Alex's Oscar Column #10: Academy Award Winner Predictions

March 22, 2000

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In a response to Mr. James Callan's question about the last time the Best Picture and Best Director categories lined up perfectly in the Mailbag section of Oscar Column #9, I responded:

... well, I went through the last 31 Oscar ceremony results before I got bored, and unless I missed something, I didn't see a match (although I certainly don't doubt that this has occured).

UBQ and Matt Brunson of Creative Loafing Charlotte have both kindly pointed out that I did miss something -- this occured in 1981, the year of Reds, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Atlantic City, Chariots Of Fire and On Golden Pond. My bad; thanks for the correction.

Beat Alex

Oh boy, I'm probably asking for it, but ....

Just for fun -- I'm afraid I can't offer glamorous prizes like some of the hoity-toity contests -- if you'd like, feel free to e-mail me with your Oscar predictions in the 20 categories below in which I've listed my own picks -- that is, all of the competitive categories except the three short films categories prior to the Academy Awards ceremony. Those who successfully pick more Oscar winners than me -- and believe me when I predict there'll be a lot of you -- will win the admiration and respect of millions worldwide, and also get their names listed for posterity in my post-ceremony wrap-up Oscar column. If you're so inclined, feel free to add comments detailing why you're going with so-and-so in a given category and so forth -- where applicable, I'd also like to use reader comments.

Please note that only those who have made predictions in all of the 20 categories specified will be considered; it'd be pretty easy to beat me if we're restricting it to only the Big Six categories or the Big Eight categories, but if the field is expanded to the full twenty categories ... well, it'd still be pretty easy to beat me, but indulge me, okay? (If you're one of those who've already sent in a partial set of predictions and want to participate in this contest, feel free to fire off your picks in the remaining categories.)

Needless to say, one set of picks per person, please. And if you could make the subject field of your submission something like "Beat Alex", that'd be a great help -- thanks.

Boos And Hisses To The Wall Street Journal

A big fat raspberry to The Wall Street Journal, who went ahead and published the results of their poll of Academy members in their Friday, March 24th edition. (The presumption of the poll's accuracy amusingly prompted several film critics to revise their Oscar predictions accordingly.)

While the poll actually provides little in the way of surprises -- American Beauty, Sam Mendes and Angelina Jolie are clear frontrunners in their respective categories, and most already percieved the Best Actor race to be a duel between Denzel Washington and Kevin Spacey, the Best Actress contest to be a tightly contested affair with Hilary Swank and Annette Bening, and the Best Supporting Actor race boiling down to Michael Caine, Haley Joel Osment and Tom Cruise; the Wall Street Journal results aren't exactly big shockers -- I continue to deplore the commissioning of the survey and the publication of the results; my hope is that enough of the Academy respondents gave misleading answers that the majority of published results will be proven to be incorrect (although this may be unlikely).

It should be noted that although the Wall Street Journal apparently was successful in getting 356 Academy members to spill the beans on their picks, they didn't get 356 responses for each of the categories -- respondents were typically queried on their preferences in a single given category (although some were surveyed for multiple categories). Consequently, while over 6% of the total AMPAS membership took part in the poll, the participation percentage in any given category is certainly less, and could theoretically be as low as 1%. I wouldn't quite put my money down on The Wall Street Journal picks just yet, although I do concede that the survey results look eminently reasonable.

If nothing else, this exercise has helped illustrate that voters frequently do cast their votes based on factors other than merit; as I've mentioned in many previous articles over the year, voting for the Academy Awards is a highly politicized affair and, as Clint Eastwood once said, "deserve's got nothin' to do with it." Consider Buddy Hackett, who explained why he wasn't going to vote for The Sixth Sense's Haley Joel Osment: "In another five years, he'll have pimples, and no one will want to talk about him." Or Norman Alden's explanation for voting against American Beauty -- "I don't care about bad marriages and fooling around and all these crazy things." (Carroll O'Connor also chimed in: "What has American Beauty got to do with anybody's life?". I can only guess that they both completely missed that the film actually explores dissatisfaction, and hence is probably the most pertinent of the Best Picture nominees to the public at large, unless I'm underestimating the number of beatific giants and ghost-spotting kids wandering around. For what it's worth, Mr. O'Connor then went on to laud Music Of The Heart -- ugh.)

