Annual contest for the cinematic gold

During the recent Screen Actor's Guild Awards Gala, Frances Conroy, who plays the matriarch in the HBO series Six Feet Under, accepted the Best Ensemble Award on behalf of the cast and solemnly stated, "It's an honor to be recognized by our fellow peers." That really says it all, don"t you think?

This Sunday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will once again give out the Oscars. Well, the flashy ones, anyway. The others, the ones not involving movie stars, get doled out at a non-televised ceremony. As usual, Oscar-mania is in full force, with betting pools, special editions of magazines and countless articles just like this one all trying to anticipate how the voting will go.

So why do so many people get worked up over an overblown employee recognition ceremony? Beats me. No, wait, there are actually several reasons why the Oscars matter. I'll present them to you now, in easy-to-read list form.

Why the Academy Awards matter

1. Writing a big, rambling, smart alack article about them provides writers like me with extra big paychecks.

2. The awards occasionally draw attention to worthwhile smaller films that might otherwise get overlooked.

3. The cable channel TCM (Turner Classic Movies) does a "31 Days of Oscar" promotion to celebrate the awards and we get a whole month"s worth of higher quality films.

4. If we're lucky, someone will say something very funny or very stupid during the ceremony. Of course, the Oscars are merely the culmination of Movie Star Awards Season, a frenzied three-month period when creative types gather together repeatedly to dress up and give each other prizes. Movie Star Awards Season is a lot like the Special Olympics, actually, because pretty much everybody who wants an award gets one sooner or later. Think I'm stretching the truth? Consider the case of made-up Thespian Whip Bannon, acclaimed by critics for his role as the troubled brother in At Last, A Llama for Emily. Prior to the Academy Awards, there were the Golden Globe ceremonies, along with the People's Choice Awards, the Director's Guild Awards, the BAFTA ceremony, the SAG Awards, the Image Awards, the Independent Spirit Awards, numerous regional awards and loads of awards from various critics' groups. By the time the glitter is swept up, odds are good that Whip Bannon will have been named Best Something by at least one of these very prestigious organizations. Before diving into the predictions, let's take a brief look inside the head of the academy voters.

Academy voter likes and dislikes

1. The academy loves to remind people that movies are Art. Art, damn it! So filmmakers who want a trophy should avoid making comedies. Dramas are better. Dramas that make grand statements about the Human Condition (but nothing overly controversial, thank you very much) are much better. Really long dramas are especially good, because they feel even artier.

2. The academy likes actors that go to extremes for their Art. They love ugliness (as long as it isn't real). Actors looking for a prize should consider losing or gaining a great deal of weight. Wearing makeup to look old or gross is a big plus. Not wearing any makeup at all also can work. If at all possible, play a person who is sick, handicapped, dying or deformed. They just eat that up.

3. The academy likes actors that adopt accents.

4. The academy likes British people, because they sound smarter than Americans. They like accents even better than Brits though, and will pick an American actor using a British accent over a real Brit in a heartbeat.

5. The academy likes people who join in the festivities. They do not like artists who fail to show up, or even worse, question the whole business of giving out prizes for acting. And they love actors who can be depended on to give an entertaining acceptance speech. Setting aside cynicism for a moment, the Academy Awards do provide a solid public service. Since TV expanded from a handful of stations to 200-plus channels, American audiences have scattered so much that we have relatively few programs that we can all chat about. But most of us still go to the movies and watching the Oscars affords us a benign shared experience. We watch the big show and talk it over, complaining about the length, moaning over the good films that were robbed and deciding which women wore the best and worst outfits. Treating filmmaking like a horse race is absurd, but better we have movies to talk about at the office than another national tragedy.



With that said, it is time to turn to the all-important business of watching rich, beautiful celebrities as they spend a glamorous evening recognizing their fellow peers.


