Oscar 2004
It's that time of year again. Movie theaters are filled either with junk or with films nobody has ever heard of, which means that Oscar season is upon us. This year's celebration of excess will be telecast February 29, 2004 on ABC. For all the official junk, please visit their website. Meanwhile, HARO Online presents its Fourth Annual Oscar Pick List. Again, this is not a predictor as to who will win. This is who we think will win, and sometimes who should have been nominated, especially amongst some of the smaller films that people tend to overlook. So what's the big trend this year? It looks like the Academy is doing a better job of picking nominees, helped tremendously by a crop of extremely good movies that came out near the end of the year. Last year's picks are available here.
Winners in BOLD
Best Picture
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Lost in Translation
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Mystic River
The one glaring omission here is Finding Nemo, can realistically compete with any of the films above. Otherwise, each of these films is a worthy enough contender. Master and Commander is technically amazing, but probably lacking a little in the acting. Seabiscuit is an all-around feel good film, the polar opposite of the introspection and glum of Mystic River. Still, the top tier belongs to The Return of the King, grandiose in nearly every aspect. It has a monumental epic scope, timeless themes, and colorful character. Lost in Translation, a wonderful meditation on friendship and loneliness from Sofia Coppola (and don't forget Finding Nemo). Some equally deserving films that should have been nominated were Whale Rider, Bend It Like Beckham, or the genre-bending American Splendor.
  Haro: Lost in Translation Mongoose: The Return of the King
Best Actor
Johnny Depp - The Pirates of the Caribbean
Ben Kingsley - House of Sand and Fog
Jude Law - Cold Mountain
Bill Murray - Lost in Translation
Sean Penn - Mystic River
This is the best group of actors nominated in a while. And it's great to see Depp and Murray nominated for roles that have a more comedic feel to them. The only actor that shouldn't be here is Law. He's a good actor, but pretty much everything about Cold Mountain was overrated. There are just so many good things to say about the other actors. Depp was so enjoyably eccentric. It was heartbreaking watching a stubborn Kingsley cling to his past, but Penn and Murray probably edge him out. It's hard to believe how far these guys have come in their careers. Penn, who deserved another nomiation for 21 Grams is turning into one of the most intense actors around. Murray, with his background in comedy, brings so much depth to his dramatic roles, and he is one of the few actors today who could do justice to Lost in Translation. Instead of Law, it would have been nice seeing Paul Giamatti for American Splendor, Campbell Scott for The Secret Lives of Dentists, Ralph Feinnes for Spider, or Chiwetl Ejiofor, who was completely left off the advertising for Dirty Pretty Things. And you know who would be really cool? Bruce Campbell for Bubba Ho-Tep.
  Haro: Sean Penn Mongoose: Bill Murray
Best Actress
Keisha Castle-Hughes - Whale Rider
Diane Keaton - Something's Gotta Give
Samantha Morton - In America
Charlize Theron - Monster
Naomi Watts - 21 Grams
Wouldn't it be great if Castle-Huhges won? Whale Rider was such a great film and she did a great job, although it was surprising she was nominated. Keaton was fun, but the role was too insubstantial. Morton was better, but nowhere near as good as she was in Sweet and Lowdown. She has chosen increasingly esoteric roles, with varying results. Jennifer Connelly and Scarlett Johansson should have gotten nominations for House of Sand and Fog and Lost in Translation over these two. Watts gave a devastating performance, but Theron overshadows all of them. Her performance was more than extra weight and make-up. She changed the way she spoke and carried herself so much that it was like watching a different person. This is the most ambitious role she has taken, and she proves that she can be so much more than an incredibly hot actress. Other good choices include Hope Davis for The Secret Lives of Dentists, Romola Garai for I Capture the Castle, or Zooey Deschanel for All The Real Girls.
