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Oscar '99: Shakespeare and War

Oscar '99: Shakespeare and WWII -- The Academy swooned for Gwyneth's new flick, but still saluted war epics ''Saving Private Ryan'' and ''The Thin Red Line''

Maybe Soy Bomb will show up. Or perhaps Gwyneth Paltrow will ask Sacheen Littlefeather to pick up her Oscar for her. Better yet, Lynn Redgrave could send sister Vanessa.

Wedged between the biggest movie that ever was (Titanic) and the biggest movie that ever will be (The Phantom Menace), Oscar ‘99, with its hodgepodge of nominees, will have to work overtime if it expects one film or one star to stand out. And therein lies this Oscar’s allure. ”It’s not like last year,” says Miramax cochair Harvey Weinstein, ”where we might as well have stayed home and given James Cameron the keys to the kingdom.” With few shoo-ins and no single film sweeps in the offing, he says, ”it’s going to be a nail-biter to the end.”

True, but it’s still hard not to think about what might have been: Jim Carrey accepting through his butt cheeks for The Truman Show. Joan Allen picking up her award for Pleasantville — in black and white. And God only knows what the Farrellys would have done with a 12-inch statuette for There’s Something About Mary.

With such a kaleidoscopic cast of contenders, even some of the nominees expressed surprise. When a New Line executive informed Edward Norton he’d been nominated for Best Actor, Norton responded, ”For what?” Equally surprised was NBC’s Today show, which sent a camera crew to Michael Caine’s New York hotel room to get a live reaction shot of the Golden Globe winner scoring a nom for Little Voice. One problem: He didn’t get it.

That’s not to say there weren’t promising choices. Roberto Benigni’s labor of love Life Is Beautiful made foreign-film history with its seven nominations (including Best Picture and Best Foreign Film). Miramax’s astounding 23 nods once and for all erase doubts about the power of independent film. And who among us won’t tune in to see if Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, a potential best-song performer, dons a tux?

But what this 71st Academy Awards broadcast will need most is a bit of dramatic conflict. If it doesn’t find some, the night’s biggest winner might turn out to be Billy Crystal, who picked the right year to give up hosting. Herewith, some possible Oscar-night celebrity death matches:

Harvey vs. Harvey The Miramax machine will go head-to-head with…the Miramax machine. Shakespeare in Love and Life will slug it out for Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, and Editing, while other Miramax nominees will compete for Supporting Actress and Costume. Not that there isn’t enough gold to go around. ”There are no favorites,” says Weinstein. ”Both films are going to get equal shakes from us.”

Originally posted February 19 1999 — 12:00 AM EST

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