February 12, 2004

Take One

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The Academy Awards are rapidly approaching, especially since the special night, on which numerous eight-and-a-half-pound golden statuettes will be handed out for exciting categories such as Best Short Film and Best Makeup, has been permanently moved up, from the final Sunday of March to the final Sunday of February, this year on the dubious 29. The films being considered this year are impressive and inspiring, but more on that later. And the nominations for 2003 are, much like for any year, not without substantial controversy. For example, the snubs of Cold Mountain, Russell Crowe (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World), and Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation) are all utterly inexplicable, as are the undeserved inclusions of Seabiscuit and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Allowing time for a double take). No, that is not a terribly long typo that coincidentally spelled out the title of one of the most popular films of the past several years. Let me explain why Return of the King should not be considered for the distinction of Best Picture of 2003, even as it’s the early odds-on-favorite to win anyhow.

I should preface all this by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed this final installment of the trilogy. It was, to put it simply, one of the grandest, most dazzling spectacles ever displayed in cinema; it was breathtaking, captivating and a more than satisfactory re-telling of the final part to a great story. But, in my opinion, there is one slight problem. It’s only a third of a picture, and each third is simply unable to adequately stand by itself as a film. Really, The Lord of the Rings is one classic, ambitious, epic nine-hour film that, as a whole, deserves the Best Picture award. The second and third installments are not sequels in the traditional sense, as were the follow-ups to The Godfather; instead, they are mere continuations that, by themselves, are not very meaningful at all. Therefore, I recommend Return of the King as the Best One Third of a Picture of 2003.

Moving on now, I mentioned before that the array of films being considered by the Academy this year is impressive. But do they compare at all to some of the exceptional films and performances that we’ve seen over the past decade? That’s debatable, yet the acting in the dark and masterfully engrossing Mystic River and the overall work of the sophisticated, bittersweet gem Lost in Translation might come close. One often hears pointed opinions such as, “Such and such movie would easily have won Best Picture if it were nominated in that year,” or “Such and such movie was only nominated because it was a weak year for films.” The former comment could be applied to, say, Saving Private Ryan, which did not win in 1998, but might have in 1992, when Unforgiven won Best Picture. Well, what might the list of nominees be if there was an Academy Awards show that actually considered all films from the past 10 years?

For Best Actor, the nominees might be: Tom Hanks (Philadelphia), Sean Penn (Dead Man Walking), Jack Nicholson (As Good As It Gets), Roberto Benigni (Life is Beautiful), and Edward Norton (American History X).

For Best Actress, the nominees: Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking), Gwyneth Paltrow (Shakespeare in Love), Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry), Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball), and Nicole Kidman (The Hours).

And for Best Picture of the Decade: Schindler’s List, The Shawshank Redemption, Good Will Hunting, Life is Beautiful, and American Beauty.

The winners are, of course, complete toss-ups. Just for fun, my votes would go to Benigni, Sarandon, and Schindler’s List. Similarly, many categories this year are toss-ups too.

The Academy Awards will come and go as they always do, with unnecessarily long speeches early in the evening that force an invisible orchestra to begin playing when the “important people” are accepting awards later in the night. And when that evening eventually ends, so begins the race for Best Picture of 2004. So far, the poignant story of one of the greatest sports moments of all time, Miracle, will linger in my mind for a while, with its authentic and stirring re-telling of the 1980 “miracle on ice,” in which a group of amateurs representing the United States defeated the seemingly unbeatable Soviet Union in ice hockey. Will I be mentioning Miracle in this column a year from now? Who knows? But one thing I do know is that it definitely could have won Best Picture if it were nominated in 1992