1999 Oscar Race!
It seems weird calling it the 1999 Oscar Race, what with it being 2000 and all, but hey. This race is one of the hardest ones I can recall – before I really cared about movies, I had seen maybe 12% of the offerings and I had emotional reasons to yell at the screen when my favorite horse didn’t win. But now I am supposed to know it all (ha ha you may laugh now) and it seems harder and harder every year. Except Titanic, that was pretty cut and dried.
If you don’t win your office poll, you can at least expound on the virtues of your rightness.
The best part is, since 4/5 of the ballots were lost in the mail initially, one wonders how the vote will turn out – will they get a full count in time? You can bet Price Waterhouse isn’t talking.
1. Best Picture: ”American Beauty,” ”The Cider House Rules,” ”The Green
Mile,” ”The Insider,” ”The Sixth Sense.”
This is the race we are all really excited about, right? Moving drama, scenery chewing, deep introspective verbage, and dead people. Who who who will win? American Beauty, of course, and arguably the first Best Picture winner to really deserve it for years. Come on, think about it – we clearly all loved Titanic (look at the grosses) but it was no Gandhi or Silence of the Lambs. In fact, Lambs is the only reason Sixth Sense could have been nominated – it’s got Bruce Willis and dead people! *I* loved it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the usual Academy fodder. And all the other stuff was just OK. Additionally, the subject matter is most appealing to the representative voters – no abortions, no prisons, no ghosts, no big tobacco – just a mid life crisis in suburbia.
2. Actor: Russell Crowe, ”The Insider”; Richard Farnsworth, ”The Straight
Story”; Sean Penn, ”Sweet and Lowdown”; Kevin Spacey, ”American Beauty”;
Denzel Washington, ”The Hurricane.”
This may be inflammatory, but I call it as I see it – The last time a black man won best actor was Sidney Poitier a thousand years ago. So, the Academy could say “it’s time to reward Denzel for his spectacular work and 3 snubs/nominations” or they could go “we only vote for our own kind” and then it’s between Crowe and Spacey. Spacey’s won before and may some day be the Meryl Streep of Best Actor nominations. Crowe is so unrecognizable from role to role (a compliment) he may accidentally lock himself out by seemingly having no history. Let’s not forget how good 40 yr. old Denzel looked as a hot headed young boxer and then a grizzled con after 16 years in prison, with no makeup (see Makeup nomination for Life). Sean Penn was honored just to be nominated – I think the Academy is still scared of him. And poor Jim Carrey. What does a guy have to do these days?
3. Actress: Annette Bening, ”American Beauty”; Janet McTeer,
”Tumbleweeds”; Julianne Moore, ”The End of the Affair”; Meryl Streep,
”Music of the Heart”; Hilary Swank, ”Boys Don’t Cry.”
I didn’t see Boys Don’t Cry for one reason and one reason only and that is the ending. But all I have heard is Swank Swank Swank, every magazine, every article, every friend who saw the film. If she weren’t in the picture, I would have to say Bening would take it home, (she was just as good as she always is) but McTeer gave me my favorite performance of these actresses in general (not just the films nominated). So, Swank it is. I feel sorry for Julianne Moore since she “deserves” it more than either of them, but neither Magnolia nor End of the Affair were the magnum opus Boogie Nights was. And Oscar loves gender bending!
4. Supporting Actor: Michael Caine, ”The Cider House Rules”; Tom Cruise,
”Magnolia”; Michael Clarke Duncan, ”The Green Mile”; Jude Law, ”The
Talented Mr. Ripley”; Haley Joel Osment, ”The Sixth Sense.”
Jude Law has cleaned up in some pre-Oscar awards races, but I don’t know what everyone is in such a lather about. Tom Cruise has gotten his best reviews in years (including from this reporter) but I feel the Academy won’t cozy up to his unsympathetic character or his C word habit. Haley Joel Osment is my personal choice, but he’s the youngest nominee EVER (he’s 11) and what if that perfect performance was a fluke? I hope not – but hello? Michael Caine any one? He’s 1. old 2. British 3. did a different dialect for the first time in his career and 4. old. The Academy loves a trouper. To me, Caine was Business As Usual, but he is more along their patterns AND he’s a veteran. Michael Clarke Duncan probably won’t get it because it was a Stephen King movie, no matter how nice it was. **BUT** he might because of the split votes among the kid, the misogynist, and the abortionist (and the pretty boy nonentity) – *and* he plays a simpleton. The Academy loves a simpleton!
