March 14, 2002
BY ADAM KEMPENAAR & AARON McADAMS
With the 74th Annual Academy Awards presentation less than two weeks away, it's time once again for our "Memo to the Academy." Of course, if we had any clout in Hollywood whatsoever, this year's list of nominees would look considerably different.
For starters, newcomer Naomi Watts would not only have earned a Best Actress nomination for her schizoid performance in "Mulholland Drive", she'd be taking home the prestigious prize as well.
Other notable snubs? Gene Hackman's delightfully cranky turn in "The Royal Tenenbaums", the winsome Audrey Tautou for "Amelie", Christopher Nolan's backwards mind-bender "Memento", one of the most inventive films in recent memory, Richard Linklater's ethereal, engaging "Waking Life" being edged out for Best Animated Feature by "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius", and the aforementioned "Mulholland Drive", which topped a number of critics' year-end lists (including both of ours), but failed to get a Best Picture nomination.
One last quibble: Judi Dench (nominated four out of the last five years) is a gifted actress, but seriously -- she must be stopped! Can't we just give her a statue that proclaims her once and for all to be "A Truly Great Actress," then exempt her from any further Oscar contests? Just a thought.
But before we ramble on longer than a falsely modest Julia Roberts' acceptance speech, let's get to our picks. (Bill Conti, fade up the orchestra please...)
Aaron: "In the Bedroom". Realist filmmaking triumphs in Todd Field's writing/directing debut. Well, realist relative to its competition, anyway. While the other nominees boast surreal, satirical, and psychological worlds we can only take for granted, "In the Bedroom" deals solely in the everyday and, with icy determination, passes the test of our own experiences.
Adam: "In the Bedroom". A pitch-perfect screenplay, Field's lyrical direction, and brilliant performances from its entire cast made "In the Bedroom" the biggest surprise of 2001. With a measly $2 million at his disposal, Field proved that great filmmaking isn't about big-name stars or a big-time budget - it's about passion.
Will Win: "A Beautiful Mind". Sadly, this Oscar-pandering lightweight, easily the worst of the five nominees, hops right over that annoying thing called historical accuracy, leaving time to gush, "You want to know what's real? This is real" (touch heart here). In short, a perfect strategy for Oscar victory. (AM)
Aaron: Robert Altman, "Gosford Park". How hard is it to interweave the lives of nearly 30 primary characters? In the hands of Altman, not very. At least that is the illusion "Gosford Park" creates. Who needs editing when the camera flows so gracefully from room to room, exiting with one character only to fall in stride with another? Thanks to Altman, "Gosford Park" is in constant, effortless motion.
Adam: David Lynch, "Mulholland Drive". My method for selecting Best Director is pretty simple: The honor should go to the person who made the best movie. Despite being denied a Best Picture nomination, Lynch's surrealist Hollywood satire was far and away the most intriguing film of last year. After the disappointing "Lost Highway", Lynch finally found just the right mixture of Hollywood convention and abstract absurdity to be arty and accessible (OK, slightly accessible) at the same time.
Will Win: Ron Howard, "A Beautiful Mind". His film is the favorite for Best Picture, and last weekend he took home top honors at the Directors Guild of America awards. Since the guild gave out its first award in 1949, all but five of its winners have gone on to win the Best Director Oscar. But don't count out Altman or "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson just yet. One of those five was last year's winner, Ang Lee ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), who lost the Oscar to Steven Soderbergh ("Traffic"). (AK)
Aaron: Tom Wilkinson, "In the Bedroom". Even with co-star Sissy Spacek handed all the loud, attention-grubbing "Oscar moments," Wilkinson bests her in all their shared scenes. While his opponents' performances are all showy and externalized, it's Wilkinson's ability to communicate the disparity between his placid exterior and inner torment that sets him apart from the field.
