Saturday, February 7, 2015

If I picked the Oscars: 2005

As the countdown to this year's Oscars telecast on February 22 continues, I've started analyzing 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 started this series looking at the winners from 2000, and this time I'll look at the 2005 Oscars. As I said previously, I'd love to know your thoughts!

Best Picture
The nominees for Best Picture that year were: Brokeback Mountain; Capote; Crash; Good Night, and Good Luck; and Munich. The winner, much to the surprise of many prognosticators, was Crash. (My favorite movie of the year, A History of Violence, wasn't even nominated. That movie, believe it or not, ranked #2 on my list of my top 50 movies of the decade, but I guess the members of the Academy didn't agree.)

My choice: Since I can't vote for the aforementioned A History of Violence, I'd choose Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture. Some said it didn't win because many of the older members of the Academy weren't comfortable with a film about homosexuality winning Best Picture; others felt that Crash won because it touched on a number of heady themes, plus it starred most of Hollywood. I found Brokeback Mountain beautifully told and acted, gorgeously filmed (and the Oscar-winning score by Gustavo Santaolalla definitely added to the mood), and utterly heartbreaking. It was just an excellent story; it didn't make a real statement about homosexuality.

Best Actor
The nominees were: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Capote; Terrence Howard, Hustle and Flow; Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain; Joaquin Phoenix, Walk the Line; and David Strathairn, Good Night, and Good Luck. (Interestingly, three of the five nominees this year played celebrities.) Hoffman took home the Oscar for his spot-on portrayal of Truman Capote struggling to write In Cold Blood. (I would have loved to have seen Viggo Mortensen get a nomination for A History of Violence, and Eric Bana was quite good in Munich as well.)

My choice: I thought Hoffman was good, but I wasn't as wowed by his performance as others were. I thought Ledger and Phoenix gave the best performances in this category, and while I was wowed by Phoenix's dynamic portrayal of Johnny Cash, ultimately I chose Ledger. His performance as the taciturn cowboy who finally realizes what he's been missing all along, but can't bring himself to admit it to the world, is beautiful, masterful, and haunting. It's such a quiet performance, but I'm reminded of so many moments—the scene where he finds the jacket belonging to his former lover never fails to choke me up. While Ledger was amazing in his Oscar-winning role in The Dark Knight, he should have won the Oscar in 2005 as well.

Best Actress
The nominees in this category were: Judi Dench, Mrs. Henderson Presents; Felicity Huffman, Transamerica; Keira Knightley, Pride and Prejudice; Charlize Theron, North Country; and Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line. Witherspoon won the Oscar for her portrayal of a young June Carter Cash.

My choice: I thought Witherspoon was good, but this performance was really more of a supporting performance than a lead, and honestly, it seems a travesty that she won an Oscar for this movie but Joaquin Phoenix didn't. I honestly believe this award was in recognition of Witherspoon's growth as an actress more than the performance. I would have voted for Felicity Huffman in Transamerica. She gave such a complex performance as Bree, a pre-operative transsexual who learned she fathered a child some time ago, and finds out he is a hustler working the streets. Huffman is funny, vulnerable, and conflicted, and her performance is one that her work on Desperate Housewives never hinted at. (The film's makeup artist does a great job at playing up her strong features so she looks believable as a man in the process of transitioning.)

Best Supporting Actor
The nominees were: George Clooney, Syriana; Matt Dillon, Crash; Paul Giamatti, Cinderella Man; Jake Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mountain; and William Hurt, A History of Violence. Clooney won the Oscar, and many, including Clooney himself, felt it was a consolation prize for not winning the Best Director prize that year for Good Night, and Good Luck. (He even joked about this in his acceptance speech.)

My choice: While Clooney was good, I would give the Oscar to Matt Dillon. I've been a fan of Dillon's since first seeing him in Little Darlings and My Bodyguard in 1980, but I really was blown away by his performance in Crash. Playing a racist cop who utterly humiliates an African-American woman during a traffic stop and then crosses paths with her in a different way later on, Dillon is tremendously unlikeable yet you can't take your eyes off of him. I wish he'd do more of this type of role, even though he is terrific in comedic roles.

Best Supporting Actress
This year's nominees were: Amy Adams, Junebug; Catherine Keener, Capote; Frances McDormand, North Country; Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardner; and Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain. Weisz won the Oscar, but ironically, while Reese Witherspoon won the Best Actress Oscar for what was essentially a supporting role, Weisz won Best Supporting Actress for a lead role. (This happens quite often at the Oscars.)

My choice: Weisz's performance was really strong, but I just cannot give it an award for supporting actress. In my opinion, the Oscar should have gone to Michelle Williams. Her role is essentially a supporting one; she tries to stoically hold herself together as a woman who finds out that not only has her husband been unfaithful, but he has been unfaithful with another man, and she isn't sure whether she's better off holding her family together and pretending this never happened, or if she should end her marriage. This was Williams' showiest role following her work on Dawson's Creek, and it paved the way for a bevy of strong performances in future years, and the fact that she was playing opposite her real-life love, Heath Ledger, deepened her performance all the more.

Best Director
The nominees were: George Clooney, Good Night, and Good Luck; Paul Haggis, Crash; Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain; Bennett Miller, Capote; and Steven Spielberg, Munich. Lee won the Oscar.

My choice: As I mentioned in my last post, except in very rare cases, I usually think the Best Director and Best Picture Oscar winners should match. So I have no argument with Lee winning the Oscar for directing Brokeback Mountain with such finesse. It's a true testament to his talent that he directed four Best Picture nominees to date—Sense and Sensibility (for which he didn't receive a Best Director nominee for some unknown reason); Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Brokeback Mountain; and Life of Pi.

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