  Haro: Charlie Theron Mongoose: Charlize Theron
Best Director
Fernando Meirelles - City of God
Peter Jackson - The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Sofia Coppola - Lost in Translation
Peter Weir - Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Clint Eastwood - Mystic River
Uh, where did Meirelles come from? Oh yeah, non-stop campaigning by Miramax. City of God was an ambitious film, and Meirelles did some fascinating things, but he is probably the weakest of the bunch. The person to beat is Peter Jackson, who literally created a world in Return of the King. Coppola is the first woman in a long time to be nominated, if not for Jackson, she would be a shoo-in. Otherwise, Eastwood and Weir both did a very good job, as did un-nominatd Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu for 21 Grams, and Gary Ross for Seabiscuit, and maybe even Niki Caro for Whale Rider and Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini for American Splendor and they fall in line right behind Jackson and Coppola.
  Haro: Peter Jackson Mongoose: Peter Jackson
Best Supporting Actor
Alec Baldwin - The Cooler
Benicio Del Toro - 21 Grams
Djimon Hounsou - In America
Tim Robbins - Mystic River
Ken Watanabe - The Last Samurai
What's going on here? Mexican, African and Japanese people all in the same category? Wow, that's impressive. And the best part is, they are all nominated not because of their ethnicity, but because of their acting ability. The sad part is, while Hounsou and Watanabe gave good performances, their roles were pretty stereotypical. Robbins and Del Toro are good but not at the top of their game, but Baldwin is much better, turning in one of his best performances in a long time. He was able to add a sense of depth to the role that others probably couldn't. The one gaping omission is Chris Cooper in Seabiscuit. Some other nice choices would have been Peter Sarsgaard for Shattered Glass, Bill Nighy for his great work in I Capture the Castle, Lawless Heart, or Love Actually, Anupam Kher for Bend It Like Beckham, or Bobby Canavale for his annoying-yet-endearing portrayal in The Station Agent.
  Haro: Alec Baldwin Mongoose: Alec Baldwin
Best Supporting Actress
Shohreh Aghdashloo - House of Sand and Fog
Patrica Clarkson - Pieces of April
Marcia Gay Harden - Mystic River
Holly Hunter - Thirteen
Renee Zellweger - Cold Mountain
This is probably the weakest of the largest categories. The Academy has some fasciation with Zellweger that this site just doesn't understand. She gets nominated nearly every year for work that is good but not nomination worthy. Same thing happened this year (but she was beter than Law). And the same thing may be beginning to happen to Harden, who was better than Zellweger, but didn't have that much to do in Mystic River. Hunter was better than both, but Clarkson and Aghdashloo were better from them all. In fact, Clarkson had a great year in general, and could have just as easily been nominated for The Station Agent. Here, she takes two conflicting emotions, humor and depression, and adroitly mixes them together. Aghdashloo has a much more depressing role, but she gives a powerful, poignant performance. A nice addition would have been the always great Hope Davis for American Splendor.
  Haro: Patricia Clarkson Mongoose: Shohreh Aghdashloo
Best Original Screenplay
The Barbarian Invasions - Denys Arcand
Dirty Pretty Things - Steven Knight
Finding Nemo - Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson, David Reynolds
In America - Jim Sheridan, Naomi Sheridan, Kirsten Sheridan
Lost in Translation - Sofia Coppola
The Barbarian Invasions sticks out as the movie that doesn't belong. It was nice, but nothing special, and a tad overly talky. Even with it, this category forms an interesting, diverse group. Dirty Pretty Things is a fascinating examination of immigrants workers in a hotel, In America is an emotional and intensely personaly story of a family in turmoil, Lost in Translation is a great story about two lonley kindred spirits, and Finding Nemo is a wonderful family film with genuine heart. There is something so beautiful and elegant about Coppola's screenplay, and joyous about Finding Nemo, that push the two above In America. Other nice choices would have been The Station Agent by Thomas McCarthy, Bend It Like Beckham by Gurinder Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges, or A Mighty Wind by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy.