Adrien Brody, The Pianist; Nicolas Cage, Adaptation; Michael Caine, The Quiet American; Daniel Day-Lewis, Gangs of New York; Jack Nicholson, About Schmidt

Comments: Michael Caine gave a flawless performance in The Quiet American. He was so good, unfortunately, that he made his task look effortless. What a shame. Adrien Brody dared to restrain his emotions in The Pianist, and he lost weight for the role, a big plus. Daniel Day-Lewis was bug-eyed and over-the-top in Gangs of New York. The academy likes that. Nicolas Cage played two characters in Adaptation, and played them so well that you forgot that it was a gimmick. This is especially impressive in light of the fact that, for the last few years, he has seemed intent on ruining his reputation with a string of cheesy action films. Jack Nicholson, bless his heart, took his massive life spirit and squished it into a tight ball of restraint in About Schmidt. The academy loves Jack. They also know that his acceptance speech would probably be enjoyably loopy.

Should Win: Tough call. Cage or Caine would be satisfying, but I want to see Jack flash that wicked grin.

Will Win: Between Daniel Day-Lewis and Jack Nicholson; I think Jack will just barely squeak through.

Supporting Actor :

Chris Cooper, Adaptation; Ed Harris, The Hours; Paul Newman, Road to Perdition; John C. Reilly, Chicago; Christopher Walken, Catch Me If You Can

Comments: I love Ed Harris, but his performance in The Hours was a textbook example of Oscar-whoring. Illness, quirks, a big speech, tears, rage and death - give me a break. John C. Reilly, who possesses one of the most appealing mugs in show business, is always terrific and his work in Chicago was right on the money. But the role is not the stuff of awards - he got nominated for the film, not the part. Paul Newman was scary good in Road to Perdition. Alas, the film failed to catch fire with the academy. Christopher Walken was just as strong in Catch Me If You Can, another striking film that failed to receive the attention it deserved. As good as they were, Newman and Walken were out-acted by Chris Cooper, who gave the performance of a lifetime in Adaptation. Cooper, known for stellar supporting work as quiet, Stoic or enraged characters, was simply phenomenal as a charismatic orchid thief. Plus, he was missing teeth, and the academy respects that. Should Win: Chris Cooper Will Win: Probably Cooper, but don't count out Christopher Walken


Salma Hayek, Frida; Nicole Kidman, The Hours; Diane Lane, Unfaithful; Julianne Moore, Far From Heaven; Renee Zellweger, Chicago

Comments: Salma Hayek was fine in Frida, but there is no buzz for her or the film. Julianne Moore took a challenging role in Far From Heaven and pulled it off with great grace and style, but enthusiasm for the film has diminished. In Unfaithful, Diane Lane gave an intelligent performance that became electric after the pivotal event of the storyline occurred. Unfortunately, the film was released months before the other titles. It's a miracle the academy even remembered the movie long enough to nominate her. Nicole Kidman was absolutely convincing in The Hours. She was all uglied up, too, even sporting a fake nose. As if that wasn't enough, she got to be crazy and die. In any other year, she would be a lock, but again, 2002 is the year of Chicago, where Renee Zellweger won in the SAG Awards against the same group of women.

Should Win: Julianne Moore

Will Win: Renee Zellweger

Supporting Actress:

Kathy Bates, About Schmidt; Julianne Moore, The Hours; Queen Latifah, Chicago; Meryl Streep, Adaptation; Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago

Comments: Julianne Moore was fine in The Hours, but the part was an undemanding echo of her infinitely superior role in Far From Heaven. Kathy Bates was big, bold, courageous and delightful in About Schmidt, but aside from the nude scene, she did nothing in the film she hasn't done just as well elsewhere. As for Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah, well, all I can say is that Latifah was the best thing about Chicago. In Adaptation, Meryl Streep gave one of her all-time best performances. She was an absolute delight and deserves the prize.

Should Win: Meryl Streep

Will Win: Catherine Zeta-Jones, damn it.


Rob Marshall, Chicago; Martin Scorsese, Gangs of New York; Stephen Daldry, The Hours; Roman Polanski, The Pianist; Pedro Almodovar, Talk to Her

Comments: One would think that the Best Picture and Best Director nomination rosters would match up, but that rarely is the case. This year, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is the film that apparently directed itself. In snubbing Peter Jackson, at least the academy selected a worthy substitute, acknowledging the remarkable Pedro Almodovar for Talk to Her and all his other wonderful films. That said, he has zero chance of taking home a trophy. Same goes for Stephen Daldry, Roman Polanski and Martin Scorsese. Hopefully, young Rob Marshall will have some kind words for them when the Chicago sweep hands him the prize.

