On Sunday night when the Academy Award for Best Picture is announced, the teleprompter should read, "And the Oscar for best English-language, mainstream, studio picture goes to"
Sure, the Academy voters (Does anyone actually know who these people are?) might toss In the Bedroom a Best Picture trophy or give The Royal Tenenbaums the consolation prize of Best Screenplay, but don't count on it. The Academy Awards are nothing more than a glorified fashion show where filthy-rich movie stars hand out gold statues that no one will remember. Quick, name the Best Supporting Actor nominees from 1995.
Didn't think so.
No film directed by Martin Scorsese, Alfred Hitchcock, or Stanley Kubrick has ever won a Best Picture Oscar, with the exception of Hitchcock's Rebecca. That was 1939. Three of the greatest directors to ever step behind a camera, and they've won a grand total of zero directing Oscars between them.
Kevin Costner has one.
Independent filmmakers need not apply. From the Coen Brothers to John Sayles, Spike Lee to John Cassavetes, zero best directing Oscars, zero best film Oscars.
Kevin Costner has one.
Subtitles? Forget about it. Francois Truffault, Jean-Luc Godard, Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, and Akira Kurosawa have zero Oscars among them (except for "Sorry we screwed you over your whole career" Lifetime Achievement awards).
Kevin Costner has one.
Below you will find no Oscar predictions, merely opinions on the best film had to offer last year - which is to say there is no right or wrong answer. Every movie affects each and every one of us differently, because who we are distills and distorts the viewing experience, filtering it through the lens of our own individual perspective. So how can I criticize the Academy's opinion and trumpet my own humble thoughts as superior? Simple, my views aren't influenced by who's more famous. They aren't swayed by whether or not a nominee slapped around a producer of another awards show. They aren't lured by a film's box office, or lack thereof. And the nominees are
Best Supporting Actress
As usual, it's a Brit-fest. Kate Winslet does excellent work as the pre-Alzheimer Iris Murdoch, but hers is not even among the top three performances in Iris. Helen Mirren slips into her best Judi Dench impression by garnering a nomination for five minutes of screen time as a servant in Gosford Park, but the best Brit performance comes from Mirren's co-star, Maggie Smith, as the crotchety Countess of Threntham. The best supporting turn comes from this side of the Atlantic, but not in A Beautiful Mind. Jennifer Connelly has come a long way from jiggling on a kiddie horse in Career Opportunities, but her role as a devoted wife to schizophrenic math genius John Nash is the most overrated performance of the year. The honors should go to Marisa Tomei as the elder half of a May/December romance in Todd Field's directorial debut, In the Bedroom. Who knew she could act?
Best Supporting Actor
Though it's nice to see Training Day's Ethan Hawke up for an award, he isn't nearly as deserving as Jude Law's robo-gigolo in A.I., Brian Cox's reptilian pedophile in L.I.E., Steve Buscemi's music geek in Ghost World, or Tony Shalhoub's slick mouthpiece in The Man Who Wasn't There. Ian McKellan should've won for Gods and Monsters, but his Gandalf does most of his acting in front of a blue screen while Jon Voight does a good imitation of Howard Cosell, but little else. If the award were for an entire year's work instead of one picture, Jim Broadbent would be a shoe-in by virtue of his loving husband in Iris, clueless father in Bridget Jones' Diary, and sleazy promoter in Moulin Rouge. But for one performance alone, the award belongs to Ben Kingsley. Much has been made of Denzel Washington playing against type in Training Day, but the real stretch comes from Kingsley in Sexy Beast. To see the man who embodied all that was noble as Itzhak Stern in Schindler's List and as the title character in Ghandi erupt into volcanic violence while spewing out a never-ending stream of profanity defines range.
It seems Judi Dench could walk on screen, wave, then exit, and it would score her an Oscar nomination. This is her fourth nod in five years, but unlike most of the others she actually deserves this one for playing Alzheimer ravaged novelist Iris Murdoch. Nicole Kidman charmed in Moulin Rouge, but was easily eclipsed by the sheer spectacle. The most criminal of oversights is Renee Zellweger's inclusion for the fun, but slight Bridget Jones's Diary over Audrey Tautou in Amelie, Tilda Swenton in The Deep End, and Thora Birch in Ghost World. Only two real choices remain, and it's the hardest category to pick a winner: Halle Berry or six-time nominee Sissy Spacek. Both are absolutely wonderful in widely divergent characters that shared the commonality of dealing with loss.
Anytime an actor plays a character with a disability, it's Oscar time. Nevermind if it's one of Sean Penn's worst films, and there were much more deserving actors than Gene Hackman in The Royal Tennenbaums and Billy Bob Thornton in Monster's Ball. Will Smith sufficiently floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee as Muhammad Ali; Russell Crowe gave another standout performance in the completely routine A Beautiful Mind; and Denzel Washington went bad as a rogue cop in Training Day. But the best actor of the year was without question Englishman Tom Wilkinson as a grieving New England father in In the Bedroom.
The screenplay nominations are usually where the true "Best Pictures" can be found, and this year is no exception as only Julian Fellows' Gosford Park script also received Best Picture consideration. The rest of the field consists of French import Amelie, Memento, Monster's Ball, and The Royal Tenenbaums. Any other year Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson's literate yet quirky The Royal Tenenbaums would be a hands-down winner. But this is the year of Memento, written by Christopher Nolan and based on a story by his brother Jonathan, the most compelling narrative concept since Pulp Fiction.
Considering A Beautiful Mind's script was the worst part of the film, and Shrek had one too many fart jokes to make it worthy, it's a tough call between Ghost World, In the Bedroom, and Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings. Directors Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes turned a comic book into the anti-Hollywood teen movie in Ghost World, while Lord of the Rings managed to stay true to the book, probably for fear of fanatic fans charging the gates of their homes. However, these scripts merely expanded on existing material, while Todd Field and Robert Festinger added first and second acts to the Andre Dubus short story that serves as the finale.
The fact that Robert Altman hasn't won a Best Director Oscar is a travesty, but Gosford Park is nowhere near his best film. If technical expertise was enough, Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down would win. Though Ron Howard has made some good films, he has no idea what the term auteur means. Which is what the award should symbolize, a singular vision of a lone filmmaker. That term fits perfectly into Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, and Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge. But since Luhrmann wasn't even nominated and no one, probably including Lynch himself, can explain what the hell any of his movies are about, it makes the choice pretty simple.
With the standard biopic A Beautiful Mind inferior to even a flawed film like Blow and Gosford Park, a well-acted version of Clue, it's a three horse race, though the field should've included The Royal Tenenbaums, Memento, Black Hawk Down, and Ghost World. It comes down to a fundamental question: What is the purpose of film? If it's to dazzle, awe, and amaze, then both Lord of the Rings and Moulin Rouge are absolute triumphs of imagination and wonderment. If it's the power of film to make us feel and reflect, then In the Bedroom is the clear choice. It's a question without an answer, but if you truly want to celebrate film, you'll spend Sunday night watching your favorite movies of the year instead of the Academy Awards.