From the tense drama Mystic River to the sincere work of art Lost In Translation, this year’s nominees are among the strongest in years. Though the nominees’ styles are decidedly diverse, they share a rousing theme of embracing hope that actually might not exist. The long shot is, ironically, Seabiscuit, and despite being inspiring and often poignant, I wouldn’t bet on it to win. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World was engrossing, but its formulaic and detached nature will leave it sailing home without the Oscar. Clint Eastwood’s masterfully directed Mystic River, a thrilling and insightful tale examining wrath and vengeance, is carried completely by the superb acting performances of Sean Penn and Tim Robbins. Nevertheless, the real race is between The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Lost in Translation. Return of the King is my hesitant pick to win, but it shouldn’t. It may be an epic and is certainly the most visually dazzling of the nominees, but the fact that it’s the retelling of a rather simple story, and lacks first-rate acting, should allow Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, a tale tinged with sadness and humor simultaneously, to achieve the honor of Best Picture. This sophisticated film shines with artistically shot vignettes that subtly but penetratingly depict the emotional development of the story’s two forlorn characters. The dialogue seems effortless, and the scenes are naturally graceful and poised. The third main character of the film is the city of Tokyo, and the audience is allowed to share in the sensory experiences of the characters in this unfamiliar land. Shots of the skyline at night become symbolically hallucinatory, fitting because the characters are awfully sleep-deprived. The film uses humor to describe problems with relationships and the joys of forming new ones. Bill Murray is brilliant, and the most touching scene of the year is at the bittersweet end, when Murray’s character, Bob Harris, whispers in Charlotte’s ear, but we don’t hear or know what he says. Perhaps he said, “I love you,” or perhaps, “I won’t forget you.” Or maybe he said, “We’re going to win the Oscar.”
Clint Eastwood should wrangle this one, but his wins for 1992’s Unforgiven will prohibit another victory. In the absence of the stoic aged director reaping rewards for his entire career, it’s going to be between Peter Jackson and Sofia Coppola. Jackson is incredibly ugly. Also, he’s made some of the worst movies in all of recorded human history. Luckily, these qualities appeal to Oscar voters who replaced their critical minds with caviar cocaine. Sofia has an advantage with the whole only-American-female ever nominated. Being a member of an elite film family doesn’t hurt either. These two seem especially promising in the company of a director who made a film about killing children for drugs. Also, they would never give an Oscar to someone named Fernando Meirelles. And then there’s Peter Weir for Master & Commander. I liked that movie the first time when Russell Crowe was saving the Roman Empire and avenging his family’s death. Oh wait, that was Gladiator, L.A. Confidential, Romper Stomper, and every Russell Crowe movie ever. Worst director of the year: Russell Crowe.
Nothing spells Oscar like gaining thirty pounds, rolling around in mud, killing johns, dating a professional skateboarder, being the most attractive woman in the country, and six little letters. Charlize Theron accomplished all this, and still managed to visit every single talk show on television and blackmail the Academy into voting for her. All this would lead one to believe Theron basically has this category all wrapped up in her expensive Gucci hair conditioner. Almost supernaturally, she actually deserves it. The Best Actress nominations were rather lackluster this year. Diane Keaton and Samantha Morton seem to have been voted in more for their prior work than their actual performances, and they nominated a little kid for Whale Rider. She carries on the proud tradition of rewarding small children for doing summersaults and wanting to be a boy. In the midst of this nomination catastrophe, they left out Scarlett Johansson for Lost in Translation, a performance that was the perfect foil to Bill Murray’s wry malaise. And never mind that Uma Thurman actually managed to escape Quentin Tarantino’s rabid stick-figure kung fu with her integrity, mysteriousness, and sincerity intact. Anyone can pretend to be an immigrant mom in New York City; it takes skill to play someone choking on their own blood in a sword hurricane.
Johnny Depp, Ben Kingsley, and Jude Law were superb in their films this year but this year’s race is a toss-up between Bill Murray, for Lost in Translation, and Sean Penn, for Mystic River. I’m going to cheat here and say that they both deserve it equally. Penn displays the dark side that we saw in Dead Man Walking and is able to evoke the emotion of losing a daughter in a raw, tender way that almost makes you forget he is just acting. Murray’s radiant performance is authentic and heartfelt, merging humor and misery. Great acting performances stem from great scripts, and these two characters were exceptionally well-conceived. Who will win? I’ll go with Murray, only because he seemed more natural. His apathetic yet sentimental facial expression manages, somehow, to add depth to his character and to the film in a truly breathtaking and consistently amusing way.
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Alright, let’s be practical and let’s be logical. Tim Robbins is going to win. Don’t even try to convince me otherwise because I’ve heard all your protests before. What about Ken Watanabe, the dark horse who stole the show in The Last Samurai? What about Djimon Hounsou, who gave new meaning to the word “tortured artist”? Alas, do not try to fight it because Tim Robbins, actor, director, and wife of Susan Sarandon, has had this one a long time coming. In this day and age, “unattractive” might as well be a synonym for “Oscar winner” because only a true actor, committed to their craft would shirk the trappings of Hollywood hotness to play, God forbid, ordinary looking people. Does this mean that Ren