Alex's Oscar Column #04

By ALEX FUNG
December 20, 1999


Golden Globe Nominee Reactions

1999 results
Picture, Performance, Direction categories: 34 out of 45 (76%)
Overall: 43 out of 65 (67%)

The nominees for the 57th annual Golden Globe Awards were announced this morning by Helmut Voss, president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and actors Steve Gutternberg, Salma Hayek, Victoria Principal and Martin Sheen at the Beverly Hilton. While there were a few eyebrow-raising omissions, I'm generally satisfied (relatively speaking) with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's selections -- their nominees were far better than I had expected:

Most pleasant "surprises":

  1. No Robin Williams and Bicentennial Man!
  2. The Aimée & Jaguar Foreign Language Film nomination (maybe it'll now get domestic distribution)
  3. Chloë Sevigny's Best Supporting Actress nomination for Boys Don't Cry
  4. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association were able to restrict themselves to only one Sharon Stone nomination
  5. Hey, no Robin Williams!

Least pleasant "surprises":

    Nothing really comes to mind -- perhaps the lack of South Park song nominations, although I couldn't in good faith call that much of a surprise.

The most nominated film in this year's Golden Globe race was, predictably, Sam Mendes' widely-acclaimed American Beauty, which scooped up six nominations. Closely trailing were Michael Mann's The Insider and Anthony Minghella's thriller The Talented Mr. Ripley, with five nominations each.

Certainly the most notable aspect of the Golden Globe nominee list is the poor showing of Frank Darabont's The Green Mile. One of the most anticipated films of the year, this film was expected to be a major heavyweight in 1999's awards race, with many inking down the picture, star Tom Hanks, and Frank Darabont down for Oscar nominations as early as June. However, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association allotted the picture a measly single nomination, for Michael Clarke Duncan in the Supporting Actor category.

As I somehow accurately predicted this -- I actually had The Green Mile down for a Thomas Newman score nomination in addition to Duncan's, but expected the film to be mostly shut down in the higher-profile categories -- I perhaps should explain the rationale behind my decision. (Indeed, I was inundated by "What about The Green Mile?"-type inquiries shortly after I put my Golden Globe nominee predictions up in Oscar Column #03.)

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association strikes me as a group more susceptible than most to following the latest trends, and the buzz on The Green Mile upon its theatrical release has not been good. While audiences have, by and large, liked it -- it scored well on CinemaScore polling during its opening weekend and has maintained a reasonable week-to-week box office fall-off -- this film doesn't begin to live up to the advance hype (as unreasonably lofty as that may have been); the word is out on it. After The Shawshank Redemption, expectations were that Darabont was going to hit another one out of the park, and The Green Mile fails to do that -- for one, it's far too long: I'm hardly averse to lengthy films and I was never actively bored, but there was no reason for this picture to run in excess of three hours; it could honestly stand to lose seventy minutes' worth of running time. (Indeed, it's not hard to tell where this movie is going within the opening forty minutes, and there's nothing in the way of dramatic surprises.) It's thematically and emotionally much less resonant than its inevitable benchmark, The Shawshank Redemption -- while that superior picture featured an affecting friendship between two men over years of hardship and delved into accessible themes of hope, despair, and perseverance, it's hard to get the same sort of connection with The Green Mile's overly-symbolic parable; as David Ansen, tongue firmly planted in cheek, wrote, "The next time we run into a dumb but gentle seven-foot black saint with mystical powers, we'll be sure to be nice." The Green Mile isn't a total disaster -- while it's about as subtle as a sledgehammer between the eyes, it's a technically well-made film and often engaging -- but the film meanders and its material and intent is so thin that it prompted me to wonder what exactly was the point of making this picture. ("Give me an Oscar", someone helpfully suggested.) I felt that Darabont's latest couldn't be viewed as anything other than a highly-touted disappointment, and that would ultimately hurt its chances with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

In any case, the HFPA may have disregarded The Green Mile for completely different reasons, but I was nonetheless somehow fortunate enough to have forecasted that it would be passed over. (Had it not, I would have looked extremely foolish, so I'm a tad relieved.) In fact, against all odds, this was actually one of my better years in terms of predicting the Golden Globe nominations -- I fared reasonably well in the "major" categories, far less so in the remaining categories, but managed to score a decent overall prediction success rate nonetheless. Ironically, I spent far less time this year deriving my Golden Globe lists than in any of the previous years (we're talkin' near-first guess, folks; sorry, I was pressed for time), which may go to show that, when considering the preferences of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, overanalysis may not return dividends. Or it might've been just dumb luck.

