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Oscar Season - The Forgotten Nine Months
by Erik Childress

What makes for an exciting Oscar season? Is it a few films of superior quality truly duking it out for Oscar gold? Or does it occur well before the final Monday in March? When where the nominations will go is truly a puzzle? Usually there are about two locks for major categories. Another two can be easily predicted. And the final one has the potential to be the surprise that’s talked about in newspapers and entertainment shows. What’s never a surprise with the Academy is their memory.

Traditionally the first 8 months of the movie season do not compare in quality with the final four, but a great number of movies come out nevertheless, and a few of them and aspects of them are of major quality. After all, where would the technical categories be without the summer movie season? Yet with nearly 200 films already being released through the month of September, I could only find 61 of them that have either potential to be nominated, or at least worthy to be. 24 of those are only good for a single nomination and some of those are just of the personal wishful thinking variety.

Best Picture

There are nine titles. Nine. At least one should be a lock for a nomination. A couple are critical favorites and some are box office (and critical) successes that might have a shot at slipping into the big five. There are three that I would single out for a Best Picture nomination and one of those (Almost Famous) should be a dead lock. Paramount’s reminder re-release of Wonder Boys is going to work wonders. Critics (and audiences) are going to rediscover it and with the lack of a large percentage of sure-fire bets in the final three months, will likely garner one of the five spots. A second personal choice of mine has a really good shot at being the second animated title ever to be nominated for Best Picture and that is the incredible Chicken Run. Erin Brockovich was screaming for Oscars when it came out back in March. Problem is, it still had to wait nearly a year to see any nominations. Plus, it’s already on video. Even with $120 million in the bank, it’s not going to see any top 10 box office action come February and the Academy knows how well those print ads with the nomination numbers can help a film’s tally in the theaters. If the voters need an epic this year, they may turn to Gladiator. Two and a half hours with a genre that hasn’t really be seen in all its glory since the 60s and some critical acclaim to boot. Anything is possible. And with that, I’ll throw my early recommendation into the ring and that’s for The Perfect Storm. Opinions on this film run the gambit from four stars to one and I’m in the former. It may not be Lawrence of Arabia, but it is near perfect Hollywood-audience entertainment. And while it may seem a little below the belt to call a film based on a true-life tragedy as “entertainment”, it’s a ride that makes us look at a tragedy and feel for those involved by putting faces and names to them. Isn’t that what Titanic did? What happened? 11 Oscars. I rest my case.

Potential Lock(s): “Almost Famous” & “Wonder Boys”
Have a legit shot: “Chicken Run”, “Erin Brockovich” & “Gladiator”
Other Maybes: “High Fidelity”, “Nurse Betty”
Personal Recommendation(s): “Almost Famous”, “Chicken Run” & “The Perfect Storm”
Wishful Thinking: “American Psycho”


Best Actor

Paramount’s re-release really should benefit Michael Douglas over all others. His performance is one his best and may be the favorite to win at this point. Russell Crowe has gotten a lot of attention (again) for another very good performance in Gladiator and if the film picks up a bunch of nominations, he could be in the pool. Same goes for Billy Crudup (who will probably be overlooked) but could benefit from a landslide vote for Almost Famous. My recommendations tend to go towards the (always-overstepped) comedic performances of the year, starting with Christian Bale in the dark comedy American Psycho. It may be the role of the year, and hopefully a star-making one at that. Eddie Murphy could easily have been nominated for the first Nutty Professor (and wasn’t), and I say why not for the sequel? Playing nearly his entire family (as well as Buddy Love), Murphy shows that comedy does involve true acting. And who better to make that point than Robert DeNiro in Meet the Parents, who may have actually topped his turn in Analyze This. He’s likely to get more attention than Ben Stiller, but he is equally worthy of a nomination. Maybe with such a week year, the Academy will finally recognize comedy in more than just the supporting categories, but that’s probably just wishful thinking. Hence my final recommendation.

