winners underlined in red
* = prediction
+ = personal pick
*Prediction: There are two films here that absolutely have no chance of
winning. The first is Elizabeth, whose director, Shekhar Kapur, failed
to secure a nomination in the directing category. The other is
The Thin Red Line, a difficult film which has just as many bitter
detractors as it does passionate admirers. La Vita È Bella has many
supporters and cannot be completely counted out, but those subtitles will
lead most voters to leave it to the Foreign Language Film committee to
reward the film. So this category is pretty much a two-picture toss-up.
The longtime favorite, Saving Private Ryan, is still strong in the wake
of its many critics' awards, but in recent months the tide appears to have
shifted--in favor of Shakespeare in Love, which appears to now hold most
of the momentum: a December release date, an aggressive Miramax push,
strong box office, and recent award wins for the film (most recently at the
Screen Actors Guild Awards) and its star, Gwyneth Paltrow. It's close, but
I think voters--who are perhaps a bit tired of Ryan winning
everything--will opt to go the light and frothy route this year.
+My Pick: Call me pretentious, but of these five, none got under my skin
and lingered there quite like Terrence Malick's challenging meditation on
the nature of war and man--the one complete film, I believe, that will be
the most studied and debated in years to come.
The Winner: "And the Oscar goes to... Shakespeare in Love." As those words came out from Harrison Ford's mouth, a collective gasp rang in the near-capacity TV/Online press room. Make that a near-collective gasp, for I, for one, had predicted the Shakespeare win, and I'm actually surprised that so many people were surprised. Saving Private Ryan sure fit the traditional bill of a Best Picture winner--serious, universally-lauded war film. But despite all the various accollades it had amassed, its momentum was clearly on the wane, with Shakespeare--most recently heralded at the Screen Actors Guild Awards--gradually taking over the lead in the home stretch. Maybe it was Miramax's much-criticized campaigning, or maybe it was the Academy voters growing tiresome of Ryan's seemingly pre-ordained award bonanza. Nonetheless, this so-called "upset" really shouldn't be seen as one.
*Prediction: For once, this category is a free-for-all. Make that a
virtual free-for-all; as incredibly deserving as he is, Norton has no
chance in hell of winning the prize. The other four all have some
reasonable chance of winning, with Hanks being the most unlikely; while an
obvious Academy favorite, with two other statuettes to his credit, it's
doubtful the voters will allow him to make history so quickly. I think the
only way he would win is if Ryan sweeps, which is a possible but not
highly probable scenario. Second-time nominee Nolte is a Hollywood
favorite, and honoring him would also bring de facto recognition to his
(better) performance in The Thin Red Line, but I don't think enough
people will have seen Affliction, and those who have may have difficulty
warming up to that glacial film. That leaves the two foreigners, and while
McKellen has much respect and all the critics' awards behind him, there
could be some fear over a politically-charged acceptance speech. So I
suspect that Benigni will buck the bias against subtitles and take home the
gold. Never mind his performance; it's his ebullient personality that made
his film as popular as it is--and that has charmed the pants off of
Tinseltown. His shocking win at the SAG Awards only confirms just how
loved, let alone liked, he is. Not bad for a guy who only a year ago was
most widely known stateside as the star of the misbegotten
Son of the Pink Panther.
+My Pick: He may not have a chance in hell of actually winning, but in my
book performances don't come any better than Norton's astonishing work in
X--a film that would not have worked at all if it weren't for his
The Winner: Perhaps this award should be renamed "Most Infectious Personality," for if Benigni's characteristically hyper display was any indication, there wasn't much acting involved in his performance.
*Prediction: Paltrow is one of the two locks of night--no ifs, ands, or
buts. Not only is she credited with most of Shakespeare's success,
recognizing her would also give Hollywood a way of patting itself on the
back for picking an "it girl" that, for once, lived up to the hype. The
closest competitor is Blanchett, whose best chance comes with the fact that
her film had more dramatic substance. Oft-nominated Streep delivered
another True-ly strong performance, but I doubt anyone really believes
hers was the best of the year. Montenegro is a well-respected veteran, but
the Brazilian is a virtual arriviste in Hollywood. (Those pesky subtitles
don't help, either.) And while Watson clearly has built an Academy
following in a relatively short period of time (two Best Actress nods in
three years), there's no derailing the Paltrow Express...
+My Pick: ...which is most unfortunate, for her virtuoso work as cellist
Jacqueline du Pré is what acting is all about, convincingly running the
entire gamut of emotions and personality traits: sweetness to bitterness,
madness to illness, and all points in between. It's a truly extraordinary
performance, one that will endure far longer than Paltrow's.
