Tonic for British film-makers as Oscar snubs Madonna

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The Independent Online
British talent is set to take a glittering share of the 1997 Oscars as Hollywood offers one of the most interesting and eclectic Oscar line-ups in years.

The English Patient, which has already won rave reviews around the world, starring the very British Ralph Fiennes, was promised the biggest sweep on Academy Award night, with 12 nominations announced in the traditional pre-dawn ceremony yesterday.

The other contenders for the major prize, Best Picture, featured just one film from a major Hollywood studio: Jerry Maguire, the story of a sports agent, starring Tom Cruise. The Australian Shine, the off-beat American crime story Fargo, and the very English Secrets and Lies are also in the running.

Evita, the film version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical, did not make the shortlist and another disappointment came with Alan Parker failing to make the cut for Best Director. Madonna, in the title role, also found herself shut out, despite being named last month as best actress by the foreign press in the Golden Globe awards, traditionally a dry run for Oscar night.

No disappointment though for the British director of Secrets and Lies, Mike Leigh, and actress Brenda Blethlyn, who were nominated for Best Director and Best Actress.

Kenneth Branagh's star-laced Hamlet did not fare well. But onlyBranagh, it was said, could have won a nomination for Best Screenplay (based on material previously published or produced) on a four-hour film advertised as Shakespeare uncut.

The English Patient was nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Fiennes), Best Actress (Kristin Scott Thomas), Best Supporting Actress (Juliet Binoche), Best Director and Best Screenplay (Anthony Minghella), art direction, cinematography, sound, dramatic score, costume, and film editing.

Fargo and Shine won seven nominations, and Jerry Maguire and Secrets and Lies earned five. The nominations confirmed Hollywood's mounting love affair with the lower-budget independent film. If anything captured the spirit of this year's choices, it was that Brenda Blethlyn, playing a weak-minded working-class mum, is in hot competition for the Best Actress slot with Frances McDorman's pregnant policewoman in Fargo. A thoroughly American tale, Fargo was a product of Briton Tim Bevan's Working Title company.

Also-rans included Trainspotting, the acclaimed film about Scottish heroin addicts, which failed to net a single major nomination. At the other end of the scale: Independence Day, an a blockbuster "event" film about aliens zapping the world's major cities, barely got a look in.