  Haro: Finding Nemo Mongoose: Lost in Translation
Best Adapted Screenplay
American Splendor - Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman
City of God - Braulio Mantovani
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson
Mystic River - Brian Helgeland
Seabiscuit - Gary Ross
Of the two writing categories, this is certainly the stronger one. Screenwriters adapted quality material into quality movies, with people like Mantovani and Pulcini and Berman seemingly doing the impossible in forming films out of hard-to-adapt source material. Helgeland and Ross were able to bring evoke the emotional resonance of Mystic River and Seabiscuit. They took a few liberties, but overwhelmingly held true to the spirit of the source material. The same goes in spades for Walsh, Boyens, and Jackson, who did the impossible. Other great choices would have been the wildy bizarre Bubba Ho-Tep by Don Coscarelli, Shattered Glass by Billy Ray, the surprisingly enjoyable Holes by Louis Sachar, or I Capture the Castle by Heidi Thomas. The one glaring omission is Whale Rider by Niki Caro.
  Haro: The Return of the King Mongoose: The Return of the King
Best Animated Film
Brother Bear
Finding Nemo
The Triplets of Belleville
In terms of overall quality, this was a dismal year for animated films. The rules for this category state that it will be on the ballot if three films qualify. Technically then, there should be no category, since the only two good animated films were Finding Nemo and The Triplets of Belleville. It should be noted that many studios didn't even bother submitting their films, most of which underperformed in pretty much every aspect. In a perfect world, Finding Nemo would have been in the Best Picture category, and there would have been enough films in this category such that The Triplets of Belleville could win. As it is, the latter is an imaginative, original film, but Finding Nemo is far better.
  Haro: Finding Nemo Mongoose: Finding Nemo
Best Foreign Film
The Barbarian Invasions - Canada
Evil - Sweden
The Twilight Samurai - Japan
Twin Sisters - The Netherlands
Zelary - Czech Republic
In order for a film to qualify in this category, it must play for at least a week during the calendar year in Los Angeles. Each country must submit one film, and the results are whittled down to five. Of these, only The Barbarian Invasions has had any sort of release, and there are probably better films out there. Usually, a nomination ensures a wider release because of the higher profile, but this can take some time (heck, Miramax still hasn't released Hero from last year). The biggest surprise is that Goodbye, Lenin!, the German submission, wasn't nominated. It's a feelgood film that has been winning awards at festivals worldwide. In the coming weeks, the submissions from Norway and Russis are scheduled to hit theaters.
Best Documentary
Capturing the Friedmans
The Fog of War
My Architect
The Weather Underground
The big news here is that unlike most years, most of these documentaries have been released and have had critical and commercial acclaim. This past year has been great for documentaries, and The Fog of War is far and away the most engrossing one. Capturing the Friedmans is next, with the un-nominated The Revolution Will Not Be Televised and The Weather Underground. My Architect has a feel-good sense about it, but is a little too amateurish in its execution. Balseros is the only one that has yet to receive wide distribution. The one glaring omission here is Lost in La Mancha.
  Haro: The Fog of War Mongoose: The Fog of War
Best Music (Song)
"Belleville Rendez-vous" - The Triplets of Belleville
"Into the West" - Annie Lennox - The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
"A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" - Michael McKean and Catherine O'Hara - A Mighty Wind
"Scarlet Tide" - Elvis Costello - Cold Mountain
"You Will Be My Ain True Love" - Sting - Cold Mountain
It's unfortunate that most nominated songs nowadays just play over the end credits and have little to do with the rest of the film. While "Into the West" was nice, it doesn't really belong here. In fact, this is a pretty weak year for this category. Cold Mountain did contain a wealth of beautiful songs, but none of them, even the two here, particularly stood out. The only notable omission if "School of Rock" by the band of the same name from the film of the same name. The standout is "Belleville Rendez-vous," a rollicking, energetic good time.
  Haro: "Belleville Rendez-vous" Mongoose: "Belleville Rendez-vous"
Best Music (Score)
Big Fish - Danny Elfman
Cold Mountain - Gabriel Yared
House of Sand and Fog - James Horner
Finding Nemo - Thomas Newman
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - Howard Shore
It has also been a pretty mediocre year for film scores, particularly for anything remotely interesting. Incidentally, the best score came from The Fog of War and composer Phillip Glass, but the Academy is notorious for nominating the same people year after year. Sure they make great music, but all five nominees this year have done much better in the past. It should be noted that Shore did an impressive thing with his Lord of the Rings score. It isn't really three separate film scores but one long score.
  Haro: Danny Elfman Mongoose: James Horner

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