"Find hungry samurai" -Gisaku

Oscar Movies - 2003

Part 1 - You too can win your Office Pool

There are many great betting traditions in America. There are sporting events, such as the Super Bowl and March Madness. Then there is the political, like “Who will be president?” and “Which Senator will be indicted first?” Finally, there is the Celebrity voyeur kind, as in, “Will he be convicted?” and “Will she serve time?”

All three of these, however, the sporting, the political, and the celebrity, are wrapped up into one big night, the 76th Annual Academy Awards, or what I like to call, the Oscars.
So, in an effort to help out you, my beloved Hyperion Nation (no matter how much readers in Arizona don’t appreciate it), I have been pouring over Oscar-material the last two months to bring you this week’s columns, so that you can bring home a little extra cash come next Monday morning. No thanks are needed, but like any good agent, I do expect 15%.

Today we’re going to take a brief look at every category except Best Picture (which we’ll cover Wednesday). Friday we’ll have a list of Overlooked movies, in case you want to impress your party guests with your knowledge of arcane movie goodness. The process I used to come up with these picks is partly scouring the printed word on the “buzz” of certain categories. Partly it was looking at Vegas’s odds, and mostly, by seeing as many of these films myself as possible, which took an incredible amount of time, energy, and money. (For a full list of this year’s nominees, go here.) The way this will work is that I will list each category, and which film you should bet on. If I have a different “personal” choice, I’ll put that too.

The Techie Section
These are considered the “smaller” awards, given earlier in the evening, but can oftentimes predict how well a big movie will do. The two big nominees are Master and Commander and Return of the King. If Return of the King starts winning all the small awards (which I think they well might), look out for a big night from them.

This one is a complete toss-up, one of the hardest to predict. The reason there are only three nominees (instead of the traditional five) is that there are technical requirements to being nominated. They may give it to Pirates, but I suspect that because Master and Commander is nominated in so many categories with Return of the King (hereafter known at ROTK), they may give them this one, and I’d bet that way.

I’d look for ROTK to sweep these minor categories. If you want to go against the grain, Seabiscuit might get one here. Again, look for what is winning these early ones. That can be a big indicator of how the night will go.

This should be a slam-dunk, for ROTK. Think about the level of sophistication in the visual effects for that movie compared to the other nominees (or for that matter, any movie ever made).

This is actually a big one, to movie insiders, and so we could see a surprise. However, I wouldn’t bet against ROTK. Having seen all five films, though, I would give this award to City of God, hands down.

The In-Between Section
These categories don’t fit into traditional labels, and sometimes are the hardest to predict. Do well on them, though, and you’re on your way to securing the most wins overall of anyone in your pool.

I’ve seen three of these, and they are uniformly excellent. The two docs getting the most “buzz” are Capturing the Friedmans and The Fog of War. Both are excellent, but I’d give the nod to The Fog of War, because Director Errol Morris has been overlooked in the past (for the fantastic The Thin Blue Line and A Brief History of Time), and Oscar voters are famous for makeup calls.

This is one of three categories I know virtually nothing about. Ferry Tales is about women putting on makeup on the Staten Island Ferry each morning. The other two are heart-tuggers, but I’m guessing Asylum, because it criticizes the Bush Administration’s I.N.S. policy, and you know how those Hollywood types love to bash Republicans.

Another category where I know next-to-nothing. Harvie Krumpet is about a depressed guy, so I won’t pick that on principle. Nibbles is about Canada, so you know that’s out. I’m tempted to pick Boundin’, because it has one of Hyperion’s favorite creatures in it, a jackalope. However, I think it will come down to Destino, which animates the world of Surrealist Salvador Dali (I’d like to see that), and Gone Nutty, which features that crazy squirrel-rat from the animated movie Ice Age. Just a guess, but I think the Gone Nutty will take it.
I have no clue. I’m hoping the German film Die Rote Jacke wins, just so I can hear the announcers stumble over pronouncing it. However, I’m betting on Two Soldiers, which is based on a William Faulkner short story, because you know how celebrities like to think they are literary.

The movie geek will try to say that Triplets of Belleville is the hip edgy choice, which it may be, but you can bet the baby shoe money that this one will be Finding Nemo.

The Artsy-Fartsy Section
These categories are the ones women generally care the most about (to make a sexist stereotype). They are sometimes easier to predict.
Oddly, this category predicts the Best Picture winner better than any other one (except maybe Director). With that in mind, ROTK all the way, baby.

