'Sense' Tops Globe Nod List With Six : Awards: The Jane Austen costume romance and 'American President' head the field in what look like wide open races.

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"Sense and Sensibility" and "The American President" led the 53rd annual Golden Globe Award nominations for best dramatic film and best musical or comedy announced Thursday in Beverly Hills.

In contrast to the past two years, when "Schindler's List" and "Forrest Gump" were a foregone conclusion to win Golden Globes and ultimately the Oscars, this year's competition figures to be more of a horse race. The Golden Globes will be given out Jan. 21 at the Beverly Hilton by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.

The costume romance "Sense and Sensibility" led the field with six nominations, including best actress and screenplay for Emma Thompson. The film has already captured top honors from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures and the Boston Society of Film Critics.

In the Golden Globe best drama category, the Jane Austen adaptation will be competing against the space thriller "Apollo 13," the medieval battlefield epic "Braveheart," the screen adaptation of the best-selling novel "The Bridges of Madison County" and "Leaving Las Vegas," a bleak drama that was selected as best film by the Los Angeles Film Critics and New York Film Critics Circle.

As with most nominations, this year's Golden Globes had noticeable omissions. Neither "Nixon," Oliver Stone's controversial biography of the 37th president, nor "Casino," Martin Scorsese's violent depiction of mob rule in Las Vegas, was nominated for best picture.

Still, Scorsese was among the best director nominees that included Mike Figgis for "Leaving Las Vegas," Ron Howard for "Apollo 13," Ang Lee for "Sense and Sensibility," Rob Reiner for "The American President" and Mel Gibson for "Braveheart." (A tie among two directors, not identified, resulted in six being nominated.)

"This is my first nomination of any sort," Gibson said in a phone interview. "It's a very full experience being behind the camera because you're the one telling the story. The job is agony and wonderful at the same time."

The strong showing of "Sense and Sensibility" took Lee by surprise. Not only was it his first major studio picture after the Taiwanese "The Wedding Banquet" and "Eat Drink Man Woman," but prior to the project he had never read Austen.

"As a filmmaker, I have the illusion I can do anything," he said, "but it was very daring for the producers to give this movie to me. I was amazed at how close Austen and I are in our cynical social satires and family dramas. Though I was very scared, I felt that this was a call of fate."

The Golden Globe Awards have a separate category for musicals and comedies--a field that this year also promises to be a toss-up. Among the contenders:

"The American President," a White House romance starring Michael Douglas and Annette Bening, received five Golden Globe nominations for second-best showing overall; the sleeper hit "Babe"; the mob comedy "Get Shorty"; a remake of 1954's "Sabrina"; and Disney's computer-animated "Toy Story."

Director Sydney Pollack said it was intimidating to redo a classic. "It was nerve-racking, downright stupid . . . especially one as beloved as 'Sabrina,' " he said. "But I got hooked on the idea of mixing '50s romanticism with the materialism, cynicism and greed of the '90s--stealing the best parts of [director] Billy Wilder and telling the story in a contemporary way."

The dramatic actress selections were Susan Sarandon for "Dead Man Walking," Elisabeth Shue for "Leaving Las Vegas," Sharon Stone for "Casino," Meryl Streep for "The Bridges of Madison County" and Thompson for "Sense and Sensibility."

Actors receiving drama nominations were Richard Dreyfuss for "Mr. Holland's Opus," Anthony Hopkins for "Nixon," Ian McKellen for "Richard III," Sean Penn for "Dead Man Walking" and Nicolas Cage, whose role in "Leaving Las Vegas" won him each of the four recent critics' awards.

McKellen, who had performed the role of Richard III more than 300 times on stage, observed that film was a natural progression. "I like to do Shakespeare in small theaters with a conversational tone, so [in film] the close-up is a wonderful tool," he said. "The lush cinematography also permitted us to put onto the screen what was only in my imagination before."

In comedies or musicals, actresses receiving nominations were Annette Bening in "The American President," Sandra Bullock in "While You Were Sleeping," Toni Collette in "Muriel's Wedding," Nicole Kidman in "To Die For" and Vanessa Redgrave in "A Month by the Lake."

Actors selected in a comedy or musical were Michael Douglas in "The American President," John Travolta in "Get Shorty," Harrison Ford in "Sabrina," Steve Martin in "Father of the Bride Part II" and Patrick Swayze in "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar."

In the TV arena, "Chicago Hope," "ER," "Murder One," "NYPD Blue" and "Party of Five" will be vying for best drama series. Best comedy nominations went to "Cybill," "Frasier," "Friends," "Mad About You" and "Seinfeld."

The Golden Globes, which this year were voted on by 85 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., will be broadcast on NBC. Actor Sean Connery will be given the Cecil B. DeMille Award in recognition of "outstanding contribution to the entertainment field."

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