March 15, 2002

The Best Picture Battle … 2002 OSCARS

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Late February and early March never do seem to bring us too many blockbuster films, unless you consider Dragonfly or Snow Dogs must-sees. Luckily, we can spend our time mulling over last year’s prime films, right up until next Sunday, the night of March 24, when Los Angeles’ new Kodak Theater will host the 74th Annual Academy Awards. After having seen all five Best Picture nominees, perhaps I can offer some valuable insight into the question that will not be answered until late on the 24th, after Whoopi Goldberg’s inside jokes, after the acceptance speeches for the categories — like documentary features — we all so deeply care about, and even after the best actors, actresses, and directors have been decided. Best Picture of 2001: who’s going to win?

Not since 1991 (winner: The Silence of the Lambs) has a movie with the most nominations not won the Best Picture Oscar. This year, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings leads the pack with thirteen nods, while A Beautiful Mind and Moulin Rouge boast eight each. Gosford Park and In the Bedroom round out the five nominees. So, if history is any indication, Lord of the Rings will take home the prize. But note that most of its nominations are in technical fields, while the other four enjoy nominations for their acting performances.

Gosford Park features a collage of characters amidst a murder mystery where the focus is not on the murder, but on the personalities of the suspects themselves. Intriguing throughout, the performances by Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith are deserving of their supporting actress nominations. Furthermore, producer-director Robert Altman paints a beautiful cultural portrait of the upper class dinner parties on one floor and the servants on another. When the sun sets, and the house is seemingly asleep, we are shown that it is actually as wide awake as ever. The large, extravagant mansion becomes a character itself, with its rooms seemingly overflowing with secrets waiting to be told. When they are indeed realized at the conclusion of the film, the effect is satisfying.

After getting by the often hard to understand British accents, we begin to truly care for the characters, and the murder mystery becomes more and more about their interactions. A magnificent script coordinates many characters at once. The Academy will surely appreciate this type of film, and Altman, along with Ron Howard for A Beautiful Mind, is definitely a frontrunner to nab the Best Director award. The tragic portrayal of the human condition will help earn the film points among the voters, but the slowness in the middle of the film may hurt its chances.

If sluggishness keeps any of the five films from an Oscar, the victim will be Todd Field’s In the Bedroom. While the acting performances are subtle and powerful, the film’s monotony unfortunately detracts from what could have been a much better piece. The film depicts the understated explosiveness of parents’ emotions after their son is murdered. They perpetually dwell upon their terrible loss, going so far as helplessly blaming one another. Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson perform impressively, blending an art of expression through silence with their already stellar capabilities. However, while its premise has much potential, the film is probably too grim for Academy voters to hail as the best representative of the industry for the entire year. While In the Bedroom deals with true family issues of responsibility and repentance, the deliberate focus on internalization becomes frustrating. This film is the least likely to win the Academy Award, and if by some extraordinary feat, it does, I will disappear into my bedroom until someone apologizes for the obvious mistake.

Moulin Rouge is perhaps the polar opposite of In the Bedroom. Its incredibly fast pace is entertaining, and Academy voters should adore it. Consider the past winners The English Patient (1996) and Shakespeare in Love (1998). Both films allowed its characters to rise above obstacles and be uplifted by the power of love. Now add bright colors and music to those movies (both of which, as I recall, The English Patient was really lacking), and you get Baz Luhrmann’s magnificently off the wall piece that tells a story of desire and pursuit in a Paris nightclub named The Moulin Rouge. The star courtesan of the club, the now Cruise-less Nicole Kidman, and a dejected writer, played by Ewan McGregor, fall in love in the most unlikely of scenarios. The film’s simple plot boldly challenges the movie and the music industry by creating a beautiful visual blend of the two. Often comical, the film is full of vigor, and even though most critics see this race as being between The Lord of the Rings and A Beautiful Mind, do not count Moulin Rouge out of the dance, so to speak. In this case, the “dark horse” is a ravishing bright red.

The epic adventure that is The Lord of the Rings has rekindled the fantasy genre that was popularized with movies like The Goonies when I was younger. Watching a group of children fight the forces of evil may be formulaic, but people love it. Readers of J.R.R. Tolkien’s book of the same name seem to love the movie, which is a close representation of the text. and the characters. The presentation of the film is, just as Moulin Rouge is, absolutely spectacular. The special effects add dimensions of reality to this fantastical story, and Peter Jackson directs the account with precision. No actor shines above the rest, but all are solid. The point of this movie was never for an exploration in deep symbolism, but instead for the enjoyment of a great story. The Academy will like that the film has such wide appeal, and this may be a factor in their decision. Personally, I think the Best Picture award should go to something more profound, bolder than the retelling of a popular children’s book.

The final nominee, A Beautiful Mind, tells the true story of the tumultuous life of the near-genius and 1994 Nobel Prize winner John Forbes Nash, Jr. All the elements of this film are astounding; the audience goes through a full array of emotions within two hours, and at the end, a touching story, a heart rending adventure, has been told. The film paints character sketches as well as or better than Gosford Park; it often has the solemnity of In the Bedroom; it has the dazzling presentation of Moulin Rouge; and it has a one-man adventure “through the physical, and the metaphysical” that is inspiring. It has all the best elements of the other nominees, and furthermore, the acting and directing are remarkable. Russell Crowe, already an Academy favorite, will likely win his second straight Best Actor award for his accurate, stimulating turn as Nash, while Jennifer Connelly, an acting gem, will win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. As Nash’s love interest and wife, Connelly presents her character with an endearing charm. The film is at some times a thriller, and at others, a grand love story. Mixing elements of every Best Picture winner from the past decade, A Beautiful Mind is a complete package. The script is as extraordinary as Nash’s brilliance; the way in which the audience’s perspective and assumptions are tested is undeniably masterful. Academy voters will also be drawn to this film because of the true story element it adds. If my guess is right, voters will not say no to A Beautiful Mind, which will walk away from the Kodak Theater with many statuettes, the grand prize among them.

Ranking the nominees: 1. A Beautiful Mind, 2. Gosford Park, 3. Moulin Rouge, 4. Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings, 5. In the Bedroom.


Archived article by Avash Kalra