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Inside Oscar 

by Ed Symkus & amp; Ray Pride


Ed's Oscar Picks -- Biggest gripe: Whoopi Goldberg as the hostess of the ceremony. She's not funny, always waits too long, stares too hard, for the audience to get her jokes. If only Bob Hope would consider hosting again, or Johnny Carson, or Dave. Am I the only person that liked Letterman's antics back in 1995?


But before any more complaints, let's get to what this is all about -- your bleary-eyed critic's guesses at what will happen, and what I wish would happen, at this year's Academy Awards festivities, set for 5 pm on Sunday night, March 24.


The big event is taking place in a sparkling new facility, the Kodak Theater, right smack in the middle of Hollywood, and movie producer Laura Ziskin (To Die For, Spiderman) is promising that this, her first Oscarcast, is going to be "filmcentric." That sounds like a good thing. But it's hard to tell if head writer Bruce Villanch is just joking when he hints that there's going to be a Freddy Got Fingered dance number. Please let him be joking.


The one thing I have no problems at all with is that the Academy is honoring Robert Redford with an honorary Oscar. Should've happened long ago. He's a class act, a solid actor and an interesting -- if not always successful -- filmmaker.


That said, on with the predictions, and accompanying agreements or rolling eyes. Because I'm in some emotional turmoil over this, I'll stick to just the top six categories, pointing out first who will win and then, if necessary, complaining about who should win.


Supporting Actress -- Jennifer Connelly, who showed more sides of her character's personality than the number of people her schizophrenic husband thought he had running after him in A Beautiful Mind, will grab the honors. And I agree with that choice, although I do have to wonder why Cate Blanchett didn't get a nomination for her feisty performance in Bandits. And wouldn't it be wild if Marisa Tomei "wins" again?


Supporting Actor -- Ben Kingsley, who just ate up everything onscreen in Sexy Beast, will get the nod. Among the others nominated, I would gladly give it to Ian McKellen for what he made of Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring. But again, there's someone missing from the list. He may have been under a lot of make-up and he may have overacted shamelessly (just like he should have), but Tim Roth should have been nominated for his outrageous monkeyshines as the villain in Planet of the Apes.


Actress -- I don't get it. First of all, this is the category that Jennifer Connelly should have been in -- not supporting. Second, only two of the names even belong on the nomination list. So between Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge and Sissy Spacek in In the Bedroom (and believe me, I'm really stretching on Spacek; that film annoyed the hell out of me), I think it will go to Spacek. Also missing from the list is my choice, Helena Bonham Carter for her daring portrayal of a very bad girl in Novocaine.


Actor -- Speaking of bad girls, it seems that Russell Crowe is never going to stop being a bad boy (never mind stealing people's wives, now he's either sulking at award ceremonies or throwing fits on whoever "crosses" him). He could've won (and maybe really should) for A Beautiful Mind, but the gold will now go, quite deservedly, to Denzel Washington for his edgy cop in Training Day. I can't even comment on Sean Penn in I Am Sam because I know I'd never be able to sit through it. But it sure is a travesty of a mockery of a sham that Gene Hackman wasn't nominated for his wonderful work in The Royal Tenenbaums.


Director -- Robert Altman for Gosford Park: Nope, too long and confusing. Ridley Scott for Black Hawk Down: Great stuff, but too much carnage. David Lynch for Mulholland Drive: Gimme a break -- what the hell was that movie about? And so we're down to two. And damn if I can't come to grips with this. So I won't. It's rule-breaking time. Both Peter Jackson, for his splendid The Fellowship of the Ring and Ron Howard, who worked wonders on A Beautiful Mind, will win, and should.


Picture -- It would be easiest for me to say "see above," but I won't. The award will go to A Beautiful Mind. But I would give it to The Fellowship of the Ring. For the record, I liked Moulin Rouge very much, Gosford Park certainly had its strong points, and I wish someone would make In the Bedroom go away. And, oh yeah, how come those dummies who did all the nominating left A.I. off the list?





Ray's Oscar Picks -- The Oscars are most important for two things: getting a broadcast license fee that pays for most of the activities of Motion Picture Academy through the year, and for boosting the going rate to hire nominees and winners.


Oh, then there are the parties and arguments and betting pools among the general public, many of whom have seen only one or two of the nominated pictures. And by the wayside? Occasionally, there's a brief nod in the general direction of where art may have been committed in the previous year. I can't help but be cynical, despite a roster of nominees for 2001 that generally distinguish accomplishment from sentiment.


