Movie Review
Academy Fight Song - A Non-Definitive Guide to Oscar Night

thank the Lord, they’re back! I know the Academy Awards are an annual thing, but each new installment of sobbing Best Actresses, wildly inappropriate political statements, overblown musical numbers, pathetic “makeup” awards going to long-deserving talents slumming it in roles that should be beneath them, and the horrifying spectacle of Joan Rivers’ reanimated corpse stalking the red carpet, gives me a sense of profound rootedness in a world otherwise gone mad. And of course, the Academy Awards gives us the chance to play everybody’s favorite party game, “Guess Who’s Tanked?” (winner in perpetuity: Jack Nicholson).

The 76th Annual Academy Awards, held Sunday night, will be remembered for three things: Return of the King tying Ben-Hur and Titanic for most golden statuettes ever won by one film, Jim Carrey’s offcolor joke about surprising his sister and her husband while they were having sex (seriously, is this guy the world’s greatest human, or what?), and the continued devolution of Billy Crystal’s hosting performance into a near-self parodic Borscht Belt pile of shit. Apropos of nothing in particular, the man broke out his twenty-five year old impression of Sammy Davis, Jr., for God’s sake! Yo, Billy– the Academy Awards is not an expanded version of the Catskills circuit, and Dean Martin has long since passed onto the Great Martini Shaker in the Sky. Get with the program or we’ll be forced to break out clips of My Giant just as the decision for next year’s Oscar host is being made. If I had my druthers, Steve Martin would return, or the Academy would show some real balls and tap Carrey for the honors (this will never, ever happen).

Enough ranting about Billy. Let’s move on to the picks: those that were made, those that should have been made, and those that were unjustifiably snubbed in the first place. I’m not doing selections for every category, because frankly, a disquisition on “Best Sound Editing” isn’t worth Stylus’ bandwidth, assuming I even knew what the hell the category meant in the first place (which of course I don’t). So, without further ado:

Best Supporting Actor: Tim Robbins, Mystic River

An excellent choice, although Robbins should have been nominated for Best Actor. I thought he anchored the film. Alec Baldwin’s scary-as-hell-yet-somehow-likeable performance in The Cooler also would have been justified. Ken Watanabe was solid in The Last Samurai, but spouting Yoda-like aphorisms at Tom Cruise’s bearded yawp does not an Academy Award justify.

Should have been nominated: Nick Nolte for either Hulk or Northfork, and Leandro Firmino for L’il Ze in City of God. We’ll get to the Academy’s utter screw-job of the latter film in a short while.

Best Supporting Actress: Renee Zellweger, Cold Mountain

This one was a total crapshoot. Zellweger was good in the one 2003 movie I was genuinely shocked I ended up liking. Anthony Minghella plus Epic Literature? It’s usually a “hide the children, three hours of stultifying boredom is upon us” sort of affair. But Cold Mountain was actually kind of entertaining. But I digress.

Should have been nominated: Her Boston accent was hit-or-miss, but Laura Linney’s Lady Macbeth speech while sitting astride Sean Penn in Mystic River alone should have qualified her for this award over her co-star Marcia Gay Harden’s generally overemotive performance.

Best Documentary Feature: Errol Morris, Fog of War

I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t yet seen either this film or Andrew Jarecki’s widely praised Capturing the Friedmans, so I’m not qualified to comment on justice or injustice. But I get the sneaking suspicion that the “controversy” surrounding Jessie Friedman’s protestations of innocence for the child molestations for which he was convicted scared the Academy away from endorsing Capturing the Friedmans. If my suspicion is correct, it confirms the fact that the Academy is made up of a bunch of gutless panderers. Hardly a news flash, I realize.

Incidentally, Errol Morris is one of my all-time favorite directors. So it ranked as my personal biggest disappointment of the evening when he finally won an Oscar and proceeded to reveal himself during the acceptance speech as a self-aggrandizing, braying jackass.

Best Film Editing: Jamie Selkirk, Return of the King

Again, no problem with this pick. But it should have been a much closer count than I suspect it was, with City of God the deserving runner-up. These two films, visually, were head and shoulders above all comers.

Best Original Song: “Into the West,” Return of the King

A quality song, with Annie Lennox doing her typically gorgeous vocal rendering. But to me, a little “meh” overall.

Should have won: “Scarlet Tide,” Cold Mountain. Alison Krauss pulled off the difficult task of making an Oscar song epic but not annoying, and for this she should have been rewarded.

Should have been nominated: “City Girl,” Lost in Translation . Simply because the idea of Kevin Shields winning an Academy Award makes me absolutely giddy.

Best Foreign Film: Denys Arcand, The Barbarian Invasions.

I’m sure this was a fine film. But let me state loudly and unequivocally that City of God got fucked. For some bizarre reason, Fernando Meirelles’ Goodfellas-esque masterpiece was eligible for best foreign film last year. Ok, fine– except it never got nominated. And this year it got nominated for several awards (screenplay, editing, etc.), but was no longer eligible for Best Foreign Film. How this happened, I have not a goddamn clue. But it did, and I’m pissed. City of God should have been a slam-dunk winner in this category if the Academy hadn’t had their collective thumbs up their asses.

