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EW gives some early Oscar predictions

The surprise smash ”The Sixth Sense” is one of the front-runners

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Haley Joel Osment
Mojgan B. Azimi

Trying to forecast the Academy Awards five months before the actual event is like predicting which group Jesse Ventura will offend next. It’s pointless, premature, and an utter waste of time. It’s also pretty darned fun. So let’s get to it. Granted, some highly anticipated Oscar fodder — including Tom Hanks’ ”The Green Mile”; ”The Talented Mr. Ripley,” with Gwyneth Paltrow and Matt Damon; and ”The Insider,” with Russell Crowe — won’t surface until November or December. But in the last few weeks, three serious contenders have emerged, signaling the official opening of Academy season. Ladies and gentlemen, for your consideration:

AMERICAN BEAUTY With juicy acting turns from Oscar winner Kevin Spacey, past nominee Annette Bening, and newcomer Wes Bentley — helped by novel directing from Sam Mendes — DreamWorks’ dark suburban exposé has the type of scenery chewing Oscar eats up. ”All I hear about is how much the actors love ‘American Beauty,”’ says one longtime awards strategist, who adds that Mendes is also a front-runner. But Best Picture is another story: ”Beauty”’s pitch-black tone may hurt its chances. ”It lacks a romantic notion,” says the strategist. ”When kids are portrayed as sex objects, it’s pretty hard to get the older Academy [members] to say, ‘This is one of the most uplifting pictures I’ve seen.’ It’s not something they want to sponsor.”

THREE KINGS What could be more unlikely than a Gulf War movie with laughs? A Gulf War movie with laughs and Oscar nominations. But ”Kings” has been crowned a surprising early leader. Prospects for possible nods include stars George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, as well as for ”Kings”’ witty screenplay and oddball cinematography. ”It’s the ‘L.A. Confidential’ of this year, the renegade,” says Bruce Berman, chairman of ”Kings” production company Village Roadshow Pictures. ”It’s a somewhat conventional story told in an unconventional way with great characters who come off as glib in the beginning but evolve into very soulful human beings.” But not everyone is sure. ”I loved ‘Three Kings,”’ says a rival studio exec. ”I just don’t think it has any Academy play. I don’t think it’s deep enough. It’s ultimately a really great formula movie.”

THE SIXTH SENSE You can almost hear the whisper: ”I see gold people.” Now that the creepy late-summer film has become a stealth $235 million hit, industry types are mentioning spooky whippersnapper Haley Joel Osment for Best Supporting Actor and writer-director M. Night Shyamalan for Best Original Screenplay. ”The Academy has a tendency to nominate kids if the performance warrants it — look at [The Piano’s] Anna Paquin,” says an exec at a rival studio. ”And the clever structure of the screenplay is such that it will be nominated too.”

What of the higher-profile categories? Well, Bruce Willis shouldn’t clear a space on his mantelpiece yet. The experts contacted by EW agree that the longtime action star doesn’t have a ghost of a chance for Best Actor. And a Best Picture nod is a possibility. But even if ”Sense” wins boo, it’s still got plenty of that other kind of gold. Says the rival studio exec: ”Clearly, they’re taking home the Bank of America Award.” (Additional reporting by Judith I. Brennan and Daniel Fierman)