5. Supporting Actress: Toni Collette, ”The Sixth Sense”; Angelina Jolie,
”Girl, Interrupted”; Catherine Keener, ”Being John Malkovich”; Samantha
Morton, ”Sweet and Lowdown”; Chloe Sevigny, ”Boys Don’t Cry.”
If I could give the award to who deserves it most, it’s Toni Collette, but the Academy won’t pick her, those brutes. Catherine Keener has attracted some attention, but she has been so much better prior to this movie. Angelina Jolie has also picked up some nifty pre-Oscar awards, but I think she suffers from Too Weird syndrome still and the Academy won’t warm up to her. Chloe and Samantha too have gotten some attention – basically everyone is good, probably everyone deserves it equally, and it’s impossible to decide. Sixth Sense as a film got the most nominations so I say, TONI TONI TONI!
6. Director: Sam Mendes, ”American Beauty”; Spike Jonze, ”Being John
Malkovich”; Lasse Hallstrom, ”The Cider House Rules”; Michael Mann, ”The
Insider”; M. Night Shyamalan, ”The Sixth Sense.”
How do we, in the audience, know what makes a great director? How much of the performances on screen does he tease out of an actor, and how much did they fight to represent themselves? How many balls did he have juggling in the air (I am thinking of Titanic, with the water conditions and the FX and the zillions of extras and period details and so on) and how many were handled through brilliant use of resources? I think Spike Jonze made a mess of what could have been something better. I think Hallstrom made the best movie he could make but let the studios muck it up. I have always hated Michael Mann films regardless of who is in them so I think it is him I don’t like. Shyamalan let the actors hold the camera in thrall. Mendes left the characters alone so we could see into their thoughts. Both of these latter two are up for Best Picture, and rarely indeed does the Academy split the vote. Will M. Night get it for working with the kid, and as a consolation prize for not getting Best Picture? Will Mendes get it since he probably will get Best Picture? Tough to say.
7. Foreign Film: ”All About My Mother,” Spain; ”Caravan,” Nepal;
”East-West,” France; ”Solomon and Gaenor,” United Kingdom; ”Under the
I am humiliated to report that I saw none of these, but yet since All About My Mother is the only one that is well known, the only one that all the pre-Oscar awards are crowing about, and all about someone’s mother, guess what?
Ah, writing. So notably absent from so many movies these days. It’s the one universal complaint, I notice. “That would have been great if the dialogue hadn’t been so terrible” can be applied to popcorn sci-fi or heady drama, witless comedy or arch brilliance of humor. These films get nominated for not insulting us, for answering the “what if?” question in a way we’ve never thought of, or just generally wowing us with the poetry of language. Go team.
8. Screenplay (written based on material previously produced or published):
John Irving, ”The Cider House Rules”; Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor,
”Election”; Frank Darabont, ”The Green Mile”; Eric Roth and Michael Mann,
”The Insider”; Anthony Minghella, ”The Talented Mr. Ripley.”
The Green Mile is no Shawshank Redemption. and S.R. didn’t win so what hope does King/Darabont have this year? Plus it was too long. Ripley was talentless. The Insider, well, I don’t know. Angry, manly, last year’s Boiler Room? Plus too close to home, too easy to consult the real people and see what they really said. Cider House was at turns too obvious and too delicate. Election – well, that was a comedy, wasn’t it? It can’t win. It was funny! It’s on all the critics’ lists but it’s been months since it came out – and no real campaigning on that film’s behalf has gone on. I shudder – unless Election does win, it will be a throwaway. It sounds snobby to say, but I fear it’s true.
9. Screenplay (written directly for the screen): Alan Ball, ”American
Beauty”; Charlie Kaufman, ”Being John Malkovich”; Paul Thomas Anderson,
”Magnolia”; M. Night Shyamalan, ”The Sixth Sense”; Mike Leigh,
American Beauty, without a doubt. But every script nominated was worthy worthy worthy and beautifully executed – except maybe BJM, it could have been more…more betterer somehow. It was too dependent on the actual filming of it to make it work; it doesn’t read well at all. Topsy Turvy has enough real vs. fictionalized scenes to render it an original screenplay, but it’s a biopic at its heart. But do see it, it’s marvelous.
10. Art Direction: ”Anna and the King,” ”The Cider House Rules,” ”Sleepy
Hollow,” ”The Talented Mr. Ripley,” ”Topsy-Turvy.”