Some brief commentary in the various categories:

Best Motion Picture - Drama
My Predictions

American Beauty
The Hurricane
The Insider
Magnolia
The Talented Mr. Ripley

HFPA Nominees

American Beauty
The End Of The Affair
The Hurricane
The Insider
The Talented Mr. Ripley

[ 4 out of 5 ]

In retrospect, given that HFPA's ambivalence to Paul Thomas Anderson's previous Boogie Nights, I should have been more cautious with my Magnolia picks; I believe that my thinking at the time of my predictions was that without the subject matter obstacle of pornography, his new picture might fare more successfully with this crowd. It appears that Columbia's big supporting push for The End Of The Affair paid off in spades in terms of Globe nominations; I hadn't expected it to do so successfully in multiple categories.

Among the nominated pictures, I believe that American Beauty, The Insider and The Hurricane can be considered locks for Oscar nominations in the Best Picture category. I remain a little cautious about The Talented Mr. Ripley's chances, but it's certainly a top contender. The End Of The Affair may now be a wildcard, although I must confess that my own reaction to the picture was less than enthusiastic, both in terms of the film itself and its Oscar prospects. Despite its near-whitewashing at the Globes, I wouldn't completely write off The Green Mile just yet, although it can't be considered a frontrunner any more; it will not, however, win the Best Picture Oscar. (American Beauty is the film to beat.)


Best Motion Picture - Musical/Comedy
My Predictions

Analyze This
Being John Malkovich
An Ideal Husband
Man On The Moon
Notting Hill

HFPA Nominees

Analyze This
Being John Malkovich
Man On The Moon
Notting Hill
Toy Story 2

[ 4 out of 5 ]

I was really glad to see that Toy Story 2 managed to score a Golden Globe nomination from the Hollywood Foreign Press -- given that they haven't awarded nominations to most of the big recent animated pictures (The Prince Of Egypt, Mulan, Anastasia, etc.; the last one, in fact, was Toy Story), I considered that the group's attitude towards animation had shifted over the years -- but that gladly doesn't appear to be the case. I had also wondered whether or not the box-office smash Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me would be a factor in this category, but that didn't come to pass. Among the Globe-nominated films, few appear to be poised to make a big splash in the Oscar Best Picture race -- Analyze This obviously won't be a contender, and although Notting Hill was well-received, its awards lifespan won't date beyond the Globes ceremony. Owen Gleiberman's #1 of 1999 ranking notwithstanding, Man On The Moon appears to have been too divisive to get the support required for a Best Picture nomination. Being John Malkovich probably remains a longshot. I'd really like to see Disney get going on promoting Toy Story 2 as a genuinely viable Best Picture candidate; a surprise Globe victory come January 20th would certainly help.


Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama
My Predictions

Russell Crowe, The Insider
Matt Damon, The Talented Mr. Ripley
Richard Farnsworth, The Straight Story
Kevin Spacey, American Beauty
Denzel Washington, The Hurricane

HFPA Nominees

Russell Crowe, The Insider
Matt Damon, The Talented Mr. Ripley
Richard Farnsworth, The Straight Story
Kevin Spacey, American Beauty
Denzel Washington, The Hurricane

[ 5 out of 5 ]

I was fortunate enough to nail this category. The Best Actor Oscar race is a terribly competitive category, and it's certainly possible that these five aforementioned candidates might very well make up the AMPAS final quintet; among them, Matt Damon would seem to be the most malleable candidate (then again, his work in The Talented Mr. Ripley is getting tremendous buzz). I think that Spacey and Washington are mortal locks -- the Oscar race boils down to these two, I believe -- with Russell Crowe and Richard Farnsworth also inking down spots: this leaves only one slot up for grabs, with many possible contenders. The competition seems too tough for Tom Hanks to score an Oscar nomination with The Green Mile.


Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama
My Predictions

Annette Bening, American Beauty
Jodie Foster, Anna And The King
Julianne Moore, The End Of The Affair
Meryl Streep, Music Of The Heart
Hilary Swank, Boys Don't Cry

HFPA Nominees

Annette Bening, American Beauty
Julianne Moore, The End Of The Affair
Meryl Streep, Music Of The Heart
Hilary Swank, Boys Don't Cry
Sigourney Weaver, A Map Of The World

[ 4 out of 5 ]

I incorrectly went with perennial Oscar-bait Jodie Foster for Anna And The King instead of picking Sigourney Weaver for A Map Of The World; I'm surprised and impressed that the little company First Look has managed to get exposure for her performance in their film. At the risk of incurring wrath from the many Meryl Streep fans out there, her work in Music Of The Heart is unworthy of award consideration -- however, the Actress category is relatively soft (compared to the Actor group, it looks like Play-doh), and Streep is our biggest award-magnet -- so it appeared to be a safe bet. Hilary Swank and Annette Bening are probably locks for Oscar nominations, while Julianne Moore's work in The End Of The Affair can be penciled onto the short list.


Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical
My Predictions

Jim Carrey, Man On The Moon
Rupert Everett, An Ideal Husband
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Flawless
Sean Penn, Sweet And Lowdown
Robin Williams, Bicentennial Man

HFPA Nominees

Jim Carrey, Man On The Moon
Robert De Niro, Analyze This
Rupert Everett, An Ideal Husband
Hugh Grant, Notting Hill
Sean Penn, Sweet And Lowdown

[ 3 out of 5 ]

I don't know about you, but I'll take Hugh Grant's fluttery, affable Brit over Robin Williams dancing around in a robot costume any day of the week. The omission of Philip Seymour Hoffman for his performance in Flawless as the singing drag queen does not bode well for his Oscar prospects; it will now be much more difficult to get exposure for his work. Among the Globe nominees, only Sean Penn (Sweet And Lowdown) and Jim Carrey (Man On The Moon) could be considered strong Oscar candidates.


Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical
My Predictions

Janet McTeer, Tumbleweeds
Julianne Moore, An Ideal Husband
Julia Roberts, Notting Hill
Sharon Stone, The Muse
Reese Witherspoon, Election

HFPA Nominees

Janet McTeer, Tumbleweeds
Julianne Moore, An Ideal Husband
Julia Roberts, Notting Hill
Sharon Stone, The Muse
Reese Witherspoon, Election

[ 5 out of 5 ]

Hey, err, nice picks by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association -- way to go, you guys. (The fact that they adore Sharon Stone made the pick of The Muse a no-brainer, particularly given that the number of viable actress candidates in the Comedy/Musical category was rather limited.) Good to see Reese Witherspoon nab a spot for Election; if nothing else, it might prompt people to check it out on video. Janet McTeer seems Oscar-bound for Tumbleweeds, but I'm hesitant to say the same for any of the other Globe-nominated actresses in this category. (I'm really pleased to see there are so many Witherspoon advocates out there -- I've gotten more Reese-related correspondence than for any other of my picks / non-picks.)


Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
My Predictions

Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules
Tom Cruise, Magnolia
Michael Clark Duncan, The Green Mile
Haley Joel Osment, The Sixth Sense
Christopher Plummer, The Insider

HFPA Nominees

Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules
Tom Cruise, Magnolia
Michael Clark Duncan, The Green Mile
Jude Law, The Talented Mr. Ripley
Haley Joel Osment, The Sixth Sense

[ 4 out of 5 ]

As I mentioned back in Oscar Column #01, I really think highly of The Talented Mr. Ripley's Jude Law as an actor, so I'm glad to see him get this recognition and resultant visibility. However, I remain very dubious that, come Oscar time, he'll be able to score more votes than The Insider's Christopher Plummer, the most conspicuous of names missing from this list. My reading of the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award category is that there are six top candidates vying for the five spaces -- the four non-Law Globe nominees above, Plummer, and Being John Malkovich's John Malkovich.


Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
My Predictions

Toni Collette, The Sixth Sense
Angelina Jolie, Girl, Interrupted
Julianne Moore, Magnolia
Samantha Morton, Sweet And Lowdown
Sharon Stone, Simpatico

HFPA Nominees

Cameron Diaz, Being John Malkovich
Angelina Jolie, Girl, Interrupted
Catherine Keener, Being John Malkovich
Samantha Morton, Sweet And Lowdown
Natalie Portman, Anywhere But Here
Chloë Sevigny, Boys Don't Cry

[ 2 out of 5 ]

It appears this year that I got hammered in every category where they extended the number of nominees beyond five (a scenario in which one would typically expect to have a higher success rate). I went overboard with my expectation that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association would fire another Globe nomination Sharon Stone's way (apparently she didn't run a letter-writing campaign this year), and my (lazy) guess for a trio of Julianne Moore Globe nominations was too optimistic. Nonetheless, I'm far more fond of the Globe selections than my own predictions, particularly with the inclusion of Chloë Sevigny (whom I suspected, as a perennial indie staple, might not be enough of a "star" for their tastes). I'm also glad that Cameron Diaz's fine, against-type performance in Being John Malkovich was recognized alongside Catherine Keener's in the same field. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association clearly likes Angelina Jolie -- she's been won in each of the last two events -- and enjoys her wild (publicity-friendly) antics at the ceremonies, so to pick her for her nutty character work in Girl, Interrupted was to be expected. Anywhere But Here wasn't a very good film and Natalie Portman's work in it wasn't among her best performances, but she's very solid in the film; for her to receive a Globe nomination sounds eminently reasonable, and re-ignites her Oscar prospects -- I'd just about written her off, but the Supporting Actress Academy Award category is so wide-open that it's hard to pin down a list of five. (Hence my atrocious success rate with the Globe nominations in the corresponding category.)


Best Director - Motion Picture
My Predictions

Paul Thomas Anderson, Magnolia
Michael Mann, The Insider
Sam Mendes, American Beauty
Anthony Minghella, The Talented Mr. Ripley
M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense

HFPA Nominees

Norman Jewison, The Hurricane
Neil Jordan, The End Of The Affair
Michael Mann, The Insider
Sam Mendes, American Beauty
Anthony Minghella, The Talented Mr. Ripley

[ 3 out of 5 ]

The Golden Globe director nominations matched the Best Film - Drama candidates. As previously mentioned, I was clearly too optimistic about Paul Thomas Anderson's chances with this group, and too charitable with M. Night Shyamalan -- I personally don't think his direction is particularly distinguishable, but suspected that The Sixth Sense would not get a Globe nomination in the Picture category and believed the Hollywood Foreign Press Association might want to recognize him elsewhere (beyond the inevitable screenplay nomination). His omission in the Globe short list sounds reasonable to me. Sam Mendes is a lock for an Oscar nomination, with Michael Mann and apparently Anthony Minghella also headed for likely nominations. From the looks of things, there's still room for manouevering in the Academy Award race here.


Best Screenplay - Motion Picture
My Predictions

American Beauty: Alan Ball
Being John Malkovich: Charlie Kaufman
The Cider House Rules: John Irving
Magnolia: Paul Thomas Anderson
The Sixth Sense: M. Night Shyamalan

HFPA Nominees

American Beauty: Alan Ball
Being John Malkovich: Charlie Kaufman
The Cider House Rules: John Irving
The Insider: Michael Mann & Eric Roth
The Sixth Sense: M. Night Shyamalan

[ 4 out of 5 ]

Alan Ball's American Beauty script and Charlie Kaufman's Being John Malkovich screenplay are locks for Best Original Screenplay Oscar nominations, and M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense script will probably get a nomination for the final five minutes alone. (For the record, I admit that I didn't see it coming, but neither was I especially knocked out by it.) On the Adapted Screenplay side of things, John Irving will get an Academy Award nomination for his The Cider House Rules screenplay based on his own novel. I didn't think that The Insider would make the Globe short list, but Michael Mann & Eric Roth's screenplay seems like a solid best for a fellow Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association's picks seem largely sound.


Best Foreign Language Film
My Predictions

All About My Mother
Earth
The King Of Masks
The Red Violin
Three Seasons

HFPA Nominees

Aimée & Jaguar
All About My Mother
East-West
Girl On The Bridge
The Red Violin

[ 2 out of 5 ]

Okay, here's where things start going downhill for me in terms of predictions. (In my defense, I have no list of which films the Hollywood Foreign Press Association are considering -- they operate under different rules and consequently qualify different films from those of AMPAS.) All About My Mother, of course, will get an Oscar nomination. Aimée & Jaguar and East-West are both eligible for AMPAS consideration; I've heard that the former should be palatable enough to be a serious contender. (Again, won't somebody pick this up? Strand Releasing, perhaps? -- this might at least do well on the GLB circuit.) The remaining films are not being considered by the Academy's Foreign Language Film Committee.