(I'm presuming that Mssrs. Hackett and Alden were sincere in their declarations and not actually trying to deceive the Wall Street Journal pollsters -- given that many respondents took advantage of the option to reply anonymously, I'm figuring that the two actors wouldn't want to deliberately look foolish by have their names attached to such inane statments were they being intentionally obtuse.)

Alex's Oscar Winner Predictions

After finally wrapping up that gargantuan, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Oscar Column #09 last week -- sorry about that, folks; that one was a real monster (although I think it eventually came together fairly well) -- I've spent the last few days finally working on my 1999 Top 10 article. I'm currently about halfway through it (and I've been having great fun putting it together), but with Oscar Sunday fast approaching, I've regrettably had to shelve that piece for later in favour of getting this Academy Award Predictions column out the door.

(I've also become increasingly pressed to get my Oscar predictions up online in a hurry due to the imminent kick-off of CinéFranco, a French-language film festival held here in Toronto which I'm planning to attend. [What is it with all these great film events scheduled around the key Academy Awards dates, anyway? First the Cinematheque Ontario Best Of The Nineties programme during the nomination announcements, now this ...] Some of the pictures I'm particularly eager to catch are Saturday's Une Liaison Pornographique [big in Venice '99], Friday's Venus Beauté (Institut) [multiple Cesar-winner a few months ago], and tomorrow's En Plein Coeur [Virginie Ledoyen; hey, she's a good actress!])

(Post-CinéFranco: Whew, I've just watched nine French-language films in a span of 48 hours [and threw in Mifune and The Ninth Gate for the heck of it]. Among the films I caught, Une Liaison Pornographique was easily the strongest of the batch, with the warm coming-of-age tale Histoires D'hiver also getting a thumbs up from me. I was quite disappointed with Venus Beauté (Institut), though.)

Also serving as a proverbial kick in the pants (in a nice way) was the Toronto Star's movie critic Peter Howell, who kindly referred to my Oscar coverage in excessively generous fashion in his Wednesday column on potentially useful Academy Awards-related websites. A pleasant surprise and a nice motivator -- thanks, Peter.

The following are my predictions in twenty of the twenty-three competitive Academy Awards categories; I've traditionally skipped the short films categories, and although the Best Animated Short and Best Live-Action Short nominees are now online thanks to AtomFilms -- kudos for them for this welcome initiative -- I haven't had a chance to poke through them yet (although I would certainly urge anyone who has the opportunity to check out the candidates; I understand that Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis' When The Day Breaks is wonderful) and hence have decided not to make any uninformed guesses there.

(Late note: Ellen kindly wrote to inform that the aforementioned AtomFilms site actually features only four of the short films in their entirety; there are also previews on five other nominees, and one nominee -- Bron, Mein Bror is unavailable. Thanks Ellen! Sorry for raising everyone's hopes, but I nevertheless urge people to check out the four shorts they have online.)

While I employed an Entertainment Weeklyesque "odds" style of ranking the nominees in each of the categories last year, I wasn't particularly enamoured with this method and have decided to drop it. For this year, I've gone to a simplified bare-bones ordered scheme -- in each category, I've listed the nominees in declining order of perceived likelihood of winning the Oscar; that is, the top-most entries are my predictions in the respective categories. (As always, note that I'm predicting what will win, not what should win.) And my annual disclaimer: I would hardly tout myself as some master Oscar predictor (then again, anyone who would has some serious ego problems), and I also generally tend to do better with the nominee predictions than the eventual winners -- I'm running at a 70% accuracy rate over the past three years for picking Oscar winners.

Best Picture Of The Year
1. American Beauty
2. The Cider House Rules
3. The Sixth Sense
4. The Insider
5. The Green Mile

Although Miramax has effectively pushed The Cider House Rules as a legitimate alternative for the Best Picture Oscar -- I continue to believe that all of the mid-February press proclaiming the Best Picture as being a two-horse race between American Beauty and The Cider House Rules was essentially self-fulfilling -- I still believe that American Beauty is the clear favourite in the category, and that most media sources have overestimated the likelihood of The Cider House Rules knocking off the DreamWorks picture. (Then again, I also picked Saving Private Ryan over Shakespeare In Love last year -- although I felt that race was much tighter.)

While the Lasse Hallström picture has predictably shown strong appeal to older Academy members, it's American Beauty which seems to have won over the industry in general and is a film which every studio wished they'd backed in retrospect. The Sam Mendes film has won the vast majority of key guild prizes -- the Producers Guild Award, Mendes for the Directors Guild of America prize, and the Screen Actors Guild Ensemble Cast award -- and at this point I see little reason to expect that The Cider House Rules will knock off American Beauty to win the prize. We'll see.

