Tricia Johnson
January 15, 2001 AT 05:00 AM EST

Every year, it seems like there are a few Oscar slots for young unknowns alongside the Meryl Streeps and Tom Hankses. ”The [Academy] likes to reward actors who are just starting out,” notes Oscar campaigner Michele Robertson. Since ”Pay It Forward” isn’t likely to pay off for last year’s pint size nominee Haley Joel Osment, here’s a peek at 2000’s crop of upstarts. Jamie Bell (”Billy Elliot”)
WHY OSCAR MAY NOD This 14 year old British charmer can dance! And he kicks up tears in this two hankie indie hit. WHY OSCAR MAY SHRUG Some critics label ”Billy” manipulative. Plus, it’s harder for a youth to make a plea — or plié — for Best Actor. Kate Hudson (”Almost Famous”)
WHY OSCAR MAY NOD With her angelic turn as Über groupie Penny Lane, the 21 year old finally frees herself from the Daughter of Goldie Hawn Syndrome. WHY OSCAR MAY SHRUG Cameron Crowe’s movie lost momentum faster than Al Gore. Rob Brown (”Finding Forrester”)
WHY OSCAR MAY NOD Recruited at an open casting call, the Harlem born athlete and acting novice holds his own with Sean Connery. WHY OSCAR MAY SHRUG No slam dunk. Skeptics may argue the low key 16 year old is just playing himself. Colin Farrell (”Tigerland”)
WHY OSCAR MAY NOD The Irishman, 24, is like a youthful George Clooney spiked with Russell Crowe’s intensity. WHY OSCAR MAY SHRUG Tiger- what? The Vietnam movie pleased critics, but lacked the 21 gun box office salute that grabs award notice.

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