Oscars Prospects Spread Across the Board

Tuesday, March 6th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Could `Gladiator' pull a `Rebecca' at the Academy Awards?

The Roman epic ``Gladiator'' leads the Oscar field with 12 nominations and is the odds-on favorite for best picture. (It's already won the top film honor at previous awards shows.) But it has not fared well in other key categories.

If earlier honors are any indication, Oscars for acting, directing and writing might be spread among a number of other films, including ``Erin Brockovich,'' ``Cast Away,'' ``Almost Famous,'' ``Traffic'' and ``Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.''

How rare would that be?

Since the Academy Awards expanded its top categories to include supporting actor and actress in the mid-1930s, only one best-picture winner has failed to also grab an Oscar for directing, acting or writing.

``Rebecca'' took 1940's top prize, but director Alfred Hitchcock, stars Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson, and screenwriters Joan Harrison and Robert E. Sherwood lost.

There are many instances of movies winning best picture and only one other major award. ``Rocky,'' ``Platoon,'' ``Braveheart,'' ``Titanic'' and a handful of earlier films took best movie and director but were shut out of acting and writing prizes. Other best-picture winners, including ``Chariots of Fire'' and ``Around the World in 80 Days,'' managed only screenplay wins in the other key categories.

``I would think it's hard to find a year where the best picture doesn't win one of the writing or directing awards because they're so intimately linked to that being the best picture,'' said Robert Rehme, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Besides best picture, ``Gladiator'' is well represented in the other top categories, earning a best-actor slot for Russell Crowe, a supporting-actor nod for Joaquin Phoenix, a directing nomination for Ridley Scott and original screenplay nod.

While the acting and writing were solid, what struck critics and audiences most about ``Gladiator'' was the digital pyrotechnics used to recreate ancient Rome.

Likewise, the skillful direction of Steven Soderbergh on ``Traffic'' and ``Erin Brockovich'' or Ang Lee for ``Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'' may overshadow Scott's achievement on ``Gladiator.''

Overall, ``Gladiator'' still figures to rule at the Academy Awards. Besides being the nominal front-runner for best picture, it has a good shot at dominating musical score and technical categories.

``Oscar this year could be sending a message that it's not always great writing and great acting that make a great movie, but music, cinematography, technical achievement, the whole spectacle,'' said Tom O'Neil, author of ``Movie Awards,'' a year-by-year analysis of the Oscars and other film prizes.

While ``Gladiator'' took the Golden Globe for drama, Lee edged Scott for directing, Tom Hanks' performance in ``Cast Away'' beat Crowe's in ``Gladiator'' for lead actor and ``Traffic's'' Benicio Del Toro won out over Phoenix for supporting actor.

``Gladiator'' had a similar fate at the British Academy Film Awards, winning best picture but losing in the acting, directing and writing categories.

The grandeur of the special effects in ``Gladiator'' may have eclipsed the achievements by Scott, the movie's actors and its three screenwriters, said Douglas Wick, a ``Gladiator'' producer.

``If the writers and actors have gotten slightly marginalized, it's because the spectacle is so brilliantly done that it's easy to be distracted from how clever the storytelling is and how brilliant the performances are,'' Wick said.

Crowe also could win extra points for his performance a year earlier in ``The Insider,'' for which he also earned an Oscar nomination. But he's up against fierce competition.

With two Oscars, Hanks is an Academy favorite. Geoffrey Rush, who plays the Marquis de Sade in ``Quills,'' also has an Oscar. Ed Harris, who plays artist Jackson Pollock in ``Pollock,'' is a two-time nominee whose respect among peers has risen for his long commitment to the difficult film, which he also directed.

And the edge Crowe had last year, as the best-actor newcomer among a field of veterans, goes this time to Javier Bardem, who was brilliant in his first English-language role as writer Reinaldo Arenas in ``Before Night Falls.''

The film has three-time Oscar winner Jack Nicholson in its corner. Nicholson liked ``Before Night Falls'' and Bardem's performance so much he played host for a private screening last week to help draw attention to the movie.

``I think it's a brilliantly realized work of art in every sense,'' Nicholson said.

For supporting actor, Phoenix faces potentially bigger odds than Crowe. Albert Finney, nominated for ``Erin Brockovich,'' could be a sentimental favorite because he's had four previous Oscar nods but has never won.

Jeff Bridges, a nominee for ``The Contender,'' has received three past nods without winning. With ``Shadow of the Vampire,'' Willem Dafoe earned his second nomination.

And Del Toro delivered the sort of breakout performance that won Oscars last year for Hilary Swank and Angelina Jolie.

On the original screenplay front, ``Gladiator'' faces two heavy hitters in past nominee Cameron Crowe for ``Almost Famous'' and acclaimed playwright Kenneth Lonergan for ``You Can Count On Me,'' along with the scripts for ``Erin Brockovich'' and ``Billy Elliot.''