Musings and Predictions: The 2002 Oscar Nominations

Commentary by James Berardinelli
February 15, 2002

The nominations for the 74th Academy Awards are among the least interesting to be announced since I started following movies. Aside from the usual "what were they thinking?" nomination or two, and the expected omissions, there aren't many surprises. Most pundits were able to guess at least four of the five nominees in every category, and, with only one exception (Ethan Hawke), the fifth one frequently appeared on "dark horse" lists. So, at least from my perspective, there’s not a whole lot to talk about.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring grabbed the most nominations with 13 (including three in the major six categories). Don't expect Oscar night to be a big celebration for Tolkien fans, however; the film will probably only walk home with a few "token" statues (those in the technical categories). Its chances of winning anything big appear in the slim-to-none category. Nevertheless, it's an impressive showing for a film that many people said couldn't, or shouldn't, be made. And, in terms of prestige, it sets The Lord of the Rings high above its fantasy box-office rival, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, which garnered only two nominations, both in technical categories.

The screenplay categories (both original and adapted) are often viewed as "consolation prizes" for movies that are highly regarded but don't place in the Best Picture category. So it is that Memento, the best film of 2001, must make do with a nomination in this arena. Ditto for the hauntingly powerful Monster's Ball. Oddly, Shrek also showed up here, making it the second animated feature to win a screenplay nomination. (Shrek was also one of three nominees in the new Best Animated Feature category, where it is the favorite to win.) My guess, at least at the moment, is that Memento will take the Original Screenplay award while A Beautiful Mind, which should have a big night, will win Best Adapted Screenplay.

The Best Supporting Actor category may be the most wide-open of them all. There's no clear favorite here, although there are some oddities. In the first place, Jim Broadbent (for Iris) should have been nominated as a lead actor, not a supporting one. Still, it's nice to see him recognized, and the Best Actor category is too crowded for him to have been recognized there. On the other hand, what is Ethan Hawke doing with a nomination? Were there so few choices available? I guess they must have really loved Training Day in Hollywood. My personal choice for Best Supporting Actor, Ben Kingsley, was nominated for Sexy Beast. Kingsley would win hands-down as the most memorable screen villain since Hannibal the Cannibal if anyone actually saw the film. But, because so few people watched Sexy Beast, he's not a likely choice to take home a statue. Jon Voight had the misfortune of appearing in a film that tanked. So that leaves Ian McKellan for The Lord of the Rings. The Academy likes rewarding British actors of note, and this is their chance to do it for McKellan.

In contrast to the uncertainty surrounding the Best Supporting Actor category, there's no question who should and will win the Best Supporting Actress award: Jennifer Connelly. Take it to the bank. The nomination's the honor for Kate Winslet, Marisa Tomei, and the Gosford Park women.

Best Actress will probably go to Sissy Spacek for In the Bedroom, although I suppose one can't completely count out Nicole Kidman. She'll certainly get some votes for her part in Moulin Rouge. Her divorce from Tom Cruise has given her the kind of visibility she never had when she was happily married. Halle Berry is deserving of her nomination, as is Judi Dench. Dench is very good in Iris, but as has been proven, all she has to do is walk across the screen in a part other than "M" and she'll get a nomination. The surprise - and it's not much of one - is Renee Zellweger. The missing name here is Tilda Swinton (in The Deep End). It's disappointing that she wasn't nominated, but not surprising. The movie didn't get as much exposure as it deserved, and it came out too early in the year for Academy members to remember Swinton.

Best Actor will probably be close between Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. However, since Crowe won last year and has developed a rather unsavory reputation, and because Washington is well-liked, I expect Washington to capture his second Oscar (the other was for Best Supporting Actor in Glory). The best male performer of the year at least received a nomination - that's Tom Wilkinson for In the Bedroom, but the low visibility factor will keep him from winning. Will Smith, like Jon Voight, is attached to a beached whale of a movie. And the less said about Sean Penn's mail-it-in-performance in I am Sam, the better. I guess the Academy will reward nearly anyone who plays a retarded or handicapped character.

It's often the case (although not always, especially recently) that Best Picture and Best Director go to the same film. This year, that will likely happen, with A Beautiful Mind and Ron Howard running away and hiding. Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings will attract a few votes, but not enough. Robert Altman's Gosford Park doesn't belong here, although it's not as bad a choice as, say, last year's Chocolat. Then there are the two films that directed themselves: Moulin Rouge and In the Bedroom. Their directors were snubbed to make room for Ridley Scott and the gloomy, reclusive David Lynch. The bizarre thing about this is that, if any movie could be said to represent the vision of its director, it would have to be Moulin Rouge. But such is the way with the Oscars.

Now, let the marketing campaigns begin. And may the best publicists win…

For a complete list of 2002 Oscar nominations, click here.

© 2002 James Berardinelli

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