1999 oscar nominations Interview

"Beauty" may be a virtual Oscar lock, but picking 1999's other nominations is pretty tricky business

Oh, how I long for the ease of predicting last year's Academy Awards! Just dropping "Saving Private Ryan" or "Shakespeare In Love" into any category meant a 50/50 chance of being right.

Playing Jimmy the Greek with 1999's Oscars nominees won't be half that easy. Aside from a few obvious front runners ("American Beauty" for Picture, Hilary Swank for Actress), practically every category is either a super-tight race or a total free-for-all.

But duty and ego compel me to take a stab at forecasting the names you'll hear announced if you get up at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. (PST) on February 15 to hear the nominees revealed live from L.A.

Here's what my crystal ball says the Oscar slate will look like this year:

Sure Things:
"American Beauty"
"The Talented Mr. Ripley"

Good Bets:
"Being John Malkovich"
"The Insider"
"The Sixth Sense"

The Competition:
"The Hurricane"

Dark Horse:
"Cradle Will Rock"

"Beauty" is the film to beat going into this Oscar season, but remember what happened with last year's Gwyneth Paltrow-powered underdog! "Malkovich" is a bit out there for the Academy's sensitive palate, but the buzz has just been too loud to ignore. Praise may also inch "Topsy-Turvy" ahead of "The Insider." I think "The Hurricane," however, depends too heavily on Denzel Washington's performance to make the cut.

Sure Things:
Michael Mann, "The Insider"
Sam Mendes, "American Beauty"

Good Bets:
Mike Leigh, "Topsy-Turvy"
David Lynch, "The Straight Story"
Anthony Minghella, "The Talented Mr. Ripley"

The Competition:
Spike Jonze, "Being John Malkovich"
Norman Jewison, "The Hurricane"
M. Night Shyamalan, "The Sixth Sense"

Dark Horse:
Pedro Almodovar, "All About My Mother"

Jonze and Shyamalan are not exactly "establishment," which usually makes Oscar voters nervous. But with both of their films seriously in contention for a Pic nod, either one of them - though not both - could substitute for Leigh or Lynch on this list.

Sure Things:
Russell Crowe, "The Insider"
Kevin Spacey, "American Beauty"
Denzel Washington, "The Hurricane"

Good Bets:
Matt Damon, "The Talented Mr. Ripley"
Richard Farnsworth, "The Straight Story"

The Competition:
Ed Harris, "The Third Miracle"
Sean Penn, "Sweet & Lowdown"

Dark Horses:
Terence Stamp, "The Limey"

It doesn't matter who else gets nominated for Actor this year, the race is between Spacey and Washington. Jim Carrey will get snubbed again for "Man On the Moon," and the strong competition for this nomination will see Tom Hanks ("The Green Mile" left out of the running as well.

Sure Things:
Hilary Swank, "Boys Don't Cry"
Annette Bening, "American Beauty"
Janet McTeer, "Tumbleweeds"

Good Bets:
Julianne Moore, "The End of the Affair"
Frances O'Connor, "Mansfield Park"

The Competition:
Cecelia Roth, "All About My Mother"
Sigorney Weaver, "A Map of the World"
Reese Witherspoon, "Election"

McTeer became a lock with her Golden Globe win, but the "who?" factor is huge here. If there are any changes to the top five it will probably be Weaver replacing O'Connor to shore up the name recognition.

Sure Things:
Tom Cruise, "Magnolia"
Jude Law, "Talented Mr. Ripley"
Haley Joel Osment, "The Sixth Sense"

Good Bets:
Michael Clarke Duncan, "The Green Mile"
John Malkovich, "Being John Malkovich"

The Competition:
Michael Caine, "The Cider House Rules"
Christopher Plummer, "The Insider"

How can they resist nominating John Malkovich for "Being John Malkovich"? It's just too delicious. There's been a lot of buzz about Plummer, but I think he's a long-shot. Too awkward to nominate an actor for playing a real-life person who has publicly dissed his portrayal.

