And they're off...
She has already won one Oscar (for 1995's Dead Man Walking) and four other nominations in her career, so how does Susan Sarandon handicap this year's race for Best Actress? "It's a very crowded field—it's been a great year for women," says Sarandon, 52, who hopes to be in the running once more (for Stepmom) when the nominees are announced Feb. 9."I'll be happy to just get a nomination." But should she win another statuette, she's already got a place picked out for it. "There's a bathroom that we call the famous bathroom, and it's got all our awards in it," says Sarandon, who lives with longtime love Tim Robbins and children Eva, 13, Jack, 9, and Miles, 6. "We don't have a screening room or an office, so they all keep each other company in the bathroom."

Organized Labour
Having directed himself in such films as Henry V, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Hamlet, did Kenneth Branagh feel underused in his latest drama The Theory of Flight? "The role in this was sufficiently challenging," says Branagh, 38, who costars with his real-life love, Helena Bon-ham Carter, in the movie. "The enjoyment of just acting and having only one thing to worry about was delicious. It never occurred to me to start thinking about where I would put the camera." Branagh next directs himself, Nathan Lane and Alicia Silverstone in a musical adaptation of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost. "I've never done a musical before, so I've been meeting with choreographers and arrangers," he says. "We're using Cole Porter and Irving Berlin songs. At one point we thought we'd do original songs, but no one had the guts to write anything that would stand next to Shakespeare."

His inner child
As we count down to the brink of the year 2000, on Dec. 31, Val Kilmer will have another momentous occasion to come to grips with: He hits the big 4-0 that day. "I don't feel grown-up. My son [Jack] is 3½, so I'm 3½," says Kilmer, who costars with Mira Sorvino in the new romantic drama At First Sight. "One joy of acting is that it reminds you that playing can be a big part of life. We all do a lot of storytelling with our children, but I don't think we recognize the value of it in regular life." So what kind of film roles is the former Batman hoping will keep him young at heart? "I'd do love stories and westerns for the next 10 years," says Kilmer, who is part Cherokee and lives in Tesuque, N.Mex. "I'd be in a bad western on a good horse any day of the week."

Body check
Dressing the part of an alcoholic single mother in Maya Angelou's feature-film directorial debut, Down in the Delta, Alfre Woodard got a shot of reality. "I told the costume designer, 'Oh, Lord, I will never work again!' " recalls Woodard, 46, of her tacky wardrobe. "I would put on these skintight things and scream, look at my belly! Look at my butt!' Then I'd say, 'You know what? This woman is real. She's from the projects.' The only women who care about looking good in a photograph are people like me. Real people are too busy trying to live. They're not worried about their butt. So I had to tuck my ego in."