Friday, March 23, 2001

Oscars 2001: Winner Predictions

In less than two days, Hollywood will be buzzing over the many celebrated victories at this year’s Academy Awards. Perhaps the anticipation preceding the ceremony may be much greater than what follows it, though.

Creeping anxiously towards Oscar night 2001, we as moviegoers are seeing one of the biggest debates among industry insiders, critics, and audiences of the past ten years: who exactly are the front-runners among this year’s nominees, and who’s to say that they won’t be upset by other highly-observed contenders? Part of the calm atmosphere that has swirled around the ceremony in the past is the fact that the majority of the winners were usually imperative; this year, almost nothing can be ruled out as a sure thing, especially since the year’s top three picture contenders (Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator,” and Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic”) each appear to have a large voter following behind them.

I make my own predictions in the listings below. On some occasions, yours truly sticks with the obvious choices; on others, I opt to go for the more low-key (but probably more embraced) contenders. Just keep in mind: this time around, the predictions cannot be carved in stone.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Erin Brockovich
Who SHOULD Win: Gladiator
Who Should NOT Win: Chocolat
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Almost Famous
Who WILL Win: Gladiator

One of the easiest predictions, not surprisingly, is in this year’s Oscar race for Best Picture. That’s probably because it is simple, after long contemplation, to see how the other choices can cancel each other out.

The critical favorite here is undoubtedly “Traffic,” but it will suffer a loss because it is one of two nominated films done by director Steven Soderbergh. Academy members loved both this film and “Erin Brockovich” so much, it will be hard to choose between the two. Expect the vote to be split. And the fact that Soderbergh himself never publicly acknowledged which film he would prefer to be voted for doesn’t help his chances, either.

“Chocolat,” the latest success story in Miramax’s infamous Oscar machine, is the least-seen of all five nominees (and perhaps deservingly so). Miramax’s victory was getting the film nominated, and the push ends there. Plus, it lacks the emotional appeal of the studio’s last two picture nominees, 1998’s “Shakespeare In Love” and 1999’s “The Cider House Rules.”

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” broke records by being the most nominated foreign film in the history of the awards, but since it is also nominated as Best Foreign Film, Academy members will feel it is honoring this compelling epic via that category, and will see no need of repeating the success here.

That leaves “Gladiator,” which won the Golden Globe for Best Dramatic Motion Picture, goes into the Oscarcast with 12 nominations (the most of any film this year), is the highest-grossing of the five contenders, and comes as close as possible to recapturing the spirit and essence of Hollywood’s popular epic days.

Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot
Ang Lee, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Ridley Scott, Gladiator
Steven Soderbergh, Erin Brockovich
Steven Soderbergh, Traffic
Who SHOULD Win: Ridley Scott
Who Should NOT Win: Stephen Daldry
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Cameron Crowe for Almost Famous
Who WILL Win: Ang Lee

The director category is open up to little discussion, considering the odds in favor of an Ang Lee victory.

Lee took home the year’s coveted Director’s Guild of America award, usually a clear indication of an Oscar win. In fact, only on four occasions since 1949 has the DGA winner not gone on to win the Oscar for Best Director.

What strengthens his chances are the obstacles facing the other directors: Stephen Daldry’s “Billy Elliot” was highly embraced by the public, but he is the only director whose movie is not nominated for Best Picture; Ridley Scott, although a Hollywood favorite, suffers in part because his latest effort, “Hannibal,” left a bad taste in the mouths of many; and Steven Soderbergh, as with the Picture category, will once again see his vote get split.

Lee is probably the only major prediction that I feel completely confident about.

Javier Bardem, Before Night Falls
Russell Crowe, Gladiator
Tom Hanks, Ed Harris
Ed Harris, Pollock
Geoffrey Rush, Quills
Who SHOULD Win: Javier Bardem
Who Should NOT Win: Tom Hanks
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Michael Douglas for Wonder Boys
Who WILL Win: Ed Harris

Javier Bardem was terrific in “Before Night Falls,” but two things will prevent him from being the night’s favorite: 1) he is still relatively unknown, and 2) the performance was in a movie littered by indecisive objectives and weak direction. Geoffrey Rush was almost equally superb in “Quills,” but he won just four years ago for his role in “Shine,” an honor that will still be fresh in the Academy’s minds.

