The Usual Gripes, Grumbles, and Assorted Musings (2000 Edition)

Commentary by James Berardinelli
February 15, 2000

It would be disingenuous to claim that I don't care about the Academy Awards - they are too important to the movie industry as a whole for any critic to dismiss out-of-hand. However, that doesn't mean that I have to like them. More often than not, I find the Oscar night festivities to be a tedious celebration of mediocrity. The beforehand hype is pretty sickening, but it isn't as bad as the actual event, which has been known to grind on for as long as four tiresome hours. I'm firmly convinced that the best way to satisfy one's curiosity about who won is to ignore the telecast, then check on the Internet around 1 am for the roster of who got the gold statuettes.

As usual, the 2000 list of nominees is a mix of the deserving and the undeserving. For the most part, anything remotely obscure has been ignored while the big money makers are all represented (albeit, sometimes only in technical categories). Of course, the rampant rejection of so many high quality, low profile, limited distribution motion pictures is expected, but that doesn't make it any less galling. (Even the most ardent supporters of Tim Roth's The War Zone, of which I am one, didn't for a moment believe that the movie had a shot at even one nomination.) More now than ever before, the Academy Awards are a popularity contest. Any artistic pretensions are fast vanishing. Like public elections, where the candidate with the best haircut and sunniest disposition wins the day, the Oscars are dominated by the cinematic darlings of the hour.

This year, there are a few surprises when it comes to both omissions and inclusions. Three noteworthy entrants in the former category are Magnolia, Being John Malkovich, and The Hurricane. Magnolia received two significant nominations - for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Tom Cruise) - but was nowhere to be found among the Best Picture or Best Director nominees. Being John Malkovich did a little better, with three (Best Director: Spike Jonze, Best Supporting Actress: Catherine Keener, and Best Original Screenplay), but it still missed Best Picture - a nomination that many pundits had predicted for it. Faring even worse was The Hurricane, which, except for a Best Actor nod for Denzel Washington, was shut out in every major category. Apparently, the recent "scandal" about the film's failure to rigorously adhere to the facts hurt its chances. (As I have always maintained, never expect historical veracity from a feature film.)

On the other hand, The Cider House Rules captured a total of seven nominations, several of which were unexpected (including Best Picture and Best Director: Lasse Hallstrom). Also doing well was the overrated The Sixth Sense, which is up for Best Picture, Best Director: M. Night Shyamalan, Best Supporting Actor: Haley Joel Osment, Best Supporting Actress: Toni Collette, and Best Original Screenplay. I guess no one could quite justify giving Bruce Willis a nomination for Best Actor.

Also missing: Jim Carrey, for A Man On the Moon. One would have thought he'd manage at least a nomination for his riveting work, but he was shouldered aside by Sean Penn. Now, Penn may be one of this generation's best actors, but Carrey was more deserving this year. In the Best Actress category, someone (anyone) should have displaced Meryl Streep. No debating her talent and ability, but her work in Music of the Heart ranks as one of the worst performances of her career.

While most of my handicapping will have to wait until Oscar night and my annual "live" commentary, here are a few thoughts on the Best Picture nominees and their chances as I see them now. American Beauty is the early front-runner, but hold on for a minute... it's a Dreamworks film, and they had the front-runner last year. In 2000 (apparently having learned from the Saving Private Ryan debacle), Dreamworks is re-releasing their nominee. Time will tell whether it can fend off all challengers, especially in light of the Academy's time-honored reluctance to award the Oscar to anything edgy. The Cider House Rules is my personal favorite in the bunch, but it has to be considered a long shot at best. Still, Miramax is experienced at buying Oscars for their films, and they will undoubtedly give this one another run through the box office. The Green Mile is another unlikely Best Picture victor, if only because most Academy voters probably don't have the attention span to sit through a three-hour movie. Titanic won a couple of years ago, but that movie came with a "must-see" label that is not attached to The Green Mile. The Insider is another film that's difficult to handicap, primarily since no one saw it. The jury will stay out pending Disney's re-release strategy, but I'd say probably no Oscar. Finally, there's The Sixth Sense, and, much as it pains me to admit it, this is probably the only movie with a legitimate chance to unseat American Beauty. It's popular, made a lot of money, and nearly everyone has seen it. And, if it wins, parents are well-advised to keep children from reading my Oscar commentary, because it will be laced with all sorts of nasty, profane vituperations.

For a complete list of 2000 Oscar nominations, click here.

© 2000 James Berardinelli

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