Why City of God wasn’t at least nominated in this category is a travesty. However, of the ones left, The Barbarian Invasions is the best known. If there is a spoiler, it might be Evil.
This is historically a weird category, and sometimes they give it to a smaller film. But since all of these are big movies, I’m going with my theme of the evening, ROTK. I am, though, uneasy with that. I’m tempted to take Pirates.
ROTK. This should be a slam dunk. The only thing that scares me is that Fellowship of the Ring won two years ago, and it’s essentially the same music. Cold Mountain could be a sleeper here.
This is one category that is truly independent, and I might bet against ROTK on this one. But who to bet on? There is no real big song here (like last year’s “Lose Yourself”), and not one of the songs is integral to the movie it’s in, (except perhaps Triplets). I’m going for the shocker here and saying “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow.” If you don’t like that, go for “You Will be My Ain True Love,” because it’s by Sting, and Academy voters love to give this award to big names. If “Into the West” wins, you can be sure ROTK is winning everything.

Another tricky category. ROTK is again the favorite, but odds are they won’t win everything. Pearl Earring might be too small for enough people to have seen it. That leaves Last Samurai or Master and Commander if you want a spoiler.

I would give this to City of God, and something tells me that voters might too. However, the safe bet is with our Hobbit friends.

The Big Name Section
These are the most known categories, and with one exception (usually Best Supporting Actress or Actor, right at the beginning), the ones you’ll have to wait until the very end for. Fairly or not, these are the “biggies.”
ROTK is the big favorite here. Actually, any of these (except Seabiscuit) would make me happy. This could go to Mystic River, otherwise stick with the King.
This is the most wide-open category, with no ring to rule them all. I suppose Finding Nemo has an outside shot, but most likely this will go to In America or Lost in Translation. My guess is Lost will be found here.

I managed to see three of these personally, and heard reports on the other two. From what I saw, I would give the nod to Marcia Gay Harden over Holly Hunter. However, Renée Zellweger is the overwhelming favorite (Vegas has her at 1/5). This is her third nomination, and that alone could give her the victory. Often this category is a surprise, but not this time.

Ashamedly, as hard as I tried, I only managed to see two of these films. However, predicting the winner shouldn’t be that hard. Del Toro won three years ago, and for Hounsou and Watanabe, the honor is getting nominated. That leaves a two man race between Alec Baldwin and Tim Robbins. Both are respected actors and for both these are their first nominations. Robbins has won most of the major awards leading up to Oscar, and that would be my vote, but don’t be surprised if Baldwin steals it.

I only saw two of these, but I saw the important one. Charlize Theron has become the biggest lock (outside of Finding Nemo in the animated category) in the whole ceremony. She will win, and you can take that to the bank.

This is the only real contest in the acting categories. From the start it’s been a two man race (although Johnny Depp’s win last night at the S.A.G. Awards put a monkey wrench in things) between Bill Murray and Sean Penn. Either one would be fine with me, although I personally would give Paul Giamatti in American Splendor the award if I was in charge. As to who will actually win, it’s virtually even. Vegas lists Penn as an 8/13 favorite, but Murray right behind at 5/4. I am guessing Penn, only because it’s the more showy role, and because he’s been nominated several times before, but I wouldn’t be surprised either way.

Regardless of who wins Best Picture, Peter Jackson will win Best Director. I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t. If for no other reason, he wasn’t even nominated last year for Two Towers, and didn’t win two years ago for Fellowship of the Ring. The only possible spoiler is Clint Eastwood for Mystic River, but his win for Unforgiven 11 years ago means this award will go to the Kiwi (that means New Zealander for those of you from Newfoundland).

