Record panel of experts weighs in with Academy Award predictions

The best thing about Oscar night is when it’s over. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the Oscars themselves. But after four hours of tedious dance numbers and mind-numbing speeches (we don’t even have Robin Williams to win anything this year) you feel like you’ve just knocked a year or two off your life. There is one fun thing, though: guessing the winners. It’s become an art to try to figure exactly what Hollywood thinks of each nominee, and then there’s the bit about who might have done the best job.

So, here’s a quick guide to who will win (and who should win!).

Best Supporting Actress

Rolando: This category will most likely boil down to a battle between Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love) and Kathy Bates (Primary Colors). Ultimately, I think it should and will go to Dench for her great job in the well-written role of Queen Elizabeth. She managed to steal every scene she was in.

Erik: This category pits three Brits and an Australian versus a lone American (Kathy Bates). Bates has that going for her, but who cares about Primary Colors anymore? Judi Dench got the annual “British Monarch” nod, but her performance in Shakespeare in Love was not exceptional. Lynn Redgrave gave one of the most bitter and passionate performances I saw in 1998 as James Whale’s nurse in God and Monsters, and she is a well-respected actress in Hollywood.

Jeff: Rachel Griffiths (Hilary and Jackie) and Brenda Blethyn (Little Voice) don’t have a chance, since their movies were not widely seen. And as much as I like Kathy Bates, her part in Primary Colors wasn’t really that special. Lynn Redgrave and Dame Judi Dench are both well-respected veterans and the race is probably between them. Dench, who lost Best Actress last year for Mrs. Brown, probably has the edge, and even though her part in Shakespeare in Love was small, it was commanding.

Best Supporting Actor

Rolando: Again, a battle between two great actors: Robert Duvall for his role in A Civil Action and Billy Bob Thornton for A Simple Plan. Both actors brought a lot to their roles. Duvall took a role that could easily have been a caricature and shaped it into one of the finest performances of the year. Thornton was also amazing as a not-so-bright accomplice who just wants to live on his father’s farm with a family of his own. A tough call, to say the least. I think the Oscar should go to Duvall, and it most likely will, but don’t count out Thornton.

Erik: No one stands out in this category. The popular favorite is Ed Harris, and he’s been nominated before (Apollo 13). Many people think The Truman Show deserves some recognition, and this may be the best spot for it. But don’t overlook Hollywood veteran Robert Duvall, who was shutout for last year’s The Apostle and has gotten raves for his performance in A Civil Action.

Jeff: I’d love to see James Coburn win for his role in Affliction just because he’s such a cool old guy, but he probably doesn’t have a chance. I thought that Geoffrey Rush’s and Robert Duvall’s performances were things they could have done in their sleep. Ed Harris will probably win, having lost once before, but Billy Bob Thornton as the dumb hick in A Simple Plan is probably most deserving.

Best Actress

Rolando: Gwyneth Paltrow. Excellent acting. That and the fact that the Academy has taken quite a shine to Shakespeare in Love and will probably try to give it as many Oscars as possible, not to mention the fact that the other actresses nominated have not gotten nearly the amount of recognition she has received. Then again, Jim Carrey got a lot of recognition for The Truman Show and didn’t get a nomination. But Gwyneth is still a good bet.

Erik: Really, this is between two people: Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth) and the popular favorite, Gwyneth Paltrow. Now, I must admit, even though I did enjoy Shakespeare in Love, Paltrow didn’t do anything for me. Blanchett’s performance as the young Queen Elizabeth was extremely moving and powerful.

Jeff: Is there any chance that Gwyneth, the blonde of the month, won’t win this race? Nobody really knows who Fernanda Montenegro (Central Station) or Emily Watson (Hilary and Jackie) are, although both were good. Meryl Streep (One True Thing) would have to do something pretty flashy to win Oscar #3 (and nobody saw her movie either). That leaves Blanchett as Gwyneth’s leading competition, and while I didn’t think Elizabeth was much of a movie, Blanchett’s performance was remarkable. Gwyneth, while pretty and blonde, should be forced to wait.

Best Actor

Rolando: The second most difficult call of the night. Nolte is not much of a contender. Benigni probably doesn’t stand much of a chance, mostly because his performance came in a foreign film. This is terribly unfortunate because he deserves it more than any other actor this year. His role as a father who tries to hide the horrors of a concentration camp from his young son is one of the most complex and difficult ones seen on screen in a long time. He managed to keep his sense of humor while never minimizing the seriousness of the situation. Most likely, though, the Oscar will go to Tom Hanks for Saving Private Ryan, Ian McKellen for Gods and Monsters or Edward Norton for American History X. Hanks by no means is most deserving, but he is one of the Academy’s sweethearts and thus stands a good chance of winning (much like Jack Nicholson last year). Norton did a spectacular job as a reformed Neo-Nazi; Ian McKellen is the actor most critically acclaimed. If forced to, I would put my money on McKellen.

Erik: A very tight race among Hollywood veterans and one up-and-coming star. The surprise nominee was Edward Norton for his role as a former neo-Nazi, and his moving performance will garner some votes. Tom Hanks will be weighed down by his two previous wins for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. He doesn’t have the career Jack Nicholson had behind him when Jack won his third. Nick Nolte (Affliction) falls into the “deserves an Oscar” category, but Sir Ian McKellen has been around longer, and his brilliant portrayal of gay filmmaker James Whale was terrific.