The public seems to favor Tom Hanks the most of the five nominees, but his nomination for “Cast Away” can is more attributed to his name value rather than his actual performance. Russell Crowe is probably a more substantial contender, especially since his performance in “Gladiator” was not just a physically and emotionally demanding one, but one that comes only a year after a loss for his more outstanding role in “The Insider.” The Academy loves honoring nominees that they left out in previous years, so the sympathy component could be in his favor.

And yet, what about Ed Harris? Shouldn’t the sentiment factor lean towards more him, especially since he’s been working so long in cinema, and has never been acknowledged with an Academy Award win? His performance in “Pollock” is one of those, like Julia Roberts’ in “Erin Brockovich,” that the Academy adores because of its realistic foundation. Another plus on his side: he directed the movie he starred in, too.

It will be a close call between these two, but since Crowe also endured bad publicity this past year stemming from his relationship with Meg Ryan, Harris’ chances are, in a way, strengthened.

Joan Allen, The Contender
Juliette Binoche, Chocolat
Ellen Burstyn, Requiem For A Dream
Laura Linney, You Can Count On Me
Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich
Who SHOULD Win: Ellen Burstyn
Who Should NOT Win: Juliette Binoche
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Björk for Dancer In The Dark
Who WILL Win: Julia Roberts

Odds are strongly in favor of a Julia Roberts win (her performance was solid, and she’s a Hollywood darling), but an upset doesn’t seem so unlikely, if you think about it.

Roberts has been perceived so often as the top choice, with hype swirling around her almost 24/7, that a backlash (although doubtful) could have a reverse effect on her.

In such a scenario, it would be clear that Ellen Burstyn could slip in and take home the gold. Burstyn benefits from having the most difficult role of the five nominated (not to mention, the best), and her status in Hollywood is at an all-time high, especially since she’s been around for over 20 years.

It will be close, but I do, in fact, expect Roberts to be the winner here.

Of the other nominees: Joan Allen will be hurt by the lack of enthusiasm for “The Contender”; Juliette Binoche, like Geoffrey Rush, won an Oscar four years ago for a still-fresh-feeling picture; and Laura Linney is still a newbie as far as actresses go, and the Academy will feel she’ll get her recognition farther down the road.

Jeff Bridges, The Contender
Willem Dafoe, Shadow Of The Vampire
Benicio Del Toro, Traffic
Albert Finney, Erin Brockovich
Joaquin Phoenix, Gladiator
Who SHOULD Win: Willem Dafoe
Who Should NOT Win: Joaquin Phoenix
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Gary Oldman for The Contender
Who WILL Win: Benicio Del Toro

This may very well be the hardest category of the top six to predict, since four of the five nominees, in ways, can be seen as the leaders of the pack.

Jeff Bridges will benefit from his reputation in Hollywood here. The downside, however, is that he is also playing a role in a movie that the Academy has no real interest in at this point (at least not since last year’s political election mess). Don’t count on him being the victor.

Willem Dafoe, meanwhile, takes on perhaps the best role of his career in “Shadow Of The Vampire, and the Academy loves biopics like these. Additionally, he has been acting for quite some time, and has never been recognized for his work. Unfortunately, the tone of the movie (which centers on the making of the first vampire flick, F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu”) is almost satirical, and that may tarnish their appreciation for Dafoe’s presence. The other problem is, he hasn’t won any of the big awards he’s been nominated for, either.

Then you have Albert Finney, who hasn’t won an Oscar despite multiple nominations, and was recognized a couple of weeks back at the SAG’s for the same performance. Clearly many people would consider him the obvious choice. But look at him and then look at Julia Roberts, who are both nominated for “Erin Brockovich.” Does Finney’s performance really stand out in that movie, at least compared to some of his previous nominated roles? The Academy probably won’t think so.

Joaquin Phoenix, needless to say, is seen here as an actor too distanced in his Oscar-nominated role to be considered an ideal candidate (many were even surprised he wasn’t nominated, instead, for his role in “Quills”). Admittedly, if there were ever a weak spot about “Gladiator,” he would be it.

