There's always the consolation that once you've hit bottom, there's no place to go but up.
And while the Academy Award nominations have always been a little irksome, a little disappointing, or just bizarre, this year's crop is positively nauseating. A merely good film like Erin Brockovich could be named the best movie of the year, or it may go to a very good but still not great movie like Crouching Tiger, or it could go to a truly bad movie, Gladiator.
The only thing missing is a talking pig movie, it seems. Yet despite our tears and protestations, the awards ceremony will go on, just like my heart. Here are this year's Oscar picks to take home the tiny golden man; after all, the first step of recovery is admitting there is a problem.
Best Supporting Actor
Jeff Bridges, The Contender
Willem Dafoe, Shadow of the Vampire
Benicio Del Toro, Traffic
Albert Finney, Erin Brockovich
Joaquin Phoenix, Gladiator
Let's not mince around; Benicio Del Toro already has this Oscar in his pocket. He got the SAG award; he's got the buzz. Everyone loves Benicio Del Toro in this film. No one, on the other hand, loves Jeff Bridges in the highly overrated The Contender, in which he played a rather bland, jovial President. While Willem Dafoe was incredible as Max Schreck in the comedic horror Shadow of the Vampire, he was too far out to be awarded for his performance. Meanwhile, the whole of Erin Brockovich is devoted entirely to Julia Roberts, with nothing left for Albert Finney; the shadow of Brockovich's breasts completely obscured Finney's above average performance. Now Phoenix, on the other hand, did a thoroughly average job as a terrible, third-rate character, but Phoenix has a dead brother. While this might water many an Academy eye, it won't be enough to get him the award yet. They'll reward Phoenix for his loss later; for now, Del Toro's stellar performance and popularity in the Hollywood world has this award locked down.
The Winnah: Del Toro! Del Toro! Del Toro!
Best Supporting Actress
Judi Dench, Chocolat
Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock
Kate Hudson, Almost Famous
Frances McDormand, Almost Famous
Julie Walters, Billy Elliot
There's this thing that animal scientists speak of called behavioral tendencies. It pretty much means this: given the limited intelligence of animals, when they are confronted with similar situations they will act similarly: i.e., when a big monkey screams at a little monkey, the little monkey will usually run away. When a monkey gets a banana, the monkey will eat it. When a male monkey sees a female monkey shaking her booty at him, he'll get excited and try to mate with her. And vote for them for Best Supporting Actress. The primates of the Academy voted the young, nubile and highly fertile Hilary Swank as the winner last year, even over more highly esteemed actresses and performances; there's no reason they shouldn't do the same for Almost Famous' Kate Hudson. And Hudson went topless too, so she'll stick in the thoughts and dreams of the Academy well into the voting booth and the bathroom later on. The other real contendress is Judi Dench; Miramax bought the Best Supporting Actor for Michael Caine last year, despite that Caine did a mediocre job in a less than mediocre film. If Miramax's ad boys and girls have been on the ball, Dench may sock it to Hudson and grab the gold.
The Winnah: Hudson's a hottie but Miramax is naughty. They've got the dough to have Hudson killed, let alone pull off something simple like stealing the Oscar.
Javier Bardem, Before Night Falls
Russell Crowe, Gladiator
Tom Hanks, Cast Away
Ed Harris, Pollock
Geoffrey Rush, Quills
The Best Actor comes down to two: Crowe and Hanks. Before Night Falls director Julian Schnabel has doomed Bardem by pleasantly stating that all the other films in every category suck next to his, and the Academy loves that. Expect Schnabel and Bardem to be totally ignored, and possibly tarred and feathered. Quills appears too risqué for the conservative Academy, being a story of the Marquis de Sade and all, despite that it was in fact frightfully lame; Rush is out of the running. Pollock was too small to make a dent for Ed Harris, especially when compared to the mega-huge Cast Away and Gladiator. So put the big boys in the ring: in one corner, you have the two-time champion and ever lovable Hanks, and in the other, the lovably gruff and previously nominated Crowe. Hanks has a near solo performance in Cast Away, in which he had to carry the entire movie himself; it'll look like a great performance to the Academy. Plus, he's Hanks, and that might go a long way. Crowe has proven himself to be a high-class actor in The Insider and L.A. Confidential, despite his so-so job in the terrible role given him in Gladiator, they may give it to him anyway based on his past performances. But Crowe has an edge too, and that's the "Having Sex with Meg Ryan" factor. The whole brouhaha made Crowe quite the newsmaker, and he'll loom large in the fickle, attention-deficit-laden minds of the Academy. Meanwhile, Hanks' star has seemed to have set a bit; Crowe's gotten all the Entertainment Weekly spreads, while Hanks has simply cruised on his box office presence. That's the battle.