Adam: Wilkinson. The Academy loves a show-off -- a schizophrenic genius (Russell Crowe), a corrupt cop with a God complex (Denzel Washington), a mentally challenged single father (Sean Penn), and "The Greatest" (Will Smith). But as any actor will tell you, it's easy to be idiosyncratic and larger than life; it's a lot tougher to be an ordinary human being. Wilkinson's subtle, powerful portrayal of a grieving father, forced to confront the fragility of life and his marriage, delivers more humanity than the other four nominees combined.
Will Win: Crowe, "A Beautiful Mind". This battle is between Crowe and Washington. The problem is, neither star is adored by the Hollywood establishment -- respected for his talent, sure, but not well-liked. And it's hard to imagine voters rewarding Crowe two years in a row (he won for "Gladiator" last year), placing him in the same pantheon as Spencer Tracy and Tom Hanks. But the night belongs to "A Beautiful Mind". Everyone else can eat Crowe. (AK)
Aaron: Renee Zellweger, "Bridget Jones' Diary". With this category irrevocably tainted by the absence of Naomi Watts, why not just have some fun and give the thing to Zellweger? Sure, she's not really deserving, but she did outduel "Shallow Hal"'s Gwyneth Paltrow for Best Actress Carrying Excess Weight. Seriously though, she's the best thing in a bad movie. That's saying something, right?
Adam: Halle Berry, "Monster's Ball". As much as I admire Sissy Spacek's brave performance in "In The Bedroom", Berry's was even braver. She had to fight for the role of Leticia, a woman devastated by personal loss and loneliness, and her connection to the character is obvious in her raw performance. She lets director Marc Forster do what only a handful of actresses would allow -- expose her own physical and emotional ugliness.
Will Win: Spacek. She turns in a boisterous and biting performance and has the Oscar-ready clips to prove it. More importantly, maybe, she's an established Hollywood vet who the aging Academy can identify with. Sorry Berry, but taking your top off earlier in the year (in "Swordfish") likely means a loss to the more demure, fully clothed Spacek. (AM)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Aaron: Ian McKellen, "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring". In an effects-heavy fantasy film that could have survived with little or no real acting, McKellen lends a touch of gentlemanly grandeur to the Wizard Gandalf. Under McKellen's control, Gandalf is no stoic elder but a gentle grandfather, encouraging his charges with a comforting smile, even with evil just a breath away.
Adam: Ben Kingsley, "Sexy Beast". Who knew that Gandhi could be such a vicious bastard? Like Denzel Washington in "Training Day", Kingsley went against type to play Don Logan, a sadistic criminal who won't take no for an answer. He's so unpredictable and unnerving that just watching him shave or drink a glass of water will have you on the edge of your seat, anticipating his next violent outburst.
Will Win: McKellen. With his respected track record and the enormous success of "Rings" behind him, McKellen seems poised to vanquish Kingsley and Jon Voight, his chief competitors. Jim Broadbent is too obscure a choice in a category laden with known names, and Ethan Hawke ...just how did he get nominated anyway? (AM)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Aaron: Maggie Smith, "Gosford Park". In a drawing room full of mercenaries, Smith is the sniper. She slithers in between the performances of the other actors, waiting for a clear shot, then firing stinging asides from her safe, cozy seat at the card table. Granted, disdain for her counterparts is really the only emotion Smith's character requires her to portray, but to keep the merciless witch act fresh and funny throughout is what makes her performance truly notable.
Adam: Jennifer Connelly, "A Beautiful Mind". I loved Smith's hilarious snob routine, but Connelly is one of the few "next big things" who deserves the title. She's more beautiful and more talented than most well-known actresses. Thankfully, she's also willing to take more chances, as evidenced by her complex portrayal of Alicia Nash, a loving wife whose devotion is tested by her husband's debilitating mental illness.
Will Win: Connelly. This is the one category where the Academy loves a surprise. Remember Mercedes Ruehl's win for "The Fisher King"? I didn't think so. But Connelly has already won the Golden Globe, the British Academy Award, and the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award. Why not add another statue to her overcrowded mantle? (AK)