This Year's Oscars
Chris Rock. "Million Dollar Baby." Gowns that made it look like 1935 again - 1935 movies, that is. Once again the Academy snubbed Martin Scorsese. Why? What did he do to annoy them so? Are they saving him for the Lifetime Achievement Oscar ten years from now? He's not likely to make another masterpiece, so it looks like that's what he'll get. Let's not begrudge Clint Eastwood; he's the essence of the competent director. But think what a more inventive artist could have done with "Mystic River." Eastwood always works in a straight line, never missing anything but never transcending it either. On second thought, let's do begrudge him.
I've already reviewed "Million Dollar Baby;" Hilary Swank deserved the Oscar for a brave, completely selfless performance that took a cheesy old story and screenplay and transformed it into something sublime. But Morgan Freeman's Best Supporting Oscar? Don't get me wrong; he could read the phone book and I'd be mesmerized from AAAAA Locksmiths to Zyzz Bedding. Still, this was a pale rehash of his part in "Shawshank Redemption," and deserved no more than a thank-you. But his nomination was up against only one other truly supporting performance, Thomas Haden Church's Jack in "Sideways," and Church was unknown to most Academy members. Clive Owen was part of an ensemble picture in "Closer," with four actors sharing equally in the lead roles (take one away and the film falls into ruin), and Jamie Foxx's taxi driver in "Collateral" was really a co-lead with Tom Cruise. We can forget Alan Alda, whose thin talent couldn't stretch to cover his role in "The Aviator."
The Best Actor Oscar went, deservedly, to Jamie Foxx, in a film that surprised me by doing so poorly at the box office. Foxx didn't play Ray Charles, he became him for two hours. Though the film had some script and directorial problems - poorly written supporting characters and film-school camera placements - it became magic whenever Foxx was on screen. I was thrilled, frankly, that Eastwood didn't get the Best Actor award; his performance was mechanical and unfelt. Don Cheadle, underrated as always, was magnificent as Paul Rusesabagina, in a role that finally let him go all the way with a character. Let's hope he finds another role soon that's worthy of his talents. As for Johnny Depp in "Finding Neverland," nobody came to see that picture, something the Academy doesn't like when it comes to award time. But Depp gave an unselfish, perfectly tuned performance and I wouldn't have been sorry to see him get the Oscar. Leonardo DiCaprio can't shake that baby face and high voice; I don't know what will become of him as he ages.
I was sorry for Annette Bening, once again done out of the Oscar by Swank (who won for "Boys Don't Cry" against Bening's "American Beauty"). But in any case, the five nominees for Best Actress were particularly well chosen this year. Catalina Sandino Moreno, in "Maria Full of Grace," gave a luminous performance, totally unself-conscious and blazing with an inner fire. Imelda Staunton, in a film that never made it out of the art-house circuit, was by all accounts brilliant; and Kate Winslet, in "Eternal Sunshine," showed that she's more than a pretty face.
Somehow the foreign film category is going to have to change its rules. First, the films should no longer be entered by their country's film boards. Local politics keep the best and edgiest films away from even being considered. This year's case in point is the exclusion of Pedro Almodovar's "Bad Education." So let's not have just one film allowed from each country; let's judge films on their merits. This can mean two, three, or maybe even twenty films. Not only that: these days many films are multi-country productions. Which one should enter it? Film selections shouldn't be a zero-sum game. Second, let's not ask Academy members to vote on films they haven't even seen. I know; you're supposed to show that you went to the screening, but it's a sloppy system that could be greatly improved.
In the category of adapted screenplay, a fellow critic raised an interesting point. Where should "Before Sunset" be put? It wasn't built on a work from another art form (a play, a short story) but from a previous film that the three collaborators had already done: "Before Sunrise." So this was in a way a sequel to that film. Is a sequel an adaptation? I guess we'll never know; it didn't win. And in the category of original screenplay I was glad that the inventive "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" was the Oscar winner. It's rare that something as original as that is even nominated.
I realize I'm alone in this, but for me the big omission this year was "Kill Bill, Vol. 2." Screamingly original in concept and script, brilliantly acted by Uma Thurman, David Carradine and Michael Madsen, and perfectly directed by Tarantino, this is a film that will have to wait to be appreciated, but some day it will be called a masterpiece. Mark my words.