Oscar update from: Reuters {1998-03-19}

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02:27 PM ET 03/19/98

''Titanic'' has high hopes as Oscars approach

By Arthur Spiegelman LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As Oscar night approaches the big question in Hollywood is: Will the great ship sail into the sunset draped in glory or will it slam into another iceberg? In short, will ``Titanic,'' the surprise hit of the film season and now the all-time box office champion, win the best picture award next Monday night or be upstaged by a lesser-grossing movie at an Academy Awards show expected to be watched by more than a billion people worldwide? The famed British odds-maker Ladbroke Group Plc. stopped taking bets on the 70th annual Oscars Wednesday, because the odds on ``Titanic'' had shortened to 2 to 9 from 1 to 3 at the time of the nominations last month. One person with a keen interest on whether the great ship can be sunk is Curtis Hanson, the director of ``L.A. Confidential,'' a film noir many professional critics think deserves the big prize. He was asked the other day if it was foregone conclusion that ``Titanic'' would win and replied without missing a beat, ''It was a foregone conclusion that the ship would reach New York.'' Of course, it didn't. It hit that iceberg instead. Hanson is a man hoping for a shipwreck. Daily Variety columnist Tim Gray admires the director's pluck but thinks it will be ``Titanic's'' night to remember. But he cautions there are no sure things in show business. ``With five nominees, it only needs 21 percent of the Academy members' votes to win. A lot of people like the film, but there is some resentment. Its record-breaking $200 million budget has annoyed some people and others feel it has already had its reward at the box office. But usually the film with the most nominations comes off the best,'' Gray said. ``Titanic,'' which has a record-tying 14 nominations going into the big night plus a record gross of more than $1.1 billion, is the kind of film that Hollywood does best -- spectacle laced with some story, sexy young stars, special effects and a sensational score. It has also, as Gray noted in a recent column, energized the Oscars race. Last year the big studios were pretty well shut out of the awards and Hollywood wrung its hands, wondering if the industry needed to send out an SOS. Besides ``L.A. Confidential,'' the films competing against ''Titanic'' are the American comedy ``As Good As It Gets,'' whose two lead actors, Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt, could wind up with top acting honors; the hit British comedy ``The Full Monty'' and the warm and fuzzy feel-good film ``Good Will Hunting,'' which paints itself as the dark horse candidate that will torpedo ``Titanic.'' Nicholson, about as popular an actor as Hollywood has, is considered the favorite for best acting honors thanks to his performance as the cranky writer in ``As Good As it Gets,'' a role tailor-made for his trademark facial tics and gruff ``Go to Blazes'' voice. But he is up against a man truly on the comeback trail -- Peter Fonda. His performance in ``Ulee's Gold'' won rave reviews for an actor many rightfully considered washed up years ago. Also contending are veteran Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman for ''Wag the Dog,'' newcomer Matt Damon for ``Good Will Hunting'' and Robert Duvall for ``The Apostle,'' a film he wrote, directed and financed about a womanizing preacher who argues directly with God and has frequent ``Holy Ghost moments.'' The best actress contest can be summed up simply: four Brits versus a Yank. The Yank, Helen Hunt, a popular TV star who is in ``As Good as It Gets,'' is the favorite even though critics swooned over Dame Judi Dench's performance as Queen Victoria in the little-seen ``Mrs. Brown.'' Dench has long been held up as a role model for actresses. The other three British actress are Kate Winslet of ''Titanic,'' Julie Christie of ``Afterglow'' and Helena Bonham Carter, star of ``The Wings of the Dove.'' The sentimental favorite of the night is 87-year-old Gloria Stuart of ``Titanic'' for best supporting actress but she may be upset by Kim Basinger, who played the stunning hooker in ``L.A. Confidential.'' Also competing in the category are Minnie Driver of ``Good Will Hunting,'' Julianne Moore of ``Boogie Nights'' and Joan Cusack of ``In & Out.'' Stuart is the oldest person ever nominated for an Oscar. Robin Williams, the good-hearted therapist in ``Good Will Hunting'' is the favorite for the best supporting actor award, but he has strong competition from Anthony Hopkins of ''Amistad,'' Burt Reynolds of ``Boogie Nights,'' Greg Kinnear of ''As Good As It Gets'' and Robert Forster of ``Jackie Brown.'' ^REUTERS@

-- Rose (rose364@earthlink.net), March 20, 1998

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