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Sense, sensibility and Austen's seven nominations

Jane Austen was not represented in any category but her modern co-writer, Emma Thompson, made Hollywood history yesterday, earning Oscar nominations for both best actress and best screenplay. The Academy Awards will be presented on 25 March.

The British cast and crew of Sense and Sensibility picked up seven nominations, running from the best picture to best cinematography, for its lush images of rural England, and best supporting actress for Kate Winslet. But in a year in which no one film has swept the hustings, the voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences displayed a quirky independence in their Oscar selections, announced at dawn yesterday.

Sense and Sensibility's rivals for best picture include Babe, starring a sweet-tempered talking pig and Braveheart, with the Australian Mel Gibson playing the Scottish hero William Wallace.

In a challenge to Ms Thompson's versatile talents, the Italian actor Massimo Troisi, who died aged 41 the day he completed filming Il Postino ("The Postman"), was nominated for best actor and best screenplay.

Waterworld, the most expensive film in motion-picture history and a fable for Hollywood extravagance after its producers constructed a floating Pacific island from scratch, was punished with a single nomination: best sound, despite starring, and being directed by, Kevin Costner.

Braveheart led the field with 10 nominations. Babe, with seven, was joint runner-up with Sense and Sensibility. Il Postino, in a rare honour for a foreign film, was also nominated for best picture. However, the present favourite is Apollo 13, starring Tom Hanks. The story of a Moon mission which won glory through failure is the kind of mom-and-apple-pie American tale that Academy voters fall for, critics say, though Nicolas Cage, playing a dying drunk in Leaving Las Vegas, is a clear favourite for best actor.

Ms Thompson, who last month won a Golden Globe award for her screen-writing skills, is considered a strong contender for an Oscar in the same category. But some critics considered her too old for the part of Austen's 20-year- old heroine, and it may tell against her.

Her chief rival for best actress appears to be Susan Sarandon, a past Oscar nominee, starring in Dead Men Walking as a nun working with death- row inmates.

The other nominees were the Basic Instinct star Sharon Stone in Casino, Meryl Streep as a mid-Western housewife romanced by the photographer Clint Eastwood in The Bridges of Madison County and the newcomer Elizabeth Shue in Leaving Las Vegas.