The Oscar Surprise: A Year of Variety Yields a Crop of Winners
(Berlin, 15 February) To almost no one’s surprise, DreamWorks’ American Beauty led the field in Oscar nominations with eight. To almost everyone’s surprise, Miramax’s The Cider House Rules was tied with Buena Vista’s The Insider with seven. Also, to almost no one’s surprise, Denzel Washington received a nomination for Best Actor for his role as boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in Norman Jewison’s Hurricane (Universal/Beacon). And again, to almost everyone’s surprise (except maybe the voters themselves), Jim Carrey was shut out for the second consecutive year. Passed over in 1999 for his work in The Truman Show, the star came up empty again for his portrayal of comic Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon (prompting a hasty rewrite of some Oscarcast material, according to one subsequent news report). And while Washington’s nomination was expected, the film’s absence from the Best Picture and Best Director categories was not.
It’s been that kind of year for American movies, with surprises like the commercially popular The Sixth Sense, which nabbed one of the coveted Best Picture spots, and the critically lauded Being John Malkovich, which didn’t (although the latter earned Spike Jonze a Best Director nod, Catherine Keener a Best Supporting Actress slot and Charlie Kaufman a berth in the year’s most vibrant category, Best Original Screenplay). This alone should be a strong indicator of which way the prevailing winds were blowing in Hollywood.
And although the appearance of The Cider House Rules turned some heads, there’s some logic to it: Miramax probably had a strong behind-the-scenes push underway, and the film represents the kind of lush, tasteful period melodrama that the older-skewing Oscar voters tend to go for and of which there were relatively few this year. This last could also explain the strong showing of such movies as USA Films’ Topsy-Turvy, a long period film about the tumultuous relationship between Gilbert and Sullivan, and the poor showing of New Line’s Magnolia, a long contemporary film about how people no longer seem to be able to get along with each other.
Movies left wanting that were considered strong contenders at some point during the last three months include The End of the Affair, Fight Club, The Limey, Magnolia, The Straight Story, The Talented Mr. Ripley (perhaps the most surprising of the Best Picture no-shows), Topsy-Turvy, Toy Story 2 and Three Kings.
The Best Actor field is true to form, with surprise contender Sean Penn (from Sony Pictures Classics’ Sweet and Lowdown, the new film from Woody Allen) joining expected nominees Russell Crowe (The Insider), Richard Farnsworth (Buena Vista’s The Straight Story), Kevin Spacey in American Beauty and Washington in The Hurricane. In addition to Carrey, those left wanting for a berth here include Terence Stamp (The Limey), Matt Damon (The Talented Mr. Ripley) and Bruce Willis (The Sixth Sense).
The big news in the Best Actress category is, of course, Meryl Streep, whose twelfth nomination, for Miramax’s Music of the Heart, ties her with Katharine Hepburn for the most nods in a career. Of the remaining four, Julianne Moore was expected to be nominated for either New Line’s Magnolia or Columbia’s The End of the Affair; Oscar went with the latter, a safe period drama over the former, an edgy contemporary ensemble piece. It was expected that Annette Bening would be nominated for American Beauty, as would Janet McTeer for the little-seen Tumbleweeds (from New Line) and Hilary Swank for Fox Searchlight’s Boys Don’t Cry. While not particularly conspicuous by their absence, critics loved Reese Witherspoon in Election; Cameron Diaz played against type to spectacular effect in Being John Malkovich; and if Oscar could smile on such breakout performances as those of McTeer and Swank, some thought Heater Donahue deserved a nod for her raw work in The Blair Witch Project.
There were few surprises in the Feature Length Documentary category, as under complicated new rules in the already byzantine category the field had already been whittled down to a dozen or so of the year’s non-fiction standouts. Look for the Artisan release Buena Vista Social Club to take this one; any other winner would constitute an upset.
Finally, there’s the always interesting Best Foreign Language Film category. Passing over such obvious nominees as Belgium’s Rosetta, Canada’s Set Me Free, the Czech Republic’s Return of the Idiot, India’s Earth and Poland’s Pan Tadeusz, voters stayed true to form and went with an eclectic slate. Sony Pictures Classics has U.S. distribution rights for three of the five nominees, East-West from France, Solomon and Gaenor from the United Kingdom, and the favorite, Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother from Spain. Nepal’s Caravan and Sweden’s Under the Sun round out the field. But if there’s one category that consistently defies logic year after year, it’s this one, so hedge your bets here.
Who will win? The early line seems to favor American Beauty, but the one constant of this year’s Oscar race has been change. And that’s the beauty of the year in movies.
The Academy Award nominations were announced 15 February in Los Angeles, and the ceremony will be held March 26 at the Shrine Auditorium.
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