Fall Movie Preview

Oscar Watch

Movies that are generating early Oscar buzz -- ''To Die For,'' ''Mighty Aphrodite,'' ''Casino,'' and ''Home for the Holidays'' are all films to watch

September
If the Academy Awards were held today, The Bridges of Madison County's Meryl Streep would be making room on her mantle for yet another trophy, Clint Eastwood and Ron Howard would be duking it out for Best Director, Apollo 13 would be rocketing toward Best Picture, and there'd be talk of — what else is new? — a win for Tom Hanks.

But fall has a way of confounding even the savviest Oscar bettors — most of 1995's eventual nominees and winners aren't out yet and will spend the next four months trying to upset the early favorites. (We don't know who'll win Best Actor yet, but — sorry, Tom — we're not putting any money on a three-peat.) The race begins in earnest on Sept. 13 with the arrival of Spike Lee's Clockers; those who have seen the film say that Delroy Lindo's performance as a sage and scary drug dealer guarantees him a Best Supporting Actor nomination. The Best Actress race could be made a lot more interesting by the presence of To Die For's Nicole Kidman, whose comically malevolent turn as a Diane Sawyer wannabe with murder on her mind was the talk of Cannes. As for To Wong Foo, at least one nomination seems assured: Check out those costumes.

October
In October, this year's Oscar race may start to look a lot like last year's Oscar race — remember, it helps if you're already a member of the club. Woody Allen, who snagged two nominations for writing and directing Bullets Over Broadway (and has been nominated an astounding 18 times overall), looks set to raise his total with Mighty Aphrodite. John Travolta, nominated for Best Actor last year as a suavely goofy criminal in Pulp Fiction, is said to be terrific (and different) as a suavely goofy criminal in Get Shorty. And Winona Ryder, a nominee for 1994's Little Women, heads the ensemble of the has-Oscar-written-all-over-it female-bonding film How to Make an American Quilt; Universal's decision to move the film's release up from December augurs well. Of course, October will also give some first-timers a chance at nominations. We've been told to look out for Mighty Aphrodite's Mira Sorvino, Treat Williams in Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead, and Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue in the darker-than-midnight drama Leaving Las Vegas; at the very least, let's hope the Academy doesn't forget Cage's awesome supporting role in Kiss of Death.

November
POP QUIZ: How many American women have been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director? Answer: Zero...so far. But the woman to change that may be Jodie Foster, whose sophomore directing effort, Home for the Holidays, is generating the kind of talk that could allow her to follow non-Yanks Lina Wertmuller (Seven Beauties) and Jane Campion (The Piano) as only the third female directing nominee in the history of the awards. Holidays could also be a very shrewd Oscar-related career move for some of the women on camera — look for past winners Holly Hunter and Anne Bancroft to contend for nominations as, respectively, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. The latter category could look unusually starry if Sharon Stone's role in Casino gets noticed. If that sounds unlikely, keep in mind that director Martin Scorsese has a magic touch with supporting actresses; he's previously directed Diane Ladd, Jodie Foster, Cathy Moriarty, Lorraine Bracco, Juliette Lewis, and Winona Ryder to nominations. And speaking of Scorsese, it's hard to believe that in three tries, he's never won an Oscar — and hard to believe he won't deserve one if Casino looks as good on screen as everyone wants it to.

December
Checking out December's Oscar contenders at this time last year, we bet on the following nominees: Miranda Richardson in Tom & Viv (awesome guesswork!), Jodie Foster in Nell (good call!), Meg Ryan in I.Q. (huh?), and Tommy Lee Jones in Cobb (oops). That's pretty much the story of every December, the month in which studios stack the schedule with films that look good on paper, if not always on screen. So — sight unseen — what do we like? Well, we'll be keeping an eye on some perennial Oscar favorites: onetime winner Anthony Hopkins and two-time winner Oliver Stone for Nixon; three-time nominee Emma Thompson, who could be up for both Best Actress and Best Screenplay Adaptation for Sense and Sensibility; and the potent pairing of Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh in Othello. Add the hot combos of four-time nominee Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking, James Earl Jones and Richard Harris in Cry, the Beloved Country, John Malkovich and Julia Roberts in Mary Reilly, and Dustin Hoffman and Dennis Franz in American Buffalo, and Oscar voters will have more than enough to choose from...at least, we hope so.

Originally posted Aug 25, 1995 Published in issue #289-290 Aug 25, 1995 Order article reprints