Best Original Score - Motion Picture
My Predictions

American Beauty: Thomas Newman
The Cider House Rules: Rachel Portman
The Green Mile: Thomas Newman
Sleepy Hollow: Danny Elfman
Toy Story 2: Randy Newman

HFPA Nominees

American Beauty: Thomas Newman
Angela's Ashes: John Williams
Anna And The King: George Fenton
The End Of The Affair: Michael Nyman
Eyes Wide Shut: Jocelyn Pook
The Insider: Lisa Gerraro and Pieter Bourke
The Legend Of 1900: Ennio Morricone
The Straight Story: Angelo Badalamenti
The Talented Mr. Ripley: Gabriel Yared

[ 1 out of 5 ]

This is, by far, my most embarrassing category -- they expanded the nominee list to eight achievements (why?) and I only got one (and, at that, the most obvious of candidates)? Ouch. For what it's worth, I still think that Rachel Portman's The Cider House Rules score should and may get an Oscar nomination -- it's far more deserving than her Academy Award-winning Emma pieces. Randy Newman also should get consideration for Toy Story 2. Among the seven(!) Globe nominated scores which I failed to cite, I'm hopeful for Angelo Badalamenti's lovely score for The Straight Story and Jocelyn Pook's work on Eyes Wide Shut. (Michael Nyman's work on The End Of The Affair was unmemorable for me -- his upcoming work in Michael Winterbottom's Wonderland is far more interesting -- and I'm hardpressed to recall the score for The Insider.)


Best Original Song - Motion Picture
My Predictions

"(I) Get Lost", The Story Of Us
"Then You Look At Me", Bicentennial Man
"When She Loved Me", Toy Story 2
"The World Is Not Enough", The World Is Not Enough
"You'll Be In My Heart", Tarzan

HFPA Nominees

"Beautiful Stranger", Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
"How Can I Not Love You", Anna And The King
"Save Me", Magnolia
"When She Loved Me", Toy Story 2
"You'll Be In My Heart", Tarzan

[ 2 out of 5 ]

I dropped the ball with the Madonna song from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (and am personally glad that the thoroughly irritating Eric Clapton song from The Story Of Us which I had predicted to receive a nomination failed to do so). I'm a little surprised that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association went with Aimee Mann's low-key "Save Me" from Magnolia, but apparently New Line is pushing this hard (presumably at the request of longtime friend Paul Thomas Anderson). The Toy Story 2 and Tarzan songs are probably locks for Oscar nominations.


Mailbag

Apologies for not getting to correspondence in the previous Oscar column -- I was rushing to complete the Golden Globe nominee predictions, and had to cut the piece short. (Those who stuck around for the whole piece may notice that my reactions to the Golden Satellites ended rather abruptly.)

Christopher Kelly writes: "No one is talking about Titus, but Lange and Hopkins are phenomenally entertaining in it. (The movie itself is at times genius, but I suspect too crazy, diffuse and abstruse to appeal to anyone.) Lange is a particular hoot -- she plays up her vampy 40-something (50-something?) sex appeal deliciously. And there's two terrific supporting performance in there -- by Alan Cumming and some guy named Harry Lennix as the moor -- which in a just world would both be cited by the Academy. Supporting actor is probably too crowded though; still I think Lange has a real good shot for Best Actress (not supporting, as I think you list her). And the movie will get tons of technical nods."

Sounds great. (I haven't yet seen this one, but I certainly plan to.) I've been perplexed as to why so few other Academy Award articles have made mention of Titus -- just on a superficial level, it's Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange in a late-year Shakespearean film, which should ring Oscar alarm bells. When one throws in factors like it's Julie Taymor's feature film debut, that the 14-minute sneak at Cannes had buyers wowing over its stylish visual extravagance, and that the experience so drained Hopkins that it famously had him resolved to quit acting, well, this should be getting some sort of consideration. Purportedly the cinematography and art direction are superb, and I'm guessing that those heavy metal costumes will get Costume Design attention. There's been much praise for Harry Lennix, with whom I'm also unfamiliar -- I've apparently seen him in two films, but I couldn't pick him out of a lineup -- although I understand he had a recurring role on ER, but as Mr. Kelly mentioned, the Supporting Actor category is so crowded that it'll be difficult for him to assert himself in this field. 50-year-old Jessica Lange is actually being touted by Fox Searchlight in the Supporting Actress category, which certainly helps her chances given the sparseness of competition.