The Winnah: Boinging Meg Ryan is good, but not good enough. Hanks had to do Cast Away by his lonesome, and it's easily recognizable as the superior performance.
Joan Allen, The Contender
Juliette Binoche, Chocolat
Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream
Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me
Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich
Even more so than Del Toro, Roberts has this nomination locked up. Roberts' faux hooters have pushed all the other ladies out of the Academy's sight. Everyone saw Erin Brockovich. Everyone loved Erin Brockovich. Everyone loves Erin Brockovich, and they especially love Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich. She's a single mom, delightfully bitchy, fighting for the forces of good, and has a great rack on her. Brockovich/Roberts is everything the Academy loves: spunk and breasts. Besides, the Academy constantly confuses the boundary between reality and film, transferring real people's deeds to the actors who play them (e.g., giving Liam Neeson the Academy Award for his character's heroism in Schindler's List), thus it's as if Roberts had fought all those evil corporations herself. Thank god Julia Roberts was there to wear a push-up bra and expose the truth about that contaminated water! You can't NOT reward that!
The Winnah: Oscar's head is already poking out from Roberts' bosom. It's very warm and comfy there.
Stephen Daldry for Billy Elliot
Ang Lee for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Steven Soderbergh for Erin Brockovich
Ridley Scott for Gladiator
Steven Soderbergh for Traffic
Here, there may be a speck of light. Ang Lee bested the once great, now worthless Scott for the SAG (Screen Actor's Guild) award for Best Director this year, to general surprise approval. However, the Screen Actor's Guild is not known for its magnificent ignorance like the Academy is. Given that much of the SAG makes up the Academy, it is a wonder how these folks get so exponentially stupid between awards ceremonies. The leading theory is that it's a phenomenon much like lemmings; while lemmings are perfectly reasonable creatures on their own, once they get together, they collectively decide to do something magnificently dumb and all run off a cliff. While we can only hope for such a fate to come to the Academy, it's far more likely they'll just vote Scott for Best Director instead. Daldry is a lightweight compared to the others, and Soderbergh will likely divide his supporters up between the rather average but highly popular Erin Brockovich and the quite excellent yet less accessible Traffic. A win for Scott would be a win for the forces of evil everywhere. Plus, Ang Lee is much more foreign than Scott, despite that he's been a Hollywood denizen for quite some time. Will Lee's Hollywood history be enough to overcome the Academy's foreign prejudice? The fact that Crouching Tiger is a good film, and Gladiator is bad should help immensely. Besides, while there's been plenty of talk about Gladiator, there's been little about Scott; even though his Hannibal just came out, he's still not a hot topic. In fact, no one is associating Scott with Hannibal either. While Gladiator may win best flick, Scott just isn't getting enough attention to merit a win. Meanwhile everyone considers Crouching Tiger as Lee's baby, and people are still wetting their pants over it.
The Winnah: Maybe, just maybe, the Academy will retain enough of their firing synapses to give Lee the Best Director Oscar. Let us pray.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
The steaming pile of dog poopie that men call Gladiator
%$*#. Those who still have hope in their hearts maintain that Crouching Tiger will win best picture. These people are wrong. Soderbergh and Soderbergh will cancel each other out, and while Miramax can buy a nomination for Chocolat (again, like last year with The Cider House Rules), they can't buy the award itself, and Chocolat is no more deserving than The Cider House Rules was. That leaves Gladiator and Crouching Tiger yet again. While Lee may edge out the best director award, look at these cold, hard facts: Crouching Tiger has subtitles. It also has kung fu. It's very, very foreign. Gladiator, on the hand, is big, loud, dumb and obnoxious. It's epic in the sense that it's very long and has battle scenes. It has the illusion of emotion, the appearance of depth, and enough wide-angle shots to hide its shallowness. The Academy is in love with what Gladiator pretends to be (and appears to be, in its movie poster) - an epic tale of heroism and romance, with brains, brawn and beauty. Even though Gladiator is none of those things, while Crouching Tiger has them all, love is blind. Gladiator got twelve nominations, despite the fact it's a horrible, horrible film, to Crouching Tiger's ten, despite that it's a very good film - not great, but very good. Plus, there's simply no way the Academy's going to give a subtitled kung fu flick - no matter how much genuine drama, character development and beauty it has - Best Picture.
The Winnah: Let's not kid ourselves. Look for Gladiator to get the gold, and listen for the faint cackling of the Lord of Darkness just off-stage.