The Winner: If anything, she deserves the award for making everyone virtually forget about her less-than-inspiring (to say the least) work in three of the five films she appeared in last year: A Perfect Murder, Great Expectations, and--yikes!--Hush.
*Prediction: A tough category to call. I suspect that Rush's only chance
lies in the possibility that Shakespeare could sweep. Coburn has his
first nod in a decades-spanning career, but I think his film's lack of
visibility will kill his chances. Harris won the Golden Globe and a win
for him here would give Truman some de facto recognition, but the film's
paltry three nods shows that support for that film is virtually
nonexistent. Duvall won the SAG Award, but a win for him here would be
less for his performance (which was just good, but stood out in an
unimpressive film) than his star gravity--and that scenario is not out of
the question. But I think it's Thornton who has the best chance; though he
won a 1996 Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Sling Blade, many (including
myself) feel he's owed for losing the Actor trophy (which went to,
coincidentally enough, fellow Supporting Actor nominee Rush). And it
doesn't hurt that his Simple performance was nothing short of superb.
+My Pick: Also Thornton, whose heartbreaking work lent A Simple Plan an
uncommon poignancy for a thriller.
The Winner: In my opinion, the big surprise was Coburn's victory for Affliction, which, while little-seen in general, was apparently seen by enough of the right people. And Coburn's heretofore unawarded decades-spanning career didn't exactly hurt, either. This category was a fairly wide-open race to begin with, so I think just about any outcome would have been surprising to a certain extent.
*Prediction: A little easier to call than the male side, but another
crapshoot all the same. I would immediately count out Griffiths and
Blethyn; both of their films may not have been widely enough seen, and
Blethyn's character was so (appropriately) grating that voters may be
hesitant to vote for her. Redgrave was the surprising winner of the Golden
Globe, but the surprise won't carry over to Oscar night. The toss-up is
between Dench and Bates. Support for Shakespeare and a few critics's
prizes could carry the day for Dench's cameo role (which I found to be
effective, but let's get real here--it was little more than James Bond's M
in queen drag), and many feel that she's owed for being passed up last year
in the Best Actress category (for Mrs. Brown). But people forget exactly
why she lost last year--she was one of four foreigners in the category,
and the typically xenophobic Academy decided to go with the sole Yank,
Helen Hunt. Accordingly, I think the Academy will go for the sole American
in this category: Bates. While her film was a disappointment critically
and financially, and she already has a statuette to her credit (Best
Actress for 1990's Misery), her recent SAG win shows that she's just as
respected as ever by her peers.
+My Pick: There's a reason why the film wasn't called
Jackie and Hilary--it's because the less flashy role is the film's
steadying force, and Griffiths more than held her own against the
formidable Emily Watson. Their tandem performance was the one-two acting
punch of the last year.
The Winner: Too much, too little, too late. If you ask me, the acting branch of the Academy honored Dench--and overcame its notorious xenophobia--one year to late; she would have deserved last year's Best Actress trophy (for Mrs. Brown) more than this one for her 8-minute cameo. Granted, she did scene-stealing work as Queen Elizabeth, but it was a severely limited role; not just by time, but also by character range.
*Prediction: Spielberg. The night's other lock. The question isn't
whether or not he will win, but who has the strongest chance to pull the
upset--that is, if one is in the realm of possibility (it isn't). Weir is
totally out since Truman failed to secure a Picture nomination. Also
count out Benigni, for as loved as his film is, it wasn't exactly a
"director's" film; the same goes for Madden, whose only shot, as with many,
lies with a possible Shakespeare sweep. So I think the #1 contender will
be Malick. His film had a very divisive reaction, but he is a legend and a
hero to many in the directing community--the same directing community that
shunned Spielberg for years before Schindler's List and may not be so
quick to honor him again. Of course, this detailed analysis is all for
naught--it's Spielberg all the way.
+My Pick: All due respect to Mr. Spielberg, Malick showed a subconscious
command of cinema in The Thin Red Line that could only be called entrancing.
The Winner: How much of a lock was Spielberg's win? He didn't even try to act the slightest bit enthused--let alone surprised--at the winner's podium.
*Prediction: The out-of-its-league Primary Colors is the only contender
here that could be stricken off of the ballot from the get-go.
Out of Sight could parlay its critics' awards to a win here, but I doubt
the Academy will be so quick to honor a crime potboiler. A Simple Plan
also has critics' awards going for it and has a stronger chance than the
summer-released Out of Sight, but not by that much. This category could
very well be Malick's consolation prize for his big return to filmmaking,
but of all the complaints about The Thin Red Line, the loudest were over
the narrative-light screenplay. By default, the odds are on
Gods and Monsters, a well-liked film that, if my predictions are correct,
will not be honored elsewhere.
