Who/What Should Be Nominated
Commentary by James Berardinelli
February 5, 1998
This year, I'm going to try hard to stay calm.
What am I talking about? you ask. I'm referring to the annual ritual of announcing the Academy Award nominations, something that happens every year around this time. Because numerous deserving individuals and films are inevitably neglected, I have been known to enter into long, blistering condemnations of the Academy and their nomination process. So I write this column beforehand to delineate my preferences. I'm fully aware that some of my nominees don't stand a chance in hell of being recognized by the Academy, but that doesn't bother me one bit. These are my nominations, and I'll give them to whom I damn well want to give them.
Unless there's a compelling reason to do otherwise, I'll restrict myself to five "nominees" in each category.
These are in alphabetical order (except the "best scenes", which doesn't reflect an Oscar category anyway).
Certain categories (screenplay, foreign language film, documentary, and picture) are presented without
commentary, largely because I've already written about these ad nauseaum elsewhere, or because I didn't
have much to say. For more on my choice of Best Picture, see my 1997 Top 20 -- the Top 5 are my choices in this category.
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:
- Judy Davis, Deconstructing Harry:
This is one of those performances that I don't think stands much of a chance for Academy recognition. But Davis' work in Woody Allen's 1997 feature was so close-to-perfect that it's hard to imagine the film being half as funny without her. In numerous previous outings, Davis has proven to be an excellent dramatic performer, but never has her comic timing been more exact than in Harry. The film was merely "good." Davis, however, was "great."
- Irma P. Hall, Soul Food:
Over the last two years, Irma P. Hall has popped up in a number of films, and she's never given a bad performance. In 1996, she was excellent in A Family Thing. In 1997, her best role came in the delightful African American family drama, Soul Food. Hall played the matriarch of the fractured family, and her keen, sensitive reading of the role caused Roger Ebert to remark that she reminded him of his own mother in law. Hall deserves recognition, and the film was visible enough that she at least has a chance at it.
- Julianne Moore, Boogie Nights:
Moore has come into her own over the past several years, with memorable roles in films like Short Cuts, Safe, Vanya on 42nd Street, and The Myth of Fingerprints. In Boogie Nights, as Amber Waves, the sad-but-sexy wife of a porn director, Moore gives one of her most heartfelt performances to date. It's a memorable part that adds a softer emotional dimension to a film already crackling with energy. Of all my choices in this category, Moore is perhaps the one most likely to be recognized by the Academy.
- Sarah Polley, The Sweet Hereafter:
Polley will almost certainly be overlooked, but her work as Nicole elevates The Sweet Hereafter to a higher level. Polley shows her range here: before the accident, Nicole can be sweet and sultry; after it, she can be bitter and vindictive. Polley's performance is virtually without flaw, and, to add to her talents, she has a beautiful singing voice which contributes a number of haunting melodies to the soundtrack.
- Christina Ricci, The Ice Storm:
Christina Ricci is one of the best young actresses working today to have never appeared in a good film -- until 1997, that is. Finally working for a capable director with a top-notch script, Ricci shows what she can do. Her portrayal of a sexually precocious teenager is provocative, disturbing, funny, and memorable. As good as the rest of the cast was, no one from the The Ice Storm stands out as clearly in my memory. She probably won't get a nomination, but this is one of the best female performances of the year in any category, supporting or lead.
Other noteworthy Supporting Actress performances: Lara Flynn Boyle, Café Society; Ashley Judd, Kiss the Girls, Michelle Yeoh, Tomorrow Never Dies.
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:
ACTRESS IN A LEAD ROLE:
- Cate Blanchett, Oscar and Lucinda:
Cate Blanchett probably won't get her due for her work as one of the title characters of Oscar and Lucinda, but being overlooked doesn't mean she wasn't among the best. She imbues Lucinda with a real zest and zeal for life. Without Blanchett, Oscar and Lucinda would have been far less interesting, and the character of Lucinda wouldn't have been as captivating.
- Helena Bonham Carter, Wings of the Dove:
Helena Bonham Carter is probably a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination. Her work in Wings of the Dove is the best of her career, bar none. It's a multi-faceted, courageous portrayal that demands the kind of physical and emotional nakedness that the actress has never before displayed. Bonham Carter accomplishes something that's very difficult to do: make a self-serving, spoiled woman into a sympathetic, entirely human individual.
