By EW Staff
Updated January 12, 1996 at 05:00 AM EST

Tom Hanks versus John Travolta. Could it be that the 1995 Best Actor race will amount to deja vu all over again as the stars of 1994’s Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction square off for their work as an upstanding astronaut in Apollo 13 and a starstruck hood in Get Shorty? Not necessarily.

Travolta, consolidating his comeback, is sure to make a repeat performance. Even though Shorty is a lightweight amusement, his good sportsmanship as he lost the Oscar to Hanks guarantees him another try at the prize. Conversely, even though Hanks is as well liked as ever, the fact that he’s already won back-to-back Oscars may mean it’s time to make way for new competitors.

Chief among those should be Nicolas Cage, who’s already drunk on critics’ awards for his portrayal of a self- destructive alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas (plus, as Francis Ford Coppola’s nephew, he’s probably got a few friends among the voting members). Anthony Hopkins, the 1991 winner for The Silence of the Lambs, is another likely nominee for his performance as the embattled Richard Nixon. And if there’s room for a cheerier presidential portrait, The American President’s Michael Douglas could be drafted.

That makes five — but not if a heavyweight list of respected actors in year-end releases has anything to do with it. Jack Nicholson’s vengeful father in Sean Penn’s The Crossing Guard would be a likely nominee, except that for many, watching the movie feels like taking medicine. Voters could encourage Penn to stick to acting by rewarding him instead for his acclaimed turn as a death-row convict in Dead Man Walking. Ian McKellen’s modern-dress villainy in Richard III was warmly received at one Academy screening — and therefore could overshadow Laurence Fishburne’s star turn in Othello. Though it’s won Nelson Mandela’s praise, Cry, the Beloved Country feels more like a high school reading assignment — which could hurt James Earl Jones’ chances. The raves heaped on Emma Thompson’s performance in Sense and Sensibility won’t help her Carrington costar, Cannes film festival prizewinner Jonathan Pryce. Aging 30 years in the mushy Mr. Holland’s Opus could serve Richard Dreyfuss well — if his movie, which has opened only in Los Angeles, hasn’t arrived too late to generate momentum.

All of which may leave Clint Eastwood crying in the rain. Despite dramatic proof that the taciturn actor was genuinely acting in The Bridges of Madison County, there just may be no room for him in this crowd.