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‘ADAPTATION’ AND ‘TWO TOWERS’ ARE FAR SUPERIOR TO INANE ‘CHICAGO’

By Kevin Der
ASSOCIATE ARTS EDITOR

Every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences dishes out golden statuettes to the most deserving films of the previous year, in categories spanning everything from acting and directing to musical and technical accomplishments. And every year, the Academy screws up. Stretching back decades, the long and sad history of mistakes at the Oscar ceremonies baffles anyone with the slightest knowledge or appreciation of film.

Take verified classics such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Bladerunner, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, for example. Not one of those was even nominated for Best Picture. And then recent decisions boggle the mind as well -- like the 1998 Awards when Shakespeare in Love won over Saving Private Ryan, or last year’s ceremony when Ian McKellan didn’t win for Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The travesties are too numerous to mention, sadly.

In addition to the unrecognized gems, the Academy often picks undeserving winners. Remember that this Sunday, especially if anyone associated with Chicago is called to the stage. Now, let’s get on to this year’s films, with a focus on the Best Picture category, which contains most of the major films.

Chicago: Undeserving in every way

Let me clear up something right away and then I won’t need to mention the name again: Chicago does not deserve to be nominated for Best Picture. Why many are predicting it will even win is something I will never understand. The film’s substance is shallow and thoughtless, its acting mediocre, and its musicality substandard to that of Moulin Rouge. You walk away from it having gained nothing. In short, the film is nothing more than mere entertainment that only some people may enjoy. If Chicago wins, I will retch, and then retch again.

Gangs of New York: Scorsese will finally win

Gangs of New York combines solid acting and violence with a purpose; the result is emotional and remarkably free of clichÉs, given its son-avenging-father plot. Martin Scorsese has never won an Oscar, despite prior works such as Taxi Driver, and so is likely to win Best Director this year because of that fact. But Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance as the Butcher is what makes Gangs a great film. Day-Lewis is able to capture such a difficult and complicated role, making him the likely winner for Best Actor.

The Pianist: Perhaps a Best Actor award

Probably the least seen film of the Best Picture nominees is The Pianist, which is about Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Jewish pianist living in Poland in 1939. Szpilman experiences unimaginable suffering, separated from his family and forced to live in hiding wherever he can in Warsaw. The contrast between the beauty of Chopin’s piano music, which Szpilman plays throughout the film, and the terrible events surrounding him is part of what makes The Pianist such a well-made picture. I pick Adrien Brody over Gangs of New York’s Day-Lewis to win Best Actor because Brody’s role is arguably more difficult and because his performance overall has more social significance than Day-Lewis’.

The Two Towers: Will the Academy wake up?

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers never had a chance at Best Picture, being simply a fantasy film, and members are probably saving votes for the third installment. What it will win are technical awards -- sound, editing, and the like. Visual effects is a complete certainty -- so watch the Academy screw it up. Unfortunately, the film lacks nominations for director Peter Jackson as well as for Andy Serkis, who did the voicing and movements for Gollum and was eligible for Best Supporting Actor.

The Hours: Definitely the Best Picture

I save the best for last, and that is The Hours. The incredible acting talent makes this film the best of the year. Kidman will certainly win Best Actress. Whether Julianne Moore will win Best Supporting Actress remains to be seen, but I still feel she was better in The Hours than in Far From Heaven. Ed Harris probably doesn’t have that much of a chance for Best Supporting Actor, but that is not to say his performance was lacked anything. As for the film itself, its thought-provoking treatment of subjects such as suicide, parenting, and happiness is truly masterful, as is the smooth juxtaposition of three women’s lives. I really hope the Academy makes the right choice here, but I have plenty of reasons to doubt them.

Adaptation: It should be a nominee

The film that should have been the fifth nominee for Best Picture is Adaptation. Its brilliant writing has Best Adapted Screenplay in the bag. I haven’t come close to fully understanding the many layers of organized chaos that fill this script. What’s more, Chris Cooper is a near certainty for Best Supporting Actor -- nothing else can top the role of his troubled, toothless horticulturist-turned-drug-addict.

Miscellaneous: cinematography and music

There are just a couple more awards which deserve mention. Best Cinematography will hopefully find its way to Road to Perdition. Sam Mendes is a genius when it comes to camera work, and there are some gorgeous shots in this film. By the way, did you know that American Beauty was his first film? Look forward to more from Mendes in the future.

And since I didn’t get to write about it anywhere else, I’ll just say that John Williams’ score for Catch Me If You Can is a winner. Its jazzy feel makes it the most original Williams score in years. It won’t surprise me in the least, though, if the Academy decides to rob him again, like last year.

Let us hope the Academy regains some dignity this year and makes decisions which aren’t disgraceful -- heck, as long Chicago doesn’t win, I’ll be perfectly happy. But what still shocks me, aside from that film’s nomination, is that however much the Academy totally screws up, I still pay attention to them. Maybe this will be the year I lose confidence entirely. All it will take is one word at the end of the ceremony, and I’m through with them.

The 75th Annual Academy Awards will air Sunday at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.