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Oscar Favorites Set to Emerge

Now that Christmas is present, Hollywood is thinking Oscar future

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The question comes up around this time every year: Who would win if the Oscars were held today? And every year it’s equally ridiculous. Think about it: At this point in ’98, Shakespeare wasn’t yet in love, and life was just starting to be beautiful. With a few possible exceptions (among them American Beauty, The Sixth Sense, and Boys Don’t Cry), it seems that 1999’s Academy crop will also come mostly from the calendar’s final weeks. Here’s a studio-by-studio rundown of Hollywood’s great gold hopes.

Disney The year’s top-grossing studio also appears to have the most Academy-friendly slate. Potential acting nominations abound in the already released The Sixth Sense (for 11-year-old Haley Joel Osment and possibly Toni Collette), The Straight Story (79-year-old Richard Farnsworth), and The Insider (Russell Crowe, Christopher Plummer, and Al Pacino), which also has a shot for Best Picture. Still to come is the 1930s period piece Cradle Will Rock, which could earn supporting nods for Rushmore‘s Bill Murray (ah, retribution!), Cherry Jones, or Vanessa Redgrave—that is, if the dozen-plus bit parts don’t cancel each other out. In that case, perhaps Cradle‘s best bet will be for writer-director Tim Robbins’ ambitious screenplay.

Paramount With Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead a strong contender in the cinematography race (if it factors at all), it’s up to Alan Parker’s Angela’s Ashes to pick up the slack. Paramount also has the year’s most pedigreed film: the talented mr. ripley, directed by The English Patient‘s Anthony Minghella and starring Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow. And with Tim Burton’s name attached, Sleepy Hollow could be a fixture in the technical categories.

Warner Bros. Warner has the movie to beat in The Green Mile: The last time Frank Darabont directed a Stephen King adaptation, it was seven-time nominee The Shawshank Redemption. And that didn’t even have Tom Hanks, who could earn his fifth Best Actor nomination here, along with supporting candidates Michael Clarke Duncan (who plays Mile‘s hulking inmate), Doug Hutchison (impressive as a nasty guard), and Sam Rockwell (as menacing prisoner Billy the Kid). Then again, too many supporting actors spoiled Saving Private Ryan‘s chances in that category last year. Warner Bros. has a couple of long shots in Oscar-winning helmers Barry Levinson (Rain Man) and Oliver Stone (Platoon), who are throwing their hats into the Best Director ring with Liberty Heights and Any Given Sunday.

Universal The studio that hasn’t had a Best Picture nominee since 1995’s Apollo 13 and Babe boasts two powerful actor-director duos: two-time Oscar winner Milos Forman (Amadeus) and Jim Carrey in Man on the Moon, and Norman Jewison (three nominations) and Denzel Washington (supporting-actor winner for Glory) in the boxing drama The Hurricane, which will also be the recipient of a hard Best Pic push. Shine director Scott Hicks’ follow-up, Snow Falling On Cedars, seems a shoo-in for a Best Cinematography nomination, along with a possible supporting-actor nod for Max von Sydow, who plays a crusty crusading lawyer. There’s hope for some Bowfinger screenplay excitement for Steve Martin, too.