Should have been nominated: Fernando Meirelles, City of God. In case the above rant wasn’t sufficiently clear.

Best Cinematography: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

A classic example of the Academy throwing a bone to a technically impressive but wildly overpraised film. ROTK can’t win everything, I suppose.

Should have won: City of God. Another one of those dumbass Hollywood decisions that just makes me ill. I should really be used to it by now. This was a brilliantly shot film in every respect.

Should have been nominated: Return of the King. How can you leave this movie out for ANYTHING technical or visual? Oh, the hell with it...

Best Adapted Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Phillippa Boyens & Peter Jackson, Return of the King.

So ROTK doesn’t even get nominated for cinematography but somehow wins Best Screenplay? Sure, it took some doing to get Tolkien’s mammoth vision chopped down to a film script without sacrificing the heart of the books, but come on. This was not a screenplay movie in any sense of the term.

Should have won: Brian Helgeland, Mystic River. I’m tempted to go for City of God, but most of the dialogue was improvised. Helgeland acquitted himself well in transferring Dennis Lehane’s Shakespearean plot to the screen.

Best Original Screenplay: Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation.

A no-brainer, which means I’m surprised the Academy nailed it. “I’ll bet you guys had a lot in common, like growing up in the 50s” is one of those lines I will forever wish I had written. Go Sofia!

Should have been nominated: David Gordon Green, All the Real Girls. This was a tiny gem of a movie, mostly because of the rough-hewn, naturalistic, yet thoroughly beautiful dialogue. I mean, Finding Nemo was fun, but... I have the depressing feeling none of the Academy members even saw this film, let alone considered it for the Oscar nod it so richly deserved.

Sometimes I hate the film industry.

Best Director: Peter Jackson, Return of the King.

Let’s make one thing clear: Jackson’s artistic success with the LOTR trilogy is one of the most impressive achievements in cinematic history. How can he not win this award? Clint Eastwood did a wonderful job at the helm of Mystic River, but picked the wrong year to make one of his best films. Why Master and Commander was so fawned over is beyond me, so Peter Weir is out. That leaves Sofia, who is truly gifted with actors, but can’t match Jackson’s triumph, and Fernando Meirelles. Now that would have been an intriguing pick, and hats off to the Academy for even nominating him. But even I, as huge a City of God fan as there is, have to give this one to Jackson. But it should have been closer than it was.

Should have been nominated: Ang Lee, Hulk, or Michael Polish, Northfork. Yeah, yeah, yeah... I’m crazy for hyping Hulk so much. But I will stubbornly stand by my argument that this is a fascinating and often brilliantly original adaptation of what could have been just another comic book, and all the credit goes to Lee’s fucked-up yet hypnotic vision. As for Polish, he and his brother Mark are responsible for the spellbindingly strange and beautiful Northfork, which leaves Master and Commander in its dust any day of the week.

And yes, I realize neither one of those directors had a snowball’s chance in Sean Connery’s beard of being nominated for an Academy Award. What can I say? I’m quirky.

Best Actress: Charlize Theron, Monster.

It’s about time the beautiful people in our society got some fucking respect.

Seriously, this was a lock, unless the Academy decided to get dangerously sentimental and reward Diane Keaton in a Nancy (What Women Want) Meyers movie. And the scary thing is, they are entirely capable of doing such a thing. We should all thank God that self-restraint carried the day here.

Should have been nominated: Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation, or Zooey Deschanel, All the Real Girls. OK, so I fell abjectly in love with both of these women for their performances in these movies. That doesn’t mean I’ve lost my objectivity, dammit!

Best Actor: Sean Penn, Mystic River.

He was better in Dead Man Walking, but it’s good to see Penn finally get his statuette. Al Pacino got passed over for The Godfather, Part II and won for Scent of a Woman, so Sean should count his blessings that he at least won for something he basically deserved.

Except... Bill Murray was fucking phenomenal in Lost in Translation, and his unsuccessful attempts to hold back tears after getting beaten out for this award was one of the few genuinely emotional moments of the ceremony (unless you count the gales of laughter that can be inspired by the sight of Tom Cruise decked out in full samurai regalia and looking constipated, which happened every time the Academy showed a Last Samurai clip). For me, the toughest choice of the entire ceremony. I would have been happy either way.

Best Picture: Barrie M. Osborne, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, Return of the King

A mortal lock, with only Mystic River having a slight chance at the upset (not that it would have deserved it). Lost in Translation was the only other film I would have been satisfied to see win. But this was a Hobbit kind of night, and deservedly so.

Should have been nominated: City of God, Northfork, All the Real Girls... hell, the list goes on. As I said before, Return of the King got its just due, but the nominations of Master and Commander and Seabiscuit were nuttier than Mel Gibson’s father. As long as the right film won, however, I can’t complain too much.

And that’s that. Overall, no more rank injustice than is usual for Oscar night, which I guess is a good sign. Incidentally, Return of the King also won a bunch of technical awards. In related news, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

By: Jay Millikan
Published on: 2004-03-03
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