The Hollywood rumor mill works overtime in the days ahead of the Oscars; everyone's got a take on who will win and why. Here are some of the views, the counter-views and the consensus.

Best Picture: No one is betting against "Titanic": Big Emotions. Big Effects. Sweep. Scope. History. Histrionics. Grade-A Oscar Material. Possible backlash? Probably not. "Titanic" is protected from the anti-front-runner backlash (Hollywood cycle: Build up. Tear Down. Repeat) because of all the negative press aimed at the movie during its troubled production and delayed release. A neat trick: The biggest film of all time has managed to become an underdog. The only real competition seems to be coming from "L.A. Confidential," the sophisticated cops-and-corruption noir saga, which may well win votes out of sympathy: Voters feel sorry for director Curtis Hanson because Warner Bros. flubbed the film's release, doing a lousy job of marketing the film. As for others, everybody loves James L. Brooks, but his film, "As Good as It Gets," doesn't seem to measure up to the competition, nor does "Good Will Hunting." Given the options, no one would seriously consider voting for "The Full Monty" -- a lightweight non-American comedy, for heaven's sake -- including, apparently, producer Uberto Pasolini, who said on nomination day, "We have no chance whatsoever" -- adding, "I don't think we should have a chance, in a way."

Best Actor: This has shaped up into a tough race between Jack Nicholson for "As Good as It Gets," in what is widely regarded as a defining installment in the Nasty Jack series, and Robert Duvall, the much-esteemed actor who wins extra points for making "The Apostle" with his own money and promoting it tirelessly. This is Duvall's only nomination for the film, but Nicholson, let's not forget, is on Hollywood's uber-A-list. "Good Will Hunting's" Matt Damon, though adorable, is considered overexposed and too young to win in the company of Dustin Hoffman ("Wag the Dog"), who has already won twice in this category (for "Rain Man" and "Kramer vs. Kramer") and so probably won't get it this time. A possible dark horse is Peter Fonda for "Ulee's Gold": baby boomer, Hollywood royalty, comeback kid, and he made that great comment in accepting the Golden Globe, "I hope my dad is watching." Ka-ching, ka-ching, count those votes. Still: Smart money's on Nicholson.

Best Actress: Not much argument here: Helen Hunt is America's newest sweetheart. Love her on TV. Love her more as single mom with sickly kid in "As Good as It Gets." Also, Hollywood wants to give her her moment after years of hard work. Says one buzz-meister: "You can't underestimate the fact that this is a big high school -- and she's the prom queen." Also, Hunt is the only American among the five nominees. Of the four Brits, Judi Dench as Queen Victoria in "Mrs. Brown" was the previous front-runner, but she's been off in London and can't be bothered to woo the Academy. She's history. Kate Winslet has a shot if "Titanic's" momentum proves irresistible. Julie Christie is sure to win some votes for being frisky and over 50 in "Afterglow" -- extra points for coming back from obscurity -- while Helena Bonham Carter will win some hearts with a luminous presence in "The Wings of the Dove" that manages to compete with the luxuriant beauty of Venice. Consensus: Brits will split the vote. Hunt's got it in the bag.

Best Supporting Actor: Burt Reynolds in "Boogie Nights" was the front-runner early on: courageous comeback after bankruptcy, etc., etc. Alas, Reynolds couldn't hide the fact that he initially hated the movie and fired his manager after he saw the film, then became its biggest fan when it became a critical hit. Points for Robert Forster (the world-weary bail bondsman in "Jackie Brown") for coming back from total anonymity. Anthony Hopkins (John Quincy Adams in "Amistad") is an unlikely choice; he already won for "The Silence of the Lambs," and "Amistad" is decidedly dead on the buzz circuit. Greg Kinnear was laudable in "As Good as It Gets" -- he wins points for playing a gay man without a lisp -- but he'll have a hard time beating Robin Williams, whom Academy voters may want to reward for restraining his manic on-screen riffs in "Good Will Hunting" and actually acting. Consensus: Robin Williams. Don't count Forster out.

Best Supporting Actress: How could the academy not give it to Gloria Stuart from "Titanic"? An 87-year-old from the silent movie era playing a 102-year-old? Please. Nostalgia alone should nail it. A serious fly in the ointment, however, is Kim Basinger, who won respect for what is regarded as a serious and even moving performance in "L.A. Confidential." The two actresses, in fact, tied for the Screen Actors Guild award, which is a pretty good Oscar harbinger. Joan Cusack ("In & Out"), Minnie Driver ("Good Will Hunting") and Julianne Moore ("Boogie Nights") all seem to be running in a second-tier competition. Consensus: Stuart, with Basinger rising fast.

Best Director: James Cameron, of course, for "Titanic." The famously ambitious achievement, making this film against the odds and logic, should win it for director, but for a few things: He is not well liked, he is not humble and he is rumored to have been referring to his star, Kate Winslet, as Kate Whines-a-lot and, alternately, Kate Weighs-a-Lot around town. Cameron has been recently attempting to recast himself as a modest underachiever, murmuring something at the Directors Guild Award about having finally "made a film" rather than just "a movie." No one's buying the aw-shucks stuff, but the movie's still pretty darn impressive. Next-best candidate is Curtis Hanson for "L.A. Confidential," if only because the academy will want to give him something. Forget Peter Cattaneo for "The Full Monty." Gus Van Sant is admired for his work in "Good Will Hunting," as is Atom Egoyan for "The Sweet Hereafter," but the competition seems just too stiff. Consensus: Cameron. CAPTION:Whose Best' Is Better? The end of each year sees a flurry of media activity as national and local organizations of film critics honor their choices for superlative work in cinema. Of course, the critics are journalists, not working members of the entertainment industry. When the track records of three industry guilds are examined, the success rate in matching Oscar choices becomes much higher due to the fact that many of the same people vote for both the Academy nominees and those of their particular guild. In the accompanying table, results of this year's awards are displayed, along with the number of times that group's award has coincided with the Academy's pick through last year. CRITICS