Mr. Kelly also adds: "And though it's sort of boring and wildly overrated, everyone is underestimating Topsy-Turvy for picture, actor, director and script. It's the only import movie that they can pick this year."

I note that for the record, Mr. Kelly wrote this prior to the announcement of the New York Film Critics Circle awards, where the Mike Leigh picture grabbed a couple of important markers. Having not taken Topsy-Turvy seriously enough as a contender with my original reading, I definitely plan to revisit this film and its Oscar prospects in a subsequent 'reassessment' column.

Chad Copeland inquires: "What about Simpatico? Nick Nolte has been passed over so many times. Ditto for Jeff Bridges. I have heard a little talk about Sharon Stone in the supporting category. John Toll did the cinematography, too."

I really disliked Simpatico and feel that it has absolutely no chance in the Best Picture category, despite the big-name cast (which also includes Catherine Keener and Albert Finney). Both Jeff Bridges and Nick Nolte are fine actors, and the latter has indeed been unfairly passed over many times (while the Academy was charmed over by Roberto Benigni at the time, I'm betting that, in retrospect, voters would now reflect on Nolte's terrific performance in Affliction and wonder what they were thinking), but neither of them have any genuine chance for Simpatico -- they're really in only half of the movie (if that). After opening with Bridges and Nolte, the story flashes back to younger versions of their characters, played by Liam Waite and Shawn Hatosy, respectively, and plants itself there for a huge chunk of the picture. Sharon Stone, on the other hand, is a possibility -- she has a flashy part which allows her to emote in histrionics -- but the big obstacle for her is that she doesn't actually enter the film until the one-hour mark. (Her character's youthful counterpart is played by Kimberly Williams of Father Of The Bride fame.) Stone gives a vivid turn in her very limited screen time, but I wonder how many Academy members would've turned off their VCRs before they get to her first appearance. John Toll is always great, and the picture looks fine, but given the film's lackluster appeal, I can't see him grabbing a Cinematography nomination.

Hardcore Oscar researcher RJ sent in a truckload of handy Oscar tips. Among them:

And I was actually wondering whether or not this was going to be a Warren-less year. I thought the song was utterly wretched, but given that it's a Diane Warren song, it warrants serious consideration as a possible Best Song nominee. It'd be unwarranted, in my opinion -- Theron does absolutely nothing of distinction in the film; it's the requisite love interest character. She'd honestly deserve an Oscar nomination for The Astronaut's Wife more than her work in The Cider House Rules. (Theron's a pretty solid actress, incidentally -- I thought her work in The Devil's Advocate was a little overrated, but she was pretty funny in Celebrity and pretty good in the Rand Ravich picture.) Miramax in action. I'll be impressed if they can squeeze an Oscar nomination or two out of this picture. I still maintain that Frances O'Connor should not be a factor in the Best Actress race; whether or not she will be, on the other hand, could be affected by this reported marketing blitz. Run for your life! Angela's Ashes was shot by Michael Seresin, who shot Midnight Express and Angel Heart. Everything I've seen of the film so far looks drab and muted, so I know where you're coming from with the Darius Khondji guess.

Regarding Wild Wild West's title track as a Best Original Song candidate given that only the lyrics are original: interesting -- I have no idea whether or not it's eligible. Apparently the song hasn't been promoted as a song candidate as of this date, but that doesn't necessarily indicate that it's ineligible. (However, I tend to doubt that it would get votes, even if it is eligible and even though Will Smith is one of the industry's top movie stars.)

Jeff Huston muses: "Nobody was asking about the chances of Eyes Wide Shut at the Oscars. It has been virtually forgotten by EVERYONE, critics and trade mags alike, and I'm surprised no one is mentioning it, if only to say, "Eyes Wide Shut has no Oscar chances." With the critical buzz not so hot on The Green Mile, WB may gear up to campaign that and forget EWS altogether. EWS was a good film, but overrated for obvious reasons. It deserves a nod for cinematography and maybe music score, but that's about it."

