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OSCAR PREVIEW

And The Winner Is ...

By J. F. Graham

Gladiator, Traffic, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, and Chocolat will all take center stage Sunday night as the world finds out which film will become the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Science’s choice for Best Film of the Year 2000.

Before we begin with the nominees for best picture and the chances they all share at winning the Academy Award, we must give a brief mention to three films that were overlooked by the Academy. It happens every year, and this year is no exception. Almost Famous, Billy Elliot, and Requiem for a Dream. Three very interesting, entertaining, and unique films that did not have the necessary star power, box office receipts, and production value that is needed to compete with the more mainstream and financially backed movies that the Hollywood machine is capable of promoting.

Although these three motion pictures have managed to land themselves on every major critic’s top ten list throughout the country, my list being no exception, we can only speculate as to why the Academy chose to ignore these brilliant films.

A simple solution would be to just increase the number of eligible films. Is it burned in stone somewhere that there can only be five films nominated? At the very first awards presentation in 1927 only three films were nominated in the best picture category. In 1942, there were ten movies that were on that list. So as you can see there is no historical precedent in place that demands only five films be nominated.

Citizen Kane was one of those ten films in ’42 and sadly enough it lost. Considered by many associated with the movie industry to be the best motion picture ever made, Kane was recently named number one on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest films. Unfortunately the film fell victim to the same lack of press, star power, and low-ticket sales, which was the case this year with these three movies. Had only five films been nominated in 1942 -- who knows -- maybe the greatest movie ever made would have been just another movie.

With that said, let’s move on to the issue at hand, Oscar 2001. Gladiator and Traffic are the two favorites to win the best picture award this year, with Gladiator holding a slight edge. That edge is best described in one word, and that word is what places it at the pole position -- EPIC. Gladiator is epic, and historically speaking, epics win the gold every time.

Gone with the Wind, Braveheart, Lawrence of Arabia, The Last Emperor, Ben-Hur, and Titanic -- these are all epic films and, not surprisingly, also best picture winners.

The Academy also seems to have a passion for period piece films. Epic plus period equals Oscar, and with a hero at it’s center trying to right a great wrong and a scene stealing villain we just love to hate (played by supporting actor nominee, Joaquin Phoenix), Gladiator delivers, and shall be rewarded with, the Academy’s most coveted prize.

However, Traffic does have a chance. With an impressive ensemble cast and brilliant direction, Traffic is epic on an urban level. I would not bet against it.

As for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ... it’s a lock for the best foreign language film, and I have never been surer of any film ever nominated in this category, so bet all you have with confidence. Ang Lee also has a very strong chance at winning the award for best director -- the Academy might be apologetic for shafting him a few years back with The Ice Storm.

Erin Brockovich, and Chocolat. Two very good films that are unfortunately complete long shots, and will ultimately file alongside the ever-growing list of films such as The Full Monty, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Quiz Show, LA Confidential, and The Piano. Although all are great films, they just happened to be nominated in a year when there was an obvious front-runner. This year that film is Gladiator.

Moving on to the performance nominees. The men’s race appears to be a dead heat. However, upon taking a closer look we may be able to see a slight edge going to Tom Hanks. Again, Hanks demonstrates (particularly in the middle hour of Cast Away) that he is capable of filling the screen all by himself, proving all you really need is a bloodstained volleyball named Wilson (not nominated for a supporting role) to create entertaining and intriguing dialogue. On screen, seeing what the character is actually thinking is not an easy task accomplished by an actor, in most cases it has to be done with some kind of action in order to reach the audience.

In Cast Away, Tom’s best scenes seem to be the ones when he is not speaking at all, but silently sharing his thoughts with us. Look for Tom Hanks to win again. It’s doubtless that Russell Crowe of Gladiator and Ed Harris of Pollock will make it a close race.

Newcomer Javier Bardem and previous Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush both turned in great performances as well, with leading roles in Before Night Falls and Quills. Rush (as the Marquis de Sade) could pull the upset here, but I see Hanks making Oscar history Sunday and becoming the only three-time winner in a male leading role.

The nominees for best female performance in a leading role this year are Julia Roberts, Julia Roberts, Julia Roberts, Julia Roberts, and Julia Roberts. Let’s face it, she can’t lose. Yet this one disappoints me. Ellen Burstyn’s fearless performance in Requiem for a Dream was nothing short of perfect. It is also one of the best performances by a female lead I have ever seen and probably will see. I’m not kidding, She was that good. This was a role many actresses would have turned down, and probably did. As Burstyn’s character slowly self-destructs and descends into madness, we all fall in with her, glued to the screen. Burstyn gives us all an acting lesson, telling us that there is no room for vanity in performers artistry. But in the eyes of the Academy, it’s just Julia’s turn and nothing can change that. Juliette Binoche, Laura Linny, and Joan Allen are all well deserving of their nominations, but as I said: it’s just Julia’s turn. Place your bets. So the smart money is on Gladiator, Tom, and Julia.

If you’re thinking Best Picture automatically means best director, you may want to hedge that bet. In 1972 The Godfather won best picture, while Bob Fosse took the directors award for Cabaret. In 1989 Driving Miss Daisy was the Academy’s film choice, and Oliver Stone won his second directing award for Born on the Fourth of July.

Once every decade seems to be the pattern. Director Steven Soderbergh finds himself nominated twice for Traffic and Erin Brockovich. This has happened before; in 1939 Michael Curtiz was up for two films and lost them both. Look for history to possibly repeat itself here. Soderbergh may not get the chance to touch Oscar this year. However, if he does Traffic will be the reason. Soderbergh directed over 300 speaking parts in this film with all of them coming together without missing a beat -- not an easy trick.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee’s visual triumph, looks like the best bet for directorial kudos. With Tiger becoming the highest grossing foreign language film of all time, the director’s award should fall Lee’s way. Steven Daldry is nominated for Billy Elliot, and Steve should just stay home Sunday night. I’m not knocking the directing of the film, it’s extremely well done, but look at the competition. I have yet to even mention Ridley Scott’s nominations for Gladiator, and when I do speak of Scott, it is just tantamount to saying, sorry, Ang Lee wins.

In supporting roles, Benico Del Toro’s performance in Traffic appears to be the favorite, but Albert Finny (his fifth nomination) could win for sympathetic reasons. Yet, those reasons never helped Lauren Bacall a few years back, and besides, Albert has already told everyone he’s not going to attend. The Best Supporting female role will go to Kate Hudson for Almost Famous just like it did for her mom (Goldie) 32 years ago.

Well, there it is -- winners, losers, how and why, and a little Academy history, Hollywood style.