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Oscar Watch: Sizing up November's films

”The Crucible” and ”The English Patient” are generating buzz

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November deals a pair of aces into the Oscar race. Ace No. 1: Fox’s adaptation of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, a movie with such good buzz that even those at competing studios concede it could get nominations in every major category — meaning that stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder, supporting players Paul Scofield and Joan Allen, director Nicholas Hytner, and the film’s screenwriter (some guy named Arthur Miller) could all be smiling next Feb. 11. Not so fast, though: Ace No. 2, the World War II love story The English Patient, is produced by Saul Zaentz (Amadeus); directed by Anthony Minghella (Truly, Madly, Deeply); stars Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Juliette Binoche; and is released by Miramax, a company that — after securing 33 nominations for 12 movies in the last two years — knows how to run an Oscar campaign. And don’t forget November’s wild cards: Shine, an Australian import that took Sundance by storm, will see if it can win raves at lower altitudes. Milos Forman’s The People vs. Larry Flynt, with Woody Harrelson and Courtney (Anything Cher can do I can do better) Love, could be a mess or a masterpiece. And the kidnap thriller Ransom sounds popcorny, but then again, it’s directed by Ron Howard and stars Mel Gibson. Hey, it’s Braveheart meets Apollo 13!…Maybe.