Some have envisioned a scenario in which American Beauty and The Cider House Rules have split the vote, allowing the popular blockbuster The Sixth Sense to sweep in and win the Best Picture Oscar. I don't think this'll happen, but I do believe M. Night Shyamalan's picture will pick up its share of support in voting for Best Picture; it's surprisingly well-liked in the industry. Similarly, The Insider is a film which has earned the respect of many in Hollywood, although it stands little chance of winning the Oscar. In an interesting Entertainment Weekly piece, Mark Harris noted that many Academy voters aren't going to vote for The Insider because of the perception that it's not going to win -- that they should vote for a film they didn't quite like as much, such as American Beauty or The Cider House Rules, which at least has a chance at victory -- which strikes me as regrettably wrong-headed.

After viewing the first trailer for The Green Mile, DreamWorks marketing chief Terry Press reportedly immediately conceded the Oscar to Darabont's picture. "I told the filmmakers that it was all over. They might as well give out the stautettes right now," she said. I can only assume that her spirits were lifted considerably after actually seeing the flawed, plodding film. Although a recent Gallup poll indicated that The Green Mile was the preferred choice of surveyed Americans to win the Best Picture Oscar (it was picked by 29% of respondents, easily outdistancing The Sixth Sense at 18%), it stands little chance of winning the big prize; I'd be shocked (not to mention appalled) if it won.

(Anti-abortion activists, angered at the Best Picture nomination for The Cider House Rules, have pledged to picket the ceremony on Sunday. I was wondering when this was going to happen.)

Best Performance By An Actor In A Leading Role
1. Kevin Spacey, American Beauty
2. Denzel Washington, The Hurricane
3. Russell Crowe, The Insider
4. Richard Farnsworth, The Straight Story
5. Sean Penn, Sweet And Lowdown

The Best Actor race is essentially a duel-to-the-finish between two previous Supporting Actor Oscar award-winners: American Beauty's Kevin Spacey (who previously won for The Usual Suspects) and The Hurricane's Denzel Washington (Glory winner). The reamining three candidates -- Russell Crowe, Richard Farnsworth, and Sean Penn -- hold little chance of pulling off an upset, although if any one of the three is in a position to do so, it'd be Crowe (who has already gone on the record in declaring that he's not expecting to win).

Although in late 1999 it appeared that the momentum belonged to Denzel Washington -- many rival studio executives pegged the well-liked actor as all but unbeatable -- the pounding which his film has sustained over the past few months and its subsequent disappearance in the marketplace has seriously affected his prospects to such an extent that I believe Kevin Spacey has overtaken him. While The Hurricane has quickly disappeared from sight, American Beauty has regained visibility -- it's gone on a tear at the various guild awards (with Spacey winning the Screen Actors Guild prize over Washington), scored big during its post-Academy Award nomination theatrical reissue, and has maintained a high profile in the media. (Washington himself has been targetted by families of the murder victims in the Carter case for having described the former boxer as "all love" in his Golden Globe acceptance speech.) Both actors are highly-respected in the industry and more than a few pundits have suggested that Washington may receive support in response to the blasts that the Academy has underrecognized minority performers in the past, but American Beauty's momentum may give Kevin Spacey a slight edge over Denzel for the Oscar.

Best Performance By An Actress In A Leading Role
1. Hilary Swank, Boys Don't Cry
2. Annette Bening, American Beauty
3. Julianne Moore, The End Of The Affair
4. Janet McTeer, Tumbleweeds
5. Meryl Streep, Music Of The Heart

Like the Actor race, the Best Actress category boils down to a dead heat between Boys Don't Cry's Hilary Swank and American Beauty's Annette Bening; it'd be quite a shocker should either of the other three nominees capture the honours. (I've ranked The End Of The Affair's Julianne Moore as third most-likely to win the Oscar based on the enormous amount of respected accorded to her by her peers, but realistically feel that she stands little chance of winning the prize. Similarly, Tumbleweeds was simply too low on most people's radar for Janet McTeer to have a reasonable chance at winning the Oscar, and I strongly doubt even the iconic Meryl Streep could get an Oscar for Music Of The Heart.)