Potential Lock(s): Michael Douglas “Wonder Boys”
Have a legit shot: Russell Crowe “Gladiator”, Billy Crudup “Almost Famous”
Other Maybes: Ralph Fiennes “Sunshine”, Morgan Freeman “Nurse Betty”
Personal Recommendation(s): Christian Bale “American Psycho”, Robert DeNiro or Ben Stiller from “Meet the Parents”, Eddie Murphy “Nutty Professor II”
Wishful Thinking: Owen Wilson “Shanghai Noon”


Best Actress

We know Julia Roberts is going to be nominated. That’s the one Erin Brockovich nomination you can bet the bank on. It’ll be her third nomination and you can just about print her name on the statuette. But whom is she going to beat? Well, Dreamworks has something to decide in the upcoming weeks. Where should they position Kate Hudson for Almost Famous? Many are looking to the supporting category where Frances McDormand is likely to set up camp for her one-two punch of Almost Famous and Wonder Boys. I believe Hudson to be the female lead in Famous and think this is where they should promote her. If they do, they are likely to snag one in what promises to be the weakest year for actresses…probably ever. My personal reminder would be for the Academy to look at the work of Julia Sawalha who only provided the voice for the lead chicken, Ginger, in Chicken Run. If Hollywood and critics can cry afoul for Robin Williams being snubbed a nomination for his voicework in Aladdin back in 1992, then why not for a truly inspired and beautiful piece of voiceover for a chicken in one of the year’s best films? I would also cry out for a vote now for Michelle Pfeiffer in What Lies Beneath. To show you how weak the pool is, just look at the batch of good-to-decent female performances that will never get nominated.

Potential Lock(s): Julia Roberts “Erin Brockovich”
Have a legit shot: Kate Hudson “Almost Famous”, Renee Zellweger “Nurse Betty”, Rachel Griffiths “Me Myself I”
Personal Recommendation(s): Julia Sawalha “Chicken Run”, Michelle Pfeiffer “What Lies Beneath”
The Weak Pool: Annette Bening “What Planet Are You From?”, Sandra Bullock “28 Days”, Tracey Ullmann “Small Time Crooks”


Best Supporting Actor

The only lock (and I truly hope it is) is Albert Finney in Erin Brockovich. What a great performance. After that you’re reaching into the new Hollywood bag. Tobey Maguire gave his best performance in Wonder Boys and Philip Seymour Hoffman stole Almost Famous with every phone call he had. Many are touting Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator, but I felt he brought that film down a notch giving an unconvincing portrayal of ruthless evil. He was boring, whiny and just plain lame. I never believed for a minute that Russell Crowe couldn’t kick his scrawny ass all over the coliseum. But I’m not in the Academy. But if I were, there are three terrific supporting performances that I would recommend. The first is for Paul Giamatti. This guy has been hammering out one great performance after another (“Pig Vomit” in Private Parts & Bob Zmuda in Man on the Moon) and he gets perhaps his biggest role to date as the hapless ignored and eventually strung out salesman turned Karaoke singer in Duets. It’s a great performance from a great character actor and it deserves consideration. So does Jeffrey Wright as Peoples Hernandez in this summer’s remake of Shaft. He created one of this year’s more memorable villains (and characters period). With a little support from Paramount, he may be able to snag one. My final recommendation is a sentimental one for Carroll O’Connor as Minnie Driver’s restaurant-owning grandfather in Return to Me. He hasn’t been seen on screen in years and he returns with dignity and class turning in a sweet and charming performance.

