|IT'S LIKE HIGH SCHOOL ALL OVER AGAIN! WHO SHOULD REALLY WIN OSCAR THIS YEAR, BUT WON'T.|
|By Steve Schurr||
The Oscars are designed to break movie lovers' hearts:
We seek adjudication on the year in movies from the people who brought us Kangaroo Jack. We print Oscar pool lists and guess what will win -- not what deserves to win, but what Hollywood will pick. Every year, I end up pondering: Why the low correlation between Oscar darlings and movies that stand the test of time?
Ask a high-school class to name the most exceptional student -- the one they'll remember in 50 years. Chances are, students would pick the most popular kid or the one that wears his pretensions to greatness on his sleeve. Hollywood is, Martin Mull said, high school with money -- and the Oscars are prom court.
And the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science's student body of 5,607 voters usually usher in whatever's the trendiest pick in the one-month window they're given to vote on these things.
Run down the Oscar winners from the past 15 years.
Who voted for the English Patient? Dances With Wolves over Goodfellas? Not even nominating Miller's Crossing?
American Beauty -- a film far more superficial than the suburbs it satirized -- won in 1999, a year that included Three Kings, The Matrix, Sweet and Lowdown and Sixth Sense. Even American Pie was a superior movie.
It gets worse when you look at the nominated versus the non-nominated movies. Nominees include: Chocolat, Cider House Rules, Godfather III, Pretty Woman, The Green Mile. Non-nominees: Usual Suspects, Rushmore, Truman Show, Bulworth, Do the Right Thing, Thelma & Louise. By my reckoning, over the past 15 years, the Academy has gotten Best Picture right twice -- and the list of losers and non-nominees has the lion's share of classics. (And you can see for yourself, in this sidebar. --Ed.)
This year looks no better. So, instead of merely making Oscar guesses -- something pros do with greater accuracy -- I'll predict where Oscar will get it wrong. That way, this column can have a longer shelf life -- readers will have to wait at least 10 years to tell me how wrong I was.
And the best picture is? Chicago.
But will Oscar stand the test of time?
Pundits said the tiresome, MTV/ADD-addled Moulin Rouge would revive the musical genre, but Chicago may actually do so. We live in an age when people don't cotton to non-animated characters breaking into song, so that is no small feat. Consider the directors who couldn't do so during the past 25 years: Scorsese (New York, New York), Coppola (One From the Heart), Brooks (I'll Do Anything), Altman (Popeye), Huston (Annie).
Forget any bilge about the movie as a comment on our celebrity-obsessed culture: Chicago is popcorn. The Academy should recognize a great piece of popcorn now and then. Chicago has enough going for it to win, but I don't think it should.
Why? Great movies do many things: entertain, provoke, weave a great story, illuminate the human condition, change one's perspective on life. Chicago did one of these things: entertain, exceedingly well. I found other films this year more entertaining -- including several that do much more than entertain alone.
Of the nominees, the one that will be remembered most in 50 years is Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. While the movie suffers a bit from being one giant Act II -- no real beginning or ending -- in a three-act structure, it confirms that Peter Jackson is constructing the greatest trilogy in movie history after the Godfather series. (You heard me, Star Wars freaks.)
If the Academy's choices reflected my five favorite movies, About a Boy, Secretary, Y Tu Mama Tambien, The Quiet American and Far From Heaven would be the nominees. About a Boy is the best Billy Wilder comedy since The Apartment, and my favorite movie of 2002.
Best Director? Rob Marshall for Chicago.
In this popularity contest, think of Miramax as the bully who hangs out next to the voting booth to ensure things go his way. But I think its push for Martin Scorsese will fall short.
Gangs of New York is the only Gawd-awful major nominee. I can't say much more than David Denby in The New Yorker or William Goldman in Variety. By my reckoning, Scorsese should have three awards -- for Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas. But it's wrong to give him one for making the kind of lousy movie that usually beats great films like the ones for which he should've won. The script is a patchwork of stories that left frayed plotlines all over the screen. The incoherent rendering of the draft riots plays like an apologia for America's worst north-of-Mason-Dixon act of racism-inspired mayhem. This is a bad movie -- if it wins, it would be the worst movie to ever land a Best Director award (OK, I didn't see Norman Taurog's Skippy in 1931 or Frank Borzage's Bad Girl the following year). Also, the campaign implies the great director doesn't have it in him to make another movie to merit an Oscar, which I doubt.