This brings the target down to Benicio del Toro, a marvelous thespian whose take on a Mexican cop giving in to the drug trade in “Traffic” is stellar, challenging, and vibrant. He’s also becoming an increasingly-known person in Hollywood, and the fact that the Screen Actor’s Guild awarded him Best Actor honors instead of Supporting means that someone, somewhere, is campaigning hard to get him recognized. Besides, since “Traffic” is unlikely to walk away with other top honors, the Academy will feel it needs to laud the film in some other way.

Judi Dench, Chocolat
Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock
Kate Hudson, Almost Famous
Frances McDormand, Almost Famous
Julie Walters, Billy Elliot
Who SHOULD Win: Frances McDormand
Who Should NOT Win: Judi Dench
Who Should Have Been Nominated: Kate Winslet for Quills
Who WILL Win: Julie Walters

For some odd reason, everyone’s money is on Kate Hudson for a win in this category, and at first glance, she can be seen as the front-runner: after all, she’s young, talented... and the daughter of Goldie Hawn. While none of these qualities could necessarily backfire on her, there’s one little detail that forces me to hesitate on my approval: she lost the Screen Actor’s Guild Award to, of all people, Judi Dench, who isn’t even seen by many as the best (or the most obvious) of the front-runners.

While both the SAGs and the Oscars are two totally different honors, the fact remains that most of the members of the Screen Actors are also members of the Academy. That might reflect their vote. In the end, I see Dench and Hudson canceling each other out, leaving the door open for the next best thing.

My money’s on Julie Walters, a distinguished British actress who is widely known by her peers, and has never one an Academy Award (despite being nominated for one almost 20 years before). Her performance in “Billy Elliot,” furthermore, is a testament to her raw capability as a screen actress, and the movie she was in was extremely well received.

Marcia Gay Harden stands little chance because she, like Albert Finney, is dwarfed by a much larger screen presence, and Frances McDormand, my personal favorite, already won an Oscar four years ago for “Fargo.”

Almost Famous -- Cameron Crowe
Billy Elliot -- Lee Hall
Erin Brockovich -- Susannah Grant
Gladiator -- David Franzoni, John Logan and William Nicholson
You Can Count On Me -- Kenneth Lonergan
Who SHOULD Win: Almost Famous
Who Should NOT Win: Billy Elliot
Who Should Have Been Nominated: State And Main
Who WILL Win: Erin Brockovich

Many are assuming that Cameron Crowe, being a critical favorite who was overlooked in the major categories, will get his honors for his screenplay of “Almost Famous.” Then again, that’s also what the masses had guessed about Paul Thomas Anderson last year, whose “Magnolia,” being another favorite, was also forgotten in the major categories. Instead, the Oscar went to the “American Beauty” screenplay, which, not coincidentally, was also a nominee for Best Picture.

Of this year’s five nominees, only “Erin Brockovich” and “Gladiator” are picture contenders. My guess is that, because the latter will win top honors, and Soderbergh will lose both Director and Picture despite two nominations in each, his movies will be honored for their screenplays.

Chocolat -- Robert Nelson Jacobs
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon -- Wang Hui Ling, James Schamus and Tsai Kuo Jung
O Brother, Where Art Thou? -- Ethan and Joel Coen
Traffic -- Stephen Gaghan
Wonder Boys -- Steve Kloves
Who SHOULD Win: Traffic
Who Should NOT Win: Chocolat
Who Should Have Been Nominated: American Psycho
Who WILL Win: Traffic

As with Original Screenplay, Soderbergh’s movie will benefit here because the top honors seem to be out of the question. And of the five, “Traffic” is also the most intricate and socially significant script.

Its only competition lies with “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (which also has a Picture nod), but the Academy perceives that movie more as a visual spectacle than a narrative treat. Ang Lee’s movie will be honored in technical categories instead.

Best Foreign Language Film: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Best Cinematography: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Best Art Direction: Gladiator
Best Costume Design: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Best Sound: The Patriot
Best Film Editing: Traffic
Best Sound Effects Editing: U-571
Best Visual Effects: The Perfect Storm
Best Makeup: Shadow Of The Vampire
Best Original Song: Wonder Boys
Best Musical Score: Gladiator
Best Documentary, Feature: Into The Arms Of Strangers
Best Documentary, Short: Dolphins
Best Animated Short: Father And Daughter
Best Live Action Short: One Day Crossing

Written by DAVID KEYES

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