FILM/ The Oscars: The merest whiff of a scandal: 'And the sinner is . . .' Phil Reeves reports on pre-ceremony jitters from Los Angeles; plus nominations and odds

THERE is always belly-aching about the inequity of film awards and this year's Oscars are graced by a spat over Scent of a Woman, a comedy-drama in which Al Pacino's blind military veteran takes a schoolboy on a binge to New York.

Not for the first time, it centres on the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the oft-scorned group of 87 international journalists who dole out the Golden Globes, often seen as a guide to the Oscars. This year the Association is under suspicion of the most heinous (but far from unheard of) crime of being influenced by freebies. It began in early December when Universal, the studio which produced Scent of a Woman, flew journalists, all-expenses paid, to New York to interview the movie's key players just before they were due to vote. A few weeks later the film - previously a dark horse - netted an unexpectedly high tally of three Golden Globes, beating such heavyweights as Howards End, Unforgiven and The Crying Game for Best Dramatic Picture, as well as earning Pacino the Best Actor award.

Murmurings about foul play first surfaced in the New York Times, which pointed out that the Association comprises assorted freelancers, some of whom 'don't seem to write much' (members are only expected to supply a handful of clippings a year). But this Wednesday the Association suddenly snarled back in a full-page 'Open Letter' in the trade magazine Daily Variety which 'strongly refuted' the allegations. The announcement, which points out that it is far from unusual for journalists to travel nationwide for promotional interviews, went on bitterly: 'It has always been easy for some of our colleagues in the domestic press to dismiss our work. Is it ignorance due to our accents?'

The Association will have been heartened by the Academy Award nominations, in which Scent of a Woman won a place in the categories for Best Picture, Actor and Director. But the squabble is unlikely to go away. One senior movie director is boycotting the HFPA because he is tired of its members allegedly trying to pose with stars for photographs. Even Universal is less than pleased. Its executives now reportedly fear that the scandal will harm the film's chances of winning a trophy next month.

NOMINATIONS

Best Picture: The Crying Game; A Few Good Men; Howards End; Scent of a Woman; Unforgiven. Best Director: Neil Jordan The Crying Game; James Ivory Howards End; Robert Altman The Player; Martin Brest Scent of a Woman; Clint Eastwood Unforgiven. Best Actor: Robert Downey Jnr Chaplin; Clint Eastwood Unforgiven; Al Pacino Scent of a Woman; Stephen Rea The Crying Game; Denzel Washington Malcolm X. Best Actress: Catherine Deneuve Indochine; Mary McDonnell Passion Fish; Michelle Pfeiffer Love Field; Susan Sarandon Lorenzo's Oil; Emma Thompson Howards End. Best Supporting Actor: Jaye Davidson The Crying Game; Gene Hackman Unforgiven; Jack Nicholson A Few Good Men; Al Pacino Glengarry Glen Ross; David Paymer Mr Saturday Night. Best Supporting Actress: Judy Davis Husbands and Wives; Joan Plowright Enchanted April; Vanessa Redgrave Howards End; Miranda Richardson Damage; Marisa Tomei My Cousin Vinny. Best Original Screenplay: Neil Jordan The Crying Game; Woody Allen Husbands and Wives; George Miller and Nick Enright Lorenzo's Oil; John Sayles Passion Fish; David Webb Peoples Unforgiven. Best Adapted Screenplay Peter Barnes Enchanted April; Ruth Prawer Jhabvala Howards End; Michael Tolkin The Player; Richard Friedenberg A River Runs Through It; Bo Goldman Scent of a Woman. Best Foreign Film: Close to Eden Russia; Daens Belgium; Indochine France; A Place in the World Uruguay; Schtonk] Germany. Best Art Direction: Dracula; Chaplin; Howards End; Toys; Unforgiven. Best Cinematography: Hoffa; Howards End; The Lover; A River Runs Through It; Unforgiven. Best Costume Design: Dracula; Enchanted April; Howards End; Malcolm X; Toys. Best Documentary Feature: Changing Our Minds: The Story of Dr Evelyn Hooker; Fires of Kuwait; Liberators: Fighting on Two Fronts in World War II; Music for the Movies: Bernard Hermann; The Panama Deception. Best Documentary Short Subject: At the Edge of Conquest; Beyond Imagining; The Colours of My Father; Educating Peter; When Abortion was Illegal. Best Film Editing: Basic Instinct; The Crying Game; A Few Good Men; The Player; Unforgiven. Best Make-Up: Batman Returns; Dracula; Hoffa. Best Music (Original Score): Alan Menken Aladdin; Jerry Goldsmith Basic Instinct; John Barry Chaplin; Richard Robbins Howards End; Mark Isham A River Runs Through It. Best Music (Original Song): Beautiful Maria of My Soul The Mambo Kings; Friend Like Me Aladdin; I Have Nothing The Bodyguard; Run to You The Bodyguard; Whole New World Aladdin. Best Animated Short Film: Adam; Mona Lisa; Descending a Staircase; Reci, Reci, Reci; The Sandman; Screen Play. Best Live Action Short Film: Contact; Cruise Control; The Lady in Waiting; Omnibus; Swan Song. Best Sound: Aladdin; A Few Good Men; The Last of the Mohicans; Under Siege; Unforgiven. Best Sound Effects Editing: Aladdin; Dracula; Under Siege. Best Visual Effects: Alien 3; Batman Returns; Death Becomes Her.

BETTING ODDS

William Hill: Best Film Unforgiven evens; Howards End 6-4; Scent of a Woman 5-1; The Crying Game 10-1; A Few Good Men 12-1. Best Actor Al Pacino evens; Clint Eastwood 3-1; Denzel Washington 4-1; Stephen Rea 5-1; Robert Downey Jnr 8-1. Best Actress Emma Thompson 4-9; Susan Sarandon 7-2; Catherine Deneuve 5-1; Mary McDonnell 12-1; Michelle Pfeiffer 12-1.

(Photograph omitted)

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