By Noah Forrest Forrest@moviecitynews.com
Redoing the 2001 Oscars
Okay, here’s the second installment in my daily series leading up to the Oscar telecast in which I look at the nominees from recent Oscar years and re-vote on the big six categories with my committee of one. The rule that I gave myself is that I would accept the original nominees and try to find a deserving winner among them, rather than just-redoing the whole Oscars from scratch. 2001 – covering the year 2000 at the movies – was a fairly weak Oscar year in my opinion, but let’s check it out.
The nominees were: Gladiator (which won), Chocolat, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, Traffic
Shoulda Been Nominated: Requiem for a Dream, High Fidelity, Wonder Boys, The Virgin Suicides, Almost Famous, Dancer in the Dark, Amores Perros, Quills
I would gladly trade out all of the films that were nominated if I could because even the best of them isn’t as good as the ones I listed above that should have been nominated. Alas, I think I’ll have to pick Traffic because it’s just flat-out better in every possible way than Gladiator and the other nominated films. The acting, the cinematography, the writing, and the editing are top-notch and while the ending is a little pat, it’s an exciting and informative look at the drug problem that has run rampant. I think the touch of making the daughter of the drug czar an addict is a little too on-the-nose, but the parts with Benicio Del Toro in Mexico are so stunningly good that I’m willing to overlook some of the weaker aspects of the film. It’s certainly easier to overlook the missteps in Traffic than it is for me to gloss over Russell Crowe’s perpetual yelling and screaming as he fights tigers in Gladiator. Ultimately, it’s a decision based on emotional investment combined with an original take on interesting subject matter. I hadn’t seen a film quite like Traffic before and I’d seen versions of Gladiator quite a few times.
The nominees were: Steven Soderbergh for Traffic (he won), Ridley Scott for Gladiator, Steven Soderbergh for Erin Brockovich, Stephen Daldry for Billy Elliott, and Ang Lee for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
Shoulda Been Nominated: Darren Aronofsky for Requiem for a Dream. It’s a crime that the Academy could find room for him on their list, considering his visionary work on a film that lingers in one’s mind not just for days, weeks or months, but forever.
I think the Academy made the right move here in giving Soderbergh the Oscar for Traffic. A lot of pundits at the time thought it would be possible for Soderbergh to win because he was competing against himself and there were a lot of whispers that it would be Scott or Lee. But the Academy wisely chose the film that was bold and original. Soderbergh pulled double-duty too, as he was the cinematographer on the film as well and he did a fantastic job, giving each section of the film a different color scheme. The Academy idiotically ignored his DP work, but they made up for it by realizing he succeeded and pulled off a much more difficult task in the making of Traffic than his competitors.
The nominees were: Russell Crowe for Gladiator (he won), Javier Bardem for Before Night Falls, Tom Hanks for Cast Away, Ed Harris for Pollock, Geoffrey Rush for Quills
Shoulda Been Nominated: Michael Douglas for Wonder Boys. It’s really a shame that Wonder Boys got no love from the Academy considering it’s really such a wonderful film and one of my favorite movies about writing. Douglas makes that film work and from the instant he appears on screen, we believe him as a character. He’s complicated and Douglas wisely underplays many of his scenes, rendering possibly ugly demons somewhat endearing. Grady Tripp is one of the best film characters of the decade and Michael Douglas is a big part of the reason why.
Honestly, I would give this Oscar to any of the nominees other than Russell Crowe. Crowe was excellent the year before in The Insider and is quite good the following year in A Beautiful Mind, but his performance in Gladiator doesn’t seem all that strong to me outside of his muscles. He grunts, he growls, he fights real well with a sword, but I never really felt like his longing for his dead wife was anything more than a plot device. It’s a film that isn’t about heart or head, but about testosterone and I can’t reconcile giving an Oscar to someone for starring in a film of that nature. If I had to pick one of the other nominees, it’s gotta be Bardem for his soul-tugging and eye-opening performance as Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas in Julian Schnabel’s brilliant Before Night Falls. Bardem’s Arenas contains multitudes and we see him as not some martyr, but as a flesh and blood human being who sees the world in such a different and arresting way. Bardem is subtle yet passionate, quiet yet fiery, able to convey the fact that he has words swirling about his head in a frenzy. In other words, it’s the opposite of Crowe in Gladiator.
