This one could be called Best Supporting Virgin, since almost all the top contenders are facing the prospect of first-time nominations. Leading the way is Girl, Interrupted troublemaker (and Golden Globe nominee) ANGELINA JOLIE, who finally found a big-screen role to match her fiery tube turns in cable films like Gia and George Wallace. CHLOE SEVIGNY, as Brandon Teena's steadfast girlfriend in Boys Don't Cry, has won almost as many critics' prizes as co-star Hilary Swank. The other critical favorite is CATHERINE KEENER, whose scheming business bitch gave Being John Malkovich its bite. (She and her unrecognizable Malkovich co-star CAMERON DIAZ both received Globe nominations, but Keener's showier role has the edge.) On the other side of the spectrum is SAMANTHA MORTON's dialogue-free performance as Sean Penn's mute moll in Sweet and Lowdown, which seems, like Holly Hunter's silent turn in The Piano, the stuff that Oscar is made of. The last slot is where things get tricky. In the case of Guinevere screen mom JEAN SMART, buzz seems to have quieted with the release of Hollywood's end-of-the-year prestige fare. As for screen daughters: Tumbleweeds' KIMBERLY J. BROWN has devoted boosters, but her fan base will have to grow substantially to score a nod; likewise, while Anywhere but Here's NATALIE PORTMAN held her own opposite Susan Sarandon, the film is considered subpar by comparison. The Talented Mr. Ripley co-stars GWYNETH PALTROW and CATE BLANCHETT seem to have been overshadowed by their male counterparts. JULIANNE MOORE could sneak in for her drug-addled trophy wife in Magnolia though she may have a better shot for Best Actress with The End of the Affair. Oscar vet SISSY SPACEK is an underdog for The Straight Story. And Tony winner CHERRY JONES could be named for Cradle Will Rock though actors in ensemble pieces tend to get lost. Our best guess, then, is TONI COLLETTE, whose down-to-earth turn amid the freakiness of The Sixth Sense definitely gives her more than a ghost of a chance.
For Your Consideration
JESSICA LANGE already has two Oscars and six nominations to her credit, so her appearance near the words ''Academy Awards'' should never be a surprise. But everything about her daring performance in Titus as Tamora, the Queen of the Goths, is an astonishment. Donning breastplates, vowing vengeance, tearing into Shakespeare for the first time as if nothing could be more fun, Lange steals the show and when the star of the show is Anthony Hopkins, that's grand theft.