Sure Things:
Angelina Jolie, "Girl, Interrupted"
Samantha Morton, "Sweet & Lowdown"

Good Bets:
Chloe Sevigny, "Boys Don't Cry"
Gwyneth Paltrow, "The Talented Mr. Ripley"

The Competition:
Thora Birch, "American Beauty"
Tony Collette, "The Sixth Sense"
Catherine Keener, "Being John Malkovich"
Jean Smart, "Guinevere"

Dark Horse:
Sharon Stone, "The Muse"

The fifth slot is completely up for grabs in this category. I'm hoping against hope the voters have memories long enough to remember Birch or Smart, who gave such strong performances they left audiences stunned. PS: Mena Suvari won't get nominated for her title role in "Beauty." Any half-way intelligent, pretty blonde who can bat her lashes and act catty could have played her part.

Sure Things:
"American Beauty, " Alan Ball
"Being John Malkovich," Charlie Kaufman
"The Sixth Sense," M. Night Shyamalan

Good Bets:
"Magnolia," Paul Thomas Anderson

The Competition:
"Three Kings," David O. Russell & John Ridley
"Topsy-Turvy," Mike Leigh

Past my Sure Things, I could be way off here. I'm throwing darts. Leigh has been nominated before, even though he doesn't write screenplays as much as rehearse them into existence, collaborating with his actors. The Academy probably feels "Three Kings" deserves something, and a screenplay nod is a nice gesture.

Sure Things:
"The Cider House Rules," John Irving
"The Talented Mr. Ripley," Anthony Minghella

Good Bets:
"The Green Mile," Frank Darabont
"The Hurricane," Armyan Bernstein & Dan Dordon
"Man On the Moon," Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszweski

The Competition:
"Angela's Ashes," Laura Jones
"Mansfield Park," Patricia Rozema

Dark Horse:
"Election," Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor
"Ride With the Devil," James Schamus

Tightest race this year. Any of the Good Bets could be swapped out for one of the long shots, especially Rozema's revisionist Jane Austen script for "Mansfield Park."

Technical ("hard") categories
Likely noms include "American Beauty," "The Insider," "Magnolia," and maybe - just maybe - "Fight Club"

Count on "American Beauty," "The Insider," "Snow Falling On Cedars," and probably "Titus"

Visual effects:
"The Matrix," "The Mummy" and "The Phantom Menace" are locks.

Sound Design & Sound Effects Editing:
"Any Given Sunday" and "The Phantom Menace" will likely lead the pack.

Artistic ("soft") categories
Art Direction:
Probably "American Beauty," "The End of the Affair," "Sleepy Hollow," "The Talented Mr. Ripley," and "Titus". Although "Snow Falling On Cedars" might bump something.

Tight category! But I say the five will be: Incumbent Sandy Powell's '40s frocks for "The End of the Affair," the fabulous '50s wear of "The Talented Mr. Ripley," "Sleepy Hollow's" 17th Century goth, and the sexy, savage "Titus" attire. (But I won't rule out "Sweet & Lowdown,", "Onegin" or "Anna & the King.")

Generally a category for effects and extremes, "Sleepy Hollow" and "The Mummy" should get recognized, as will "The Insider," for making handsome Russell Crowe look so very middle-aged.

Music categories
Leaders of the pack "American Beauty" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley" will crop up here again (Gabriel Yared's Herrmann-esque "Ripley" soundtrack is the clear front-runner). Nods are also likely for "Sleepy Hollow," and for the perennial John Williams - but for which movie? "Angela's Ashes" or "The Phantom Menace"? "The Legend of 1900" is probably out, despite its Golden Globe win.

A nonsense category, if you ask me. But tunes from "Toy Story 2" and "Tarzan" are pretty much assured.

Other Best Film categories
You can go to the bank on "American Movie," "Buena Vista Social Club," and "Mr. Death." Other potential nominees: "Genghis Blues" and "Speaking In Strings."

Foreign Language:
Nominations for "All About My Mohter" (Spain) "The Cup" (Bhutan), "Rosetta" (Belgium) and "Three Seasons" (Vietnam) are virtually guaranteed. Fifth slot candidates: "Aimee & Jaguar" (Germany), "East West" (France) and "Mifune" (Denmark).

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