The nominees were: Julia Roberts for Erin Brockovich (she won), Juliette Binoche for Chocolat, Joan Allen for The Contender, Ellen Burstyn for Requiem for a Dream, and Laura Linney for You Can Count on Me
Shoulda Been Nominated: Bjork for Dancer in the Dark. Lars von Trier’s film is haunting and beautiful in its ugliness. The reason there is any beauty at all in this squalid film is because of the presence and the voice of Bjork, who is such a shining beacon in this dingy and depressing film that it elevates the material. The film of Lars von Trier need to have female leads who can bring some hope to the hopelessness and Bjork does it better than any of the others.
Honestly, this was a pretty solid year for the Academy in this category. All five of these performances are worthy of being nominated. I can’t get too down on the Academy for giving Julia Roberts her first Oscar for a performance that was pretty damn good. However, it just wasn’t nearly as good as Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream, who does such a stunning downward spiral in this film that it’s always disconcerting to watch the beginning of the film again, reminding yourself that at one point in the film she’s almost normal. The film does a miraculous job of showing how drugs influence and tear us down, but it’s in Ellen Burstyn’s arc that we see just how insidious it can be. At the beginning of the movie, she’s just a regular blue-collar Jewish Brooklyn mom dealing with the stress of having a drug addict for a son who steals her television. By the end of the film, she’s that crazy person everyone avoids sitting next to on the subway. The amazing part of Burstyn’s performance is that she’s able to connect that beginning and end. We see her journey to hell and we believe it every step of the way.
Best Supporting Actor
The nominees were: Benicio Del Toro for Traffic (he won), Willem Dafoe for Shadow of the Vampire, Joaquin Phoenix for Gladiator, Jeff Bridges for The Contender, Albert Finney for Erin Brockovich
Shoulda Been Nominated: Jack Black for High Fidelity. That’s not a joke. I know that Black’s routine has gotten a little bit stale, but I think this (and School of Rock) were the best use of his talents because it gives him limits. He does what a supporting character should do…provide support. In this particular instance, the support comes in the form of his comedic sensibility. He plays the ultimate elitist music snob and he’s just a joy to behold every time he’s on screen.
I think all of these performances are pretty damn good and as much as I want to overrule the Academy at every step, the definitely picked the right winner. Del Toro conveys so much with those expressive eyes of his and it’s especially evident in Traffic. But the other thing that’s arresting about Del Toro’s peformance in this film is the way he moves about. We can always tell him apart from the criminals and other bad guys because of the way he walks, almost like John Wayne…a purposeful yet almost sloppy gait. Del Toro is almost always worthy of our attention, but he has yet to be more magnetic than he was in Traffic.
Best Supporting Actress
The nominees were: Marcia Gay Harden for Pollock (she won), Kate Hudson for Almost Famous, Frances McDormand for Almost Famous, Julie Walters for Billy Elliott, Judi Dench for Chocolat
Shoulda Been Nominated: Kate Winslet in Quills. She was so excellent as the innocent chambermaid to the infamous – and imprisoned – Marquis De Sade, sneaking his manuscripts out to be published and enjoyed by his many readers. This is a character that very easily could have been forgettable, but Winslet is such a strong actress that she becomes not only interesting but integral.
I honestly don’t remember much of the movie Pollock, but I do remember that I liked it. However, I really can’t picture Marcia Gay Harden in it. She’s a fantastic actress, but I have to think my lack of memory can’t bode well for her performance. As terrible as Kate Hudson has been in almost every movie since Almost Famous, she clearly gave the most indelible and iconic performance of the bunch and deserved the Oscar. Even if you only saw all of these movies once, you’d remember Kate Hudson as Penny Lane years later, even as you were forgetting all the others. The scene where she learns that she’s been sold to Humble Pie for fifty bucks and a case of beer is heartbreaking in the way she plays it. She smiles through the tears that she can’t help and then says, wiping the tears away gracefully, “What kind of beer?” Future viewings have had me changing my mind, back and forth, about whether I like Penny Lane as a person. The first few times, I was in love with her. The next few times, I detested the way she uses William Miller for her own self-interest. But recently, I’m just realizing that she’s a lost and lonely kid, trying so hard to be a grown-up.
What do you guys think?