The 65th ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATIONS : The Declaration of Independents : The nominations: 'Howards End' and 'Unforgiven' get nine apiece, 'The Crying Game' six. Non-studio and maverick filmmakers have a field day.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a strong showing by independent-minded filmmakers, longtime movie icon Clint Eastwood and two movies made outside the studio system--"Howards End" and "The Crying Game"--dominated the Oscar nominations announced Wednesday.

The independently produced Merchant Ivory production of the British drama "Howards End" and the Western "Unforgiven"--produced, directed and starring Eastwood--led all other films with nine nominations apiece.

"The Crying Game," distributed by the independent Miramax Films, received six nominations, including best picture--the third highest of any film.

Another movie initially considered a long-shot for the best picture of 1992, "Scent of a Woman" joined "The Crying Game" and the expected candidates "A Few Good Men," "Howards End," and "Unforgiven."

Eastwood, who operates within the studio system without seeming to be a part of it, had never been previously nominated for an Oscar. He will compete in the best actor and director categories. Eastwood joins such stars as Warren Beatty, nominated as actor-director-producer for the 1981 "Reds" and Kevin Costner for 1990's "Dances With Wolves." Both Beatty and Costner won as best director, but lost in the acting category. No best actor nominee who directed himself has ever won in both categories.

Eastwood spent the day skiing at Sun Valley, Ida. But Joe Hyams, a Warner Bros. executive vice president, said Eastwood and the studio are "totally ecstatic."

Nominated twice was actor Al Pacino, for his role as a blind retired military officer in "Scent of a Woman" and for his supporting role as a real estate salesman in "Glengarry Glen Ross." It's the first time since 1944, when Barry Fitzgerald was nominated for actor and supporting actor for the same role in the movie "Going My Way," that any actor has been nominated twice in acting categories in the same year. Although Pacino has been nominated six times previously, dating back to a supporting nomination for 1972's "The Godfather," he has never won.

Pacino, who learned of his nominations in New York, said in a statement: "An Oscar nomination is an enormous thing in an actor's life. To have two in one year, what can I say? It is very uplifting and wonderful."

For those who gathered at the Beverly Hills headquarters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the 65th annual nomination announcements, there were few surprises. The designated movies in key categories appeared to follow the early awards indicators. "Unforgiven" and "Howards End" had been the favorites of movie critics and had shown up among such other precursors as the Directors Guild nominations and the Golden Globe Awards that are voted by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.

Observers were surprised by Marisa Tomei's nomination as best supporting actress for her role in "My Cousin Vinny" and Catherine Deneuve's as best actress in "Indochine," and the omission of Jack Lemmon ("Glengarry Glen Ross") from the best actor field.

Others saw irony in the fact that "The Player," director Robert Altman's biting satire about the movie business, was not a best picture nominee, while Altman was nominated as best director. Altman also had been a critics' favorite and a Golden Globe winner.

The converse was the reality for "A Few Good Men" director Rob Reiner, whose situation parallels Barbra Streisand's experience from 1991's "The Prince of Tides." Reiner and Streisand received nominations from the Directors Guild and their films were nominated for best picture Oscars, but they were ignored in the best director category.

The nine nominations for Eastwood's "Unforgiven" also included nods for David Webb Peoples for his original screenplay and supporting actor Gene Hackman for his role as a genial but sadistic sheriff. The Warner Bros. release, which opened last summer, also was singled out for art direction, cinematography, film editing and sound.

Hackman, reached in Florida on his way to the Cayman Islands for filming of "The Firm," has been nominated five times. "I'm excited by it," said Hackman, who won a best actor Oscar for 1971's "The French Connection." "You think you are going to be above it, but it always gets to you."

The multitude of Oscar nominations for "Howards End" and the romantic suspense film "The Crying Game" represents a departure from the norm for the film academy. In most years, the best picture category is mostly--often exclusively--dominated by movies made by the major Hollywood studios. No film that has not been in some way a product of the major studios has ever won as best picture.

But this season's nine nominations for "Howards End," which was picked up for distribution by Sony Classics, is one of the highest ever for an independently produced film. In addition to "The Crying Game," Miramax also received four nominations for "Enchanted April" and two for "Passion Fish," bringing the company's total to 12--believed to be an Oscar record for any independent company in a single year.

Miramax's co-chairman Harvey Weinstein said champagne was flowing at his offices with the news. His take on the nominations is that independent film has finally arrived. "This is like a seeding process that began with 'sex, lies, and videotape' and 'My Left Foot' and even 'Kiss of the Spider Woman' years ago. Now, there is mainstream acceptance . . . I think what we are seeing is that they (independent movies) might not be called art films someday. They might just be called movies."

Reached in India, where he is directing his first movie, "In Custody," an elated Ismail Merchant, producer of "Howards End," said the multiple nominations for his $8-million film signaled a positive trend. "This is an interesting time we're having," he said. "This shows it's not the money, the backing of the studio or throwing money at people that counts, but the integrity, the content, the story. That is the endorsement."

"Howards End" drew nominations for director James Ivory; actress Emma Thompson, who has won virtually all critics' honors; supporting actress Vanessa Redgrave and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. It was also honored for cinematography, art direction and original score.

"The Crying Game's" six nominations included ones for Irish director Neil Jordan and actor Stephen Rea, who plays an Irish Republican army terrorist. The film's much-heralded surprise plot twist may be jeopardized by the selection of Jaye Davidson as a best supporting actor nominee.

