2001 Oscar Predictions
Mar 8, 2001 (Updated Mar 23, 2001)
The Bottom Line Oscars are never about art or about what's really best -- it's all about politics and marketing. This year's showdown matches Gladiator against Crouching Tiger in the main events.
Oscars are never about artistic merit, so every year you'll see the same style articles decrying what a sham the awards are and about all the great films that are overlooked. Face it, the Academy are hardly more sophisticated than the teens that flock to the multiplexes every Friday and Saturday nights. The main difference is the Academy members are targeted by the studio marketing people, who make sure that they pay attention to their picks for the award, and the Academy members read Variety, which tells them the latest buzz on the hot prospects.
So, I'm going to attempt to predict the Oscars before the final analyses are offered in Variety and Entertainment Weekly. I figure I might as well, since they usually miss as many predictions as I do. The one edge I have is that I've seen most of the serious contenders this year. The Oscars are never consistent -- they often go for sentimentality, but they may not. Four years ago I thought Lauren Bacall was an absolute lock for supporting actress, but was snubbed in the wake of an English Patient landslide. So these picks are nothing to go to Vegas over and risk your life savings. There are very few locks this year.
If all you do is look at the nominees, you could conclude that 2000 was a very bad year for cinema. That's because the Academy generally recognizes the Hollywood made fare for its awards, and generally names films that make significant money at the box office. In actuality, 2000 had many excellent films that just didn't make it to mainstream multi-plexes, but that's another article.
This focuses on the annual self-indulgent, but addictive Oscars. Don't expect another unprejudiced article slanted against the stupidity of the Academy voters here. While there are a number of knowledgeable Academy voters, it's an annual shame to see how many are duped by the publicity campaigns and vote for non-artistic reasons. Still it's a yearly fun game to see how close you can come to predicting the actual winners.
Personally, only two of the nominated films make my top ten list, and the same two make my top 20 list for 2000 - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Traffic. They both could be contenders since the marketing strategy has them in theaters now, and both are holding up in the box office well.
Two films you can scratch off the contender list -- Chocolat and Erin Brockovich. Miramax always gets one film nominated by the best marketing campaign for Oscars so that it will get an extended time in the theaters and take in more money. (Note the weak Cider House Rules last year) This lightweight vehicle has no shot at taking the top prize, especially considering that the Academy failed to nominate its director. You can scratch off Erin Brockovich as a serious contender as well since it's been out for a year now and must contend with a more serious candidate by Soderbergh.
The drug issue makes Traffic a serious contender, since a vote for Traffic shows the world that the Academy is socially conscious. It also has an epic feel to it; however, the Academy likes to award Best Picture honors to films that offer simplistic solutions to our problems. Traffic doesn't do that. It just makes us more aware of the problem.
That leaves two films in contention for Best Picture - Gladiator and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. These two films will battle each other all night long, so you will likely know if Gladiator is making a sweep before the final envelope is opened. Ang Lee's film is creating an interesting situation by the way it has delayed its screen appearance in the U.S. The Asian film is still maintaining a top 5 performance at the box office, and the Academy will take note of that. However, the Academy has never shown a preference for reading subtitles in its Best Picture winners, so look for them to sicken critics everywhere by proclaiming Gladiator as the year's best picture. (Pardon me while I barf, literally)
My vote: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
My prediction: Gladiator
It's easiest to start by eliminating candidates. We can eliminate three fairly easily:
1. Stephen Daldry - his Billy Elliott lost out to the Miramax juggernaut for Best Picture, so his director nomination makes him the longest shot.
3. Soderbergh - while it's an honor to be nominated twice in the same year, he ends up splitting his vote with two socially conscious films. Thus, he cannot win the top prize.
That again leaves us with a Gladiator vs. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon contest. I just can't see Ridley Scott winning a director award for such a lackluster movie. Instead I think that Scott will one day win the Thalberg award for lifetime achievement for creating dark movies without creating any flesh and blood characters (If Dino Delaurentiis can win after producing the awful Hannibal, Scott should be a lock for a future honorary prize in twenty years).
