Not necessarily the oscars. Nobody asked us to give out the awards, but if they did...
New York — THIS is no rubber-stamp year for the Academy Awards. Among the Oscar nominees at the Shriner's Civic Auditorium on Monday night, there will be a lot of new faces and foreign accents. In an annual ritual that has become all too homogenized, this is cause for some rejoicing. The happiest surprise is seeing Oscar smile more than usual on movies with international credentials. Leading the pack with nine nominations is ``The Last Emperor,'' a British film shot mostly in China by an Italian filmmaker. ``Hope and Glory,'' also British, pulled in five nominations.
More dramatic yet, no American filmmaker was named in the ``best director'' category. Two of the nominees are British; the others are Canadian, Italian, and Swedish. Even the Hollywood hitmakers are omitted: including Steven Spielberg and James L. Brooks, whose films (``Empire of the Sun'' and ``Broadcast News,'' respectively) earned nominations in other slots.
Even as Oscar overlooked veterans, he bestowed his affection on newcomers, especially in the acting categories. All five ``supporting actress'' contenders are first-time nominees. Ditto for four of the ``supporting actor'' competitors and two each in the ``best actor'' and ``best actress'' races.
It's good to see the Academy Award nominations gravitate toward fresh and cosmopolitan artists. That doesn't mean Oscar's choices are ideal from an artistic viewpoint, though. ``The Last Emperor'' is a fun movie, but its internationalism is more apparent in the way it was made than in its content - which is Hollywood-style hokum in the old Cecil B. DeMille tradition. Its nomination probably owes less to brilliance than to its popularity with audiences, and its high visibility in theaters when members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences cast their ballots.
``Moonstruck'' and ``Broadcast News'' benefited from the same factors, while accolades from critics helped boost ``Hope and Glory'' into the limelight. In some categories, public-relations campaigns also made a difference. The producers of ``Gaby - A True Story,'' for example, reportedly mailed videocassettes of their film to academy members when voting time drew near. And sure enough, Norma Aleandro found herself in the ``best supporting actress'' race when the nominations were announced.
Maneuvers like these are part of the Hollywood heritage, and there's no sense griping about them - or about the popularity factor that invariably sways Academy Award races. But what if such considerations played no part in Oscar's deliberations, and winners were chosen on merit alone? Here's what this moviegoer's list of Academy Award winners would look like, and some predictions of who will actually go home with trophies. BEST PICTURE The nominees are... ``Broadcast News'' ``Fatal Attraction'' ``Hope and Glory'' ``Moonstruck'' ``The Last Emperor'' Likely winner: ``The Last Emperor'' Sterritt's choice: ``The Dead''
One needn't be sentimental about the late John Huston's career to be profoundly impressed by the director's last movie, a sensitive and delicate work distinguished by a literate script and smart performances. Most of the current ``best picture'' nominees boast verbal as well as visual charms. But none of them can match the elegance and irony of James Joyce's words, transferred smoothly to the screen by Huston and company. Also unmatched is the fluid gracefulness of Huston's camera, as it glides through the festive but revealing dinner party where most of the story takes place. The unerring confidence of Huston's style recalls the last film of a very different director, Luis Bunuel, whose ``That Obscure Object of Desire'' had a similar sense of visual rightness born from a lifetime of dedicated filmmaking. With intelligent help from members of his family - son Tony, who wrote the screenplay, and daughter Anjelica, who plays a key role - Huston ended his career with a near-masterpiece.
BEST DIRECTOR The nominees are... Bernardo Bertolucci, ``The Last Emperor'' John Boorman, ``Hope and Glory'' Lasse Hallstrom, ``My Life as a Dog'' Norman Jewison, ``Moonstruck'' Adrian Lyne, ``Fatal Attraction'' Likely winner: Bernardo Bertolucci, ``The Last Emperor'' Sterritt's choice: Jill Godmilow, ``Waiting for the Moon''
While ``The Dead'' was the best mainstream movie of 1987, ``Waiting for the Moon'' is every bit as stirring and sensitive, even if its ``art film'' image limited the number of people who saw it. The main characters are author Gertrude Stein and her longtime companion, Alice B. Toklas, presented as loyal and affectionate friends rather than the lovers they reputedly were. Jill Godmilow has coaxed warm and witty performances from Linda Bassett and Linda Hunt, and the choreography of her moving camera is never less than exquisite. Shot on a modest budget with no superstars in sight, this is an example of independent filmmaking at its imaginative best. Oscar's tendency to overlook non-Hollywood beauties like this is a major reason his credibility is perennially in doubt.
BEST ACTRESS The nominees are... Cher, ``Moonstruck'' Glenn Close, ``Fatal Attraction'' Holly Hunter, ``Broadcast News'' Sally Kirkland, ``Anna'' Meryl Streep, ``Ironweed'' Likely winner: Cher, ``Moonstruck'' Sterritt's choice: Meryl Streep, ``Ironweed''
This movie has problems, including a long dull stretch in the middle. But it's hard to fault Meryl Streep's heartfelt performance in one of the decade's least glamorous roles: a homeless alcoholic struggling for survival on the wintry streets of an uncaring city. In the movie's other starring role, Jack Nicholson does a splendid job without quite shedding the last traces of his movie-star persona. By contrast, Streep vanishes into her role with astonishing skill, transforming even her voice into a low-register moan of sadness and longing. Always a first-rate actress from a technical standpoint, Streep is now acquiring the heart and soul that leads to genuine greatness. ``Ironweed'' is a major step on her upward path.