In recent weeks, momentum has appeared to shift away from Swank (who'd scored the vast majority of critics' awards) and towards Bening, who recently picked up the Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actress. Some of the reasons suggested for this include the head of steam built up by the American Beauty team, the unlikelihood that the conservative Academy would embrace a harrowing and difficult picture which deals with issues of sexuality like Boys Don't Cry, Bening's veteran status in the industry (the "it's time" factor), her pregnancy, and the fact that husband Warren Beatty is scheduled to receive the Irving Thalberg Award and it'd be sweet for both members of the couple to leave with trophies (an incredibly fatuous line of reasoning -- which doesn't mean the Academy wouldn't go for it).

I can certainly see how all of these factors work to Bening's advantage (and I'm intrigued by the wide range of reactions to her American Beauty character -- some have described her as the de facto villain of the piece, which I feel is far too harsh, while others, such as director Peter Bogdonovich, called Carolyn Burnham the most sympathetic character in the film), particularly if the perception that she's due for an Academy Award is widespread, but I continue to believe that Hilary Swank will take the Oscar. It's not a gimmick performance, but the flashiness of her part -- she's portraying a woman living as a man -- is such an inherent attention-grabber (and has received so much press) that it's difficult to flat-out ignore her; I doubt the fact that Boys Don't Cry was a small independent film will work against her here because there's a high level of awareness among voters about her work. Swank's effectiveness in the role may allow her to beat out Bening, although a few factors are working against the Boys Don't Cry star -- the film's subject matter and her relative newcomer status (the "it's too soon" factor). It'll certainly be a tight race.

(You know, given that Annette Bening is pregnant and Roberto Benigni is presenting this award, I'd really fear for her well-being if she won the Oscar.)

Best Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role
1. Haley Joel Osment, The Sixth Sense
2. Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules
3. Tom Cruise, Magnolia
4. Michael Clarke Duncan, The Green Mile
5. Jude Law, The Talented Mr. Ripley

I think that the Best Supporting Actor contest is a three-way race between The Cider House Rules' Michael Caine, Magnolia's Tom Cruise, and The Sixth Sense's Haley Joel Osment; Michael Clarke Duncan appears to be well-liked and the backstory behind his career ascension is charming, but I'm doubtful about his chances, and unless there's an outpouring of sympathy votes because of the Sadie Frost incident in Berlin, I'm pretty dubious about Jude Law's prospects of winning the Oscar.

Tom Cruise was initially favoured to win the Academy Award for his against-type turn as a sleazy motivational speaker in Magnolia. He's arguably been the biggest movie star in the world for the past fifteen years, and the sentiment was that the Academy would bend over backward at the opportunity to acknowledge Cruise in a flashy supporting performance which allowed him to demonstrate some acting chops. However, Magnolia hasn't been embraced by the Academy and following its relatively weak showing with Oscar nominations has quickly disappeared from sight in the marketplace. Moreover, the smarmy and lewd nature of Cruise's misogynstic T.J. Mackey character in the film may prove to be too repellent amongst older Academy members (although, to be honest, I felt that the character didn't go far enough -- I'd expecting his "Seduce And Destroy" monologues to be even more outrageous).

Michael Caine has received considerable attention for his performance as kindly Dr. Larch in The Cider House Rules, and his Screen Actors Guild prize confirms his strong standing in the community. He's been on the publicity circuit over the past few months in support of the film, and much has been written about the shedding of his Cockney accent for his work in the picture. Caine stands a reasonably good chance at winning the Academy Award, although I wonder if the fact that his performance wasn't particularly showy or necessarily attention-grabbing may work against him.

The race is almost too close to call, but I'm siding with Haley Joel Osment for The Sixth Sense. His film was widely-admired and his performance has been frequently singled out as the most remarkable aspect of the picture. It's been noted that while young actresses have been successful with the Oscars -- Anna Paquin, Tatum O'Neal, etc. -- their male counterparts have had little luck, but I'm unsure if this is necessarily applicable in this case; Osment effectively stole the show from his castmates in The Sixth Sense, and he's been very smooth during publicity in the wake of his nomination. (The "aw, isn't he cute" factor may also come into play.) His major obstacle is the reticence many members have for voting for child performers.