This year's producer of the television show, Laura Ziskin, is a Hollywood veteran who's been dividing her time this winter with the postproduction of the upcoming Spiderman movie. Like every new producer before her, she's vowed that she'll be trying for a show that's more about movies than about television production numbers, more about quality than emotional manipulation. I hope Spiderman is good, too.


Among the major nominees, A Beautiful Mind is about the only film I find objectionable. A hash of fiction and fact, its weird, simplistic take on genius and mental illness is tolerable mostly for the sultry, compassionate presence of Jennifer Connelly and the lucid photography of Roger Deakins. Yet Deakins was nominated instead for his black-and-white images in the Coen brothers' spectral comedy of alienation, The Man Who Wasn't There.


Ghost World, one of my favorites of the year, was nominated only for best adapted screenplay. Writers tend to nominate more eccentric material, including the only nod for the pretentious The Royal Tenenbaums, the painstakingly structured Gosford Park and the painstakingly deconstructed Memento. Among nominations that I miss are one for Billy Bob Thornton, who pursued two radically different forms of minimalist acting in The Man Who Wasn't There and Monster's Ball and was breathtaking in both roles.


The Academy showed its middle-to-no-brow sensibilities in the new Animated Feature Film category, which nominated Disney's Monsters, Inc. and DreamWorks' Shrek for two of its three citations, while filling the last with Nickelodeon's forgettable kidpic Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius rather than Richard Linklater's dreamy, personal, even visionary Waking Life, which broke new ground technically. So much for good intentions.


Tilda Swinton was superb in the lustrous yet sour The Deep End, but she failed to get an acting nomination, as did the actors in Fred Schepisi's grand, refined Last Orders. Perhaps things are changing when Michael Caine fails to be noticed for one of the most refined pieces of screen acting he's done yet.


Lord of the Rings, the only movie in the running potentially longer than the Oscar show, has the potential for draining all suspense out of the drama, given the Academy's penchant for giving epics a sweeping series of wins, such as for Titanic and Gladiator. Yawn. It would be so much more entertaining if the deadweight statuettes were handed out to as wide a range of films as were nominated.


Miramax is spending its promotional dollars on several films, notably the performances of Judi Dench and Kate Winslet in Iris, playing two versions of the writer Iris Murdoch, and for Jean-Pierre Jeunet's vigorous whimsy in Am & eacute;lie. Their greatest chance is where the greatest expenditure is going in trade ads in Variety, the Hollywood Reporter and Screen International, as well as the Times of New York and L.A.: Sissy Spacek as the grieving mother in Todd Field's austere, moving In the Bedroom. That movie presents another face of grief, and another nomination for the performance that startled me most last year: Marisa Tomei's turn as another sorrowing survivor. There are few moments that have taken my breath as much as her work with Tom Wilkinson in a single scene in In the Bedroom where neither of their characters can find the words to speak, only the expressions that demonstrate a void that can never, ever be filled again. That's the kind of subtlety that garners nominations, if not winners.


In contrast, I'm a great admirer of the mad exuberance of Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge, which got a raft of technical nominations to go with consideration as best picture. Similarly, the calculatedly disorienting Black Hawk Down was recognized for its substantial achievement in technical categories. While Ridley Scott is competing as Best Director for that film, Luhrmann is not, with the "visionary" slot being given over to David Lynch for his lurid and idiosyncratic Mulholland Drive.


It's the big, bad performances that get noticed. A likely winner is Ben Kingsley's Mephistolean grandiloquence as a petty thug who thinks he's a Shakespearean bad guy in Sexy Beast, and I wouldn't bet against Denzel Washington for his outrageous playing of a contemptible cop in Training Day. While Sean Penn plays a damaged character in I Am Sam, and the Academy loves to honor actors who play drunks and the mentally disadvantaged, Kingsley and Washington are good men and great actors playing gleeful evil against type. Sounds like a sweep to me.


But if there's going to be a true sweep this year, I'd like it to be for an intimate epic, Robert Altman's Gosford Park. At 76, Altman has made a film that is recognizably his own, a subversion of the English country manor genre of films which satisfies with its comedy, thrills, Englishness and orneriness. Quality, breaking new ground and capping off a career that has never bowed to Hollywood norms? Four or five wins for Gosford Park would startle me, but also please me very much. That would be so much better than a 2003 Life Achievement Award for a director who just keeps on living.

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