Should Win: Pedro Almodovar

Will Win: Rob Marshall

Foreign Film: El Crimen del Padre Amaro, Mexico; Hero, People's Republic of China; The Man Without a Past, Finland; Nowhere in Africa, Germany; Zus & Zo, The Netherlands

Comments: Very few. El Crimen del Padre Amaro is the only nominated film to play here (thanks, Key Cinemas!) and the word on the drama was very strong.

Should Win: I don't know.

Will Win: El Crimen del Padre Amaro received the most attention nationally and voters who failed to catch the nominated films will likely vote for the most familiar title.

Adapted Screenplay: Peter Hedges, Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz, About a Boy; Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman, Adaptation; Bill Condon, Chicago; David Hare, The Hours; Ronald Harwood, The Pianist

Comments: I should excuse myself from this category, having failed to check out the source materials, but I've never let ignorance stand in my way in the past, and I won't start now. Assessing the screenplays as works unto themselves (as I suspect many voters will do), I would start by dismissing Chicago and moving on. The middle portion of The Hours was soft and the tie-everything-together wrap-up was awkward. The Pianist was sharply written, observant and moving. A terrific film woefully overlooked, About a Boy boasted a tart screenplay, unsentimental but sweet, and very funny. But the clear standout here is the remarkable Adaptation, by Charlie Kaufman and (ahem) Donald Kaufman. The enormously imaginative script played with reality as it examined the creative process, and did so without becoming academic or smug. Bravo!

Should Win: Kaufman for Adaptation

Will Win: Bill Condon, riding the Chicago Express. Man, I hope I'm wrong.

Original Screenplay:

Todd Haynes, Far From Heaven; Jay Cocks, Steve Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan, Gangs of New York; Nia Vardalos, My Big Fat Greek Wedding; Pedro Almodovar, Talk to Her; Carlos Cuaron and Alfonso Cuaron, Y Tu Mama Tambien

Comments: Nia Vardalos clung to My Big Fat Greek Wedding until she found producers (Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks) willing to film it as written and with her in the central role. The result? She got to star in one of the biggest hits of all time, she became a multimillionaire and she is now starring in the TV series based on the film. No trophies for Wedding, though, or for Gangs of New York, an ambitious, but cumbersome script. Both of the foreign language scripts were excellent. Neither will win. Todd Haynes, the mastermind behind Far From Heaven, has the best chance here, in what will amount to a consolation prize. S

hould Win: Alfonso Cuaron for Y Tu Mama Tambien

Will Win: Haynes for Far From Heaven

Animated Feature Film:

Ice Age, Lilo & Stitch, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Spirited Away, Treasure Planet

Comments: If the academy is sophisticated enough to view animation as a valid artistic medium and not just kid's stuff, Spirited Away will win.

Should Win: Spirited Away

Will Win: The horse cartoon

Documentary Feature: Bowling for Columbine, Daughter from Danang, Prisoner of Paradise, Spellbound, Winged Migration

Should Win: Anyone who didn't vote for Bowling for Columbine should be shot.

Will Win: Bowling for Columbine

Documentary (short subject):

The Collector of Bedford Street, Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks, Twin Towers, Why Can"t We Be a Family Again?

Sorry, not enough information to hazard a guess.

Visual Effects:

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Spider-Man, Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones. Should Win: Lord of the Rings

Will Win: Lord of the Rings

Art Direction:

Chicago, Frida, Gangs of New York, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Road to Perdition

Should Win: Road to Perdition

Will Win: Gangs of New York


Chicago, Far From Heaven, Gangs of New York, The Pianist, Road to Perdition

Should Win: Road to Perdition

Will Win: The late, great Conrad S. Hall for Road to Perdition


Chicago, Gangs of New York, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Road to Perdition, Spider-Man

Should Win: Lord of the Rings

Will Win: Gangs of New York

Sound Editing:

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Minority Report, Road to Perdition

Should Win: Minority Report

Will Win: Minority Report


Chicago, Frida, Gangs of New York, The Hours, The Pianist

Should Win: Gangs of New York

Will Win: Chicago

Film Editing:

Chicago, Gangs of New York, The Hours, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Pianist