Potential Lock(s): Albert Finney “Erin Brockovich”
Have a legit shot: Philip Seymour Hoffman “Almost Famous”, Tobey Maguire “Wonder Boys”, Joaquin Phoenix “Gladiator”
Other Maybes: Oliver Reed “Gladiator”, Jack Black “High Fidelity”, Tommy Lee Jones or Donald Sutherland “Space Cowboys”, Greg Kinnear “Nurse Betty”
Personal Recommendation(s): Paul Giamatti “Duets”, Jeffrey Wright “Shaft”, Carroll O’Connor “Return to Me"
Wishful Thinking: William Fichtner “Drowning Mona”


Best Supporting Actress

Which role is Frances McDormand better in? The cheating wife in Wonder Boys or the concerned mother in Almost Famous? I certainly know which is more memorable, and it will most likely be the latter that gets her the supporting actress nomination. Elaine May took over Small Time Crooks every frame she was on screen and with Woody Allen’s history of getting nominations for his supporting actors, she seems like a good bet. Again, the pool is shallow and not much to choose from, but two actresses who stuck out for me are Connie Nielsen in Gladiator (giving her best performance to date) and Parker Posey, so over-the-top as the actress playing Gale Weathers in Stab 3 in Scream 3. You got that?

Potential Lock(s): Frances McDormand “Almost Famous”
Have a legit shot: Elaine May “Small Time Crooks”
Other Maybes: Diane Lane “The Perfect Storm”, Amanda Peet “The Whole Nine Yards”
Personal Recommendation(s): Connie Nielsen “Gladiator” & Parker Posey “Scream 3”
The Weak Pool: Kirsten Dunst “The Virgin Suicides”


Best Director

At least 3 of the 5 films nominated for Best Picture usually get a directing nomination to match. That should sew up one for Cameron Crowe. Curtis Hanson & Ridley Scott have good shots and I hope the Academy keeps Nick Park in line for Chicken Run. I’m going to put in the two cents for the action/thriller genre. If a film does its job and does it really well, doesn’t the director deserve a lot of the credit? If The Perfect Storm does manage to secure a Best Picture nomination, I will bet that Wolfgang Petersen will be one of the sacrificed directors who isn’t there to represent his film in the director category. And that’s not right. He is an essential part of why that film worked so well and the way he pieced it together warrants a nomination. Robert Zemeckis deserves equal praise for what could have been a standard ghost mystery and filming it that gives it the appearance of either a modern-day Hitchcock film or a Hitchcock parody. How many other directors this year could have or will accomplish such a feat? None.

Potential Lock(s): Cameron Crowe “Almost Famous”
Have a legit shot: Curtis Hanson “Wonder Boys”, Ridley Scott “Gladiator”, Nick Park “Chicken Run”
Other Maybes: Steven Soderbergh “Erin Brockovich”
Personal Recommendation(s): Wolfgang Petersen “The Perfect Storm” & Robert Zemeckis “What Lies Beneath”


Best Original Screenplay

Almost Famous and Erin Brockovich should be locks for the original screenplay slots this year. Hopefully the writers of the Academy will recognize an animated title like Chicken Run (as they did in 1995 with Toy Story) as much with the written word as with the cleverness of the claymation. I just hope they don’t pass over the wonderfully clever and funny screenplay for Meet the Parents. Especially since it’s based on a little seen cult film and manages to create a completely different movie using only a single joke from its predecessor. In an age when remakes are biding for control of the market, the screenplay for Meet the Parents is a true original.

Potential Lock(s): “Almost Famous” & “Erin Brockovich”
Have a legit shot: “Chicken Run”, “Gladiator”, “Nurse Betty”
Personal Recommendation(s): “Meet the Parents”


Best Adapted Screenplay

Is it better or worse that I found a greater abundance of original screenplays this year (so far) than ones adapted from books, plays, or other movies? On one hand, it’s always nice to see original material. On the other, maybe the adapted screenplay well is full of more raw sewage than the politicians taking on Hollywood. Anyway, Wonder Boys should have a lock on. But let’s not forget about Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner’s adaptation of American Psycho, a book that a fellow colleague of mine called “unreadable” and threw across the room. They turned a brutally violent tale of an alpha-male in the late 1980s and concentrated on the satire of pop culture and misogynist behavior. You talk about finding the inner meaning? Well, they found it and should be nominated for it.