Best Performance By An Actress In A Supporting Role
1. Angelina Jolie, Girl, Interrupted
2. Chloë Sevigny, Boys Don't Cry
3. Catherine Keener, Being John Malkovich
4. Toni Collette, The Sixth Sense
5. Samantha Morton, Sweet And Lowdown

While Girl, Interrupted wasn't well-received by the public or with critics, it appears that Angelina Jolie is perceived by nearly everyone as the clear frontrunner in the Supporting Actress category. I didn't care for her work, but as I've previously wrote, she benefits from having a very flashy, flamboyant character (a charming psychopath) and given that Jolie's being molded as a Next Big Star, it seems likely that she'll receive the required support to handily walk away with her first Academy Award.

Although Chloë Sevigny hasn't been actively campaigning for a Supporting Actress nomination, I don't feel that her chances for a Boys Don't Cry victory are non-existent. She's a well-liked young actress who turned in a very strong and much-admired performance in the Kimberly Peirce picture. (I also liked Bobby Farrelly's explanation for his prediction of a Sevigny victory -- "She's got the best name. It's easy to put a check next to her because it's a cool name.")

Being John Malkovich's Catherine Keener (who also has a pretty cool name) is very highly-regarded by her peers after a decade of excellent work. Although the film hasn't seemed to have gone over with the Academy -- I really thought that the large Actors branch would support this film more than it appears they did -- Keener's performance as the sly manipulator Maxine could sneak in for victory.

Many have touted Toni Collette as a viable possibility for her performance in The Sixth Sense -- a few have argued that the voters might go for Osment and Collette in order to have a sort of mother-and-son character representation in this year's award winners. (Collette played Haley Joel Osment's worried mother in The Sixth Sense.) I'm a little more skeptical about her chances, though -- aside from my own ambivalence to Collette performance in the film, the Aussie actress has fewer connections within the industry than most of her competitors in the category, putting her at a decided disadvantage. Stilll, the industry sentiment towards The Sixth Sense remains so strong that she could be swept to a victory.

For what it's worth, in my book Samantha Morton's the most exciting new actress to come around since Emily Watson's debut in 1996, but I'm very doubtful that she'll win an Oscar for playing the adorable sandwich-munching mute laundress in Woody Allen's Sweet And Lowdown. While she was a lock for a nomination, her film didn't appear to make much of an impact in the industry and I suspect she'll likely be overlooked during final balloting.

Best Achievement In Directing
1. Sam Mendes, American Beauty
2. Lasse Hallström, The Cider House Rules
3. Michael Mann, The Insider
4. M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense
5. Spike Jonze, Being John Malkovich

Sam Mendes, who has already been awarded the Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film prize from the Directors Guild of America, appears to be a near-lock for the Direction Oscar. I've placed Lasse Hallström in the runner-up position despite the fact that he wasn't even nominated by the Directors Guild of America on the basis that The Cider House Rules is the second most-likely film to win the Best Picture Oscar, but in truth I have trouble seeing anyone beat Mendes. Michael Mann's a well-repsected director and M. Night Shyamalan's work was reportedly admired by many Academy members; the ordering of these two might be flip-flopped.

Best Achievement In Art Direction
1. Sleepy Hollow: Rick Heinrichs and Peter Young
2. Anna And The King: Luciana Arrighi and Ian Whittaker
3. The Talented Mr. Ripley: Roy Walker and Bruno Cesari
4. Topsy-Turvy: Eve Stewart and John Bush
5. The Cider House Rules: David Gropman and Beth Rubino

The lavish sets in Anna And The King looked great, but I feel that Sleepy Hollow easily features the most dazzling art direction of the year, and suspect that a majority of the Academy voters will agree. Rick Henirchs and Peter Young crafted a beautifully atmospheric dark, damp world for the grim Tim Burton film and are wholly deserving of Oscar recognition.

Best Achievement In Cinematography
1. American Beauty: Conrad L. Hall
2. Sleepy Hollow: Emmanuel Lubezki
3. Snow Falling On Cedars: Robert Richardson
4. The End Of The Affair: Roger Pratt
5. The Insider: Dante Spinotti

Although I much preferred Emmanuel Lubezki's evocative work in Sleepy Hollow, it seems all but preordained that legendary cinematographer Conrad L. Hall will pick up the Academy Award for his glossy helming in American Beauty. (Hall has already received kudos from the American Society of Cinematographers for his work on the DreamWorks picture.) Robert Richardson has received praise for his work on Snow Falling On Cedars, but I doubt that he'll get enough support to topple Hall. Although frequent Michael Mann-collaborator Dante Spinotti is, needless to say, a terrific cinematographer, I've ranked his chances as lowest because period pieces such as The End Of The Affair tend to fare stronger in the cinematography category that contemporary films like The Insider.

