Potential winners include ''Secrets and Lies'' and''Michael Collins''

By EW Staff
Updated August 23, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

What does a Palme d’Or from the Cannes film festival mean? Sometimes a lot; Pulp Fiction and The Piano are among the movies that have cruised straight from the Croisette to a Best Picture Oscar nomination. And sometimes nothing; 1995’s big Cannes winner, Emir Kusturica’s Underground, hasn’t even gotten an American release yet. Which leaves the fate of this year’s Palme d’Or recipient, Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies (opening wider this month), as anybody’s guess; the British import will probably need heavy critical support (and year-end critics’ prizes for Leigh or star Brenda Blethyn) to compete with the big guns. October brings two of the biggest: Neil Jordan’s Irish political history Michael Collins (which boasts previous nominees Liam Neeson, Stephen Rea, and Julia Roberts), and Barry Levinson’s crime-and-friendship drama Sleepers (which boasts previous nominees Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, and Brad Pitt). Impressive pedigrees, but there’s just as much buzz for a number of performers who have never been nominated, from Collins’ Alan Rickman to Claire Danes, who gets two chances in October with To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday and Romeo and Juliet. Those names may sound unlikely, but remember — of last year’s 20 acting nominees, 15 were first-timers.