Potential Lock(s): “Wonder Boys”
Have a legit shot: “High Fidelity”
Personal Recommendation(s): “American Psycho”


Best Original Song

Disney’s Dinosaur didn’t feature any songs written or performed by popular singers or songwriters. They’re leaving that to Sting for The Emperor’s New Groove opening in December. So where are all the songs going to come from? Well, Elton John migrated from Disney to Dreamworks to record five average songs for The Road to El Dorado. One of them (“Someday Out of the Blue”) was a Top 40 radio hit, so that has the best shot of the batch of getting a nom. I also think John Mellencamp’s performance of Yours Forever (which ties in nicely to James Horner’s score) also has a legit chance. After that, it looks up to the bubblegum popsters to pick up the slack, for better or worse. Songs performed (but naturally not written by) LeAnn Rimes, Jessica Simpson and Mandy Moore could fill up one of the slots (something every teenage boy would like to do, but I digress), but I’ve got a much better suggestion. How about Stillwater’s “Fever Dog” from Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous? It may not sum up the film in four minutes as the requirement seems to be for the song category, but how about the word “original” in the category name. This is a true original song, written and performed to sound like a song from the era of the early 70s and one which actually makes us believe that the band Stillwater does possess some talent. Now that’s writing. The same theory worked and should have made the song “That Thing You Do” from the film of the same name, a winner.

Potential Lock(s): Elton John “The Road to El Dorado”, Yours Forever “The Perfect Storm”
Have a legit shot: Can’t Stop the Moonlight “Coyote Ugly”
Other Maybes: Jessica Simpson “Here on Earth” & Mandy Moore “Center Stage”
Personal Recommendation(s): Fever Dog “Almost Famous”


Other Categories for Recommendation

Best Original Score

Potential Lock(s): “Dinosaur” & “Gladiator”
Have a legit shot: “The Perfect Storm” & “Wonder Boys”
Other Maybes: “What Lies Beneath”, “Remember the Titans”, “The Patriot” & “U-571”
Personal Recommendation(s): “Almost Famous”


Best Cinematography

Potential Lock(s): “Gladiator” & “The Perfect Storm”
Have a legit shot: “The Patriot” & “The Beach”
Personal Recommendation(s): “What Lies Beneath”


Best Art Direction

Potential Lock(s): “The Cell” & “Gladiator”
Have a legit shot: “The Patriot”
Other Maybes: “Almost Famous” & “Chicken Run”
Personal Recommendation(s): “X-Men”


Best Costume Design

Potential Lock(s): “The Cell” & “Gladiator”
Have a legit shot: “The Patriot” & “X-Men”
Personal Recommendation(s): n/a


Best Film Editing

Potential Lock(s): “Gladiator” & “The Perfect Storm”
Have a legit shot: “Mission Impossible 2”, “Almost Famous” & “Wonder Boys”
Other Maybes: “Erin Brockovich”, “U-571”, “What Lies Beneath”
Personal Recommendation(s): n/a


Best Visual Effects

Potential Lock(s): “The Perfect Storm”
Have a legit shot: “X-Men”
Other Maybes: “Gladiator”, “Mission to Mars”
Personal Recommendation(s): “Dinosaur” & “Hollow Man”


Best Makeup

Potential Lock(s): “Nutty Professor II: The Klumps”
Have a legit shot: “X-Men”
Other Maybes: “Battlefield Earth”, “Big Momma’s House”
Personal Recommendation(s): n/a


Best Sound

Potential Lock(s): “The Perfect Storm” & “U-571”
Have a legit shot: “Mission Impossible 2” & “Gladiator”
Other Maybes: :Chicken Run” & “The Patriot”
Personal Recommendation(s): “Dinosaur”
Wishful Thinking: “Final Destination”


Best Sound Effects Editing

Potential Lock(s): “The Perfect Storm”
Have a legit shot: “Gladiator”, “U-571”, “Mission Impossible 2”
Personal Recommendation(s): n/a



link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=256
originally posted: 10/02/00 13:51:24
last updated: 12/02/14 07:57:33
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