The Academy Awards are a beautiful thing in the sense that it tends to bring up the kind of fire, passion and devotion usually reserved for the Super Bowl or the World Series. People have their favorites and watch the show to root for them. Which is why the years films like Return of the King and Titanic do so well in the ratings and why the years when films like Chicago and The Hours are the front-runners, no one watches. And most every year, a debate begins over who deserves it more. Not since Schindler's List won in 1993, has there been a year where there was an overwhelming preference to one particular film to go home with the statue. And hence this list:
WHO THE ACADEMY SHOULD HAVE PICKED!
Winner: The Departed
Deserver: The Queen
There was no question that Martin Scorsese was going to win Best Director. It was so long over due, it was disgusting. But, for me, The Departed did not even belong in the Best Picture category. For one, it's a remake of a very good film. Secondly, if it doesn't have the name Scorsese attached to it, it doesn't even get considered. Thirdly, just by looking at its other nominations, it's obvious the Academy wasn't thinking that highly of it either. A film with DiCaprio, Damon and Nicholson and the only acting nod is for Dirk Digler? No nod for Cinematography or most any other technical award except Editing (which it most certainly did not deserve.) No, the Best Picture of 2006 was a much smaller, more personal film. Stephen Frears' The Queen told a story that most nobody knew, yet it was about a situation that touched most of our lives. The film's most amazing ability is to take extremely well-known figures in our time and make us feel like we really don't know them at all. Plus, a mind-smashingly, epic performance from winner Helen Mirren. If the weakest turn in a film is James Cromwell, you know something is going right. Of the five films chosen, The Queen was the true standout film.
Screw Brokeback Mountain. Time will more than likely bring a much truer to life love story between two men. Hell, I have a script about two gay NFL players that has more impact than this one did. And Crash? It's a watered down Do the Right Thing. It is a good film. But there were much better choices that year. Capote was nothing short of brilliant. Philip Seymour Hoffman delivers one hell of a performance and rightfully walked away with the Oscar. But the whole movie is full of terrific performances. And just plain heart-stopping from start to finish. Definitely a case when the "message" films should've taken a backseat to the better story.
Winner: Million Dollar Baby
2004 will probably go down as one of the Academy's finer years for their choices in the Best Picture category. It was painful to watch Martin Scorsese lose to an actor turned director for a third time. But at least Clint Eastwood has been directing for a while. The Aviator is good, but bloated and not one of Scorsese's finer moments. Baby is a great film, but will not have the lasting effect of Sideways. Notice that 3 years later, the wine section in your supermarket is still much bigger than it was before Sideways came out. It's both funny and heart-breaking. It uses it's gimmick merely as a stepping stone to a larger commentary on love and the choices we make.
Winner: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Deserver: See above
There was no question who would win this year, although many were rooting for a Lost in Translation or Mystic River upset. But it wasn't meant to be. Nor should it have been. There's no question that the Rings series will go down as a monumental achievement in filmmaking. Is the final chapter the best one? It's debatable. The multiple endings does get a little wearing. But the sheer spectacle of the whole business along with some classic storytelling and there was just no reason to hand out the grand prize any other way.
Deserver: The Pianist
Where Schindler's List told its tale on a much grander scale, The Pianist drove the added nail home. The holocaust from the perspective of one person. The argument could be made that Polanski's long overdue directing win was about the career more than the film itself. But Adrien Brody's win sort of nullifies that argument. Unlike most people, I still think Chicago is an amazing film. But it's flash over substance leaves it off the list of movies you just had to give it to. Likely, it was more of an award to finally getting it made versus actually being the best picture of the year.
Winner: A Beautiful Mind
Deserver: Moulin Rouge
Much like 2006's Pan's Labyrinth, the film Moulin Rouge was unique in its ability to take a relatively ordinary story and tell it in an extraordinary way. Some people were turned off by the use of modern tunes in turn of the century Paris. But they are just not looking past the fact that they weren't just picking the well-known songs, they were picking the lyrically correct songs for the scene. For me, the scene where we are shown the Moulin Rouge for the first time and the can-can dance that follows it, it is, very simply put, why I go to movies in the first place. It's been just over 5 years since A Beautiful Mind took home the gold and it's already considered an unwise choice.
The other time this decade where the better film won Best Director, but the showier film won Best Picture. I'll be honest. I didn't particularly like Gladiator. Outside of Chocolat, I thought it was the weakest of the nominees. And considering this was also the year it went up against Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Erin Brockovich, not to mention Almost Famous, Billy Elliott, Wonder Boys and Requiem for a Dream, films that weren't even nominated, it's kind of amazing that Gladiator was even a contender at all given it's rather cliched subject matter. Traffic, on the other hand, manages to be both entertaining and enlightening. A handful of outstanding performances and carries the kind of multi-layered story the Academy prefers of late. (Crash, Babel)
Winner: American Beauty
Deserver: The Insider
1999 truly left me scratching my head. True, The Insider did not stand a chance, but for the life of me, I can't figure out why. It's a Hollywood insider story. That should've appealed to a lot of people. Pacino and Crowe, there's two more great reasons. True stories tend to win this category. So why not give it to The Insider? It's quite simple. Disney has no idea how to market a serious film for the Oscars. And it was right in the FYC ad wars of Miramax vs. Dreamworks. As a result, a brilliant film like Insider fell by the wayside and an exercise in nihilism takes the prize.
Winner: Shakespeare in Love
To this day, I still have no beef with Shakespeare beating Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg's WWII epic is only brilliant in the first 20 minutes. It's just good after Normandy. The story has some major holes and that's what kept it out of the winners' circle. If more people had seen it, The Thin Red Line might have had a shot. Elizabeth felt a little too much like a recycled Godfather. And Life Is Beautiful, that just wasn't going to happen. At the time, and even now, Shakespeare was not a bad choice.
Deserver: L.A. Confidential
It's funny that one of the gripes about Brokeback losing to Crash was based on the former's dominance of the awards leading up to Oscar night. But few remember how badly Confidential obliterated the competition in those same pre-awards in 1997. It swept. But Titanic was the overwhelming crowd favorite. And walked away with the trophy.
Next up in Part II:
Who should've beat The English Patient, Braveheart, Forrest Gump, Unforgiven and Schindler's List (?!). Why Dances with Wolves, Driving Miss Daisy, Rain Man and The Last Emperor really did deserve it. Until then, see ya next week....