Jordan saw signs of a new maturity in Hollywood. "This is a subject that normally would have been avoided by the academy," he said by phone from London. "There is a generosity that wasn't there before."

The two other best picture nominees--"A Few Good Men," a Castle Rock Entertainment film distributed by Columbia Pictures, and "Scent of a Woman," distributed by Universal Pictures--each received four nominations.

Jack Nicholson, whose title role in the high-profile "Hoffa" was ignored, instead received a nod for his supporting role in "A Few Good Men" as the arrogant Marine colonel opposite Tom Cruise. It was Nicholson's 10th nomination.

"A Few Good Men" also was cited for film editing and sound.

The four nominations for "Scent of a Woman" were particularly sweet to director-producer Martin Brest. There have been suggestions that its victory as best dramatic picture at the Golden Globe Awards might have been the result of distributor Universal courting the foreign press voters. In any event, the nomination confirms the Globes' track record as a reliable precursor to Oscars.

Asked if he felt the Golden Globe victory helped, Brest said, "They were definitely good . . . (but) I think academy voters sort of make up their own mind."

Also nominated was "Scent's" adapted screenplay by Bo Goldman, who previously won for 1975's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," which he co-wrote with Lawrence Hauben.

As to why "The Player" did not win a best-picture nomination, Ira Deutchman, president of distributor Fine Line Films, speculated that with three nominations, including best director, "it is clear there was an appreciation of artistry of the film. So that means the subject matter must be the problem."

Deutchman said he had been resistant to that idea. "I was always the naysayer, telling people you're selling the academy members short. Maybe I was wrong."

The best actor nominees include portrayals of two historical figures in title roles: Robert Downey Jr. for "Chaplin," based on the life of silent film star Charlie Chaplin, and Denzel Washington for "Malcolm X," Spike Lee's film about the slain African-American leader. Downey has never been nominated before, while this is Washington's third. He won as supporting actor for 1989's "Glory." Eastwood, Pacino and Rea round out the actors category.

For best actress, Thompson's performance in "Howards End" is joined by Catherine Deneuve for the French-language film "Indochine," Mary McDonnell for "Passion Fish," Michelle Pfeiffer in "Love Field" and Susan Sarandon in "Lorenzo's Oil."

Deneuve and Thompson have never been nominated before. McDonnell was a supporting nominee for "Dances with Wolves." Pfeiffer and Sarandon each have been nominated twice before. Pfeiffer was previously nominated as best actress for "The Fabulous Baker Boys" and Sarandon as best actress for "Atlantic City" and "Thelma & Louise."

Reached in Milan, Deneuve said she had "great hope" that "Indochine" would be honored in the foreign-film category, as it was, but never expected to get her first best-actress nomination. At the same time she is not optimistic about winning the award itself. "I'm not being modest. It's a French-language film and I am a French actress," she said. "I think the nomination is really something, though."

Sarandon's reaction after the news was a statement: "To be honored by your peers in this fashion and to be in the company of all these classy women is quite thrilling."

Thompson, reached in England, said she "is honored to be thought of in the same breath as all the women in my category who I have long admired."

In the supporting actor field, Hackman, Pacino, Davidson and Nicholson are joined by David Paymer, who played Billy Crystal's brother in the comedy "Mr. Saturday Night."

"It feels terrific," said Paymer. "I've been lowering my expectations the last couple of weeks because I didn't want to be disappointed. . . . 'I'm really proud of this film," Paymer said, despite the film's box-office failure. "I'm disappointed more people didn't see it."

Redgrave's supporting actress nomination for "Howards End" is the sixth in her career. She won as supporting actress for "Julia." Judy Davis, who received a nod for Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives," has been nominated once before.

The other three nominees are first-timers: Joan Plowright for "Enchanted April," Miranda Richardson for "Damage" and Marisa Tomei for "My Cousin Vinny."

Walt Disney Pictures "Aladdin" garnered the fourth highest number of nominations--five. One was for the original score by Alan Menken and two were for the original songs "Friend Like Me" and "Whole New World." Two songs from the Whitney Houston-Kevin Costner film "The Bodyguard" also were nominated, "I Have Nothing" and "Run to You." But the film's most popular song, "I Will Always Love You," was not eligible since it was not written for the film. The field is rounded out by "Beautiful Maria of My Soul" from "The Mambo Kings."

The foreign-language nominees included only two that have played in the United States, "Close to Eden" from Russia and "Indochine" from France. The others are "Daens" from Belgium, "A Place in the World" from Uruguay and "Schtonk" from Germany.

Times staff writers Terry Pristin, Robert W. Welkos and Susan King contributed to this report.

AND THE OTHER KEY NOMINEES . . .

BEST ACTOR

Robert Downey Jr.: "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 DIRECTOR

Robert Altman: "The Player"

Martin Brest: "Scent of a Woman"

Clint Eastwood: "Unforgiven"

James Ivory: "Howards End"

Neil Jordan: "The Crying Game"

TOP NOMINATED FILMS

"Howards End": 9

"Unforgiven": 9

"The Crying Game": 6

"Aladdin": 5

A full list of nominees on F11.

Next: The Awards

The 65th Academy Awards will be presented Monday, March 29, and will be televised live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles beginning at 6 p.m. on ABC-TV (Channel 7).

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