four months. I've only seen two of them and felt that "The Wedding Banquet" was over-reviewed on the basis of its novelty -- a Taiwanese movie shot in New York that was a comedy about gays. So, I'll vote my heart and argue that "Farewell My Concubine," which is not only an epic but an intelligent, ironic and provocative epic, will cop the Oscar; if it doesn't, either the fix is in, or one of the unseens ("Belle Epoque" from Spain, "Hedd Wyn" from Great Britain or "The Scent of Green Papaya" from Vietnam) is unbelievable!

Cinematography

This should be an easy win for "Schindler's List," because, for one thing, most people, including most Academy voters, will note that it is in black and white and will think that's "harder" than color. And it is. Still, what needs to be said is how fluent and supple was Janusz Kaminski's photography, as it slid through black-and-white styles, moving from the highly burnished German expressionism of the early scenes to the over-exposed banality of the camp scenes to the mystery and romance at the end upon the deliverance. Gu Changwei's work in "Farewell My Concubine" is on an artistic plane with Kaminski's, but the movie is too forbidding to win in a broad-based category such as this one. As for the others -- "The Fugitive," "Searching for Bobby Fisher," even "The Piano" -- child's play.

Best supporting actress

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