BEST ACTOR The nominees are... Michael Douglas, ``Wall Street'' William Hurt, ``Broadcast News'' Marcello Mastroianni, ``Dark Eyes'' Jack Nicholson, ``Ironweed'' Robin Williams, ``Good Morning, Vietnam'' Likely winner: Michael Douglas, ``Wall Street'' Sterritt's choice: Albert Brooks, ``Broadcast News''
According to the Academy Award nominations, William Hurt is the star of ``Broadcast News'' and Albert Brooks is the second banana. But if you look at the movie itself - and ignore the stereotyped notion of ``leading'' and ``supporting'' roles - you can't help noticing that Brooks makes the strongest impression. And certainly the funniest. When he acts in his own movies, such as the brilliant ``Lost in America,'' his performances are almost bullying in their intensity. He tones his style down a bit in ``Broadcast News,'' but loses none of the originality and sense of conviction that mark all his work. Playing a likable loser isn't the easiest of acting jobs, and doing it this convincingly requires equal measures of talent and discipline. Brooks has both.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS The nominees are... Norma Aleandro, ``Gaby - a True Story'' Anne Archer, ``Fatal Attraction'' Olympia Dukakis, ``Moonstruck'' Anne Ramsey, ``Throw Momma From the Train'' Ann Sothern, ``The Whales of August'' Likely winner: Olympia Dukakis, ``Moonstruck'' Sterritt's choice: Anjelica Huston, ``The Dead''
The role of Gretta is a small one, but the whole beautiful film hinges on her monologue just before the end of the story, when she expresses her lingering sadness over a young man who died long ago for love of her. Anjelica Huston carries this moment with a melancholy charm that gives new resonance to everything that's preceded it. It's a bravura performance - and how different from her portrayal of Mae Rose in ``Prizzi's Honor,'' where she spoke Brooklynese and slithered around the screen in a sort of Vampira getup! ``The Dead'' shows her talent to be as versatile as it is engaging. Her future looks dazzlingly bright. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR The nominees are... Albert Brooks, ``Broadcast News'' Sean Connery, ``The Untouchables'' Morgan Freeman, ``Street Smart'' Vincent Gardenia, ``Moonstruck'' Denzel Washington, ``Cry Freedom'' Likely winner: Morgan Freeman, ``Street Smart'' Sterritt's choice: Sean Connery, ``The Untouchables''
Robert De Niro also stood out in this Brian DePalma melodrama about the Prohibition era. DeNiro was doing a movie-star set piece, though, full of grand gestures and expansive speeches. I'll go along with Oscar's choice between the two: Connery not only thrills us, he surprises us by shedding his larger-than-life persona to play a mere sidekick - and one who's seen better days, at that. Despite the seeming limitations of his role, Connery commands the screen like the pro he is, practically stealing the movie from Kevin Costner, the movie's nominal star. Connery has trodden a colorful path during his career, from the flamboyant James Bond to this faded Chicago cop, and his work still shimmers with charm and skill.
BEST SCREENPLAY The nominees are...
For original screenplay: Louis Malle, ``Au Revoir Les Infants'' James L. Brooks, ``Broadcast News'' John Patrick Shanley, ``Moonstruck'' Woody Allen, ``Radio Days''
For adapted screenplay: Tony Huston, ``The Dead'' James Dearden, ``Fatal Attraction'' Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, Gustav Hasford, ``Full Metal Jacket'' Mark Peploe, Bernardo Bertolucci, ``The Last Emperor'' Lasse Hallstrom, Reidar Jonsson, Brasse Brannstrom, Per Berglund, ``My Life as a Dog'' Likely winners: James L. Brooks, ``Broadcast News'' and Tony Huston, ``The Dead'' Sterritt's choice: James L. Brooks, ``Broadcast News''
It's just an old-fashioned Hollywood script, full of one-liners and romantic wisecracks. But how many of those arrive at the theaters these days? And how many are so consistently warm and funny? As a bonus, there's a string of mischievous digs at the superficiality of prime-time newscasting - satire that's always on target, even when it's not particularly deep or original itself. The movie's ending is weak and there's not much freshness to the visual style. Still, there's no denying that James L. Brooks has cooked up the most quotable comedy in ages, and that's one of things screenwriting used to be all about. Write on, Mr. Brooks!
BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM The nominees are... ``Au Revoir Les Infants'' (France) ``Babette's Feast'' (Denmark) ``Course Completed'' (Spain) ``Pathfinder'' (Norway) ``The Family'' (Italy) Likely winner: ``Au Revoir Les Enfants'' Sterritt's choice: ``Jean de Florette'' and ``Manon of the Spring'' (France)
It takes about four hours to watch this matched set of movies directed by Claude Berri, and most of the way it's sheer pleasure. ``Jean de Florette'' is the stronger of the two, thanks to G'erard Depardieu's unexpectedly exhilarating performance as a good man in the clutches of bad neighbors. ``Manon of the Spring'' brings the story to a moving and memorable conclusion, even if it's less transfixing than its predecessor. With less recognition than he deserves, Berri has spent many years quietly producing some of France's most unpredictable and offbeat commercial films. ``Jean'' and ``Manon'' are close to his best work, and deserve every hurrah they've gotten on the international movie scene.
David Sterritt is the Monitor's film critic.