At least four of this year’s potential Best Picture nominees share an allegiance with the Weinstein brothers. Miramax had a stellar year, and as such the Academy will feel indebted to reward them for their good fortune. Indies will once again be underrepresented when nominations are announced on February 11, but the good news is that this year’s potential Best Picture contenders will far out-grace last year’s revolting, Insanity-for-Dummies package A Beautiful Mind. Universal’s New York-based specialty arm USA Films (formerly October Films) merged with Good Machine early last year to form Focus Features. Despite its blurry history, the distribution company (responsible for last year’s Gosford Park) enters the 2003 Oscar race with two major trump cards: expatriate auteur Roman Polanski’s Holocaust drama The Pianist and Todd Haynes’s critically-lauded Far from Heaven. Don’t count out New Line Cinema, which enters the ring a second year in a row with Peter Jackson in one hand and Alexander Payne in the other. 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: Before its theatrical release, some pundits didn’t think The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (link to Miramax: Bob and Harvey executive produced) could pull off a nomination for Best Picture. More of the same? Hardly. Peter Jackson’s spectacularly gruesome epic has pleased just as many people as The Fellowship of the Ring did last year; it’s also poised to make more money than its predecessor. The only trouble is that no one can decide which film is better. Oscar is unlikely to give the film its top prize, but a nomination is assured. Stephen Daldry’s preening anti-feminist agitprop The Hours (link to Miramax: the studio is handling foreign distribution) is making people swoon like the dated off-off-Broadway production that it is. It has divas, prosthetic noses and, ultimately, absolutely nothing to say. As such, Far from Heaven’s many subtleties stand little-to-no chance against it. Focus Features can take some consolation in the fact that the Academy will not be able to resist voting for a Holocaust drama as good as The Pianist. Polanski may have a harder time scoring a Best Director nod but a nomination for this sensitive account of Wladyslaw Szpilman’s experience in the Warsaw ghetto is a virtual shoe-in. The remaining two spots belong to Rob Marshall’s limp but inoffensive Chicago and Martin Scorsese’s ravishing but divisive Gangs of New York. As for the wildcards: About Schmidt will appeal to older members but may ultimately be too low profile; My Big Fat Greek Wedding made lots of money but it has the scope of a television sitcom; Adaptation. had brains but will repel those who hate Möbius strips; while Road to Perdition and Minority Report packed early steam but will now have to negotiate the success of Catch Me If You Can.
ACTOR: Cowardice almost forced Miramax to bury The Quiet American before its premiere two years ago at the Toronto Film Festival. Not surprisingly, Michael Caine’s remarkable performance was as layered and inoffensive as the film’s supposedly anti-American politics. Caine became an instant frontrunner for the Best Actor trophy as soon as the film was released, but the buzz has died down significantly since the release of Gangs of New York and About Schmidt. Caine, Daniel Day-Lewis and Jack Nicholson have all won Oscars before and are shoe-ins for nominations this time around. If Leonardo Di Caprio makes the cut, it will be for Catch Me If You Can and not Gangs of New York but he’ll have to fight off Nicholas Cage, a previous Oscar-winner who gave not one but two stellar performances in Charlie Kaufman’s, er, Spike Jonze’s Adaptation. If the idea of Richard Gere finally getting an Oscar nomination scares the living shit out of you, don’t worry: it ain’t gonna happen. Not only does Gere need to compete against Di Caprio, but Adrien Brody’s career-making performance in The Pianist as well. Brody says more with his eyes than Gere can with his singing and tap-dancing. As for the wildcards: aside from Di Caprio and Tom Hanks (Oscar’s short-attention span will hurt Road to Perdition), it’s a virtual who’s who list of indie players with miniscule publicity muscle on their side. Sam Rockwell and Campbell Scott especially stand out; the former has Miramax behind him but the latter has a better pedigree.
ACTRESS: Should Julianne Moore not get a nomination for her performance in Far from Heaven, it may just count as one of the bigger surprises in Oscar history. But as good as Far from Heaven actually is, Moore’s passive turn in the film may reek of more-of-the-same, especially for anyone who’s seen Safe. If there’s one thing going for The Hours, which also stars Moore, it’s Nicole Kidman’s devastatingly effective performance as Virginia Woolf. She’s a lock for a nomination but with everyone so hung up on her nose, you have to wonder where everyone’s priorities really lie. This year, La Streep will likely make Oscar history by breaking her 12-nom tie with Katharine Hepburn and become the woman with the most Oscar nominations. The question remains, though, whether Streep will score one or two nominations. Another performance that’s superior to its corresponding film is Renée Zellweger’s dazzling, bitchy and vulnerable turn as murderous Roxy Hart in Chicago. If she can score a nomination for Bridget Jones’s Diary, she can certainly earn a spot in this year’s race. If the Academy had any sense, Isabelle Huppert would be competing against herself but how many members can say that they’ve caught both of her chilly performances in Merci Pour Le Chocolat and The Piano Teacher? The final spot is Diane Lane’s to lose. To stand-out in Adrian Lyne’s softcore porn is one thing but to beat Moore in two major critics’ awards must count for something.