- Judi Dench, Mrs. Brown:
Judi Dench has been a veteran of British stage and screen for decades, but her name and face are largely unfamiliar to American audiences. In 1997, however, she had two roles that brought her to our attention: the lead in Mrs. Brown and the part of "M" in Tomorrow Never Dies. It is her work in the former film that earns her this nod. Dench immerses herself in the character of Queen Victoria, eliminating all traces of artifice and making us believe that she really is the queen. It's a performance of remarkable poise and depth, and, in concert with the acting of Billy Connolly, one of the primary reasons why this film made my Top 10.
- Jennifer Lopez, Selena:
The real Selena was such a dynamic personality that it's to Jennifer Lopez's credit that she successfully captured the essence of the popular Tex-Mex singer in this superior bio-pic. Energetic, sexy, and vibrant, Lopez really left her mark on the film industry with a performance that was largely forgotten about by year's end.
- Victoire Thivisol, Ponette:
It wouldn't be hard to argue that Victoire Thivisol gave one of 1997's most astonishing performances. In fact, her work as the title character of Ponette was heartwrenching. But, as with any actor of her tender age, a lion's share of the kudos should go to director Jacques Doillon. He's the one who found a way to elicit this degree of emotion, and he deserves to split the credit with Thivisol for this portrayal.
Other noteworthy Lead Actress performances: Garance Clavel, When the Cat's Away; Jodie Foster, Contact; Pam Grier, Jackie Brown; Alyssa Milano, Hugo Pool; Kate Winslet, Titanic.
ACTOR IN A LEAD ROLE:
- Billy Connolly, Mrs. Brown:
Understandably, a great deal of credit goes to Judi Dench for making Mrs. Brown a success -- so much so that Billy Connolly's contribution is routinely overlooked. In fact, this wouldn't have been as worthy a motion picture without both performances. Connolly's Mr. Brown was the perfect foil for Dench's Queen Victoria, and the chemistry between the two actors was palpable (even though the relationship between the protagonists was platonic). This is an underrated portrayal, and worthy of Oscar recognition.
- Robert Duvall, The Apostle:
One of the most celebrated actors of his generation, Robert Duvall has enjoyed a long career of distinguished performances. His role in The Apostle is the latest, and it's some of the best work that Duvall has done. This is a fine example of an actor getting lost in the character -- by the time the closing credits roll, we're no longer aware that we're watching Duvall. As far as we're concerned, the only one we're seeing is the Apostle E.F. The Academy will recongize him.
- Peter Fonda, Ulee's Gold:
Like Duvall, Peter Fonda has been in movies for a long time. Unlike the star of The Apostle, Fonda's career has not been as filled with great roles and memorable performances. In fact, aside from Easy Rider, it's difficult to name more than a handful of movies that the actor has appeared in. That said, there's no question that his part in Ulee's Gold represents the best work of his career. This is a noteworthy performance, as Fonda creates a three-dimensional, believable individual and forges an unbreakable emotional link with the audience. He'll be an official nominee.
- Christopher Guest, Waiting for Guffman:
I may be the only one advocating Christopher Guest for a Best Actor nomination, but his work in Waiting for Guffman represented the best comic performance of the year, beating out such notables as John Cleese, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, and Kevin Kline. Guest's turn as a frustrated theater director forced to work on a small-town production was nothing short of hilarious. Sadly, Guest has two strikes against him: Guffman came out too early in the year, and too few people saw it.
- Ian Holm, The Sweet Hereafter:
Of all the male performers listed here, the one who struck the deepest chord with me was Ian Holm in The Sweet Hereafter. This is a powerful example of acting. Holm not only develops his character into a real, flesh-and-blood individual, but uses subtlety to bring out a level of complexity that far too few motion picture individuals exhibit. One of the reasons it's so easy to watch The Sweet Hereafter multiple times is that, on each occasion, the viewer will notice some new facet in Holm's character. The actor's portrayal is mesmerizing.
