For the second year in a row, the race for nominations in the major Oscar categories is still refreshingly wide open. American Beauty, I think, is the only film with an absolute guarantee of multiple nods in the acting, directing, screenplay, and picture categories; even such front-runners as The Insider, The Hurricane, and The Talented Mr. Ripley have experienced conspicuous lags in momentum since the beginning of awards season, while one-time dark horses such as Being John Malkovich have seen their Oscar prospects steadily improve. I have limited my predictions below to the major eight categories, a boundary within which my predictions have earned 80% and 78% success rates in the past two years. Several of the more "technical" categories—I'm thinking especially of Cinematography, Editing, and Documentary Feature—are as hotly contested as the higher-profile derbies, so be sure to check back on Tuesday, February 15, 2000, for a complete list of all the races . . . and, as always, feel free to write me with your own picks and favorites.

** Successful Predictions Denoted By Red Asterisks **


**American Beauty**
Being John Malkovich
The Hurricane
**The Insider**
**The Sixth Sense**

The Talented Mr. Ripley
Three Kings
**The Cider House Rules**
The Straight Story

Dark Horses
**The Green Mile**
Toy Story 2
The End of the Affair
Boys Don't Cry

American Beauty, again, is the only sure bet in the most unpredictable Best Picture competition since 1995, if not longer ago. The Insider is probably the second most likely nominee, though the Actors Branch, the Academy's largest and therefore crucial voting body, have not shown much interest. The Sixth Sense has its Directors and Writers Guild nominations to its credit, as well as its blockbuster credentials, and Oscar likes to have at least one $100-million grosser of solidly credible craftsmanship in the running (see The Fugitive, Apollo 13, and Jerry Maguire in recent years). Still, the Academy tends to get anxious about "horror" pictures, even when they are rated PG-13, so the film may have to settle for a Screenplay citation. Similarly, Being John Malkovich has the writers (and probably the actors) rallied in its favor, but "serious filmmakers" may deem the picture too lightweight (a mistake, surely) or too technically undistinguished for consideration.

Both films would be less serious contenders if the rest of the Best Picture aspirants weren't similarly beset by too-narrow appeal or flagging support. The Talented Mr. Ripley, made by the same folks who rode The English Patient to glory in 1996, divided audience opinion, lost all five of its Golden Globe nominations, and was passed over by the Producers and Directors Guilds. Three Kings and The Straight Story were commercial disappointments and have been largely forgotten in the months since their release. The Cider House Rules is a tony, conservative pick, but seems pale and conventional next to Malkovich, Ripley, or virtually any other contender. (Then again, voters who dislike experimentation may flock to Cider House to fill the Old Fogies' slot historically ceded to stuff like The Prince of Tides and Scent of a Woman.) For the fifth slot, I'm betting on The Hurricane, though it pains me to do so. The Hollywood crowd, as demonstrated at the Golden Globes, seems pretty won over by Rubin Carter's personal triumphs, even if his film biography is neither loyal to history nor dramatically adept in narrating them.


Norman Jewison, The Hurricane
**Spike Jonze, Being John Malkovich**
**Michael Mann, The Insider**
**Sam Mendes, American Beauty**
**M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense**

David Lynch, The Straight Story
Anthony Minghella, The Talented Mr. Ripley
Stanley Kubrick, Eyes Wide Shut
Pedro Almodóvar, All About My Mother
David O. Russell, Three Kings

Dark Horses
Paul Thomas Anderson, Magnolia
Mike Leigh, Topsy-Turvy
Frank Darabont, The Green Mile
**Lassë Hallstrom, The Cider House Rules**
An even harder race to predict than Best Picture, because the Directors Branch usually eschews young talent or "fluke" successes like Jonze, Shyamalan, and Russell. Popular nominees like As Good As It Gets, Jerry Maguire, and The Fugitive have lost out in the Directing category to old pros like Robert Altman and Miloš Forman or to respected foreigners like Atom Egoyan. Then again, the Directors Guild nominees announced two weeks ago comprise five relative newcomers instead of viable heavyweights like David Lynch, Anthony Minghella, or even Stanley Kubrick, for whom one expects there may be sentimental pull. I'm altering the DGA list only by substituting veteran Jewison for heavy-handed upstart Darabont, who didn't make the Oscar cut for The Shawshank Redemption, either. Any one of the "runners-up" listed here could jump on the list without surprising me, but without consensus appeal for any of their films, the race is incredibly hard to call.