+My Pick: Smith's Simple script was far from it--intelligently twisty
and emotionally complex. (Yes, I actually picked something over Malick.)
The Winner: This award also elicited an audible gasp in the press room... and I again had seen this one coming.
*Prediction: This is Bulworth's only nod. Translation? No Oscar this
year, Warren. Rodat's script was by far Ryan's weakest element, with
only the sweep factor giving it the slightest chance to win here. Love for
Benigni could extend here, but it won't. Four months ago I would have said
that Truman was a shoo-in here, but now it's all about Shakespeare, and
I'd say this is that film's second all-but-guaranteed win.
+My Pick: The film was slightly overrated, but their's no denying the
cleverness of Niccol's Truman premise and the ingenuity of its execution.
The Winner: One of the night's locks...
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Winner: ...and another.
The Winner: The Academy was voting with their mind, casting their ballots for one of the major nod-getters, instead of with their eyes--which would have shown that What Dreams May Come featured the best art direction of the five nominees. If they were intent on rewarding a period piece, the work on display in Elizabeth would have been a more worthy choice. Alas, the mighty Miramax campaign team strikes again.
The Winner: Janusz Kaminski did a fabulous job. That said, he was clearly outdone by John Toll and his literally breathtaking photography in The Thin Red Line. Even the film's many detractors concede that Toll's work was flat-out superb.
The Winner: Powell won for the wrong film: her also-nominated work for Velvet Goldmine was far more inventive and memorable.
The Winner: Kahn's editing of opening 20-minute sequence alone was worthy of the trophy, let alone the remainder of the three-hour film.
The Winner: Somewhat of an upset over the flashier work on display in Saving Private Ryan. This time, the Academy chose the right period piece to honor. Shakespeare had more period-accurate bad teeth than you can shake a stick at, but the work that turned Cate Blanchett into the stone-faced Virgin Queen was haunting.
ORIGINAL DRAMATIC SCORE
The Winner: Another surprise of sorts, with Ryan's John Williams having been the odds-on favorite.
ORIGINAL MUSICAL/COMEDY SCORE
The Winner: The Love affair with Shakespeare was strong enough to make the Academy ignore Hans Zimmer and Stephen Schwartz's far superior Prince of Egypt score.
The Winner: I was afraid that the forgettable "The Prayer," from the even more forgettable Quest for Camelot, would've parlayed its Golden Globe to an Oscar win, thanks to Celine Dion's gold-plated pipes. The Academy ended up choosing wisely.
The Winner: Armageddon definitely won on the decibel level, but the true craft was on display in Ryan.
SOUND EFFECTS EDITING
The Winner: (see Sound, above)
The Winner: The first--and last--Oscar ever won by the now-defunct distributor by the name of PolyGram Films.
- Dancemaker - Matthew Diamond and Jerry Kupfer
- The Farm: Angola, U.S.A. - Jonathan Stack and Liz Garbus
- The Last Days - James Moll and Ken Lipper
- Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth - Robert B. Weide
- Regret to Inform - Barbara Sonneborn and Janet Cole
LIVE ACTION SHORT
- Culture - Will Speck & Josh Gordon
- Election Night - Kim Magnusson and Anders Thomas Jensen
- Holiday Romance - Alexander Jovy
- La Carte Postale (The Postcard) - Vivian Goffette
- Victor - Simon Sandquist and Joel Bergvall
- Bunny - Chris Wedge
- The Canterbury Tales - Christopher Grace and Jonathan Myerson
- Jolly Roger - Mark Baker
- More - Mark Osborne and Steve Kalafer
- When Life Departs - Karsten Kiilerich and Sefan Fjeldmark
- The Personals: Improvisations on Romance in the Golden Years - Keiko Ibi
- A Place in the Land - Charles Guggenheim
- Sunrise over Tiananmen Square - Shui-Bo Wang and Donald McWilliams
Conspicuously missing from the final tally is The Thin Red Line, which, despite one of the leading nomination earners with seven, came away emptyhanded. However, given how disliked (or, more precisely, misunderstood) the film is by many, it comes as no surprise. While the shut-out may seem like a dubious distinction, Terrence Malick and company are in good company: the last film that went 0 for 7 including Best Picture was none other than The Shawshank Redemption, which is perhaps held in even higher esteem now than it was when released in 1994.
I had my best year yet in predicting the winners in the eight top categories (Picture, Director, the four Acting categories, the two Screenplay categories), correctly picking six of the eight, only botching the Supporting categories. I know I likely won't approach as precise a prognostication percentage ever again...
Michael's Oscar Follies: Inside the 71st Annual Academy Awards
71st Annual Academy Awards Memorabilia
Running Thoughts from the Press Room
71st Annual Academy Award Winners/© Michael Dequina