Part 2 - Something Oscar This Way Comes

Prologue: In Defense of Movies
Some have written to ask (or bitterly complain) why I have been writing so much about movies. “Who cares?” asks one. “Does it really matter? Queries another. Well, it may not matter to you, but it does matter. Movies are not, by definition, the highest form of art we have. There are certainly many terrible movies made—every year—and believe me I know, because I’ve seen more than a few of them. But a movie done right has the chance to impact us in a way that no other form of art can. It can combine the intimacy of a play, with the heart-felt emotions of each actor’s character flying at us. There is the opportunity for great narrative, like the best books we’ve ever curled up with on a cold winter’s night. The music score can (and often is) composed specifically, like a well-honed symphony, truly integral to our experience. And with modern cinematography, we sometimes get to see the imagination of the soul, like the best painters and best photographers are spilling all over their canvas a mélange of color and breathtaking beauty. I know not everyone enjoys movies or talking about them, but I think sometimes, amidst the clutter of our lives, and all of the terrible choices out there, we take for granted the potential for truly awe-inspiring works of art.
In any event, those of you who are bored have not much longer to wait. All the movie articles the last few months come down to this one, the big one, with Hyperion’s annual Oscar column. Just like in 10 out of the last 12 years, this year’s big prize isn’t really in doubt. However, just because Oscar voters have decided which is best doesn’t mean I’ve given MY seal of approval. Following up from Monday, today we look at the Best Picture nominees, and decide which one truly is the best.

For those of you who read my review, you know I’m baffled why a film of this quality would be nominated for Best Picture. I liked the movie—in spite of myself—but it’s certainly not a masterpiece. The horse racing action is spectacular and probably the best part of the picture, and the actors, though mostly miscast or misused, are appealing as well. There is not anything to hate here, and this would be a fine film for the entire family, but Seabiscuit is dwarfed by the other entries.

This is a great film, for what it is: an exciting adrenaline-filled sea battle with a “you-are-there” feel. However, a few unfleshed-out subplots aside, that’s all it is, and that’s why I would not have nominated this for Best Picture. With the scope of the production—building an actual ship and filming in the water—I can see why Master and Commander garnered 10 nominations, but to me it’s missing too many elements of a true epic.
The other three films I don’t really have a problem with their nominations for Best Picture. This might be a good time to give my Top 10 List for movies of last year. I didn’t see every movie, but I saw quite a few of them. Feel free to write and argue with my choices, but know that if you haven’t seen the movies on my list, you can’t tell me they don’t deserve to be there. If you have, then we disagree.

In Alphabetical Order:
Hyperion’s Top 10 Movies released in 2003
Okay, back to the nominees

This is a difficult movie to rate, because it definitely will not appeal to everybody. As I wrote in my review, if you cannot relate to some of the specifics these characters go through, I don’t know whether you’re going to be into this movie or find it boring. On that basis, I might have left if off my Best Picture list. But I can’t help being secretly happy Lost in Translation made the cut, because I found it to be such a delight. It’s funny but at times also very sad, and I grooved with that. The two characters felt precious and real to me, and I was right there with them as they tried to see through the fog. Lost in Translation is the anti-epic, a small film content not to need battles, chase scenes, or even conventional romance. That suits me just fine.

This is one of the three best films of the year, and a powerful one at that. The acting alone is worth going to see this film. The story is of three boys who experience tragedy at a young age, and how they (and by extension we) never really get over what happens to them. Mystic River is a murder mystery, but that’s subordinate to the arc of discovery each character goes through about himself, his world, and his place in it. The supporting cast is incredible, the location and scenes never feel pushed in your face, and the surprises, though subtle by Hollywood standards, are all the more chilling. This is a fine piece of filmmaking, and an all around great nominee.

When I first saw this film (actually, probably before I saw it), I thought it would be a slam dunk for Best Picture. After seeing Mystic River and especially City of God, I was no longer as sure. However, after careful consideration, this would be my choice for the Oscar. An epic by definition is larger than life, and I think more is therefore expected of it; the stakes are higher, if you will. On this front, Return of the King definitely delivers. The last part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy we’ve come to love the last couple of years, Return of the King delivers the thrills and chills, and the highs and lows to an even more impressive degree. The special effects are, I think, better than anything ever done and the action and adventure is flawless. However, it is not the epic-storytelling that puts Return of the King over the top for me. It is the intimate portraits of these characters we’ve come to know, and love (or hate), but always care about. It is stupefying to me that such a gigantically-scaled movie could take the time to share the value of friendship, fellowship, and fidelity as well as Peter Jackson has done here. The emotional conclusions to this nine hour journey don’t feel wasted (like so many films tend to do), and I’m glad that there is a world—even if it technically isn’t real—where cynicism and irony don’t rule the day. Obviously Return of the King is going to get Best Picture partly because the first two installments were snubbed, but on its own, it deserves it all the same.
The Road goes ever on…

February 25, 2004

Note - This Oscar preview originally ran in The Hyperion Chronicles as #281 and #282.

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