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Oscars 1997 front-runners

”Fargo,” ”Courage Under Fire,” and ”The Crucible” get early Oscar buzz

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It’s never too early to start tallying Oscar ballots. So with the big night right around the corner — okay, nearly eight months away — here’s where the proceedings stand. It’s more than halfway into the year and so far the field is looking a little meager. Only Fargo and the Denzel Washington vehicle Courage Under Fire have that Best Picture feel. But in the next few months the competition heats up. Joining the possible Best Pics list is The Crucible (November), starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder. There’s also good buzz on Michael Collins (October), an epic about the famed Irish revolutionary with Julia Roberts and Liam Neeson, and The English Patient, a World War II heart tugger starring Ralph Fiennes as a disfigured soldier (November).

In the Best Director race, The Piano‘s Jane Campion, whose The Portrait of a Lady is due in December, could be a leading contender. Meanwhile, Barbra Streisand could have a real crowd-pleaser with The Mirror Has Two Faces (November) but may have only a slim chance with Academy voters, who have never been fans of her directing.

Another lady who probably won’t get much Oscar attention is Madonna, despite positive feedback on Evita (December). ”The Academy is very cool to her,” says an industry source. ”And the fact that she plans to name her baby Lola won’t help. Academy members don’t name their babies Lola.”