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March 16th, 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 our own.

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