''Saving Private Ryan,'' ''A Civil Action,'' and more are strong contenders this year

So Private Ryan‘s been saved, Truman‘s been watched, and Meryl Streep found out what the One True Thing was. As far as Oscars are concerned, we’re done, right? Not even close. Many Oscar contenders are only now arriving (last year’s November and December releases, which included Titanic, As Good as It Gets, and Good Will Hunting, accounted for 53 nominations). Gearing up for next March, here’s what the big boys are doing for the little gold guy. —Dave Karger


Even if Travolta’s Civil Action hero fails to make the cut, Steven Zaillian’s rewrite of Jonathan Harr’s award-winning book seems a natural for Best Screenplay Adaptation (an award Zaillian won for 1993’s Schindler’s List). In addition, the film’s ensemble — Robert Duvall, William H. Macy, John Lithgow, and Kathleen Quinlan — could fill out the supporting-performance categories. (In all, Civil‘s stars have 11 previous acting nominations among them.) And if the wacky festival darling Rushmore can sustain its buzz, Bill Murray’s subdued supporting performance as a wealthy businessman might sneak in as well.


The studio that cofinanced last year’s big winner, Titanic, might just have Private Ryan‘s main competition up its sleeve. We mean The Thin Red Line, directed by Terrence Malick, whose last effort, 1978’s Days of Heaven, earned four nominations. Its Oscar-friendly virtues include a long-lost auteur, the WWII setting, and a cast that includes former nominees Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Travolta, and Woody Harrelson, as well as touted newcomers Adrien Brody and Jim Caviezel. If Malick can deliver in time for Line‘s Christmastime release, he could well be in the house March 21.


Could Hollywood’s newest studio end up with two Best Picture nominees in Saving Private Ryan and The Prince of Egypt? If voters choose to reward one of this year’s strong animated films (Beauty and the Beast received a 1991 Best Picture nomination), the classically drawn, Bible-based Prince is a better bet than the newfangled Antz or A Bug’s Life. And the Academy had better start looking for a bigger auditorium to fit both Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, so they can perform their sure-to-be-nominated, Babyface-produced Egypt diva duet, ”When You Believe.”


What holiday movies? After a frantic fall, New Line is sitting things out until next February, but Oscar hopes still simmer for American History X‘s bookish skinhead Edward Norton, Living Out Loud‘s rampaging divorcee Holly Hunter, and the visually ambitious, moralistic life-as-a-TV-show drama Pleasantville (if voters are able to distinguish it from The Truman Show).


The big boat’s other studio should remain an Oscar player with The Truman Show, but its holiday output is a bit less flashy. Star Trek: Insurrection is the kind of big-budget thriller that often scores only in the technical categories, while the clever potboiler A Simple Plan could earn Sling Blade victor Billy Bob Thornton (almost unrecognizable as one of two brothers who find a downed airplane and a truckload of cash) a supporting actor nomination.