The 77th Academy Awards
Brian Doxtader | Thursday, February 24, 2005
The 2005 Oscar race has been one of the closest in recent history. At first it seemed “The Aviator” was the clear front-runner. Since then, the tables have turned somewhat, as the dark horse candidate “Million Dollar Baby” has started to overpower the Miramax machine. I’ve gone back and forth several times in several categories despite going 37 for 39 last year, where nearly all of the winners were foregone conclusions. Expect this to be one of the most exciting and hotly debated Academy Awards in recent historyBest PictureWhat will win: “The Aviator”Why it will win: Martin Scorsese’s grand biopic of mogul Howard Hughes may not be the obvious frontrunner, but it will still likely win the Oscar for a variety of reasons. It won the Best Picture (Drama) Golden Globe and leads the Oscar pack with 11 nominations, which is often a good sign. No Scorsese film has ever been named Best Picture (this includes such past revered nominees as “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull”), so the Academy will take that into consideration. Finally, it has the overpowering Miramax machine behind it, which is both a good thing and a bad thing, since it tends to smother Academy voters. It’s possible that “Million Dollar Baby” will overcome its dark horse status and win over Oscar voters, but the last time that a true dark horse won was back in 1981, when the Oscar went to “Chariots of Fire.” As for “Sideways,” it’s started to fall out of favor, with A.O. Scott from The New York Times declaring it the most overrated film of the year.What should win: “Million Dollar Baby”Why it should win: This was a really, really difficult call. On one hand, three of the five best picture nominees are phenomenal films (“Million Dollar Baby,” “Sideways,” “The Aviator”). On the other, none are quite so affecting and emotionally charged as “Million Dollar Baby.” Eastwood has crafted a remarkable film that is nearly on par with his previous Best Picture winner, “Unforgiven.” This is probably the best picture of the nominees.Best DirectorWho will win: Clint Eastwood (“Million Dollar Baby”)Why he will win: In 1976, Martin Scorsese failed to receive a nomination for “Taxi Driver,” his first Best Picture nominee. The Oscar that year went to John G. Avildsen, who won for “Rocky,” written by first-time actor-turned-writer Sylvester Stallone. In 1980, Martin Scorsese received a nomination for “Raging Bull” and lost to first-time actor-turned-director Robert Redford for “Ordinary People.” In 1990, Martin Scorsese received a nomination for “Goodfellas” and lost to first-time actor-turned-director Kevin Costner for “Dances with Wolves.” It would only be fitting if Scorsese loses this year to actor-turned-director Clint Eastwood (who has previously won the directing award for “Unforgiven”). This is not to detract from the considerable talents of Eastwood, who directed “Million Dollar Baby” with a rare power and understatement almost completely missing in contemporary Hollywood. Besides which, the Academy tends to favor directors who work well with actors, and Eastwood evoked powerful performances from not only Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman, but also delivered remarkably himself.Who should win: Martin Scorsese (“The Aviator”)Why he should win: No Scorsese film has ever won the Best Picture Oscar. This includes such venerable American classics as “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas,” all of which lost to inferior films. The director has proven his mettle time and time again and continues to make solid movies to this day, even after his film school brat contemporaries (Lucas, Coppola, DePalma) have dipped into substandard filmmaking. This could and should be his year, and the Academy may try to reconcile retrospective injustice by awarding Scorsese the long-deserved Best Director award. Although his work on “The Aviator” is slightly more craftsman-like than in previous films, he remains a technical master and manages to bring an indelibility to “The Aviator,” as he has with nearly all of his previous work.Best ActorWho will win: Jamie Foxx (“Ray”)Why he will win: If there is one thing the Academy loves more than actors playing real-life historical figures, it’s actors playing characters with disabilities. Jamie Foxx has the best of both worlds here – not only does he play Ray Charles impeccably (down to the late great singer’s quirks and blindness), but he also inhabits that Oscar-loved category of the comedic actor breaking into serious roles (Tom Hanks in “Philadelphia,” Robin Williams in “Good Will Hunting”). Beyond even that, Foxx has been nominated in both the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor award for two different roles (only the second actor to ever do so, after Al Pacino’s 1992 double-nomination for “Scent of a Woman” and “Glengarry Glen Ross,” respectively). Additionally, the surprise nomination of Ray in the Best Picture category will help bring more attention to Foxx’s performance. This race is all but over.Who should win: Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Aviator”)Why he should win: This was a surprise nomination, but a welcome one. DiCaprio doesn’t