By EW Staff
Updated March 24, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST

First, an encouraging word for the serious office-pool gambler who wants to stride toward the watercooler the morning after the March 27 Academy Award ceremonies with head held high: Since 1990, Entertainment Weekly has batted a healthy .700 in the Oscar predictions game. Second, a warning: When we’re wrong, we’re wrong. Who saw a prize in store for The Piano’s Anna Paquin last year? Not us. So, with that in mind and this guide in hand, place your bets- and trust us (but not too much). BEST ACTOR

MORGAN FREEMAN (The Shawshank Redemption) FOR HIM:Nominated twice before, he’s admired as a quietly reliable talent. His understated authority gives Shawshank its weight. AGAINST HIM:An actor’s actor, he may be too self-effacing, disappearing into the part, which some dismissed as just a glorified supporting role. ODDS:4-1

TOM HANKS (Forrest Gump) FOR HIM:Hollywood’s Mr. Congeniality found the role of a lifetime-a folk hero who’s bestowed a half dozen catchphrases upon our culture. AGAINST HIM:He won last year. And the last man to win two Best Actor awards in a row was Spencer Tracy in ’37 and ’38. ODDS:2-1

NIGEL HAWTHORNE (The Madness of King George) FOR HIM:Three of the last five Best Actor awards went to Brits, so his accented turn as a British king has got history on its side. AGAINST HIM:Nigel who? He was the toast of London when he played George III on stage, but he’s a relative unknown here in the colonies. ODDS:6-1

PAUL NEWMAN (Nobody’s Fool) FOR HIM:At 70, he’s still too vibrant to be considered the sentimental favorite, but there’s no denying he’s the grand old man of this party. AGAINST HIM:He’s already got two Oscars-one honorary, another for The Color of Money-so he has no need to claim a third as Newman’s own. ODDS:5-2

JOHN TRAVOLTA (Pulp Fiction) FOR HIM:Seventeen years after his Saturday Night Fever nomination, he’s back with a bang-and Hollywood loves comeback stories. AGAINST HIM:Sweet dumb a la Gump wins Oscars; tough dumb a la Pulp is just too threatening. ODDS:3-1

THE LOWDOWN:Hollywood handicappers are scratching their heads: Hanks and Newman are heading into the final stretch running neck and neck. For the moment, give Hanks the edge.


JODIE FOSTER (Nell) FOR HER:Her popularity in Hollywood makes her a real contender-and her showy role as a backwoods wild child doesn’t hurt either. AGAINST HER:Though she’s loved, the movie wasn’t. And since she’s got two Oscars already, it’s time to give her competition a chance. ODDS:4-1

JESSICA LANGE (Blue Sky) FOR HER:Orion’s bankruptcy left her work on a shelf for three years, so a win on her fifth Best Actress try could yield a moving speech. AGAINST HER:Despite studio-supplied videocassettes, there’s no guaranteeing enough voters will see the movie to put her over the top. ODDS:3-1

MIRANDA RICHARDSON (Tom & Viv) FOR HER:By honoring her portrayal of T.S. Eliot’s troubled wife, the Academy could prove Hollywood isn’t a cultural wasteland. AGAINST HER:As far as Hollywood’s concerned, Eliot’s the guy who wrote that musical about the singin’ kitties. ODDS:10-1