I think that Ang Lee will upset Scott for this award much as he did in the Golden Globes. The main reason relies on the idea that Lee has long championed strong women in his films, and that the majority of female Academy voters will be struck by the strong female characters in his latest movie. They will vote for Lee with the hope that this will signal Hollywood to get with it and create more movies with strong women.
My vote: Ang Lee
My prediction: Ang Lee
The Best Actor race is always a tough call since Hollywood generally scripts many strong male acting roles. In the elimination contest, there's only one name to scratch off the contender list -- Geoffrey Rush for his naked performance in Quills. Rush already won the statue for Shine a few years ago, the part isn't as big as the other contenders, and the film is far too edgy for the Academy's serious consideration. Some of them won't even see Quills! Besides do you think the Academy wants to encourage Rush to prance around naked for 30 minutes in another movie?
That leaves us with a toss up between four actors, and I wouldn't be shocked to see any of them win the top prize. Javier Bardem certainly deserves a nod for his portrayal of gay Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas, but unless you're a crazy Italian who will jump on top of his chair don't expect a foreign actor to take Best Actor. Ed Harris is overdue for an acting award (he should have won supporting for Apollo 13), and he gets to practice his method acting by living the life of Jackson Pollock and taking 10 years to get this project off the ground and into the theaters. Unfortunately, the film has been slow to reach across the country and hasn't been as universally praised. Besides, I haven't seen Pollock yet, so I can't predict him even though I've seen the trailer to know that he'll get to act crazy and turn over some tables in a rage.
That leaves our top two contenders as a choice between the well-liked Tom Hanks and Russell Crowe. Hanks has already won two Best Actor Oscars and, like Jack Nicholson, should have to wait until he plays an old man 20 years from now before they give him the top prize again. Crowe has gained some notoriety of late with his relationship to Meg Ryan and through a kidnapping scheme, plus he could easily have won the award Oscar for his work in LA Confidential and The Insider. That creates the famous Liz Taylor Butterfield 8 complex, so it's Crowe's turn this year.
My vote: Javier Bardem
My prediction: Russell Crowe
Every year it seems that the Best Actress category has a few relatively weak candidates - not that the actresses are not worthy, but the female parts are often so weak that a supporting role will be termed the leading actress role. Such is the case this year with Ellen Burstyn's wonderful performance. Even though she is the best part of Requiem for a Dream, her role is too small to warrant serious consideration for this award.
Binoche has already won and stars in the lightweight Chocolat. Joan Allen continues to contend, but never wins (even when she deserves it). Laura Linney performs brilliantly, but the Academy is loath to grant a major award to an actress in such an independent film. They probably would have nominated Meryl Streep instead had she starred in any movie this past year.
So, in an essentially one-woman race, give it to Julia Roberts by default for carrying Erin Brockovich in a serious role. Had the Academy looked past the martial arts wizardry, and understood that Asian women are not all alike, they could have created a much more interesting contest in this category. And if the Academy would have looked past it's anti-comedy prejudice, it could have nominated Renée Zellweger to make the contest more interesting. As it now stands, this is the easiest pick to predict of all the major awards.
My vote: Michelle Yeoh (write-in "protest")
My prediction: Julia Roberts
Jeff Bridges and Albert Finney could both appear in every movie in existence and be magnificent, as both can play leading characters or play effective cameo roles, but I wouldn't look for either one to win. If Miramax was behind either of them, I'd give them a shot, like Michael Caine got last year in a slightly surprising win.
I was actually rooting for Joaquin Phoenix to win in Gladiator, and was a little vexed that he didn't since he was the best thing going in that weak epic. That makes Phoenix a serious contender. The same goes for the brilliant Willem Dafoe, who has turned in a fine body of work over the years. However, don't expect the Academy to praise comedy roles. They favor serious drama.
That makes Benicio Del Toro the surest acting award after Julia. Hollywood can make an anti-drug statement and show that it's not prejudiced against minority actors. Besides, Del Toro gives Traffic it's "soul" and his character likes baseball. (What could be more American?)