1997 Pick

Track Record Golden Globe (Drama) Actor

Peter Fonda

6 for 7 Actress

Judi Dench

5 for 7 Supporting Actor

Burt Reynolds

4 for 7 Supporting Actress

Kim Basinger

4 for 7 Picture

"Titanic"

4 for 7 Director

James Cameron

5 for 7

1997 Pick

Track Record New York Film Critics' Circle Actor

Peter Fonda

3 for 7 Actress

Julie Christie

3 for 7 Supporting Actor

Burt Reynolds

3 for 7 Supporting Actress

Joan Cusack

2 for 7 Picture

"L.A. Confidential"

2 for 7 Director

Curtis Hanson

1 for 7

1997 Pick

Track Record National Society of Film Critics Actor

Robert Duvall

2 for 7 Actress

Julie Christie

2 for 7 Supporting Actor

Burt Reynolds

2 for 7 Supporting Actress

Julianne Moore

1 for 7 Picture

"L.A. Confidential"

2 for 7 Director

Curtis Hanson

2 for 7

1997 Pick

Track Record Los Angeles Film Critics Actor

Robert Duvall

3 for 7 Actress

Helena Bonham Carter 3 for 7 Supporting Actor

Burt Reynolds

4 for 7 Supporting Actress

Julianne Moore

2 for 7 Picture

"L.A. Confidential"

2 for 7 Director

Curtis Hanson

1 for 7

1997 Pick

Track Record National Board of Review Actor

Jack Nicholson

2 for 7 Actress

Helena Bonham Carter 3 for 7 Supporting Actor

Greg Kinnear

2 for 7 Supporting Actress

Anne Heche

2 for 7 Picture

"L.A. Confidential"

4 for 7 Director

Curtis Hanson

2 for 7

1997 Pick

Track Record Broadcast Film Critics Association Actor

Jack Nicholson

1 for 2 Actress

Helena Bonham Carter 1 for 2 Supporting Actor

Anthony Hopkins

2 for 2 Supporting Actress

Joan Cusack

1 for 2 Picture

"L.A. Confidential"

0 for 2 Director

James Cameron

2 for 2

1997 Pick

Track Record Boston Society of Film Critics Actor

Al Pacino

4 for 7 Actress

Helena Bonham Carter 2 for 7 Supporting Actor

Kevin Spacey

4 for 7 Supporting Actress

Sarah Polley

1 for 7 Picture

"L.A. Confidential"

3 for 7 Director

Curtis Hanson

2 for 7

1997 Pick

Track Record Society of Texas Film Critics Actor

Robert Duvall

2 for 3 Actress

Helena Bonham Carter 1 for 3 Supporting Actor

Kevin Spacey

2 for 3 Supporting Actress

Joan Cusack

0 for 3 Picture

"The Sweet Hereafter" 0 for 3 Director

Atom Egoyan

0 for 3 PROS SCREEN ACTORS GUILD Actor

Jack Nicholson Actress

Helen Hunt Supporting Actor

Robin Williams Supporting Actress Kim Basinger

Gloria Stuart (tie) PRODUCERS GUILD OF AMERICA Picture

"Titanic" DIRECTORS GUILD OF AMERICA Director

James Cameron SOURCE: A. C. Nielsen Academy Award Handicap Location! Location! Location!

If "L.A. Confidential" wins the Best Picture Oscar, it will be the first film set in Los Angeles to do so. The same can be said about "Good Will Hunting" and its Boston setting. Plotting out this year's Best Picture nominees geographically shows that New York City, where "As Good as It Gets" takes place, has been the milieu of 14 prior Best Picture winners. "Titanic" may be this year's front-runner, but if it wins the Best Picture honor, it will be the first set somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic. Los Angeles L.A. CONFIDENTIAL Nobody wins in L.A. -- though "Rain Man." "Annie Hall" and "Forrest Gump" visited there. New York AS GOOD AS IT GETS Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) Annie Hall (1977) The Godfather Part II (1974) The Godfather (1972) The French Connection (1971) Midnight Cowboy (1969) West Side Story (1961) The Apartment (1960) Marty (1955) On The Waterfront (1954) All About Eve (1950) The Lost Weekend (1945) The Great Ziegfeld (1936) The Broadway Melody (1928-29) Boston GOOD WILL HUNTING It "don't mean beans" to be filmed in Boston. Even Will left to see about a girl. United Kingdom THE FULL MONTY Braveheart (1995) Chariots of Fire (1981) Oliver! (1968) A Man for All Seasons (1966) My Fair Lady (1964) Tom Jones (1963) Mrs. Miniver (1942) How Green Was My Valley (1941) Rebecca (1940) Cavalcade (1932-33) TITANIC No film set at this exact spot has won the Best Picture Oscar, though Phileas Fogg may have flown over it in "Around the World in 80 Days". CAPTION: Two for the money? Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt in "As Good as It Gets," for which they received Best Actor and Best Actress nominations.