Oscar Watch

Best Supporting Actress

Kathy Bates, About Schmidt | BATES
BATES

Who's up for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar

In a category that favors long shots (from ''My Cousin Vinny'''s Marisa Tomei to ''Pollock'''s Marcia Gay Harden), we'd be fools to bet on anything. This much we know: The Academy kinda likes MERYL STREEP. This year, the 12-time nominee has two shots to break the record she shares with Katharine Hepburn, and should hit lucky 13 for her good-sport turn as New Yorker writer Susan Orlean in ''Adaptation.'' She'll likely compete alongside KATHY BATES, whose similarly good-sport turn in ''About Schmidt'' (boasting the year's unlikeliest nude-scene showstopper) has already won the National Board of Review award.

A month ago, CATHERINE ZETA-JONES looked like a sure thing for her look-she-can-sing-and-dance work in ''Chicago.'' But then the Hollywood Foreign Press Association decided she was a lead actress. Could the Globe nominee split her own vote? With momentum for the film building, we think enough Academy members will consider it a supporting role to win her a nod. That leaves two slots. EDIE FALCO won the Los Angeles critics' prize for playing a glum motelier in ''Sunshine State,'' and if we could, we'd hand her an Oscar for the season finale of ''The Sopranos'' -- but we're not sure enough voters saw John Sayles' tiny ensemble piece. Buzz is building for QUEEN LATIFAH's sturdy work as ''Chicago'''s prison matron, but it's a small role, and her funniest number (''Class'') won't show up until the DVD. Instead, we bet on JULIANNE MOORE; if ''The Hours'' moves voters, she and costar Streep may both reap double rewards. (Trivia hounds: Emma Thompson and Holly Hunter each received two nods in '94.) The last slot could go to Moore's ''Far From Heaven'' costar PATRICIA CLARKSON; her brief but incisive role as Moore's confidante wowed both the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics. Finally, some potential spoilers.

MICHELLE PFEIFFER could overcome the Lifetime-movie vibe of ''White Oleander'' and score her fourth nod; SUSAN SARANDON has two chances, as a grief-stricken mom in ''Moonlight Mile'' and a grief-causing mom in ''Igby Goes Down''; LAINIE KAZAN's ''My Big Fat Greek Wedding'' mama wasn't exactly nuanced, but stranger noms have happened; ''Gangs of New York'' pickpocket CAMERON DIAZ could sneak in if she beats the good-actress/bad-role rap; ''About a Boy'''s TONI COLLETTE is hoping voters have long memories; and ever-shrewd Miramax will try to convince voters that BEBE NEUWIRTH (who won a Tony for the ''Chicago'' role that went to Zeta-Jones) deserves a consolation nod for ''Tadpole.'' Hey, if they like her that much, shouldn't they have cast her in the movie?

1 2