I've actually read a couple of articles which have suggested that Eyes Wide Shut has little in the way of Oscar prospects, with which I don't necessarily agree. Nicole Kidman remains a prospect in the Best Actress category (and would be in a much better position if they'd agree to drop her to the Supporting Actress category), and the film could score in several of the technical categories -- Larry Smith's cinematography, Jocelyn Pook's score, the art direction by Les Tomkins and Roy Walker, and even the costumes by Marit Allen. (I would not be averse to a sound nomination for Edward Tise, either.) And then there's Kubrick himself, who might get picked by the Directors branch -- I'd originally thought that this was extremely likely, but given the amount of competition emerging, I'm no longer as confident about his prospects -- and perhaps even for the Adapted Screenplay, along with Frederic Raphael (à la Terrence Malick's success with The Thin Red Line last year). I think it's clear that Warner Bros.' campaign has been focusing on their big The Green Mile project as their primary Oscar gun; now that it appears to be flagging, my expectation would be that they'd try to reinforce its standing rather than shifting their emphasis to Three Kings or Eyes Wide Shut, so I don't expect a flurry of support coming in for the Kubrick picture.

Mr. Huston also adds: "I find it interesting that critics complain that Oscar voters have such a short attention span and only remember films from the last three or four months of the year. But when you look at their lists the same rule applies. I don't think memory is the problem, but rather release schedules by studios. The rare Dark City, Silence Of The Lambs or Fargo aside, the year's best films will be released at year's end."

No question. It's never been a secret that the studios release their prime Oscar-bait projects in the fall and early winter, largely to keep their pictures fresh in the memories of Academy members. Anyone who writes that films released at the end of the year do well with Academy exclusively because of the short attention spans of voters is oversimplifying; my guess is that if one front-loaded the calendar year with The Insiders and Three Kings and padded November and December with all the Big Daddys and Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolos, there would not be a fight-to-the-finish-line Oscar race between Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider.

Justin Cowan writes: "Why would The Sixth Sense be a contender for best picture, let alone any other category? It was panned by critics furiously and in my opinion was quite a waste of precious U.S. dollars that could have helped the economy."

Keeping in mind that I'm also rather mystified with the enormous success of M. Night Shyamalan's picture -- I'm slightly positive on the film, but remain unimpressed with the twist at the end which collectively knocked audiences out of their seats -- I don't think it's quite accurate that it was generally panned by critics. According to Joshua Kreitzer's invaluable "Survey Of Critics" poll on rec.arts.movies.current-films, The Sixth Sense got a respectable, if middling, average star rating of 2.69 from polled press critics. Mark Caro of The Chicago Tribune, Mike Clark of USA Today and Carrie Rickey of the Philadelphia Inquirer were among the film's biggest boosters. As for why I consider it a contender for Best Picture, it's a film which has clearly struck a chord with audiences (hence its astonishing, Titanicesque four-month run in the weekend box office results; it, Titanic, and Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace are the only films with the staying power to gross in excess of $20 million for four consecutive weeks) and yet has been considered more than a mere popcorn flick; critics have called it smart, original and deviously effective. It's the sort of blockbuster crowdpleaser which Academy members can vote for without reservation. I'm no longer as certain about its footing on an Academy Award nomination -- December has seen a number of contenders emerge from the pack -- but I wouldn't discount its chances.

(Incidentally, the following is my own initial reaction to The Sixth Sense after catching it back in the summer: "It struck me as somewhat of an extended Twilight Zone episode in a supernatural vein. Very little and underwhelming narrative thrust, which explains why the surprise ending comes as such a jolt. The reason to see this film is for the performance of Haley Joel Osment, who portrays the victimized child; he's exceptionally good, and depicts fear better than anyone in The Blair Witch Project did [though I'll be the only one to feel this way.]" I stick by this assessment.)

One person suggests: "Notably missing from your list of supporting actress candidates - Bonnie Hunt in The Green Mile - so far, she's drawn a wide range of favorable notices, and after all, she is playing the Tom Hanks' wife in one of the year's biggest prestige flicks, which happens to be one of the few Oscar contenders that might actually make a sizable profit. It worked for Kathleen Quinlan, didn't it?"

I'm amused with the (totally accurate) classification of Kathleen Quinlan's Supporting Actress recognition for Apollo 13 as the definitive coattail Academy Award nomination; that being said, if Bonnie Hunt gets a nomination for The Green Mile, it'd be the Mother of All Coattail Nominations. At least Quinlan had a few scenes where she got to play being upset and anguished; Hunt's character gave her nothing to do except, well, show up and be the wife of Tom Hanks in one of the year's biggest prestige flicks: this was an empty part. The state of the Supporting Actress Oscar race is such that I can't rule her out altogether, but for her to score a nomination would be unjustifiable.

