Saturday, March 25, 2000

Oscars 2000: Winner Predictions

The word "surprise" is one of the most frequently used during Oscar night, and when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences unveils this year's winners during Sunday's telecast of the 72nd annual awards ceremony, don't be amazed to hear it a few more times.

We've approached an era in which anything is possible at the tear of the envelope, as seen most recently with the surprise win of "Shakespeare In Love," which went up against Spielberg's World War II epic "Saving Private Ryan," just last year. This time around Hollywood is treading on similar territory; Dreamworks Pictures, which owns "Saving Private Ryan," now has "American Beauty" to deal with; meanwhile the brains behind Miramax, whose campaigning of "Shakespeare" left many feeling like they had bought the Best Picture Oscar, are hoping that their much-publicized surprise hit "The Cider House Rules" will make it out on top. It's a battle of clashing forces, as it seems: both films are leaving their other competition ("The Green Mile," "The Insider," and "The Sixth Sense") literally in the dust thanks to heavy publicity. But who will actually win? Now there's a good question!

My gut instincts have proven wrong the past couple of years; in 1998 I foresaw "L.A. Confidential" walking away with the statuette, but James Cameron's "Titanic," which is even a better film, managed to nab it, along with 10 others. Same case scenario this time last year; "Saving Private Ryan" seemed like a definite lock, but "Shakespeare In Love" turned that completely around. Who is the most obvious choice this year? "American Beauty," most definitely. But Miramax's Oscar machine is not to be ignored; if "The Cider House Rules" walks away with the gold, many will not be surprised.

Unfortunate it is, too, since "The Cider House Rules" is the worst of the nominees. I saw it in early January after several of my colleagues had hyped it up with numerous glowing reviews. To see it after those comments is to feel all the more hatred for it; the movie is an uncompromising mess that cannot decide exactly what it wants to do with characters and where it wants to take them. Compared to Miramax's widely ignored offering "The Talented Mr. Ripley," one wonders why the studio wasted so much time hyping up the former instead of pursuing the latter: a wonderful film that actually deserved the nod.

Hopefully "American Beauty" will still come out on top, and not simply for the reason that it is ten times better than "The Cider House Rules." This fascinating drama, with stellar ensemble acting and strong direction, is the kind of picture that remains on the minds of anyone who sees it; I doubt many Academy members have forgotten it. Does that mean it deserves the Oscar, though? Just barely. Sam Mendes' debut effort just missed my top ten list for 1999, simply for minor quibbles. The real masterpiece of the five nominees is "The Insider." But it, alas, has literally no chance in walking home with the gold; not enough people have seen it, and the almost nonexistent publicity has allowed it to fly over the heads of those who do have the desire to.

But let us not avoid the other categories here. The list below recaps the nominees, and makes certain notes about who I think should, should not, and will win. The comments are brief, however, because great detail for each of the categories would only extend the length of my commentary and frustrate readers.

No matter what remains unsaid, however, I'd be willing to defend each of my choices to those who are even remotely interested.

Best Picture
American Beauty
The Cider House Rules
The Green Mile
The Insider
The Sixth Sense
Who Should Win: "The Insider." Of the five picture nominees, only one had the gall to stand up to a problem as massive as the tobacco industry. Michael Mann's account of an insider blowing the lid on his former workplace was an actor's feast, filled with bone-crunching effort and ambition from the many talented stars aboard.
Who Should Not Win: "The Cider House Rules." You know why, too.
Who Will Win: "American Beauty." I just don't foresee Miramax overtaking Dreamworks again this year, especially since their contender is such a weak choice compared to the other. Other evidence speaks for itself, too: it received 8 nominations, the most this year; it won the Golden Globe; and it also won the SAG award.
Surprise Nominee: "The Sixth Sense." Who could have foreseen anyone nominate a picture like this when there were so many other, better, choices? Last year's summer mega-hit, widely known for its anchoring performance from the little actor Haley Joel Osment, is not really traditional Oscar material.