Should Win: Lord of the Rings

Will Win: Chicago


Frida, The Time Machine

Should Win: The Time Machine

Will Win: Frida, for the impressive unibrow work

Animated Short Film:

The Cathedral, Das Rad, The ChubbChubbs!, Mikes New Car, Mt. Head

Live Action Short Film:

Fait D"Hiver, I"ll Wait for the Next One (J"Attendrai Le Suivant), Inja (Dog), Johnny Flynton, This Charming Man (Der Er En Yndig Mand)

Original Score:

Catch Me If You Can, John Williams; Far From Heaven, Elmer Bernstein; Frida, Elliot Goldenthal; The Hours, Philip Glass; Road to Perdition, Thomas Newman

Should Win: Elmer Bernstein

Will Win: Elmer Bernstein

Original Song:

"Burn It Blue" from Frida, Elliot Goldenthal and Julie Taymor; "Father and Daughter" from The Wild Thornberrys Movie, Paul Simon; "The Hands That Built America" from Gangs of New York, Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen; "I Move On" from Chicago, John Kander and Fred Ebb; "Lose Yourself" from 8 Mile, Eminem, Jeff Bass and Luis Resto

Should Win: Eminem

Will Win: Bono and The Edge

Best and most annoying films of 2002

After taking time over the Christmas holidays to play catch-up to some of the most acclaimed films of the year, my friend Brad Keen expressed disappointment. While he enjoyed most of the films, he said few of them lived up to all the superlatives being tossed about on their behalf.

Mulling over my list of favorites from last year, I came to the same conclusion. 2002 was a year of many good, but few great, movies. Which brings us to the better-late-than-never department.

Instead of running my choices for best and most annoying movies the last week of 2002, I waited, hoping to catch a few stragglers that had been released in New York and L.A. for Oscar consideration. As happens too often, however, time slipped away. So here I go, using the Oscar cover story as an excuse to finally present my list of the best films of 2002 (along with a few of the most annoying).


1. ADAPTATION - Wonderfully inventive comedic look at the creative process. 2. Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN - Two teen boys hit the road with a slightly older woman. The results are funny, sexy, insightful and moving.

3. MINORITY REPORT - Futuristic film noir, beautifully realized.

4. ROAD TO PERDITION - Moody story of the rites of fathers and sons, masquerading as a gangster flick. Amazing cinematography by the late Conrad S. Hall.

5. BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE - Michael Moore stumbles and fumbles and makes his most compelling film yet.

6. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN - Breezy chase comedy with a touching tale of detachment underneath.

7. FAR FROM HEAVEN - Incredibly lush tribute to "50s melodrama and a stinging reminder that bigotry is timeless.

8. PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE - Love and rage, shot in primary colors using a fun-house mirror.

9. FRAILTY - Scariest horror film I"ve seen in years.

10. ABOUT A BOY - Tart comedy, unsentimental but sweet, and very funny. 11. TALK TO HER - Bizarre love story, beautifully rendered.

12. CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND - Chuck Barris finally gets the affectionate screen portrait he deserves.

13. ABOUT SCHMIDT - Smug and condescending at points, but Nicholson is at his best.

14. UNFAITHFUL - Very smart treatment of an affair and its aftermath, with a great ending.

15. THE 25TH HOUR - Spike Lee addresses freedom, paranoia, loyalty and responsibility.

16. WE WERE SOLDIERS - Vietnam war film that honors the soldiers on both sides.

17. RABBIT PROOF FENCE - Unforgettable look at a real-life horror, with mixed-race children taken from their families by the Australian government. 18. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS - The second film in the trilogy improves on the first.

19. SECRETARY - A peppy look at S&M.

20. STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN - The musicians behind some of the best songs of the '60s get to step into the spotlight.


PINOCCHIO - Roberto Benigni returns from Italy in the worst live-action fairy tale adaptation ever.

WAKING UP IN RENO - Torturous couples comedy.

SCOOBY DOO - Bad TV cartoon gets faithfully translated into a bad live-action movie.

ROLLERBALL - Virtually incoherent remake appears to celebrate all that the original film condemned.

LIFE OR SOMETHING LIKE IT - Moronic romantic comedy with Angelina Jolie and Edward Burns.


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