A look at the Oscar contenders for Best Actor -- Edward Norton, Tom Hanks, and Roberto Benigni are a few of our favorites

By EW Staff
Updated January 08, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

This year’s best actor race should provide the most interesting mix of Academy faces old and new. Two-time winner Tom Hanks ought to earn his fourth nomination, for leading the ensemble of Saving Private Ryan. Also virtual locks are the year’s top two critical honorees: New York Film Critics Circle winner Nick Nolte (last nominated for 1991’s The Prince of Tides) for his slow burn as a paranoid New England sheriff in Affliction (any votes he gets for The Thin Red Line will likely be in the supporting-actor category), and the never-nominated Gods and Monsters star Ian McKellen, whose performance as gay film director James Whale has won citations from the L.A. critics and the National Board of Review.

The other two slots aren’t sewn up yet: Golden Globe nominee Jim Carrey would certainly be a viable choice for his dramatic departure in The Truman Show — if actors can stomach bestowing a nomination on a comedian who already makes $20 million a picture. Michael Caine could earn his fifth nomination as Little Voice‘s sleazeball agent, though that role might be considered too small to deserve a Best Actor nod. Stephen Fry and Brendan Gleeson have also won early kudos for their titular performances in Wilde and The General, respectively, but their indie turns are in danger of getting lost among heaps of Academy tapes and higher-profile releases. As the Bard in Shakespeare in Love, Joseph Fiennes might ride the film’s wave, but he was the only main cast member who didn’t score a Globe nomination. Four-time nominee Robin Williams has a popular hit with Patch Adams, but critics say he’s played a winsomely clowning man-child once too often. And John Travolta is considered a possibility for A Civil Action, but his Golden Globe nomination for Primary Colors might split the vote and effectively kill his chances.

That leaves two candidates who directed themselves: Life Is Beautiful star Roberto Benigni and Academy fave Warren Beatty (Bugsy, Reds, Heaven Can Wait, Bonnie and Clyde), who turned in one of his most daring roles to date as Bulworth‘s rapping senator. The movie may have stiffed, but don’t underestimate its star: Like Bulworth, he knows how to get out the vote.

For Your Consideration
He buffed up monumentally to play a neo-Nazi skinhead whose past catches up with him; he recites hateful diatribes with utmost conviction; and, when arrested for murder, he serves up the scariest facial expression of the year. Hello? What’s everybody missing here? To forget Edward Norton in American History X is to over-look the most mesmerizing screen performance of 1998.

American History X

  • Movie
  • R
  • Tony Kaye