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  'Titanic' Ties 'Eve' With 14 Nominations

By Sharon Waxman
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, February 11, 1998; Page D01

Harry Truman was in the White House and television was still a curiosity the last time a movie dominated the Oscar nominations the way "Titanic" has this year.

The picture could take home more than half of the 24 awards to be given out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences on March 23. "Titanic's" 14 nominations announced today tied the record of 1950's "All About Eve" for the most nominations in the 70-year history of the Academy Awards, and the boat-meets-berg epic emerged as a heavy favorite to win Best Picture of the year. "Eve," which ended up winning six Oscars, was named Best Picture.

Though heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio failed to make the list for Best Actor, his co-star Kate Winslet picked up a nomination for Best Actress, James Cameron is in the running for Best Director, and actress Gloria Stuart made the list for Best Supporting Actress. At 87, she is the oldest performer ever nominated.

Stuart, a 1930s actress who returned to the screen after being virtually absent for more than four decades, said, "I don't know how to describe it – it's not a miracle, but it's certainly a very surprising episode.

"The minute I read the script I knew it was wonderful," she said. "The night before the premiere, I saw the film at a screening for the cast and crew. I thought, 'Oh, goody goody – you were right, Gloria. you were right."

Apart from the sweep by "Titanic," there were many unexpected, even puzzling, choices by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, such as the inclusion of the winsome British male-stripper comedy "The Full Monty" among nominees for Best Picture. Meanwhile, the critically acclaimed noir thriller "L.A. Confidential" took nine nominations as did "Good Will Hunting," a first effort by overnight star Matt Damon and his co-writer and co-star Ben Affleck, which benefited from a full-media press by the powerful independent studio Miramax. The James Brooks comedy "As Good as It Gets" was also nominated for Best Picture.

Another surprise was the Best Director nomination of Canadian Atom Egoyan for his film "The Sweet Hereafter," the haunting story of a small Canadian town coping with a terrible school bus accident.

Several of those nominated were caught off guard. "I was very, very, very surprised. Of course I was," said "Full Monty" producer Uberto Pasolini in a phone interview from London. The film is about five unemployed Brits who mount a strip act to make money. "We are the Cinderella movie. But beyond being wonderfully entertaining, the film is also about serious, universal issues, such as the relationship between men and women, the idea of being unemployed and living with one's own sense of self-worth."

He added: "What's wonderful is that a $200 million movie and a $3 million movie were nominated. It says there are no rules, even in Hollywood. You can place your bets, you can try for insurance – but at the end of the day, no one knows."

"Monty" cost $3.5 million and has so far taken in $198 million at the box office, worldwide. "Titanic" cost more than $200 million and has taken in $700 million so far.

Steven Spielberg's wildly successful summer blockbuster, "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," was also denied a major nomination. More surprising, his much-lauded "Amistad," the true story of a 19th-century mutiny by slaves who won their freedom before the Supreme Court, was almost completely passed over for recognition, garnering a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Anthony Hopkins but ignoring a remarkable performance by Benin-born actor Djimon Hounsou, who learned to speak the East African language Mende to play Cinque, the leader of the mutiny.

In fact there were virtually no nominations for minority actors this year, despite not only "Amistad" but the critical and box office success of "Eve's Bayou," a drama about a Southern African American family. One of the few such nominations was Spike Lee's documentary "4 Little Girls," about four schoolgirls killed at a church bombing in Alabama in 1963, which will compete for best documentary feature against four other films, including one about writer Ayn Rand and one about the standoff between the Branch Davidian religious sect and federal lawmen in Waco, Tex.

Said Lee: "Is this different from any other year? I don't think it's any different. I really think that we need the academy to recruit younger people in the industry and get some diversity in there."

Others overlooked included Woody Allen, whose film "Deconstructing Harry" was nominated only in the screenplay category, and the critically acclaimed "The Ice Storm," which was not nominated in any major categories.

Also passed over were American actresses. Four of the five nominations for Best Actress went to British actresses, including Winslet, Judi Dench for "Mrs. Brown," Helena Bonham Carter for "Wings of the Dove" and Julie Christie for "Afterglow." Helen Hunt, the only American among them, was nominated for playing a caustic, lonely waitress in "As Good as It Gets."

Unlike last year in which small, independent films dominated the Oscar nominations in all categories, this year it was mainly movies made by the major studios that were in the spotlight. There were some exceptions, such as Peter Fonda's nomination for playing an emotionally deadened beekeeper in "Ulee's Gold" and Dench's virtuoso portrayal of Queen Victoria in "Mrs. Brown," and Robert Duvall's nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of a wayward Bible Belt preacher in "The Apostle."

That nomination was the result of uncommon perseverance, risk and creative obstinacy after years of rejection. Duvall made "The Apostle" with his own money – it cost $5 million – after 14 years of discouragement by studios.

But some felt the nominations were a sign that the studios were once again trying to make films that touched audiences, beyond the effects-driven blockbusters that have become their stock in trade. "At least as significant as 'Titanic' is the group of movies out there – 'L.A. Confidential,' 'As Good as It Gets,' 'Good Will Hunting' – that fall into the medium budget range, the type of movie that people said weren't going to be made anymore," said Curtis Hanson, director of "L.A. Confidential." "They're all out there, finding an audience and doing well, and getting Oscar recognition."

Lawrence Bender, the producer of "Good Will Hunting" agreed. "People are not touched that often in their hearts. They crave that, and this movie came at the right time. Last year 'Jerry Maguire' did it for me – it made it okay for guys to cry."

"Good Will Hunting" tells the story of Will Hunting, a young genius from working-class Boston, and his journey toward self-acceptance and maturity. "To watch this character be forced to unravel like an onion, against his own desire to do that – it's something as a man I relate to," Bender said. "In that way it's a beautiful story."

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Academy Awards nomination list courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

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