Oscars 2004

BY LYNN LEE

So if last year the Best Picture race turned into a showdown between “Women breaking taboos” (with the one-two punch of Chicago‘s lethal ladies ultimately vanquishing the troubled triumvirate of Meryl-Nicole-Julianne in The Hours), this year the Oscars seem to be returning squarely to the more conventional tune of “Men in Charge.” Movies about men and horses; movies dominated by aggressively masculine patriarchal figures ready to spill their last drop of blood (or anyone else’s) to protect the prevailing order; movies where the women serve principally decorative or nurturing functions. But if you look a little closer, subversions spring forth everywhere – whether it’s Eowyn’s heroic stroke in Return of the King, Sofia Coppola’s triple-whammy picture/director/screenplay nomination for the wistful, decidedly anti-alpha-male Lost in Translation, or 13-year-old Keisha Hughes’s surprise Best Actress nomination for her role in Whale Rider as the rejected girl who against all odds becomes leader of her Maori clan. (Not to mention that Charlize Theron will probably take home Best Actress for her portrayal of a serial man-killer in Monster.)

This year also features a larger number of surprise nominations (and omissions) than usual, and the most multicultural array of nominees since the Hong Kong chic of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon invaded the ceremonies in 2001. Is this a result of the accelerated nomination process – the Oscars having been pushed up a month, supposedly to cut down the amount of studio campaigning for votes – or is it just the randomness factor of the Academy at work? Who knows, and who cares; anything that makes for a more interesting, less predictable race than usual is welcome. Here are my educated guesses at the major awards; the usual caveats apply.

BEST PICTURE

Nominees: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; Mystic River; Lost in Translation; Seabiscuit.

Will win: Return of the King

Should win: Master and Commander

Fantasies never win Best Picture, or so said the conventional wisdom – until this year. Now Return of the King stands poised to break that barrier, with Mystic River and Lost in Translation about equally weighted as underdog candidates. I have no problem with ROTK being rewarded as the culmination of the LOTR trilogy, but I’m one of maybe five people whose personal vote goes instead to Master and Commander: The best crafted film among the five nominees, it brings you into the heart of an arcane and archaic, almost claustrophobically enclosed society (director Peter Weir’s specialty – see also Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show, Witness, Gallipolli), a nineteenth-century British naval ship at sea, makes you care about its inner dynamics, and at the same time provides a sweeping, masthead view of the infinite poetry and grandeur of the larger setting. Joseph Conrad, eat your heart out.

BEST DIRECTOR

Nominees: Peter Jackson, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; Fernando Meirelles, Cidade de Deus (City of God); Clint Eastwood, Mystic River; Peter Weir, Master and Commander; Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

Will win: Peter Jackson

Should win: Peter Jackson

There is a slight chance that the Academy will end up splitting Best Picture and Director between two different films, in which case Peter Jackson could be denied here. But I think not. Everyone’s pulling for him, including me – again, not for ROTK alone, but for the massive labor of love and spectacular achievement that was the entire trilogy. Give the man his Oscar.

BEST ACTOR

Nominees: Sean Penn, Mystic River; Bill Murray, Lost in Translation; Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean; Ben Kingsley, House of Sand and Fog; Jude Law, Cold Mountain

Will win: Sean Penn (but maybe Bill Murray!)

Should win: Johnny Depp

I’ve been going back & forth on this one all week – it’s without doubt the closest race among the majors, with Penn and Murray running neck-and-neck. As of last polling, I’m going to go with Penn, if only because his rave reviews (like his performance) have been more violent than Murray’s, and because he’s been nominated three times before, while this is Murray’s first nomination. Myself, I’d give the award to Depp, for making an unkempt, effeminate, and totally preposterous pirate at once riveting, hysterically funny, and inexplicably sexy. No one else could have pulled it off.

BEST ACTRESS

Nominees: Charlize Theron, Monster; Diane Keaton, Something’s Gotta Give; Samantha Morton, In America; Naomi Watts, 21 Grams; Keisha Castle-Hughes, Whale Rider

Will win: Charlize Theron

Should win: ?

This is another tight race, but an easier call. I haven’t seen Monster, but the critics agree that Theron, the most ridiculously glamorous of Hollywood’s finest, transforms herself so believably into serial killer Aileen Wormos that she seems to be channeling the woman’s spirit. It ain’t just the makeup. Keaton’s her closest competitor, and deservedly so, for a wonderfully hilarious yet heartfelt performance as a woman d’un certain ge who finds autumnal romance. However, she’s won before, for Annie Hall, and within the Academy, dramatic beats comedic nine times out of ten.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Nominees: Tim Robbins, Mystic River; Alec Baldwin, The Cooler; Benicio del Toro, 21 Grams; Djimon Hounsou, In America; Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai

Will win: Tim Robbins

Should win: Tim Robbins

One of the more “multicultural” sets of nominees, though I find it a little disquieting that two of these were for characters that exemplified stereotypical Western fabrications of the mysterious Other, redeemed only by the magnificent presence of the actors themselves. But anyway, neither of them is likely to beat Robbins, who more than held his own alongside Sean Penn in Mystic River, as the tormented, ghost-like victim of past violence and present vengeance.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Nominees: Renee Zellweger, Cold Mountain; Marcia Gay Harden, Mystic River; Shohreh Aghdashloo, House of Sand and Fog; Holly Hunter, Thirteen; Patricia Clarkson, Pieces of April

Will win: Renee Zellweger

Should win: ?

Here I confess with shame that I’ve only seen two of the five nominated performances, and therefore feel unqualified to pronounce who among them is most deserving of the Oscar. However, I feel eminently qualified to pick the winner: Zellweger’s a lock.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Nominees: Lost in Translation; Finding Nemo; In America; The Barbarian Invasions; Dirty Pretty Things

Will win: Lost in Translation

Should win: Dirty Pretty Things

Another easy one. This is the Academy’s nod to the Godfather’s little girl, especially if, as seems likely, Lost in Translation loses in the other categories. Dare I suggest that the much less-known Dirty Pretty Things, which deftly combines the plot of a taut mystery-thriller, the angst of repressed love, and the grim backdrop of the underworld of illegal immigration, is actually the best of this bunch? Yes, I dare.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Nominees: American Splendor; City of God; Mystic River; The Return of the King; Seabiscuit

Will win: Mystic River

Should win: City of God

Brian Helgeland, who won Best Screenplay for L.A. Confidential some years ago, is the name behind Mystic River, which has the edge over Seabiscuit in this category. But I again turn maverick to applaud City of God for its creation of the most nuanced, persuasive characters and most gripping storyline I’ve seen on screen in a long time. That couldn’t have been the director alone – that took good writing, a
nd even better adapting.

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