You know the deal: The spoils go to the studio that makes the biggest dent in the Academy member’s consciousness. David Lynch’s masterpiece, Mulholland Drive, may have all the critic’s awards but A Beautiful Mind has the attention of the masses (not to mention the prestigious National Mental Health Awareness Campaign Award) and one foot on the Oscar stage. Still, with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring situated as the film-to-beat, pundits can take comfort in the fact that a win for Jackson will bring some modicum of integrity to an award show that has, in the past, awarded their “for the epic” Best Picture Oscar to such shallow melodramas as Titanic and last year’s glorified WWF match Gladiator. Bitter diatribes aside, Slant Magazine takes a look at Oscar’s top categories, predicting who will make the list and who doesn’t have a chance (but should).
PICTURE: With A Beautiful Mind and The Fellowship of the Ring in a two-horse race for Best Picture, Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge could very well take the top prize in the event of a split vote. Trends are meant to be broken but with at least one of their films snagging a Best Picture nomination since 1993’s The Crying Game, Miramax will likely take In the Bedroom all the way to the Kodak Theatre. In the Bedroom is also shaping up to be one of the studio’s highest grossing films of 2001 (next to holiday morsel Kate & Leopold), meaning Miramax will have little reason to give the film the shaft in favor of pushing their lethargic The Shipping News and hyperactive Amelie, which took a big blow when it lost the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film to Danis Tanovic’s No Man’s Land. With Shrek poised to take the Best Animated Feature award from Monsters Inc. and Waking Life, DreamWorks will be shut out of the Best Picture race after a two-year winning streak (American Beauty and Gladiator). The Royal Tenenbaums has done nicely at the box office but the film’s quirk factor may be an acquired taste for Academy members still reeling from David Lynch’s surreal Mulholland Drive. The final wild card spot will pit USA’s Gosford Park against Sony’s Black Hawk Down. Michael Mann’s Ali had nothing on The Insider, which means Sony will shift their attention to Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, a topical war film with good critical notices and boffo box office receipts working to its advantage. With Robert Altman likely to upset Scott in the Best Director category, this will be Black Hawk Down’s nomination to lose.
ACTOR: The Academy Awards have made a habit of screwing over worthy winners one year only to cry foul and mend wounds at a later date. It’s been ten years since Al Pacino’s hokey blind-man performance in Scent of a Woman won over Denzel Washington’s legendary interpretation of Malcolm X. Four-time nominee Washington is a virtual lock for his deliciously over-the-top performance as an immoral cop in Antoine Fuqua’s rock-solid Training Day. Russell Crowe’s take on scientist/schizophrenic John Nash in Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind may be a shoe-in for a nomination but it’s difficult to justify the rationale behind his recent Golden Globe win for Best Actor in a Drama. While Washington chances may be dampened for playing a villain, Crowe already has a Best Actor Oscar under his belt (for last year’s Gladiator), seen by many as a sympathetic offering for having lost to Kevin Spacey (American Beauty) back in 2000. Just to show how musical these award show chairs can be: Washington also lost to Spacey two years ago despite having won the 2000 Globe for Best Actor in a Drama for his performance in The Hurricane. After last-minute praise from the National Society of Film Critics and the Golden Globes, Gene Hackman has all but secured his spot in the running for his performance in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. It’s difficult to say, though, whether too little screen time will work to his disadvantage. Before winning the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical, Hackman took the Best Supporting Actor prize at the AFI Awards. Tom Wilkinson was noticeably absent from the Best Actor race at the Globes but shouldn’t have a problem making the short list when Oscar nominations are announced. His shattering performance as a grieving father in In the Bedroom is seen as an indelible compliment to that of Sissy Spacek’s tormented housewife. With Kevin Spacey chivalrously opting out of this year’s Oscar race for his performance in The Shipping News, he will likely join indie faves John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) and Guy Pearce (Memento) on the sidelines. The ridiculous I Am Sam is unlikely to help Sean Penn’s chances, leaving the wild card spot to Will Smith or Billy Bob Thornton. Ali’s tepid critical reception will work against Smith, whose transformation into Muhammad Ali hasn’t been universally praised. I smell a snub of Jim Carrey proportions. Thornton may face a more significant problem: whether to vote for his performance in The Man Who Wasn’t There or Monster’s Ball (this is, of course, assuming he’s already disregarded his turn in Bandits). Even with three prior nominations to his name, will Thornton be able to dodge a possible vote split?
Will Be Nominated: Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind), Gene Hackman (The Royal Tenenbaums), Billy Bob Thornton (The Man Who Wasn’t There), Denzel Washington (Training Day), and Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom).
ACTRESS: The only thing diluting the egregious travesty of not being able to see Charlotte Rampling take an Oscar home for her heart-wrenching, complex performance as a grieving wife in Francois Ozon’s Under the Sand is Sissy Spacek’s virtual lock for a win in the Best Actress category. Spacek’s performance in the similarly themed In the Bedroom has rightfully earned her numerous critical accolades and industry awards. Even braver than her performance is her PR work: she actually showed up at the AFI Awards! Halle Berry’s modest but affected performance in Monster’s Ball is also a lock, as is Nicole Kidman’s turn as a dying showgirl in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. With The Others and a messy divorce on her resume this year, Kidman is the sympathetic It Girl waiting to upset Spacek on Oscar night. This leaves two wild spots with one likely to go to perennial Oscar favorite Judi Dench for her haunting, subdued performance as Alzheimer’s patient Iris Murdoch in Miramax’s Iris. Stockard Channing (The Business of Strangers), Audrey Tautou (Amelie) and Thora Birch (Ghost World) are too low-profile, leaving the final spot for The Deep End’s Tilda Swinton or Mulholland Drive’s Naomi Watts. Swinton’s the pro, delivering a subdued performance in a film that, in the end, might be too small for the Academy. On the other hand, Watts’s performance as struggling actresses Betty/Diane in Lynch’s surreal masterpiece has received the kind of critical attention that makes a Hollywood career. Universal was initially pushing Watts in the Supporting Actress category only to revamp their campaign after Watts took several runner-up citations for lead actress at several critics circles (including a Best Actress win at the National Society of Film Critics and New York Film Critics Online). Will it hurt her chances? Let’s hope not.