10 - The Michigan Daily - Friday, December 11, 1998
Except for 'Ryan,'
no films stand out in Oscar race
Los Angeles Times
HOLLYWOOD - It's a race that
could give Las Vegas oddsmakers night-
As 1998 dwindles away, the only sure
thing about this year's Academy Awards
competition is that Steven Spielberg's
World War 11 battle drama, "Saving
Private Ryan," is a virtual lock for one of
the five best-picture nominations.
But beyond that, say many who close-
ly monitor the Oscar race, the remaining
four nominations are up for grabs. For
that reason, 1998 is shaping up as the
year of the dark horse in films.
Whether it's "Life Is Beautiful," the
grand jury prizewinner at this year's
Cannes Film Festival or two
Elizabethan-era movies - "Shakespeare
in Love" and "Elizabeth" - even small-
er contenders know they have a fighting
chance this year.
As a result, independent film distribu-
tion companies and art-house banners
housed at major studios are cranking up
their publicity machines and Web sites
and flooding members of the Academy
of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
with cassette tapes in hopes of being
nominated for Hollywood's highest
If the smaller films succeed in garner-
ing a nomination - and there is no guar-
antee at this point they will, with some
heavyweight studio films yet to come -
the current Oscar race could mirror
1996, when "Independence Day"
stunned Hollywood as the academy
nominated four smaller films for best
picture: "The English Patient" (which
eventually won best picture), "Fargo"
"Secrets & Lies" and "Shine." Only
"Jerry Maguire" from Columbia
Pictures represented the majors.
"Last year (when "Titanic" swept the
awards), we were fighting over the fifth
slot," said Lindsay Law, president of Fox
Searchlight Pictures, who is touting
"Waking Ned Devine" for this year's
contest. "It's much more wide open this
year. The independents are just as likely
to get those slots as the studios are."
"I don't think anyone, even the pun-
dits, can name five pictures that are sure-
fire best-picture candidates this year"
said Dennis Rice, president of world-
wide marketing at October Films, which
has high hopes for "Hilary and Jackie,"
starring Emily Watson ("Breaking the
So, which of the smaller films stands
Miramax is pushing "Life Is
Beautiful." Directed by Roberto
Benigni, it stars Benigni as an Italian
Jewish father who shelters his son from
the horrors of internment during the
Nazi era. Its tragic themes and historical
scope should play well with the acade-
my, and the film has been a hit with audi-
ences as well - it could end up the high-
est-grossing foreign-language film ever.
One intriguing contest looming is that
between two Elizabethan films -
"Shakespeare in Love," starring Joseph
Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow from
Miramax, and "Elizabeth;" starring Cate
Blanchett from Gramercy. One film may
be nominated for best picture, but can
Fox Searchlight, perhaps hoping to
reignite the spark of last year's surprise
British comedy "The Full Monty" which
grossed more than $250 million world-
wide, is pushing the Irish comedy
"Waking Ned Devine" this time around,
but the film is only being shown in lim-
ited release so far.
October Films believes it has a con-
tender in "Hilary and Jackie" but it also
is touting "High Art," starring Ally
Sheedy, and the Merchant Ivory film "A
Soldier's Daughter Never Cries."
Fine Line Features has two offerings:
"Hurlyburly," starring Sean Penn and
Kevin Spacey in a dark comedic look at
Hollywood, and "The Theory of Flight,"
starring Kenneth Branagh as a reluctant
community-service caretaker of invalid
Helena Bonham Carter, who is the vic-
tim of a terminal neuromuscular disease.
Along with two critical favorites, the
Brazilian drama "Central Station" and
John Boorman's "The General," Sony
Pictures Classics has the popular indie
comedy "The Opposite of Sex" as long-
shot Oscar hopefuls.
But others caution that it's way too
early to count out the big studios.
Gramercy Pictures President Russell
Schwartz acknowledged that it looks
good for independents right now, but that
could change in a flash when late-year
entries finally reach the big screen.
"I think everybody thinks they have a
chance this year" Schwartz said, "but at
the end of the day, it still could be a pre-
dominately studio-driven awards."
"I remember one year when all the
nominees came from the end of the year
courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures
Tom Hanks, star of this summer's hit "Saving Private Ryan," may be in the running
for another best acting Academy Award nomination.
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and were studio pictures," said Michael
Barker, co-president of Sony Pictures
Still to come from the majors are such
films as Terrence Malick's "The Thin
Red Line" from 20th Century Fox, Chris
Columbus' "Stepmom" from Columbia
Pictures, Steven Zaillian's "A Civil
Action" from Disney's Touchstone
Pictures, Tom Shadyac's "Patch Adams"
from Universal Studios, Nora Ephron's
"You've Got Mail" from Warner Bros.
and the full-length animated feature
"The Prince of Egypt" from
But of all of these, only "The Thin
Red Line," a World War II drama set in
the Pacific, is creating Oscar buzz for
best picture, even though the film isn't
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The film that could rival "Saving
Private Ryan" is Peter Weir's "The
Truman Show" starring Jim Carrey.
while the Paramount Pictures film d
widespread critical acclaim, it isn't seen
as having a lock on a best picture nomi-
Some films that were seen as possible.
Academy Award contenders before their
release have sank like a stone in water,
much like "The Crucible" did in 1996.
One of the more prominent big-studio
hopefuls this fall was "Beloved," a slav-
ery-era drama starring Oprah Winfrey
that received widespread publicity wh,
it was released by Touchstone Picture.
But the film died at the box office.
"It was a monumental disaster," said
one source. "They don't reward monu-
So Disney is also trotting out its other
big guns, like "A Civil Action" and the
computer-animated film "A Bug's Life,"
as well as a real dark-horse candidate
called "Rushmore," which became a dar-
ling of critics when it was shown at t
Telluride and Toronto film festivals. The
film is being released in Los Angeles
and New York today for one week only
for Oscar contention, then gets a wide
release in February.
Turmoil in the executive suites at
Universal could be a problem for the stu-
dio's Oscar campaign. A film that might
have been a best-picture candidate, "One
True Thing," failed at the box office;,~
now the studio is pushing "Pa
Adams," starring Robin Williams.
PolyGram Films is relying on the criti-
cal praise bestowed on the special effects
to push Robin Williams' "What Dreams
May Come" to a nomination. Paramount
is launching a campaign for the dark tale
of greed "A Simple Plan," which stars
Billy Bob Thornton and Bill Paxton.
United Artists, meanwhile, is pro-
moting John Frankenheimer's action-
filled secret agent-themed mo*
"Ronin," while New Line Cinema s
waging Oscar campaigns for
"Pleasantville," "American History
X" and "Living Out Loud."
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