Best Achievement In Costume Design
1. Anna And The King: Jenny Beavan
2. Titus: Milena Canonero
3. Topsy-Turvy: Lindy Hemming
4. Sleepy Hollow: Colleen Atwood
5. The Talented Mr. Ripley: Ann Roth and Gary Jones

Among the Academy Award nominees, only Colleen Atwood's work in Sleepy Hollow was recognized by the Costume Designers Guild with an award in their February awards ceremony; then again, three of the Oscar-nominated achievements weren't even cited by the CDG. Although I felt that Milena Canonero's Titus costumes were the most striking, I fear that not enough Academy members went to see the film and hence suspect that Jenny Beavan's admirable work in the commercial flop Anna And The King has the inside edge. While the Andy Tennant film wasn't a very strong picture, it was first-rate in terms of production values. Topsy-Turvy is also a distinct possibility, particularly among those who simply want to recognize the film in some fashion. I'm skeptical about the prospects of previous Oscar winner Ann Roth for The Talented Mr. Ripley, whose work may be viewed as less challenging that those of the other nominees. (Needless to say, once again all of the costume design nominees are for period films.)

Best Achievement In Documentary Features
1. One Day In September
2. Buena Vista Social Club
3. Genghis Blues
4. On The Ropes
5. Speaking In Strings

I'm going against the grain with my pick in the Documentary Features category. Conventional wisdom has the high-profile Wim Wenders documentary Buena Vista Social Club winning the Oscar -- it's already racked up an impressive series of year-end accolades -- but I'm predicting the undistributed One Day In September to nab the stautette. The film has received much praise from Academy members who've seen it -- Jon Voight and Rod Steiger applauded it, and no less than Billy Wilder described the documentary about the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes in the 1972 Munich Olympics as "very touching and very moving" -- and the subject matter may strike voters as more topical and relevant than those for the other nominees. (This may be a touchy subject to broach, but it's also worth noting that documentaries dealing with Jewish tragedies have been disproportionately successful come Oscar time.) Genghis Blues is an inspiring, enjoyable picture and shouldn't be discounted for a possible shot at the Oscar.

Best Achievement In Film Editing
1. American Beauty: Tariq Anwar and Christopher Greenbury
2. The Matrix: Zach Staenberg
3. The Sixth Sense: Andrew Mondshein
4. The Insider: William Goldenberg, Paul Rubell and David Rosenbloom
5. The Cider House Rules: Lisa Zeno Churgin

Zach Staenberg picked up the American Cinema Editors' Eddie for Best Edited Feature Film for The Matrix, and will undoubtedly pick up much support from voters who follow the ACE lead, but I suspect that Tariq Anwar and Christopher Greenbury will manage to extend the American Beauty's winning streak with another Academy Award here. The Sixth Sense's Andrew Mondshein is also a possibility, although I don't believe that Lisa Zeno Churgin of The Cider House Rules or the editing team behind The Insider stand much of a chance to capture the gold.

Best Foreign Language Film Of The Year
1. All About My Mother
2. East-West
3. Solomon And Gaenor
4. Under The Sun
5. Caravan

Having racked up rave reviews and countless year-end honours, Pedro Almodóvar's widely-seen All About My Mother seems to be the clear favourite in this category. (The Academy Awards ceremony organizers seem to agree -- they've reportedly lined up Penelope Cruz and perhaps Antonio Banderas, both Almodóvar regulars, to present the Best Foreign Language Film category this year, along the same lines as Sophia Loren presenting fellow Italian Roberto Benigni the Life Is Beautiful Oscar last year; one of these years, this sort of presumptuous scheduling is going to come back to bite the planners.)

I'm intrigued by an apparent late charge by Régis Warnier's East-West, which has prompted several film critics to tout the French candidate as a likely spoiler in this category. While I suspect that Sony Pictures Classics wouldn't mind this scenario -- they're unlikely to squeeze much more out of All About My Mother during its North American run, and could capitalize on an East-West victory upon its imminent domestic roll-out -- I'm still expecting All About My Mother to take the prize. Some have mused that the conservative Academy might not embrace the film given its depiction of transsexuals, lesbians and an AIDS-stricken nun, but I'd think if that were the case, it wouldn't have made it past the nomination stage -- I believe that the Foreign Language Film committee which ultimately selects the nominees skews older than the overall AMPAS membership, and hence All About My Mother was more likely to be filtered out in the early-goings than it does now. It's also worth noting that many in the industry have long been courting Almodövar to make the jump to Hollywood, and hence would be pushing for the Spanish director to win the Oscar.