Scott Tobias of The Onion wrote in with a few more comments on as-of-yet unreleased pictures:

"I saw a grueling Any Given Sunday/Titus double feature on Monday, both of which are over 2 1/2 hours. Any Given Sunday doesn't have any hopes for an Oscar, but I predict it will be Oliver Stone's first hit in a long time. I found it fairly loud and repulsive, as I do most of Stone's work, but the visceral intensity of the football sequences (of which there are many) may appeal to some. However, I don't imagine it will be NOW's choice for movie of the year.

Titus is a magnificently cracked piece of camp art that builds to a such a satisfying finish, I was postively giddy after watching it. Perhaps to assert the play's timelessness, Julie Taymor has set the film in three different periods (contemporary times, 30s-era Italy, ancient Rome) at the same time, giving Dante Ferretti free reign on some outrageous sets. The overall grisliness and at least one major scene will remind many of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, thus limiting the film's Oscar chances. But if people respond to it, Anthony Hopkins is undeniably ideal in the title role, which plays off his famous turn in Silence Of The Lambs in delicious ways. In a strong field for the Best Actor category, his chances aren't great, but he's definitely someone to keep in mind. Ditto Alan Cumming, who makes a meal out of the evil Saturnicus, looking like a malevolent cross between Pee-Wee Herman and Adolf Hitler.

Holy Smoke! doesn't stand much of a chance for any awards, despite the Miramax factor. For this and Hideous Kinky, Kate Winslet deserves special recognition for taking challenging, commercially unpromising work after Titanic. She's wonderful in both roles. Personally, I was disappointed in the film overall, which squandered a compelling central conflict with a lot of silliness on the periphery.

Let me add to the enthusiasm building around Talented Mr. Ripley, which is an incredibly elegant and suspenseful meditation on identity, an altogether different (and perhaps deeper) interpretation of the Patricia Highsmith novel than the great Purple Noon. I tend to agree with Mike that its best shot for an Oscar nomination is for Minghella's fine direction, a fusion of subtle Hitchcockian touches and the aching romanticism that has become his stock-in-trade. Matt Damon turns in by far the best performance of his young career in a tricky role that calls for pathology and vulnerability in equal measure. But, again, I must concur with Mike about his slim Oscar chances."

Thanks, Scott.

Charles Odell writes in on a number of points:

R.E.M. is up for the Man On The Moon score, but I have no idea what's the new song they're promoting for Best Original Song. It'll undoubtedly be eligible as it was clearly written for the film. True enough. (This sort of reminds me of the year in which Grace Of My Heart could've legitimately filled the Best Song category with its plethora of tunes, and wound up without a single nomination. And its songs didn't even have any profanity!) Oscar god JMSTREEP has helpfully reported that trade advertisements have appeared touting "Up There" and "Blame Canada" as Best Song candidates -- funny, those are two of the songs which I wouldn't target for Oscar consideration. (I'm especially cool too "Up There"; skip Saddam Hussein's "I Can Change", too.) I'm definitely keeping Norton on the backburner -- I don't think he's going to knock out Denzel Washington or Kevin Spacey for a Best Actor nomination, but I'm not ruling him out as a surprise nominee, especially given the strong reception Fight Club received at its Academy screening and the respect Norton appears to have with his peers. [For those unaware, Scott Alexander and Larry Karasezwski, who wrote Ed Wood, The People Vs. Larry Flynt and now Man On The Moon, are also credited with That Darn Cat (which star Christina Ricci mocks on a regular basis during interviews).] I think that would be a fairly safe conclusion. (Reports of turmoil on the set also tend to corroborate this.) I still have expectations for strong turnes by Hopkins and Lange, though. I concede that I may have overestimated the film's prospects in the Picture and Director category -- I'll cover that in a subsequent reassessment Oscar column -- but I think you're underestimating Osment and the screenplay: I do think they're locks for Oscar nominations.

A few more letters; I'll cover them in the next Oscar column. (And many thanks to those who have caught and alerted me to minor factual blunders and typos.)


Feedback? Suggestions? -- e-mail me. (From here on, any Oscar-related correspondence received will be presumed to be approved for possible use in future columns with the originator identified, unless indicated otherwise.)


Alex Fung (aw220@freenet.carleton.ca)

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