Thursday, February 5, 2015

If I picked the Oscars: 2000

Those of you who know me well are fairly aware of my, ahem, obsession with all things Oscar. Each year I make it a point to see every film nominated for Best Picture, and all of the performances nominated for acting awards, unless it's a movie I really have no desire to see. Oh, and I happen to have among my arsenal of party tricks the ability to tell you who was nominated for Best Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor/Actress, and Director, as well as which films were nominated for Best Picture—since the Oscars began in 1927. (If only there was a use for this knowledge on the open market...)

If you follow the Oscars, you know that while sometimes the actors who win seem to be the clear-cut choice, in some cases actors win to compensate for their not winning when they actually deserved to, or as a reward for a long career. Of course, any award is subjective—sometimes what one person believes is the best performance or the best film another disagrees with.

I've been watching the Oscars since 1982, and it's a rare year when I agree with all of the winners. So with this year's awards telecast a little less than three weeks away, I thought I'd analyze the winners from some previous years and share who I would have picked if I had the chance to vote. (I'll also share my thoughts on performances and films I would have nominated that were passed over.)

I'd love to hear your opinions—I don't expect you to agree with all (or perhaps any) of my choices, but would be interested to hear your thoughts.

So I thought I'd start with the 2000 Oscars.

Best Picture
The five films nominated for Best Picture were Chocolat; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Erin Brockovich; Gladiator; and Traffic. The actual winner was Gladiator. (Truth be told, I would have replaced Chocolat and Erin Brockovich with Almost Famous and Billy Elliott.)

My choice: I would have chosen Ang Lee's magical Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as Best Picture that year. It was my favorite movie of the decade, actually, and in my mind, this is the type of film that makes you love the movies. It's not that Gladiator wasn't good, it's just I felt I'd seen that movie before. But not this one.

Best Actor
The nominees were: Javier Bardem, Before Night Falls; Russell Crowe, Gladiator; Tom Hanks, Cast Away; Ed Harris, Pollock; and Geoffrey Rush, Quills. Crowe's win was a surprise, as many were expecting Hanks to win his third Oscar in less than 10 years.

My choice: I thought Crowe gave a really strong performance, but my vote would go to Ed Harris, for his mesmerizing portrayal of Jackson Pollock, in a movie Harris directed. Harris has done a tremendous amount of under-appreciated work in movies throughout his career, and this was his third of four Oscar nominations to date. (I partially believe that Harris didn't win in 2000 because of his refusal to clap for legendary director Elia Kazan when he received an honorary Oscar the year before, because Kazan testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the height of the Communist scare.) Of course, if I voted every year, I would have given Crowe the Oscar in 2001 for his performance in A Beautiful Mind.

Best Actress
The nominees were: Joan Allen, The Contender; Juliette Binoche, Chocolat; Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream; Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me; and Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich. Roberts cemented her status as both a superstar and a serious actress with her win, on her third nomination.

My choice: Roberts really was great in her portrayal of the real-life crusader for justice, although truth be told, I would have given Roberts the Oscar 10 years earlier, for her quintessential role in Pretty Woman. But if I had a vote, I would have chosen Ellen Burstyn, for her emotion-laden and disturbing performance as a grandmother convinced she is going to appear on television, so she becomes addicted to diet pills in an effort to be sure she'll look her best on the show. It is a performance I still think about, nearly 15 years later, but compared with Roberts' portrayal of Brockovich's triumph over adversity, Burstyn's role—the whole movie, actually—was too dark for the Academy. (I also thought Linney's performance was great in You Can Count on Me.)

Best Supporting Actor
The nominees were: Jeff Bridges, The Contender; Willem Dafoe, Shadow of the Vampire; Benicio del Toro, Traffic; Albert Finney, Erin Brockovich; and Joaquin Phoenix, Gladiator. The Oscar went to del Toro, but interestingly enough, since his role was so central to the plot of the movie, which followed several different stories all at once, the Screen Actors Guild gave del Toro the Best Actor award for this performance.

My choice: I can't disagree with the Academy here. I thought del Toro's performance was brilliant, and interestingly enough, he's one of only five actors to have won an Oscar for a part performed mostly in a foreign language. (Other winners included Sophia Loren for Two Women, Robert De Niro for The Godfather, Part II, Roberto Benigni for Life is Beautiful, and Marion Cotillard for La Vie en Rose.

Best Supporting Actress
The nominees were: Judi Dench, Chocolat; Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock; Kate Hudson, Almost Famous; Frances McDormand, Almost Famous; and Julie Walters, Billy Elliott. Marcia Gay Harden was as shocked as everyone else when she was named the winner—her performance wasn't even nominated for a Golden Globe or a SAG Award. (Hudson won the Golden Globe, while Dench won the SAG.)

My choice: While I thought both Hudson and McDormand (as usual) were excellent in one of my favorite films of the year, I'd agree with the Academy in this category as well. Harden was absolutely riveting as Lee Krasner, Pollock's wife and fellow artist. Her performance is at times quietly powerful, at times fiery, and it packs a real punch—you feel utterly dazed by some of her scenes.

Best Director
The nominees were: Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliott; Ang Lee, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Ridley Scott, Gladiator; Steven Soderbergh, Erin Brockovich; and Steven Soderbergh, Traffic. Soderbergh became the first director since Michael Curtiz in 1938 to be nominated for two different films in the same year, and he won for Traffic. I would have eliminated his other nomination and included Cameron Crowe for Almost Famous.

My choice: I'm a strong believer that wherever possible, the Best Director winner should match the Best Picture winner. I mean, if the movie is the best of the year, doesn't the director help make it so? So with that being said, I'd give Ang Lee the Oscar for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

And there you have it: my picks for the 2000 Oscars. I'll be back in the next day or two with my thoughts on a different year.

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