Best Achievement In Makeup
1. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me: Michèle Burke and Mike Smithson
2. Life: Rick Baker
3. Bicentennial Man: Greg Cannom
4. Topsy-Turvy: Christine Blundell and Trefor Proud

I'm fairly ambivalent about this category. Topsy-Turvy might win the Oscar from members voting on the basis of the film itself, and celebrated makeup wizard Rick Baker, nominated this year for aging Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence in Life, has a terrific track record with the Academy, but I suspect that the makeup work on Mike Myers in the blockbuster hit Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (particularly for the unnecessary Fat Bastard character) might push Michèle Burke and Mike Smithson to the podium.

Best Achievement In Music (Original Score)
1. American Beauty: Thomas Newman
2. The Cider House Rules: Rachel Portman
3. The Talented Mr. Ripley: Gabriel Yared
4. Angela's Ashes: John Williams
5. The Red Violin: John Corigliano

I'm expecting that Thomas Newman's distinctive, playful score for American Beauty holds a commanding lead over Rachel Portman's sentimental The Cider House Rules music. Entertainment Weekly has reported that Newman's work is actually getting airplay on Los Angeles radio stations, which, if true, would be enormously helpful in getting the attention of Academy members. I'd be rather surprised if either of the other three nominees -- Gabriel Yared's The Talented Mr. Ripley score, John Williams' Angela's Ashes music, and the score by John Corigliano for The Red Violin -- took the prize; a The Red Violin victory would be a huge shocker given that it's by far the least seen of the five films represented in the category.

Best Achievement In Music (Original Song)
1. "When She Loved Me", Toy Story 2
2. "You'll Be In My Heart", Tarzan
3. "Save Me", Magnolia
4. "Blame Canada", South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
5. "Music Of My Heart", Music Of The Heart

By January, I'd all but conceded the Best Song Oscar to Randy Newman for his Toy Story 2 ballad, "When She Loved Me", so I was taken aback when Phil Collins nabbed the Golden Globe award for his Tarzan anthem, "You'll Be In My Heart". It's since turned into a bit of a duel between the two songs -- the Oscar's probably going to go to one of them -- but I continue to believe that the oft-nominated Newman will break his long Oscarless run with a victory this year; Toy Story 2 was better-liked and more widely-seen than Tarzan, and "When She Loved Me" (effectively showcased in a memorable sequence in the picture) was likely more of an emotionally-affecting tune than "You'll Be In My Heart" (which, on the other hand, may pick up points for its upbeat pop sensibility and strong airplay during the summer of '99.) "Save Me" will probably get its share of votes from the younger and hipper constituents of the Academy, but I doubt that this will be enough for the Aimee Mann song to nab the statuette. The amount of ink spilled over the "Blame Canada" nomination might encourage mischievous Academy voters (and those with good taste) to vote for the South Park song, although it'd be a colossal upset if it went on to victory. Diane Warren's "Music Of My Heart" thankfully stands virtually no chance of winning the Oscar.

Best Achievement In Sound
1. Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace: Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson, Shawn Murphy and John Midgley
2. The Matrix: Leslie Shatz, Chris Carpenter, Rick Kline and Chris Munro
3. The Mummy: John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, David Campbell and David Lee
4. The Green Mile: Robert J. Litt, Elliot Tyson, Michael Herbick and Willie D. Burton
5. The Insider: Andy Nelson, Doug Hemphill and Lee Orloff

I expect that the Best Sound category will result in a showdown between Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace and The Matrix, both of which were huge, noisy commercial blockbusters. (The Mummy is also a remote possibility, although I'd be surprised if either The Green Mile or The Insider took the Oscar.) While it's a close race between the two strongest candidates, I'm guessing that the noisy Star Wars film will win the prize by a nose; the franchise has been inordinately successful in the various sound categories, Lucas has traditionally been heavily sound-oriented in all of his productions, and it's always tough to vote against Gary Rydstrom.