look a thing like Howard Hughes, but he, like Jamie Foxx, gets to play a real-life figure with a disability. DiCaprio wisely concentrates on the roguish freewheeling spirit that made Hughes such a fascinating person. He is also a good actor, which he has proven in a variety of roles, from “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” (for which he received a nomination) to “Catch Me If You Can.” He may have finally overcome his “pretty boy” status, as Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt had to do, by carefully choosing roles. His performance in “The Aviator” finally solidifies the arrival of a new DiCaprio – DiCaprio the actor rather than DiCaprio the teen idol. While he will likely eventually win an award (as Johnny Depp will no doubt eventually win), it may come too late, as that notorious sympathy award rewarding actors for superior previous work (Al Pacino for “Scent of a Woman,” Paul Newman for “The Color of Money,” John Wayne for “True Grit”). Instead of going through all that trouble later, why not give him the award now, when he truly deserves it?Best ActressWho will win: Hilary Swank (“Million Dollar Baby”)Why she will win: Swank returns five years after her first Oscar win (for “Boys Don’t Cry’) with a true knockout performance. If there’s one thing that Eastwood knows how to do, it’s direct actors. Gene Hackman won the Oscar for “Unforgiven,” Tim Robbins and Sean Penn both won Oscars for “Mystic River.” But it’s Swank herself who modulates her performance into one that is multi-layered and surprising – demonstrating a dramatic mettle the Academy will certainly notice. Plus, there is a certain irony here – the last time she was nominated was five years ago, when she beat Annette Bening (for American Beauty) in a two-horse race. Bening received a nomination this year for Being Julia, her first nomination since American Beauty.Who should win: Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)Why she should win: Eternal Sunshine may be the most woefully under-appreciated film of the year, but the Academy wasn’t foolish enough to bypass Winslet’s pitch-perfect performance. In the nine years since her first nomination (for Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility), she has consistently proven her dramatic worth. That being said, this is hands-down her best performance. Winslet inhabits Clementine beautifully, balancing quirkiness with sensitivity and a touch of graceful pathos. While she likely won’t win this year, it really is a shame, because her portrayal may be the most memorable performance of the year.Best Supporting ActorWho will win: Thomas Haden Church (Sideways)Why he will win: This is a really tough field to call. All of these actors gave solid performances and no single actor sticks out. That being said, Giamatti’s Best Actor snub may be rectified by a win for Church despite the fact that the duo’s characters are so closely linked. The Academy may not take that into consideration, to the point that it reveals a noticeable imbalance – Church may win while Giamatti fails to even get nominated.Who should win: Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby)Why he should win: Freeman hasn’t won yet, despite nods for Driving Miss Daisy and The Shawshank Redemption. He is still one of the most respectable and consistent actors in Hollywood, so an Oscar is well deserved. This may not be Freeman’s best performance (that honor still likely goes to Shawshank), but it comes pretty close, so a win would garner no complaints. No other actor truly stands out in this field as more deserving than Freeman (other than Church, who will likely win): Clive Owen is still young (although his time will come), Jamie Foxx will likely not win two Oscars in the same year and Alan Alda’s nomination was a surprise, which makes a win for him extremely unlikely. Freeman deserves the Academy Award this year and could quite possibly win it. It is a pretty even race between Church and Freeman.Best Supporting ActressWho will win: Virginia Madsen (Sideways)Why she will win: At first it seemed as if Cate Blanchett was the obvious frontrunner in this field, but since then, Virginia Madsen has emerged as the favorite. Her wonderfully charismatic performance in Sideways is most notable for a wonderful mid-film monologue that may be one of the most memorable in recent history. It’s a good possibility that Madsen will win, but it is a close field. Don’t expect surprise nominee Natalie Portman to win, however, for a variety of reasons. Not only is she still very young, but the Academy probably still has painful memories of Star Wars: Episode II (which would stave off the potential embarrassment of awarding her now and then witnessing an equally wooden performance in the upcoming Star Wars: Episode III, due in May).Who should win: Cate Blanchett (The Aviator)Why she should win: Here’s some irony. Cate Blanchett could win her first Oscar for playing the most-nominated and winningest actress of all time. Blanchett catches the details of Katharine Hepburn’s idiosyncrasies, and her greatest triumph is her uncanny mimesis of the late great actress’s vocal inflections, neatly covering up the fact that they don’t look very much alike. She brings depth to the