One of my favorite categories. Anna was gorgeous and fantastic but I think the Academy
will give it to Topsy Turvy because it’s about show business, the movie was critically better received, (though less seen) and the research really showed in this one. Sleepy Hollow was gorgeous and fantastic but people really hated it, and the sad truth is, voters have trouble separating their emotional connection to a movie from its artistic merit. Which is why tripe like The English Patient can win best costume over Restoration (!?!?!?!) and how the Talented Mr. Ripley even got a nomination here. The Cider House Rules suffered from much the same thing. Do I think it’s too recent a time period to be winning-caliber? Heck no – the medical instruments alone got Cider House nominated – but there was so much MORE to Anna and the King, Topsy Turvy, and Sleepy Hollow. Tough call all around, though.
11. Cinematography: ”American Beauty,” ”The End of the Affair,” ”The
Insider,” ”Sleepy Hollow,” ”Snow Falling on Cedars.”
Poor Sleepy Hollow! Given its due in technical and artistic nominations, but always against greater foes. American Beauty’s cinematography was too subtle (like Shawshank Redemption, which should have beaten Legends of the Fall – how hard is it to make Montana look pretty?) for most people to even think of it as having been shot – save the great framing of video image and mirror reflection and TV screen…I hear Snow Falling on Cedars is beautiful to look at and of course I know Sleepy Hollow is fantastic to see. But Hollow owes it more to great Art Direction than great camera work, and I suspect Cedars and Beauty will duke it out in the ballot box. I can’t believe Anna and the King wasn’t nominated – I literally felt weepy looking at that movie (in a good way)!
12. Sound: ”The Green Mile,” ”The Insider,” ”The Matrix,” ”The
Mummy,” ”Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace.”
13. Sound Effects Editing: ”Fight Club,” ”The Matrix,” ”Star Wars –
Episode I: The Phantom Menace.”
Sound vs. Sound Effects Editing. Entertainment Weekly was kind enough to put this in layman’s terms this week, so I will share their wisdom, and then share my thoughts.
“Sound Effects Editing honors the engineers who invent and prepare the ‘unnatural’ sounds.” For example, the roar of a T. rex in Jurassic Park was a whale mixed with a tiger and some mechanical noise if I remember correctly. “Sound, meanwhile, goes to the mixers who put it all together with dialogue, music, visual effects, and foley work” (natural noises). So when you notice the old-fashioned tea kettle in The Sweet Hereafter making a noise like your modern one with a whistle installed, that’s bad Sound. However, loathe as I am to admit it, stuff like force fields and pod races are what Sound Effects Editing is all about. It seems, with these definitions, Fight Club should have been nominated for Sound, and The Mummy for SFX Editing, but hey. It’s down to the Matrix vs. The Force and whoever wins one will win the other, as usual. I loved the pod races.
14. Original Score: ”American Beauty,” Thomas Newman; ”Angela’s Ashes,”
John Williams; ”The Cider House Rules,” Rachel Portman; ”The Red Violin,”
John Corigliano; ”The Talented Mr. Ripley,” Gabriel Yared.
Always a tough category – if you notice the score, then it is failing at its job, which is to supplement the action and provide mood, etc. etc. We get caught up in soundtracks and marketing tie ins but what it means is that John Williams will finally be able to complete his Academy Awards Chess Set (TM) after all these years of terrific work.
15. Original Song: ”Blame Canada” from ”South Park: Bigger, Longer and
Uncut,” Trey Parker and Marc Shaiman; ”Music of My Heart” from ”Music of
the Heart,” Diane Warren; ”Save Me” from ”Magnolia,” Aimee Mann; ”When
She Loved Me” from ”Toy Story 2,” Randy Newman; ”You’ll be in My Heart”
from ”Tarzan,” Phil Collins.
The Golden Globes honored the one who was misplaced-ly nominated – it should have been “Two Worlds” from Tarzan and not “You’ll Be Overplayed On The Radio.” the best part about this category is that no matter who wins, we get to hear them all – and Anne Murray turned down the gig (really!) to sing “Blame Canada,” leaving us wishing, maybe for the first time in our lives, that Celine Dion would perform. My prediction for the winner will be this simple Academy formula: WHEN Nominees includes Alan Mencken THEN Mencken=Winner. WHEN Nominees Includes Randy Newman/Disney THEN Newman = Winner. Sad but true – but at least Randy didn’t sing this time. And the song actually served the film.
16. Costume: ”Anna and the King,” ”Sleepy Hollow,” ”The Talented Mr.
Ripley,” ”Titus,” ”Topsy-Turvy.”