My vote: Benicio Del Toro
My prediction: Benicio Del Toro
Since I haven't seen Pollock, I can't name Harden even though she's been getting a lot of positive buzz recently. I wouldn't be surprised to see her win.
The two who would be a surprise are Dench and Walters. Dench won a couple years ago for her powerful portrayal as Queen Elizabeth, so don't look for a repeat award; besides, Chocolat is lightweight. While Walters was outstanding as the dance teacher in Billy Elliott, her part doesn't form the real core of the movie.
That leaves the supporting actress contest between Almost Famous' Kate Hudson and Frances McDormand. This is a category that the Academy uses to name child stars (the Anna Paquin factor), so expect a lot of camera shots between the tearful Hudson and her crying and squealing mother. McDormand will smile proudly as well, as a semi surrogate acting mentor. Can Kate generate those tears that she showed in that one incredible scene in Almost Famous when she learns that she's been traded for a case of beer.
My vote: Zhang ZiYi (write-in "protest")
My prediction: Kate Hudson
The one area that the Academy has chosen as an accepted domain for independent filmmakers is in the writing area, so I expect a two-person contest here between Cameron Crowe and Kenneth Lonergan. I wouldn't be surprise to see either man take top honors. It could be payback time for Crowe for their previous snubbing of Jerry MaGuire, but I'll give the edge to Lonergan's natural dialogue in You Can Count on Me. I'll just hope that the Academy overlooks the fact that Lonergan also wrote the dreadful Rocky and Bullwinkle script.
If the Academy lamely names Gladiator's pedestrian script as the best original screenplay, my TV monitor will be spared only because I also can see my DVDs and videos on it. Also, a Gladiator win here would signal a coming sweep for one of the weakest Best Film nominees in history.
My vote: Kenneth Lonergan
My prediction: Kenneth Lonergan
A tough call, but I think you can eliminate the Coen brothers this time since they won previously forFargo and the quirky O Brother Where Art Thou isn't receiving the same universally rave reviews. I don't think sweet moralistic Chocolat weighty enough to win either. While Wonder Boys has received some great critical reviews, I don't sense any groundswell for it to win anything outside of the Dylan song.
That leaves us with Crouching Tiger and Traffic. Knowing that the generally illiterate Academy doesn't care for subtitles and will think that the original Chinese writing is derivative from legends and Hong Kong martial arts films that it won't have much chance in this category.
Besides, the Academy likes to stand behind worthy causes. Awarding the writing award to Traffic will show the politicians that they are socially conscious and fighting the good fight against drugs.
Besides that, it did take some excellent writing to weave the three threads together coherently.
My vote: Ethan and Joel Coen
My prediction: Stephen Gaghan
Foreign Language Film
This is one true lock. You can bet your entire life's fortune on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to win the consolation prize. I haven't even heard of the other films since they haven't even seen a "wide" arthouse release, and they didn't bother to nominate Yi Yi or The Butterfly. Lots of luck finding someone that will take your bet on this one though.
My vote and prediction: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
So there's my early predictions. It's unfortunate that the Academy refuses to take fine comedies like Nurse Betty seriously, fails to recognize creative animation like Chicken Run, and never considers really independent films like Spring Forward, or reads the subtitles for films like The Butterfly. Therefore, the year 2000 will forever be labeled as a "bad" year for the movies because most movie fans will scan the list of Oscar nominees without digging deeper for the real gems.
Soon Variety will be publishing their final predictions and Entertainment Weekly will keep its hear attuned to Academy buzz to supply the odds. I figure to do about as badly as they do at predicting the inconsistent Academy Awards. It's a whole lot easier to guess the NY Film Critics Awards since they actually go by some artistic standards, and their voters actually see the films they vote for.
This year it'll mostly end up being a contest between an Asian epic and an American made pseudo Italian epic. It's not a fair contest. Do you really think that Hollywood will put down its own? TheGladiator DVD makes it seem far more artistic than it really is, and it's one DVD that I will never purchase. I'm anxiously awaiting the July release of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, on the other hand.