role and carries her scenes with magnetic aplomb (nearly stealing the film away from DiCaprio). With her second nomination and three across-the-board excellent performances this year (Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes, Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator), Blanchett has proven her versatility and screen presence. There were some very good performances this year, but the award should go to Blanchett, not only for The Aviator, but for the other films she made in 2004.Best Original ScreenplayWho will win: John Logan (The Aviator)Why he will win: Despite the controversy surrounding Logan and his supposed re-appropriation of other sources, he will likely still emerge with the Oscar because of The Aviator’s overall strength as a film. His script is balanced, though the dialogue is surprisingly less memorable than in other Scorsese films. Despite this caveat, The Aviator still has a strong screenplay, even if it isn’t as strong as other aspects of the film. Who should win: Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry, and Pierre Bismuth (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)Why they should win: This is the best screenplay of the year – it is witty, funny, sad, romantic and emotional without being overly sentimental. The screenplay is a true triumph in ingenuity and the sort of postmodern romance story that tends to polarize its audience. The best screenplay award has somehow eluded Kaufman, whose previous work (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) was some of the best, most clever stuff written since Pulp Fiction. While this screenplay certainly has a chance of winning, Academy voters first have to overlook The Aviator as well as Eternal Sunshine’s own general quirkiness. This is a genuine, beautifully written screenplay.Best Adapted ScreenplayWho will win: Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor (Sideways)Why they will win: One of the best-reviewed films of the year succeeded on two main elements: the performances and the script. Payne’s road-trip/buddy-movie transcends its origins precisely because the script is so well written. The Academy will not overlook this film, especially if it fails to win the Best Picture – the Best Screenplay award will be something of a runner-up prize for Sideways.Who should win: Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and Kim Krizan (Before Sunset) Why they should win: This is a beautifully written film (by the director and the two stars from characters created by Linklater and Kim Krizan) and one of the best screenplays of the year. As a philosophically tinged examination of love and relationships, Before Sunset is the kind of sensitively written, minimalist film that draws the viewer into the lives of its characters. The dialogue flows easily between the two characters as a kind of naturalistic duet that forms a framework into which the bigger themes of the film are woven. It is likely it won’t beat Sideways, but it probably deserves to – Linklater, Hawke and Delpy have written a wonderful script.Oscar OversightsIt was inevitable that there would be some oversight in the nominations, as happens every year. This year’s nominations are even more glaring than usual, as entire films were completely (or nearly completely) overlooked. Some notable sins of omission:uEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was overlooked in several categories, including Best Picture, Best Director (Michel Gondry) and Best Actor (Jim Carrey, who still has never received an Oscar nomination).uThe Passion of the Christ and Farenheit 9/11, both strongly ideological and controversial films, received no major nominations. Michael Moore’s lobbying for a Best Picture nomination (and thus sacrificing Best Documentary eligibility) backfired, while Mel Gibson’s general disinterest in the Oscars (he’s already won Best Picture and Best Director for Braveheart) and Hollywood’s negative reception to the film likely hurt its chances.uPaul Giamatti, once thought to be a possible frontrunner in the Best Actor race, was not even nominated for Sideways.uJulie Delpy was woefully overlooked for her performance in Before Sunset.uThe Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Wes Anderson’s quirky film starring Bill Murray, failed to receive any nominations.uThe Motorcycle Diaries did not receive a Best Foreign Language Film nomination.uMark Wahlberg. was overlooked for his quirky role in I Heart Huckabees.uZach Braff’s debut Garden State (which he wrote, directed and starred in) received no nominations. The most notable oversight was in the Best Original Screenplay category.uLiam Neeson was not nominated for Kinsey.uJude Law received no nominations, despite acting in six films this year.uKill Bill Volume 2 received no nominations, possibly due to the confusion over the film’s split into two parts, one released in 2003 and one released in early 2004. This film had potential to be nominated in several categories, including Best Picture, Best Director (Quentin Tarantino), Best Actress (Uma Thurman), Best Actor (David Carradine) and Best Original Screenplay (Quentin Tarantino).
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Brian Doxtader at [email protected]