Titus was too cartoony (and, to its detriment, too creative – I’ve seen it hurt films in the past) and a real turn off. Anna was visually exquisite and the Siamese fashion trend in the malls won’t hurt it, but Topsy Turvy (like Elizabeth) covered many aspects of costume, including stage costume, family costume, undergarments, and medical stuff. Again, Sleepy Hollow was divine, and it won’t get it because it’s Tim Burton. A shame a shame. And again, freaking Ripley – I have no idea how it got nominated but if it wins I will just throw up.
17. Documentary Feature: ”Buena Vista Social Club,” ”Genghis Blues,” ”On
the Ropes,” ”One Day in September,” ”Speaking in Strings.”
We all know it will be the much-over-hyped Buena Vista Social Club, so why are we even talking about it? I like the title Genghis Blues, though.
18. Documentary (short subject): ”Eyewitness,” ”King Gimp,” ”The Wildest
Show in the South: The Angola Prison Rodeo.”
Angola won the guy something last year, and the lack of access to this kind of work makes it impossible to guess. Go Rodeo!
19. Film Editing: ”American Beauty,” ”The Cider House Rules,” ”The
Insider,” ”The Matrix,” ”The Sixth Sense.”
American Beauty will either sweep the coin flip categories (and then get snubbed for director/picture) or ONLY get best picture/director and everyone else will split up the “dinky prizes.” But The Matrix is nominated here, and there was a WEE bit of editing in that one, you know, what with the 90 cameras every 3 degrees and all that. BUT they might lose because that kind of digital inference editing is “cheating.” Some editors have judged the Sixth Sense perfect, editing-wise, because every shot is necessary (oh, yeah, remember that rule?) and I vote for that one because the visual communication of that movie is so necessary to be precise. Dang, every year I wish a movie had not come out so another could win. Can’t we have a tie?
20. Makeup: ”Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,” ”Bicentennial Man,”
Fat Bastard. Robot Williams. Old black cons. Light opera with the gout. The Academy never votes according to the more serious conventions of Academy-friendly (which many of these are not, film-wise) or No Comedy Allowed or even the unfortunate continuing prevalence of race bias in the system. But I can tell you one thing: Fat Bastard will not win. Me, I’d give it to Bicentennial Man or Topsy Turvy, I will have to decide myself on the day of. Topsy had more research to do, but B. Man had more creativity to do. Isn’t it interesting that all that showy makeup in Phantom Menace didn’t get a nod (I’m thinking largely of Darth Maul’s pretty groovy face)?
21. Animated Short Film: ”Humdrum,” ”My Grandmother Ironed the King’s
Shirts,” ”The Old Man and the Sea,” ”3 Misses,” ”When the Day Breaks.”
Usually one just picks the Pixar film and that’s that one answered – but this year, no Pixar! Fortunately, Humdrum, by the makers of Wallace and Gromit, is always the backup default contender. Hooray for animation! Boo for how hard it is to get to see it! I really shouldn’t complain, the Oscars are the only major awards that even acknowledge the genre. Soon Best Animated Feature Film will have to be a category. And then, Iron Giant should have taken it this year, despite how delicious Toy Story 2 is.
22. Live Action Short Film: ”Bror, Min Bror (Teis and Nico),” ”Killing
Joe,” ”Kleingeld (Small Change),” ”Major and Minor Miracles,” ”My
Mother Dreams the Satan’s Disciples In New York.”
Hard to say – shorts in general are not presented for Mr. and Mrs. American Audience to peruse and make our own decisions. This category I tend to pick by title, and it’s between Killing Joe and Kleingeld. Since it’s one letter away from “Killing Zoe,” I think Joe’s got it.
23. Visual Effects: ”The Matrix,” ”Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom
Menace,” ”Stuart Little.”
As my sage former roommate quipped, “The whole freakin’ movie was a special effect, how can they not get the award?” To reply, I paraphrase Bart Simpson: It both sucks and blows. It will be a grudge match. The Matrix was infinitely better received and made judicious and delicious use of new technology. However, it was gratuitously violent. Phantom Menace was badly received, used really nice tried and true technology, and was gratuitously pandering. Stuart Little, bless his little heart, was the only one using the new whiz-bang fur textures so convincingly, and since it was a kiddie movie (Star Wars wasn’t?) it will be ignored. “It’s an honor just to be nominated.”
So, as you can see, I’m not sure – why should you be? But seriously folks, this is going to be one edge-of-your-seat broadcast – Annette Bening is way pregnant and presenting, someone will sing the dirty words in “Blame Canada,” and I hear – No Big Musical Number! What will they fill all that empty time with, acceptance speeches? I can’t wait to see Billy Crystal’s parody reel – I imagine he will be playing the plastic bag.