Academy Prepares for Nominations

Wednesday, February 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) — From ancient warriors to modern crusaders, historical hedonists to latter-day sensualists, Hollywood is about to pare down the list of invitees to its biggest bash.

Academy Award nominations come down Tuesday (Feb. 13). What had been a wide-open Oscar race in December has been honed and whittled by guild nominations and assorted awards shows to a handful of likely nominees, with a slot or two still up for grabs.

``You never know till you get to the end of the year. Really, it's impossible to know what the Academy movies are until January,'' said Terry Press, marketing chief for DreamWorks.

The studio's ``American Beauty'' dominated the Oscars last year, and it now has ``Gladiator,'' ``Almost Famous'' and ``The Contender'' poised to grab key nominations.

``Gladiator,'' released in May, and ``Erin Brockovich,'' which came out in March, seem like certain best-picture nominees, defying the notion that prestige films must hit theaters late in the year for Oscar consideration.

With its Golden Globe for best drama and its probable dominance in technical categories, ``Gladiator'' may well emerge as the nominal front-runner.

Like ``Life Is Beautiful'' and ``Il Postino,'' the Mandarin-language epic ``Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'' appears likely to break the English barrier and score a best-picture nod.

``Almost Famous,'' which failed to connect at the box office last fall, has become an awards-circuit darling and could grab one of the remaining best-picture slots. The movie won the Golden Globe for musical or comedy.

``Traffic,'' from ``Erin Brockovich'' director Steven Soderbergh, also is in the running, along with the British dance flick ``Billy Elliot.''

Then there are a few longshots: ``Chocolat,'' ``Wonder Boys,'' ``Thirteen Days.''

Awards season has been kind to ``Chocolat'' for acting nominations. Past Oscar winners Juliette Binoche and Judi Dench both scored nominations for Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild awards and the British Academy Awards, potentially boosting their Oscar chances.

``It doesn't always work like that,'' said Binoche, who stars as an itinerant confectioner whose sinful candies spice up life in a sleepy town. ``I'm trying not to make assumptions. It's a scary feeling, and it's better to take it with as much distance as possible.''

Virtual certainties for best-actress nominations are Joan Allen as a noble politician in ``The Contender''; Ellen Burstyn as a woman addicted to diet pills in ``Requiem for a Dream''; and Laura Linney as a sister struggling to reconnect with her brother in ``You Can Count On Me.''

Whether Binoche joins them in the fourth spot, or Bjork for the gloomy musical ``Dancer in the Dark,'' the best-actress category probably is a lost cause for anyone not named Julia Roberts. Her saucy turn as legal underdog Erin Brockovich seems bound to earn an Oscar for Hollywood's box-office queen.

The best-actor outcome is fuzzier. Two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks, who won a Golden Globe for ``Cast Away,'' will almost certainly be nominated, as will Russell Crowe for ``Gladiator.'' In the mix are past winners Michael Douglas for ``Wonder Boys'' and Geoffrey Rush for ``Quills.''

Newcomer Jamie Bell of ``Billy Elliot'' has an outside chance for a nomination, along with past winner Sean Connery for ``Finding Forrester.'' Javier Bardem delivered a magnificent performance in ``Before Night Falls,'' the story of Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, but it's an obscure movie, and Bardem was overlooked for a Screen Actors Guild nomination last month.

Crowe's advantage is that his stronger performance in ``The Insider,'' for which he was nominated last year, remains fresh in Academy members' minds. Hanks' edge is that everybody loves Hanks, though Oscar voters historically are reluctant to award an actor three statues.

``There's something sacred about giving away a third Oscar,'' said Tom O'Neil, author of the new book ``Movie Awards,'' a year-by-year analysis of the Oscars, Golden Globes and other prizes. ``They gave Jack Nicholson three simply because they like Jack. They like Tom Hanks, too, and I would agree that he's the front-runner and will probably win.''

Besides Dench, supporting-actress contenders likely will include Golden Globe winner Kate Hudson for ``Almost Famous,'' along with her co-star and past Oscar winner Frances McDormand. Also in contention are Julie Walters for ``Billy Elliot,'' Kate Winslet for ``Quills'' and Catherine Zeta-Jones for ``Traffic.''

Four probable nominees for supporting actor are Golden Globe winner Benicio Del Toro for ``Traffic,'' Willem Dafoe for ``Shadow of the Vampire,'' Albert Finney for ``Erin Brockovich'' and Joaquin Phoenix for ``Gladiator.'' The fifth spot likely will go to one of the White House dramas, either for Jeff Bridges or Gary Oldman of ``The Contender'' or Bruce Greenwood or Stephen Culp for ``Thirteen Days.''

The directing category remains tough to assess because of Soderbergh's dual achievements for ``Traffic'' and ``Erin Brockovich.'' He could well receive nods for both, then lose out come Oscar night because the films siphon votes from each other.

Golden Globe winner Ang Lee will most likely be nominated for ``Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,'' as will Ridley Scott for ``Gladiator.'' Cameron Crowe may be in line for the fifth nod for ``Almost Famous,'' though past winner Robert Zemeckis also could be in the running for ``Cast Away.''