Incidentally, I have only just noticed on the eve of the announcement that my Picture and Director predictions correspond exactly. Given that only three years in Oscar history (1957, 1964, and 1981) have produced such a circumstance, the symmetry of my guesses is an almost sure-fire sign that I'm off the mark!

**Annette Bening, American Beauty**
**Janet McTeer, Tumbleweeds**
**Julianne Moore, The End of the Affair**
**Meryl Streep, Music of the Heart**
**Hilary Swank, Boys Don't Cry**

Sigourney Weaver, A Map of the World

Dark Horses
Reese Witherspoon, Election
Julia Roberts, Notting Hill
Winona Ryder, Girl, Interrupted
My picks here, as they did last year, mirror the Screen Actors Guild roster exactly. One hates to appear unimaginative, but at this point in the game, the Best Actress has winnowed itself down to the same few contenders. Only Meryl Streep seems vulnerable, given her bevy of prior nominations, but she is such a beloved icon of the industry—and A Map of the World's bizarrely erratic release pattern has so limited Sigourney Weaver's exposure—that I'm willing to bet on Streep to tie Katharine Hepburn's record of 12 career nominations. Among the dark horses, Witherspoon is probably too young and edgy and Roberts too commercial for consideration, and only an as-yet-unperceived groundswell for Girl, Interrupted could squeeze Winona in. I'd love to say that deserving talents like Diane Lane, Nicole Kidman, or Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio had a chance at sleeper nods, but I'd only be indulging my own tastes.


Jim Carrey, Man on the Moon
**Russell Crowe, The Insider**
**Richard Farnsworth, The Straight Story**
**Kevin Spacey, American Beauty**
**Denzel Washington, The Hurricane**

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Flawless
Terence Stamp, The Limey

Dark Horses
Matt Damon, The Talented Mr. Ripley
Jim Broadbent, Topsy-Turvy
**Sean Penn, Sweet and Lowdown**
Crowe, Spacey, and Washington can already start picking outfits for the March 26 ceremony. Until recently, I would have said the same of Farnsworth, though The Straight Story has not received enough Oscar push from Disney, nor did he appear on the SAG list, so his chances are no longer sure-fire, though still strong. It's a toss-up whether Jim Carrey's chances are helped or hurt by the fact that the Academy passed him over last year for The Truman Show: people may feel he was snubbed in 1998, or they may still harbor the jealousy of his success and skepticism about his chops that kept him off the ballot in the first place. In any case, there are fewer big names fighting him for the citation this year. Philip Seymour Hoffman is building a reputation in a big way, and Terence Stamp's work in The Limey was seen by more people in Hollywood than among the general public. Also, both men scored Golden Satellites, which would mean almost nothing if Edward Norton hadn't squeezed himself onto the Oscar ballots last year after a Satellite win. Nonetheless, Flawless and The Limey (as well as Sweet and Lowdown and Topsy-Turvy) have remained low enough on Oscar radars that an appearance by any of their stars will comprise an upset. As for Matt Damon, despite the Golden Globe nod, his work as Tom Ripley has not satisfied everyone's tastes, and he lacks the maverick appeal and indie cred of his underdog rivals.


**Angelina Jolie, Girl, Interrupted**
**Catherine Keener, Being John Malkovich**
Julianne Moore, Magnolia
**Samantha Morton, Sweet and Lowdown**
**Chloë Sevigny, Boys Don't Cry**

Cameron Diaz, Being John Malkovich
Cate Blanchett, The Talented Mr. Ripley

Dark Horses
Thora Birch, American Beauty
**Toni Collette, The Sixth Sense**
Kimberly J. Brown, Tumbleweeds
You know you have a strange Oscar field when Julianne Moore, an actress few had heard of before 1993, is the "veteran" contender. Her unimpeachable talent and rising reputation will help her in this race, which is currently a dead heat between Jolie and Sevigny, who may split the Gen-X Bad Girl vote; Keener and Diaz, who may divide Malkovich supporters; Moore, who has to distinguish herself from a large and stunning ensemble; and Morton, whose face no one recognizes and whose voice no one has heard. I'm counting Diaz as the runner-up only because I fear Hollywood will be unfairly snobbish about admitting an ex-model and Charlie's Angel-to-be onto the list, though Keener and Sevigny are the only sure shots. (Jolie's Golden Globe win perhaps overestimates her appeal or that of her film outside of the strange cult the Hollywood Foreign Press has built around her.) Among the dark horse candidates, Birch and Brown are likely to be passed over as too young. That leaves Cate Blanchett, acing a very small part in The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Toni Collette, whose buzz for The Sixth Sense once put her as a sure thing but has failed to make almost any roster of nominees since awards season began. At this point, though I liked her work, she'll only make it on the coat-tails of her popular movie.


**Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules**
Chris Cooper, American Beauty
**Tom Cruise, Magnolia**
John Malkovich, Being John Malkovich
**Haley Joel Osment, The Sixth Sense**

Christopher Plummer, The Insider
**Michael Clarke Duncan, The Green Mile**

Dark Horses
**Jude Law, The Talented Mr. Ripley**
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Magnolia
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Talented Mr. Ripley
Another fiercely competitive field, this one with Boy Wonder Haley Joel Osment and Boy Wonder Emeritus Tom Cruise at the head of the pack; Michael Caine is also a near shoo-in for Cider House. My omission of Christopher Plummer, who's collected a spate of critics' citations for The Insider, is one of my less intuitive moves, but he was AWOL from the Golden Globe and SAG lists. Also, Chris Cooper is benefiting from the revival in American Beauty's hoopla (probably due to the distribution of video copies to eligible Academy members), and the possibility of anointing John Malkovich for playing "himself" is probably too tempting as an Oscar first for voters to pass up. Besides Plummer, the strongest bids for inclusion are made by Michael Clarke Duncan, whose gentle-giant role in The Green Mile will be perfect for conservative voters' tastes, and Jude Law, for igniting the first hour of The Talented Mr. Ripley. I'm including Philip Seymour Hoffman here because it may be a way for actors, who seem to like him very much, to recognize a strong year of work. Though Cruise and Law are robbing attention from their quieter mutual co-star, Hoffman's is a talent waiting to be recognized.


**American Beauty, Alan Ball**
**Being John Malkovich, Charlie Kaufman**
**Magnolia, Paul Thomas Anderson**
**The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan**
Three Kings, David O. Russell

The Straight Story, J.Roach & M.Sweeney
**Topsy-Turvy, Mike Leigh**
Notting Hill, Richard Curtis
Toy Story 2, Andrew Stanton, et.al.

Dark Horses
Boys Don't Cry, K.Peirce & A.Bienen
Sweet and Lowdown, Woody Allen
All About My Mother, Pedro Almodóvar
I'll be astonished if Alan Ball, Charlie Kaufman, Paul Thomas Anderson, or M. Night Shyamalan don't make the cut in this category, but, as in many of the acting races, the fifth slot is highly up for grabs. I'd have more confidence in The Straight Story if the film's profile had not dipped so severely of late; the same could be said of Three Kings, which at least scored a Writers Guild nod, but perception of the film as an "action film" may hurt its chances. Mike Leigh's prospects are hurt by Topsy-Turvy's eleventh-hour release and his reputation for relying on actors to improvise, while Notting Hill and Toy Story 2 build largely on earlier nominees Four Weddings and a Funeral and the first Toy Story. Essentially, any of these films could qualify, as could 13-time nominee Allen or the gender-benders Boys Don't Cry or All About My Mother, each of whom benefit from the Writers' legacy of recognizing challenging work in or out of the English language.


**The Cider House Rules, John Irving**
**Election, A.Payne & J.Taylor**
**The Green Mile, Frank Darabont**
**The Insider, E.Roth & M.Mann**
**The Talented Mr. Ripley, Anthony Minghella**

The End of the Affair, Neil Jordan
The Hurricane, A.Bernstein/D.Gordon

Dark Horses
The Winslow Boy, David Mamet
October Sky, Lewis Colick
Girl, Interrupted, James Mangold, et. al.
A Map of the World, P.Hedges/P.Platt
John Irving's Cider House nod is the odds-on favorite here, though Election is a surprisingly strong second. Anthony Minghella has to convince voters that he did not mangle Patricia Highsmith's novel, and the Insider crew has to defeat accusations that they muddled historical fact, but the profile of both movies should allow them onto the list. Less certain is whether the authors of The Hurricane's dubious script can ride out the increasingly loud assertions that they doctored, condensed, and rearranged too many details, which is why I'm ceding the fifth slot on the list to the safe, Academy-friendly Green Mile treatment by Frank Darabont. Neil Jordan's work on The End of the Affair may appeal to anyone who hasn't actually read the book in question, who luckily for Jordan exist in great number. Nominations for any of the dark horse candidates, even surprise WGA finalist Lewis Colick, would have to count as surprises.

Click here for my more hesitant predictions in the other major categories....


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