They Could Be a Contender

Who's Ahead in the Race for Oscar?

Denzel Washington in <i>The Hurricane </i>
Denzel Washington in The Hurricane

The sad fact is that Academy Award nominations are less about anyone's performance per se and more about the performance of a delicate dance ­ a little industry tango which involves critical raves, characters written with pathos, splashy full-page ads, award-night politics, and, apparently, how close you are to kicking the bucket. That doesn't sour in any way my crazed, stalker-like obsession with Hollywood's biggest night in question; it just makes me better equipped to predict which actors I'll be crossing my fingers for and who gets the evil eye. Although a handful of fall releases already seem well-heeled for Oscar glory ­ Sam Mendes' superlative American Beauty is sure to nail nominations for stars Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening (at least) ­ the holiday season will unleash a mother lode of Serious Films, starring men and women just aching to make that five-star list of Oscar nominees. Sure to make the final cut is previous statue-winner Denzel Washington, who stars in Norman Jewison's The Hurricane as Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a middleweight boxer whose career is snuffed out after he is falsely imprisoned for murder. The Hurricane combines the narrative muscle of director Jewison (A Soldier's Story, Moonstruck) with Washington's natural charisma and newly chiseled frame (following a reported weight loss of 45 pounds) to make for, by most accounts, a cinematic one-two punch that is both graceful and compelling. If that's not enough tearjerking inspiration for you, try The Green Mile, which adds ­ here it comes ­ an Oscar-worthy Tom Hanks to the Shawshank Redemption team of director Frank Darabont and screenwriter Stephen King, who adapted the film from his novel about guards working on death row. Perhaps the most-talked about "will he or won't he?" Oscar buzz has been around Jim Carrey, who stars as mysterious comedian Andy Kaufman in Milos Forman's Man on the Moon. But come on, people ­ of course he'll get nominated for a note-perfect imitation of his subject (and retribution for his snub after last year's The Truman Show). The real question is: How long after the nomination will he demand that we start referring to him as "James"? Wild cards include Academy evergreens Robert De Niro (in Joel Schumacher's Flawless) and Anthony Hopkins (as the title character in the screen adaptation of Shakespeare's bloody Titus Andronicus, simply entitled Titus), as well as Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner, the two British stars of Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy, a musical epic about composers Gilbert & Sullivan.

As the resilient matriarch of a poverty-stricken Irish family in Alan Parker's Angela's Ashes, Emily Watson has all the right moves for an Oscar win: mastering a foreign accent, courage in the face of great odds, and railing against death ­ all in a film adaptation of one of the decade's most beloved books. But Watson best not start penning her speech yet ­ never underestimate the power of Jodie Foster's pluck and steely jaw as a schoolmarm in the lush epic Anna and the King. And though James Mangold's Girl, Interrupted seems like a confused jumble of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Steel Magnolias, it may yield a nomination for star (and executive producer) Winona Ryder, who returns to the role of angsty teen after years of fighting a losing battle to break that stereotype. Other nominees could be any variety of Academy sweethearts plucked from our "smart women, foolish choices" category: Meryl Streep (Music of the Heart), Michelle Pfeiffer (The Story of Us), Susan Sarandon (Anywhere but Here), Julia Roberts (you name it), Nicole Kidman (Eyes Wide Shut) ­ although it would be nice to see Cecilia Roth nominated for Pedro Almodóvar's All About My Mother or Julianne Moore (The End of the Affair, Magnolia) receive recognition for being one of the most dependable, complex, and versatile actresses working today. So, now that we've figured out who's sure to be nominated, all that's left to do is, well ... see the movies.

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