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"Innocence Lost: Willie's Guide to the Oscars"

(Published March 21, 1997)

Lately, there has been an inordinate amount of discussion about The English Patient spewing forth from the mouths of TV anchors who have never seen any film that didn't bear the Simpson-Bruckheimer mark of shallowness. This can mean only one thing: it's Academy Award time!

So here, to assist the weary pilgrim who hasn't turned on Entertainment Tonight, Extra, or E! in the past month, is my clip-'n'-save-ready guide to the Oscars. This guide was constructed in my little fortress of bitterness under the direct supervision of the ghost of Thelonious Monk.

BEST PICTURE: The nominees are, in descending order of quality, Fargo, Jerry Maguire, Shine, The English Patient, and Secrets & Lies. I haven't seen the latter two, but it doesn't matter because Fargo had better win everything, including Best Foreign Film, Best Original Song, and Best Comic Book Adaptation of the Film, or I'm going to have to act out the climax of Naked Gun 33 1/3. Anyway, this is what the nominee list would say in an ideal world: Fargo, Big Night, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Jerry Maguire, and Looking for Richard.

BEST ACTOR: The nominees are Geoffrey Rush for Shine, Billy Bob Thornton for Sling Blade, Woody Harrelson for The People vs. Larry Flynt, Tom Cruise for Jerry Maguire and the pretentiously-pronounced Ralph Fiennes for The English Patient. It doesn't really matter who I want to win this one (Jackie Chan, just for the record-I'm hoping for a strong write-in campaign) because everybody in the world knows that Geoffrey Rush is going to win, despite the fact that he was in only about half of the movie. Anytime an actor plays a mentally ill man-child, that actor is guaranteed an Oscar. Even if, as Tom Hanks proved with Forrest Gump, the movie is totally contrived and awful and features Sally Field. I still can't believe that piece of cinematic Spam beat Quiz Show… but I digress.

BEST ACTRESS: The nominees are Frances McDormand for Fargo and four other lily-white women. Frances deserves to win if for no other reason than the line, "Is there a phone down here, d'ya think?"

NOWHERE IN SIGHT, THANKFULLY: A Time to Kill, Sleepers, Evita, Courtney Love, Phenomenon, Liv Tyler, Mel Gibson, Emma Thompson, Sir Richard Attenborough, Meryl Streep, Daniel Day-Lewis, Michael Collins, Courage Under Fire, Kathy Bates, and perhaps most happily, Barbra Streisand.

BEST DIRECTOR: The nominees are the endlessly clever Joel Coen for Fargo, the intriguingly idiosyncratic Scott Hicks for Shine, the rather aged Milos Forman for The People vs. Larry Flynt, the mysterious Mike Leigh for Secrets 'n' Lies and the omnipotent Alan Smithee for Hell Beast 6: Boot Camp Follies. Just kidding. The real fifth nominee is Anthony Minghella for The English Patient, whom I have been instructed not to cast aspersions upon because I have not technically seen the film. Again, anything short of a sweep by Fargo will result in carnage beyond your wildest nightmares, courtesy of a skinny young man with a big nose, a Meat Puppets T-shirt, and a sharp garden implement.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: The nominees are William H. Macy for Fargo, Cuba Gooding Jr. for Jerry Maguire, Edward Norton for Primal Fear, James Woods for Ghosts of Mississippi, and Armin Mueller-Stahl for his role as the unconditionally loving and supportive father in Shine. The Academy owes it to themselves, this country and, indeed, the Kung Fu masters of the Shaolin Temple to give Macy a victory. Gooding did a good job, but I've heard the phrase "Show me the money" more times than I can count in the past month, and it's his fault, so he should be chastised for that.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: The nominees are Joan Allen for The Crucible, Lauren Bacall for The Mirror has Two Faces, Juliette Binoche for That Darn English Patient!, Barbara Hershey for The Portrait of a Lady and Marianne Jean-Baptiste for Secrets & Lies. Everyone in Hollywood thought that Allen did just a super job in The Crucible, but I didn't really see what was so great about her performance. Or the movie itself, come to think of it. Jeffrey Jones's talents were wasted in a bit part, as were Paul Scofield's and those of the dad from Punky Brewster. I didn't see any of the other films, though, so I guess I'll root for Barbara Hershey because she once appeared in a movie called With Six You Get Egg Roll, and I think that's a pretty good title.

Well, there you have it. The actual ceremony is on March 24 (spilling over into March 25 and 26, if they decide to put together any more of those interminably long song-and-dance numbers starring Mara Wilson and paying tribute to the gaffers of yesteryear), at 6 P.M. Pacific Time, which I don't know how to convert into Eastern, so check your TV books.

It's going to be on ABC (channel 7), and Billy Crystal's hosting it, so pray that he makes it through the night without a tired reference to Jack Palance's one-armed pushups. And pray, too, that this ceremony doesn't win any Emmys. I hate it win award shows win awards. Lousy Republicans…