I'm guessing Chicago's Rob Marshall gets it. I think the right choice would have been Alfonso Cuaron for Y Tu Mama Tambien -- the greatest teen-sex movie ever, surprising viewers with its creeping intimations of mortality.
Best Actor? Jack Nicholson for About Schmidt.
It's hard to say awarding Nicholson is ill-advised. His subtle work in About Schmidt reminded me of his pre-iconic days of Five Easy Pieces and Chinatown. Hollywood prostrates itself before him -- he gets a front row seat even in years when he makes stinkers -- so I'm betting he'll win.
Nicholson wouldn't be my choice. I found the movie suffered by playing the minor characters -- the mulloted son-in-law in particular -- as broad jokes, which left Nicholson little to play off of. Also, this wasn't a "can't take my eyes off it" performance. I found Anthony Hopkins in Remains of the Day and William Hurt in Accidental Tourist endlessly more compelling studies of men defined by inaction.
If I had a vote, I'd cast it for Michael Caine. He knows how to deliver a good line, and gets plenty in The Quiet American. This is a movie that should have provoked discussion -- on our Vietnam sojourn and our impending nation-building in Iraq. It's also a gripping movie that boasts a parenthesis-worthy performance by Caine -- when his name is mentioned in print, this is the movie that gets put in parenthesis. He won't win, because they gave him an Oscar three years ago for his ridiculous performance in the maudlin Cider House Rules. Pity.
I also would have thrown a nomination Hugh Grant's way for About a Boy. It's a great star turn -- I'll bet it ends up as his parenthesis movie, too.
Best Actress? Renee Zellweger for Chicago.
When this Oscar season started, I figured Nicole Kidman was a shoo-in for The Hours, even though I didn't think she deserved it -- to me, all three actresses gave supporting performances and hers wasn't the strongest. Now, with the Chicago juggernaut, it appears Zellweger will be the undeserving winner.
That's not to say she wasn't solid in the movie. I think Zellweger is the best comedic actresses since at least Woody-era Diane Keaton. However, Roxie Hart is a reed-thin character -- and I don't mean weight. Zellweger plays her empty ambition just right, but like the rest of the film the role lacks heft.
Of the nominees, my favorite performance is Julianne Moore's in Far From Heaven. Moore really nails the quiet desperation of the 1950s suburban housewife. Forget the Harlequin Romance-vareity Unfaithful, which even Diane Lane can't salvage. Moore's scenes with Dennis Haysbert -- chaste but full of longing -- are the most erotic scenes of the year. Like all great movies about unrealized passions, you longed for them.
But the best lead performance of the year by a mile -- male or female -- was Maggie Gyllenhaal's amazing work in Secretary. The movie rests on her shoulders -- including two awkward scenes that rely almost entirely on close-ups of her bemused, shocked and ultimately aroused expression. Thanks to her -- and James Spader -- a pervy fairy tale about self-mutilation and S&M was 2002's funniest, most romantic movie.
Best Supporting Actor? Chris Cooper for Adaptation.
This is the one case where Oscar and me will probably think alike. As John Laroche, Cooper makes a toothless hick sexy. Movies is magic. Whoever the genius was in Hollywood who passed over scenery-chewers like Kevin Spacey (What happened to him?) and handed this part to great character actor Cooper deserves a special citation.
This is usually my favorite category, and the one that Hollywood tends to get right more often than not: Benicio del Toro in Traffic, Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda, Spacey in Usual Suspects -- yes, he was good once. This year, I am a little disappointed. Ed Harris overacted in The Hours -- the movie lingered on the life's ellipses, and his performance was all jarring exclamation points. His slot should've gone to cast mate Stephen Dillane as Leonard Woolf. I also would've nominated Dennis Quaid and Haysbert for Far From Heaven and, lastly, Michael Ealy as Barbershop's erstwhile con trying to start over. He imparted a lot more into the character than was in the script. I may be way off, but he struck me as a star in the making.
Best Supporting Actress? Catherine Zeta-Jones for Chicago.
This, as usual, is a difficult-to-predict category. It's within the realm of possibility that About Schmidt's Kathy Bates, Adaptation's Meryl Streep or Julianne Moore from The Hours could win, depending on which way the wind is blowing among voters. Queen Latifah, who was great in Living Out Loud, is the only long shot here.
If I were voting, I would give the award to Julianne
Moore in The Hours. I also think two performances were overlooked
in this category: The great Toni Collette's sad-sack vegan mom in About
a Boy and Patricia Clarkson's fair-weathered friend in Far From
Steve Schurr is a journalist and screenwriter who has written about movies for various publications, including the Wall Street Journal.