Jeff: Nobody on Earth deserves to win three Oscars in six years, and I’m talking to you, Mr. Hanks. Despite the fact that his role as Captain John Miller is probably more deserving than Hanks’ previous Oscar-winning roles, he should wait another decade or two to win again. I don’t feel that Eddie Norton or Bobby Benigni are particularly worthy either: that leaves previous loser Nickie Nolte or the well-respected Ian McKellen, who is my personal favorite. The Academy will probably honor McKellen, who’s not only very good but very charming. Of course, there’s a chance that Roberto Benigni could sneak in here. If he does, at least he’ll give an entertaining acceptance speech.

Best Director

Rolando: Always the most intriguing category, in my opinion. Usually the winner of this category goes on to win best picture. This year, though, I predict it’ll be very different. The battle is between the directors of the two big World War II movies: Steven Spielberg, the father of all that is Hollywood, for Saving Private Ryan, and Terrence Malick for The Thin Red Line. This is without question the most difficult call of the night. Malick was absolutely brilliant and deserves the Oscar. His movie was told by his direction more than it was by the story, and he accomplished some amazing things with the camera and with his actors. Chances are, though, that its future does not include a Best Picture Oscar. Ryan on the other hand, has Best Picture written all over it. Plus, it is Spielberg. Will the Academy give it to him just so there won’t be an upset? Possibly. Very possibly. I don’t even want to venture an opinion on this one but I guess I have to, so I’ll bet that the Academy goes with the man who deserves it: Malick.

Erik: Again, this race can be reduced to three main contenders: Roberto Benigni, Terrence Malick, and Steven Spielberg. Hollywood seems to have it in for Spielberg, whose overall success will prevent him from walking away with the statue. Malick may be the last great cinema auteur since the death of Stanley Kubrick, and this may be where the Academy will choose to recognize The Thin Red Line. But the Academy loves actor/directors (see Clint Eastwood, Warren Beatty, Kevin Costner). Roberto Benigni will continue this pattern of an actor/director walking away with the statue.

Jeff: Back in July everyone was conceding this award to Spielberg, and he’s still probably the leading contender. His biggest obstacle is the fact that he’s Steven Spielberg, and everyone resents him. As a result, the Academy might give the award to talented recluse Malick, or to the lovably goofy Benigni. Peter Weir (The Truman Show) has absolutely no chance, and John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) will only win if there’s a Shakespeare tidal wave. I loved The Thin Red Line, and I would love for Malick to win something (anything) and the Academy has a long history of not giving awards to Spielberg.

Best Picture

Rolando: The most coveted award, and also the easiest to predict. Let’s go through the list. Elizabeth stands no chance of winning: it’s just one of those pictures thrown in to take up space. The Thin Red Line was one of the best pictures of the year but it was lacking in many categories – plot included – necessary to win. Shakespeare in Love is a lovely piece of filmmaking, featuring a strong story and equally strong acting, but it’s too lighthearted to stand a chance. Then there is Life is Beautiful, the best film I have seen all year. There is nothing bad I can say about this film, one of the few movies that takes an audience through a full range of emotion. Unfortunately, it will win the Best Foreign Film category but won’t compete for Best Picture. Which leaves us with Saving Private Ryan. This is one of the most overrated films I have seen in a long time, but it fits the formula for Best Picture: big name director, big name stars, epic scope, critical acclaim, financial success. Spielberg, make room on your mantle for another Oscar.

Erik: The race for Best Picture is extremely tight. You have your two war films, two Elizabethan films, and a dramedy set in wartime. The Academy will likely move towards the gritty realism and power of Saving Private Ryan, or possibly the wonderful writing in Shakespeare in Love (watch Tom Stoppard win for Best Original Screenplay). On the other hand, the vote may split for the war/Elizabethan films, allowing Life is Beautiful to sneak in as the dark horse victor. In my opinion, though, the sheer beauty and thought-provoking nature of The Thin Red Line made it my favorite of 1998.

Jeff: Again, it would do my heart good if The Thin Red Line won, but here it’s much less likely: the movie wasn’t a big hit and was generally considered too obscure and unconventional to be a serious contender. Elizabeth, definitely the worst movie in this category, doesn’t have a chance here. Life is Beautiful will win Best Foreign Film and that should be enough for what is ultimately a piece of fluff. A lot of people think that Shakespeare in Love has enough momentum to win, but I think that, when the voters sit down with their ballots, they’ll remember the emotional power of Saving Private Ryan. It’ll win, and I’m okay with that. While it’s easy to bash Spielberg’s movies, Saving Private Ryan was still quite an achievement: in my mind, it was the second best film of 1998.

Additional awards: in all likelihood Shakespeare in Love’s Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman have the award for Best Original Screenplay all wrapped up: it was the heart and soul of the movie. Best adapted screenplay, meanwhile, is a close race between Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters), Scott Frank (Out of Sight) and Terrence Malick. This could be where the Academy honors Malick, even though to most voters the screenplay was The Thin Red Line’s greatest flaw.

In addition, this year’s Academy Awards will probably feature a tribute to the late Stanley Kubrick, who died on March 7th in England. Kubrick was a cinematic genius who won one Oscar, for Best Visual Effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey. This year’s Oscars will also feature a controversial Honorary Award to be given to Williams alumnus Elia Kazan ’30. While Kazan’s films include several classics such as A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront, he also gained notoriety for testifying and naming names to the House Un-American Activities Committee at the height of McCarthyism. While many Academy members believe that Kazan should be honored for his achievements in film, other members see him as a collaborator whose words ruined many Hollywood careers. Watch for protests and possible controversy at the Awards ceremony.

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