Best Director
Sam Mendes, "American Beauty"
Spike Jonze, "Being John Malkovich"
Lasse Halstrom, "The Cider House Rules"
Michael Mann, "The Insider"
M. Night Shyamalan, "The Sixth Sense"
Who Should Win: Michael Mann. Like his movie, Mann is a tyrant for character details; he surrounds his personalities in a whirlwind of conflict and then stands back to see how they react. He is able to drain his actors of every form of emotion in the most believable ways. When most directors want to get an audience reaction with a use of special effects and camera tricks, here is one who does not go great lengths to find the greatest assets.
Who Should Not Win: M. Night Shyamalan. Even though Lasse Halstrom's "The Cider House Rules" is the worse movie, Shyamalan's film left much more to be desired. "Cider" was simply a dead movie right from the beginning--this one was more infuriating, because its promise was dashed by lazy directing.
Who Will Win: Sam Mendes. Despite being a first-time director who goes up against many royalties, Mendes is showing evidence of his strong craftsmanship as a filmmaker. Plus, he won the Directors Guild of America award--usually the first indicator of an Oscar win.
Surprise Nominee: Spike Jonze. Traditionally one director is left off the list if his film is nominated; this year Frank Darabont's position for "The Green Mile" was ignored for the much more challenging direction from Spike Jonze for "Being John Malkovich." He was unexpected in either way, though; many had foreseen that the nod would have went to Anthony Minghella, the award-winning man behind "The English Patient," for his stellar work on "The Talented Mr. Ripley."

Best Actor
Russel Crowe, "The Insider"
Richard Farnsworth, "The Straight Story"
Sean Penn, "Sweet And Lowdown"
Kevin Spacey, "American Beauty"
Denzel Washington, "The Hurricane"
Who Should Win: Russel Crowe.Exhilaratingly dramatic from the first scene of "The Insider" to the last, Crowe's portrayal as the whistle-blower of tobacco's infamous industry did not hold back one single thing.
Who Should Not Win: Sean Penn. It's a tough decision in a category of five great contenders, but if there were one I'd do without, Penn is the more obvious choice. His performance in Woody Allen's film did not achieve the complexity of so many others of the year.
Who Will Win: Kevin Spacey. A win for Best Actor at the Screen Actors Guild is a 90% lock on the Oscar, as seen in the years past. Because Kevin Spacey has won the SAG award, not to mention massive raves for his portrayal of a rebellious father, we can easily expect him to walk up on stage Sunday night. His closest competition is Denzel Washington, who, while winning the Golden Globe, has had his chances weakened in the last two months by protesters of "The Hurricane" who claim that the film is inaccurate to the facts.

Best Actress
Annette Bening, "American Beauty"
Janet McTeer, "Tumbleweeds"
Julianne Moore, "The End Of The Affair"
Meryl Streep, "Music Of The Heart"
Hilary Swank, "Boys Don't Cry"
Who Should Win: Hilary Swank. It isn't easy for anyone to play characters who are either an opposite sex or wish to be one, but Swank's performance as Teena Brandon, a woman who lived as a man, is one of the most well-tackled ones that we have seen in the past year. She blossoms from a script of both success and failure; not once is she unconvincing.
Who Should Not Win: Julianne Moore. As an actress, Moore is one of the most talented, but she didn't deserve an Academy award nomination for "The End Of The Affair," a movie that lacks passion and enforces a feeling of discomfort. This certainly isn't one of her good roles; it's a million miles away from the much-better, but much-ignored, supporting piece in "Magnolia."
Who Will Win: Annette Bening. Swank is deserving, but like last year's best, Cate Blanchett, her unknown status will permit Hollywood royalty like Gwyneth Paltrow from stealing the victory. And Bening is as royal as they come.

Best Supporting Actor
Michael Caine, "The Cider House Rules"
Tom Cruise, "Magnolia"
Michael Clarke Duncan, "The Green Mile"
Jude Law, "The Talented Mr. Ripley"
Haley Joel Osment, "The Sixth Sense"
Who Should Win: Tom Cruise. The past few years have seen an outbreak of great roles for this highly respected actor, but none have come quite as close to his most-recent: the hypnotic "Eyes Wide Shut" and the rousing "Magnolia." The latter shows his creative ambition taken to new heights, and is probably the best role he has had in the duration of his career.
Who Should Not Win: Michael Caine. Let the evidence speak for itself: "The Cider House Rules."
Who Will Win: Michael Clarke Duncan. Everyone thinks the front contender is Caine, but they also forget he was already given an Oscar for "Hannah And Her Sisters." Clarke Duncan, who was the backbone of "The Green Mile," feels like the obvious choice here; losing the SAG award may actually strengthen his chances (after all, 90 percent of actors in lead roles who win the SAG walk away with the Oscar, but less than half of that in the supporting categories end up getting the Academy Award if they snared the Screen Actors Guild statuette as well).

