From ''Gladiator'' to ''Thirteen Days'', the films the studios want to see nominated for the Academy Awards

By Dave Karger
Updated November 17, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

So, should we just skip the Oscars this year or what? Pardon the pessimism, but it seems that so far there have hardly been enough Academy-worthy personages to fill the front row at the Shrine Auditorium. But Julia Roberts and Russell Crowe need some competition, and our bet is that much of it’ll come from the holiday slate. After polling the majors and indies, we present our studio-centric scorecard of Oscar’s most likely.

How can the studio that boasted two Best Picture nominees last year (The Insider and The Sixth Sense) follow up? How about with two more? Sixth Sense team M. Night Shyamalan and Bruce Willis return with the similarly spiritual Unbreakable, while Fargo Oscar winners Joel and Ethan Coen are back with the similarly oddball O Brother, Where Art Thou?, though the film’s lukewarm Cannes reception doesn’t bode well.

Last year’s big winner will focus its efforts on earlier releases Gladiator, Almost Famous, and The Contender. But it also has hopes for 1980 Best Director winner Robert Redford’s golf period piece The Legend of Bagger Vance.

Not since Nicolas Cage won for 1995’s Leaving Las Vegas has MGM grabbed a major-category Oscar. Since the studio scrapped plans for a Hannibal qualifying run, that drought will likely continue, unless Wes Bentley or Sarah Polley strike gold in the mining drama The Claim.

A year after The Cider House Rules surprised Hollywood with seven nominations, director Lasse Hallstrom returns with the fable Chocolat, starring Johnny Depp and supporting actress winners Juliette Binoche (The English Patient) and Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love). And after seeing Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow passed over for last year’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, the studio will mount campaigns for the stars pegged to All the Pretty Horses (directed by Sling Blade screenplay winner Billy Bob Thornton) and Bounce, respectively.

Call us crazy, but we’re guessing the Academy’s going to snub Little Nicky‘s Adam Sandler. But Thirteen Days could prove lucky for star Kevin Costner or supporting actor Bruce Greenwood. The artsier Fine Line is counting on Cannes winner Bjork to score a nod for Dancer in the Dark and David Mamet’s Hollywood satire State and Main to kick up some action for William H. Macy and Sarah Jessica Parker. It also likes Spain’s Javier Bardem as a Best Actor candidate for Julian Schnabel’s Before Night Falls.

After cleaning up with Titanic in 1998, Paramount was virtually shut out of major nominations last year. The studio has rereleased Wonder Boys to increase the chances for Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, and director Curtis Hanson (who shared a screenplay award for 1997’s L.A. Confidential). Meanwhile, the Mel Gibson-Helen Hunt comedy What Women Want will receive a big push in all top categories, though comedies usually fare better at the Golden Globes. Paramount Classics could end up with competing Best Actresses and Supporting Actors: You Can Count on Me‘s Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo and The Gift‘s Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi.

Gus Van Sant directing a coming-of-age story featuring a young man and his older mentor? No, it’s not Good Will Hunting 2, but Columbia’s Finding Forrester could provide an Academy sequel for the filmmaker and/or Sean Connery, who won supporting actor for 1987’s The Untouchables. Sony Pictures Classics believes it has a dark-horse Best Picture contender in Ang Lee’s Chinese-language martial arts romance Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a Best Actor possibility in two-time nominee Ed Harris (Pollock), and a Best Actress contender in The House of Mirth‘s Gillian Anderson.

Last year, the company’s only winner was Hilary Swank for Fox Searchlight’s Boys Don’t Cry. This year, Fox proper will try to have a better showing; the studio is high on Tom Hanks’ turn in Cast Away (directed by Forrest Gump winner Robert Zemeckis) and the Robert De Niro-Cuba Gooding Jr. Navy drama Men of Honor. Searchlight is pushing Philip Kaufman’s Marquis de Sade film Quills, featuring Oscar winners Geoffrey Rush and Michael Caine and two-time nominée Kate Winslet.

Julia seems a shoo-in for Erin Brockovich. And whether or not Billy Elliot (from Universal Focus) grabs the Full Monty British crowd-pleaser Best Picture slot, the studio still has other prospects, including the elaborate production design and makeup of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Besides banking on a visual effects nod for The Perfect Storm, the studio will push its hostage drama Proof of Life, notably stars Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe (who’d compete against himself in Gladiator) and supporting actors David Morse and David Caruso.

Lions Gate is hoping Willem Dafoe’s titular supporting performance in Shadow of the Vampire has a shot at a nomination. And USA Films, which scored multiple nominations last year with Being John Malkovich and Topsy-Turvy, boasts the promising drug thriller Traffic, which could pit Erin Brockovich director Steven Soderbergh against himself and earn Supporting Actor nods for Michael Douglas and, in a mostly espanol performance, Benicio Del Toro.