Best Achievement In Sound Effects Editing
1. The Matrix: Dane A. Davis
2. Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace: Ben Burtt and Tom Bellfort
3. Fight Club: Ren Klyce and Richard Hymns

Although I've selected Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace to take the Best Sound category, I'm guessing that The Matrix will capture the Oscar for Best Sound Effects Editing. The sound effects in the combat sequences in the Wachowski Brothers' picture were terrific (particularly the bullet-riddled extended gun battle and the crunch-filled mano-a-mano between Neo and Agent Smith in the subway). The Matrix features such spectacular technical achievements in general that I find it difficult to believe it'll go Oscar-less during this year's ceremony -- my guess is that Dane A. Davis' work will be recognized here.

Best Achievement In Visual Effects
1. Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace: John Knoll, Dennis Muren, Scott Squires and Rob Coleman
2. The Matrix: John Gaeta, Janek Sirrs, Steve Courtley and Jon Thum
3. Stuart Little: John Dykstra, Jerome Chen, Henry F. Anderson III and Eric Allard

All three candidates are worthy nominees and would be deserving of recognition. I feel that the race in this category boils down to a showdown between Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, with its seamless-integration of CGI character Jar Jar Binks with live action, and The Matrix's eye-popping special effects. It's a race that's probably too tight to call, but although one can make the argument that The Phantom Menace's CGI work has been done before (by Dennis Muren) -- albeit in more primitive fashion -- in the Jurassic Park films, while The Matrix's dazzling bullet-time effects and others are more striking and fresh, I suspect the industry support for the highly-decorated veteran Star Wars team (and for the film itself) will win out here.

Best Screenplay Written Directly For The Screen
1. American Beauty: Alan Ball
2. Being John Malkovich: Charlie Kaufman
3. The Sixth Sense: M. Night Shyamalan
4. Magnolia: Paul Thomas Anderson
5. Topsy-Turvy: Mike Leigh

Although Charlie Kaufman's strikiingly odd Being John Malkovich script is certainly the most original of the five nominees, it's Alan Ball who's most likely to win the Academy Award for Original Screenplay for his American Beauty piece. While Kaufman's script is likely too strange for conservative members in the Academy (and Kaufman himself is reportedly extremely shy and hasn't been actively campaigning for his Oscar bid), Alan Ball's script is much more accessible. Having already won the Writers Guild of America prize and the Golden Globe, he seems like a clear frontrunner to win the Oscar.

I wouldn't necessarily count out M. Night Shyamalan for The Sixth Sense, either -- indeed, as I'm writing this I now wonder whether I should've flip-flopped the ordering of Kaufman and Shyamalan. The phenomenal appeal of Shyamalan's twist ending in The Sixth Sense could conceivably lead him to an upset victory over the American Beauty express. On the other hand, a win by either Magnolia's Paul Thomas Anderson or Topsy-Turvy's Mike Leigh would be an outright shocker.

Best Screenplay Based On Material Previously Produced Or Published
1. The Cider House Rules: John Irving
2. The Insider: Eric Roth & Michael Mann
3. The Talented Mr. Ripley: Anthony Minghella
4. Election: Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor
5. The Green Mile: Frank Darabont

Although Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor's screenplay for Election won the Writers Guild of America prize for Best Adapted Screenplay (deservingly, too -- I recently read the script; it's terrific), I'm skeptical that the Academy will follow suit with an Oscar for the duo because of the lingering misconception that the film is simply a teen movie of little consequence. (If Election does win here, it would signify a radical shift in the sensibility of Academy members.) My suspicion is that The Cider House Rules' screenwriter John Irving will pick up the Oscar here -- the film is clearly well-liked by the Academy (it did, after all, pick up seven Oscar nominations), and this is the one category in which most members seem to have little qualms about supporting the picture. Eric Roth & Michael Mann of the respected The Insider and, to a lesser degree, The Talented Mr. Ripley helmer/writer Anthony Minghella can't be discounted, but Irving's the likeliest to walk away with the Oscar.


Depending on time constraints, I may have to defer the correspondence section to the post-ceremony wrap-up column. We'll see.

[ Deferred to next column ]

(I'm unsure if this perspective is shared by my reader(s), but I've really been rather pleased by the way this trial Q&A Mailbag format has worked out during its inaugural year; I've had a lot of fun handling incoming comments and enquiries in this fashion, and I hope that some of you have also found it of interest. In fact, I'm currently considering making this a semi-regular feature on my website throughout the year -- not just during Awards Season -- but I suppose it all depends on how things develop; I mean, if everybody bails out after the Oscars, it'd be pretty pointless. If you'd like to see this feature continue, please let me know.)

Alex Fung (

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