Best Supporting Actress
Toni Collette, "The Sixth Sense"
Angelina Jolie, "Girl, Interrupted"
Catherine Keener, "Being John Malkovich"
Samantha Morton, "Sweet And Lowdown"
Chloƫ Sevigny, "Boys Don't Cry"
Who Should Win: Catherine Keener. The title "Being John Malkovich" should tell you all you need to know why.
Who Should Not Win: Angelina Jolie. Not that she's a bad actress or anything, but "Girl, Interrupted" had little merit to its name, and absolutely none of it came from Jolie's portrayal of an asylum inmate. It was simply a routine performance that evoked neither sympathy nor respect for the character.
Who Will Win: Chloƫ Sevigny. While many of my colleagues predict that Jolie is the front runner (she won both the SAG and the Golden Globe), I cannot ignore the fact that so few SAG winners in supporting categories receive the Oscar. It's a toss-up for most of the other nominees, but I'd say Sevigny as the woman who falls in love with Hilary Swank in "Boys Don't Cry" earned more points with Academy members than any of the others.
Surprise Nominee: Toni Collette. The transparency of "The Sixth Sense" was not a fault of Collette's (she was actually one of the picture's strong points), but in a selection that included Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore, Minnie Driver and Cameron Diaz as potential nominees, it's odd to see someone so overshadowed in a movie like this prevail with a supporting actress nod.


Best Original Score
"American Beauty" -- Thomas Newman
"Angela's Ashes" -- John Williams
"The Cider House Rules" -- Rachel Portman
"The Red Violin" -- John Gorigliano
"The Talented Mr. Ripley" -- Gabriel Yared
Who Should Win: "The Red Violin." A haunting, glorious composition of chords and rhythms help heighten the thrill of this somewhat intriguing Canadian picture.
Who Should Not Win: "The Cider House Rules." There was a score in the movie?
Who Will Win: "American Beauty." Like "Shakespeare In Love," the Academy has fallen head-over-heels in love with this movie, giving it a lock on minor categories like this.
Surprise Nominee: "Angela's Ashes" John Williams' nomination for this category is a staple. But what made the Academy overlook his brilliant work in "Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace" in exchange for "Angela's Ashes?"
(*special note: there use to be two score categories—Drama and Comedy—but both were combined this year, unfortunately, thus only allowing five scores to be nominated instead of ten. Depressing it is, too, since all of the great scores this past year were from comedies and all five nominees in the category are in fact dramas)

Best Original Song
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut -- "Blame Canada" (Trey Parker & Marc Shaiman)
Music Of The Heart -- "Music Of My Heart" (Dianne Warren)
Magnolia -- "Save Me" (Aimee Mann)
Toy Story 2 -- "When She Loved Me" (Randy Newman)
Tarzan -- "You'll Be In My Heart" (Phil Collins)
Who Should Win: "When She Loved Me." Touching, strongly written and observant.
Who Should Not Win: "Music Of The Heart." What was Gloria Estefan thinking in doing a duet with N*Sync? Six voices in a three-minute song doesn't add up well.
Who Will Win: "When She Loved Me." Randy Newman's Oscar is long overdue.
Surprise Nominee: "Blame Canada." The nomination of a song from "South Park" is a daring move, especially for one that features negative stereotypes and dirty language throughout the lyrics. For the Academy, who enjoys traditional music, this is a big surprise; besides, wasn't it almost inevitable that Madonna's hip "Beautiful Stranger" would get the recognition instead?

Best Original Screenplay
"American Beauty" -- Alan Ball
"Being John Malkovich" -- Charlie Kaufman
"Magnolia" -- Paul Thomas Anderson
"The Sixth Sense" -- M. Night Shyamalan
"Topsy-Turvy" -- Mike Leigh
Who Should Win: "Being John Malkovich," for being endlessly creative from the first second until the last.
Who Should Not Win: "The Sixth Sense." The only thing noteworthy here is how long it took for countless moviegoers to finally figure out the "big" mystery behind the climax.
Who Will Win: "American Beauty." Did I mention that the Academy has a strong love for this film?
Surprise Nominee: "Magnolia," since the film was so overly ignored in most of the other categories.

Best Adapted Screenplay
"The Cider House Rules" -- John Irving
"Election" -- Alexander Payne
"The Green Mile" -- Frank Darabont
"The Insider" -- Eric Roth & Michael Mann
"The Talented Mr. Ripley" -- Anthony Minghella
Who Should Win: "The Insider." A script that is both absorbing and exciting without completely butchering the facts of the actual story.
Who Should Not Win: "The Cider House Rules." I haven't read the book, but judging from the movie itself, this adaptation left much to be desired.
Who Will Win: "The Cider House Rules." Since the Academy is going to give picture to "American Beauty," they will feel they need to honor the next most-popular nominee with some kind of award. And here is the most obvious.

