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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Small Studios Have Chance In '98 Oscars

HOLLYWOOD -- It's a race that could give Las Vegas odds makers nightmares. As 1998 dwindles away, the only sure thing about this year's Academy Awards competition is that Steven Spielberg's World War II battle drama, "Saving Private Ryan,'' is a virtual lock for one of the five best-picture nominations.

But beyond that, say many who closely monitor the Oscar race, the remaining four nominations are up for grabs. For that reason, 1998 is shaping up as the year of the dark horse in films.

Independent film distribution companies and art-house banners housed at major studios know they have a fighting chance this year and are cranking up their publicity machines in hopes of being nominated for Hollywood's highest honor.

If the smaller films succeed in garnering a nomination - and there is no guarantee at this point they will, with some heavyweight studio films yet to come - the current Oscar race could mirror 1996, when the academy nominated four smaller films for best picture, including "The English Patient," which eventually won.

"Last year [when 'Titanic' swept the awards], we were fighting over the fifth slot,'' said Lindsay Law, president of Fox Searchlight Pictures. "It's much more wide open this year. The independents are just as likely to get those slots as the studios are.''

So, which of the smaller films stands a chance?

Miramax is pushing "Life Is Beautiful," the grand jury prizewinner at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Directed by Roberto Benigni, it stars Benigni as an Italian Jewish father who shelters his son from the horrors of internm ent during the Nazi era.

One intriguing contest looming is that between two Elizabethan films - "Shakespeare in Love" from Miramax, and "Elizabeth" from Gramercy.

Fox Searchlight, perhaps hoping to reignite the spark of last year's surprise British comedy "The Full Monty,'' is pushing the Irish comedy "Waking Ned Devine," but the film is only being shown in limited release so far.

October Films believes it has a contender in "Hilary and Jackie,'' but it also is touting "High Art" and the Merchant Ivory film "A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries.''

Fine Line Features has two offerings: "Hurlyburly,'' a dark comedic look at Hollywood, and "The Theory of Flight."

Along with two critical favorites, the Brazilian drama "Central Station'' and John Boorman's "The General,'' Sony Pictures Classics has the popular indie comedy "The Opposite of Sex'' as long shot Oscar hopefuls.