2001- The Academy Awards reviewed by Bill Nichols
AT THE OSCARS
It's time to handicap the Oscars.
First, we should be very clear that Year 2000 was not a bumper crop. 1999
was the year we had a slew of terrific films from the wildly implausible
BEING JOHN MALKOVICH to the powerfully moving BOYS DON'T CRY. This
year has little with the depth and range of THE LIMEY and THREE KINGS,
let alone AMERICAN BEAUTY. Be that as it may, we must take up the
challenge of outguessing the Academy and registering some preferences of
Best Picture: let's drop CHOCOLATE—too
much the fairy tale, and CROUCHING TIGER—subtitles, and ERIN BROCKOVICH—that's
Julia's movie. That leaves GLADIATOR AND TRAFFIC and the winner will
be a good sign of whether Hollywood is ahead of or behind the social curve.
A vote for GLADIATOR is a vote for SPARTACUS and the surge and splendor
of spectacle at its best. A vote for TRAFFIC is a vote for Today
seen with a fresh eye and a fresh voice. I vote for TRAFFIC and I'm
betting, a little against the house I suspect, that the Academy will see
it my way.
Best Actor is easy to handicap (easy,
of course, to say: we'll see if it bears out). Javier Bardem and
Geoffrey Rush star in offbeat vehicles that won't draw the crowds that
go with the Top Banana of the Male Actors. Hanks, well, I doubt the
Academy wants to act as if there are no other male actors worthy of Oscar.
That leaves two men in two ultra macho roles laced with streaks of vulnerability
and suffering. Ed Harris is brilliant as Jackson Pollock but the
film is a downer; the man self-destructs. Russell Crowe is terrific
as our Gladiator hero and he dies a far nobler death at the hands of his
despicable enemy. I'm guessing Crowe all the way on this one.
Best Actress will also be known as "The
Year I Had to Compete Against Julia, Alas". I can't imagine any one
but Julia Roberts winning for ERIN BROCKOVICH although Juliette Binoche
should win for sheer radiant beauty, Laura Linney for her controlled but
complex range of emotion in an ensemble part, Ellen Burstyn for her descent
into drug hell, and Joan Allen for the intense, even if wishful, dignity
she brings to political office.
Best Supporting Actor and Actress are
much closer calls in my view, although if Benicio Del Toro can win Best
Actor as the Screen Actor's Guild ceremony, he seems a shoe-in for best
supporting actor at the Oscars. He leaves in his dust, however, four other
superb performances, but the others are more classical. None has
the breathless sense of the world weary but principled cool of a man who
would rather die a thousand deaths than show a trace of emotional vulnerability.
Supporting Actress is also a tough one, without anyone actress blowing
us away. My own favorite is Kate Hudson in ALMOST FAMOUS partly because
Frances McDormand in the same movie and Julie Waters in BILLY ELLIOT may
cancel each other out with similar roles, Marcia Gay Harden's character
dwells too much on dependency in the guise of protectiveness, in POLLOCK,
and Judi Dench has less to work with in CHOCOLAT.
There are lots more categories but that's
probably more than enough to prove me wrong several times over. We'll
all see what the Academy thinks soon enough and then the debates can begin
again. Looking at movies that look at the world, for KUSP and the
film gang, this is Bill Nichols.
c 2001 Bill Nichols