Best Art Direction
"Anna And The King" -- Luciana Arrighi and Ian Whittaker
"The Cider House Rules" -- David Gropman and Beth Rubino
"Sleepy Hollow" -- Rick Heinrichs and Peter Young
"The Talented Mr. Ripley" -- Roy Walker and Bruno Cesari
"Topsy-Turvy" -- Eve Stewart and John Bush
Who Should Win: "Sleepy Hollow." The lush sets and dark mood created images here that haven't been seen since the silent era, and because of their refreshing look, they remain as haunting as those in the Germanic Expressionism pictures.
Who Should Not Win: "The Cider House Rules." 'Nuff said.
Who Will Win: "Sleepy Hollow." Tim Burton's vehicle is a visionary masterwork that, thankfully, the movie public responded positively too. The Academy will make sure that it is honored on Oscar night.

Best Cinematography
"American Beauty" -- Conrad L. Hall
"The End Of The Affair" -- Roger Pratt
"The Insider" -- Dante Spinotti
"Sleepy Hollow" -- Emmanuel Lubezki
"Snow Falling On Cedars" -- Robert Richardson
Who Should Win: "Sleepy Hollow." As the art direction helped establish the intricate atmosphere, the precise photography helped illuminate it.
Who Should Not Win: "American Beauty." Sure it was a good movie, but the camerawork here is just ordinary and plain—certainly not nomination material in a category that consists of "Sleepy Hollow."
Who Will Win: "Snow Falling On Cedars." Robert Richardson is one of the most-prized cinematographers working right now, and surely the Oscar prize will come to him for his work in this movie. The Academy will honor the real winner, "Sleepy Hollow," in Art Direction.

Best Costume Design
"Anna And The King" -- Jenny Beavan
"Sleepy Hollow" -- Colleen Atwood
"The Talented Mr. Ripley" -- Ann Roth and Gary Jones
"Titus" -- Milena Canonero
"Topsy-Turvy" -- Lindy Hemming
Who Should Win: Undecided. While I adored the lush realizations of "Sleepy Hollow" and "Topsy-Turvy," I relished in the complexity of "Anna And The King" and "Titus." It is impossible for me to make a final judgment.
Who Should Not Win: "The Talented Mr. Ripley." In a list filled with complex and rich costume nominations, this movie's wardrobe seems almost second-rate.
Who Will Win: "Titus." The film's use of unique but elaborate gowns and clothing accessories literally screams "Shakespeare." And we all know how much the Academy loves the bard, now don't we?

Best Makeup
"Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" -- Michele Burke and Mike Smithson
"Bicentennial Man" -- Greg Cannom
"Life" -- Rick Baker
"Topsy-Turvy" -- Christine Blundell and Trefor Proud
Who Should Win: "Topsy-Turvy." Ordinary faces became beautiful visages as the makeup transformed them into elaborate characters.
Who Should Not Win: "Life." Just because artists are capable of turning young stars into middle-aged characters doesn't mean it's always going to look good.
Who Will Win: "Topsy-Turvy." Compare the facial artistry of this movie to that of the three other nominees, and the choice is obvious.

Best Film Editing
"American Beauty" -- Tariq Anwar
"The Cider House Rules" -- Lisa Zeno Churgin
"The Insider" -- William Goldenberg, Paul Rubell and David Rosenbloom
"The Matrix" -- Zach Staenberg
"The Sixth Sense" -- Andrew Mondshein
Who Should Win: "The Matrix." The impressive visual style and technique was only a portion of the virtue here; in retrospect, the editing of all the special effects sequences may be the film's biggest compliment.
Who Should Not Win: "The Cider House Rules." Too slow, too obvious, too ordinary. Who Will Win: "The Sixth Sense." By achieving a picture nomination, the movie is almost guaranteed to walk away with one Oscar. Since the other nominated pictures have stronger potential in the other categories, expect the Academy to award the statuette to this one for editing.


Foreign Language Film: "All About My Mother"

Documentary Feature: "Buena Vista Social Club"

Documentary Short Subject: "The Wildest Show in the South: The Angola Prison Rodeo"

Short Film (Animated): "The Old Man and the Sea"

Short Film (Live Action): "Killing Joe"

Sound: "The Matrix"

Sound Effects Editing: "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace"

Visual Effects: "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace"

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