Other noteworthy lead actor performances: Leonardo DiCaprio, Titanic; Djimon Hounsou, Amistad; John Lynch, Angel Baby; David Suchet,
- James Cameron, Titanic:
The most impressive thing about Cameron's work on Titanic was the way he seamlessly merged real-life action with special effects. The last hour of the film is majestic -- tense, poignant, and breathtaking. The success of the film on many levels can be attributed in large part to the director, who did such a spectacular job with the material that a movie costing in excess of $200 million to make will end up well into the black.
- Atom Egoyan, The Sweet Hereafter:
While Cameron deserves his nod on the basis of spectacle, Egoyan is worthy for the opposite reason: subtlety and finesse. The Sweet Hereafter was an emotionally devastating film, and, while the actors deserve a portion of the credit, even the casual observer can see how critical the director's contribution was. Each time I see this film, I come away more convinced that it's a masterpiece.
- Curtis Hanson, L.A. Confidential:
For L.A. Confidential, Curtis Hanson brought together impeccable period details, a fine cast, and a compelling story, and fashioned one of 1997's best-looking and most engrossing films. Hanson maintained tight control of the movie throughout, ensuring that there wasn't a wasted moment on screen.
- Ang Lee, The Ice Storm:
The thing that impressed me the most about Ang Lee's contribution to The Ice Storm was that he captured the early '70s perfectly -- without ever having lived through them. This was a masterful motion picture that delicately balanced farce and drama, and its ability to successfully navigate that tricky path was a testimony to the effectiveness of the director.
- Paul Thomas Anderson, Boogie Nights:
Like Ang Lee, Paul Thomas Anderson's canvas was the '70s. His epic chronicle of the rise and fall of the porn industry in the late '70s and early '80s represented something more substantial than mere "good entertainment." It was also a rich examination of the cultural change and social upheaval that marked the Reagan Revolution.
Other noteworthy directors: Neil LaBute, In the Company of Men; Barry Levinson, Wag the Dog; Robert Zemeckis, Contact.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:
MOST MEMORABLE SCENES OF THE YEAR
(in no particular order, and, yes, I know it's not an Oscar category):
Now, let's see if the Academy agrees with even a handful of these choices...
- Breaking in Half, Titanic:
As Titanic bobs like a cork in the water in its final moments, the hull pivots skyward and the ship tears in half. As special effects sequences go, this is perhaps the most spectacular one I've ever seen, with detail guaranteed to awe even the most jaded viewer. Truly breathtaking.
- The Last Scene in, Boogie Nights:
Everyone was talking about this scene: is that really Mark Wahlberg or is it a prosthesis? And it's not just a conversation-generating moment; it has a real purpose.
- The Bus Accident in The Sweet Hereafter:
The central moment from Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter is all the more powerful because of the simplicity with which it is presented.
- Earth to Infinity, Contact:
The opening sequence of Contact, which sends us on a journey out of the Solar System and out into infinity, is the perfect way to begin this motion picture odyssey. Some have criticized it as being inaccurate (which, technically speaking, it is -- the audio does not synch up with the distance from Earth), but what it accomplishes is to forge an indelible link between time and space in the viewer's mind.
- "I Say a Little Prayer for You", My Best Friend's Wedding:
Pure exuberance. The scene where Rupert Everett croons this Burt Bacharach tune to Julia Roberts at the dinner table (with the rest of the cast joining in) is the most magical moment in My Best Friends' Wedding.
- "Macho Man", In and Out:
Kevin Kline trying not to dance. One of 1997's funniest moments.
- "Hot Stuff", The Full Monty:
Another funny scene involving a disco song. This one has the gang standing in the unemployment line while practicing their moves. It's in the trailer, so even those who haven't seen the movie may recognize the moment.
- "Best of My Love", Boogie Nights:
The opening scene from Boogie Nights was an opportunity for director Paul Thomas Anderson to show off. It's not the most original pan, but it's stylish, energetic, and effective. It draws us into the film's world where we reside for more than two hours.
- The Flyby in Titanic:
Another special-effects moment from Titanic. This involves Cameron's "flyby" of the ship as it sails the high seas. It's the scene most likely to make the viewer believe that the ship was re-created for this movie.
- Elevator to Hell, Deconstructing Harry:
Deconstructing Harry isn't one of the year's best movies, but I remember this scene clearly. As Woody Allen descends into the fiery depths (which are populated by topless women), listen carefully to the description of what's happening on every level of hell.
© 1998 James Berardinelli