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Critics' choices

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OWEN GLEIBERMAN

BEST ACTOR — Richard Farnsworth
It’s a bad joke that neither Jim Carrey nor Matt Damon was nominated, but, that said, I keep drifting back to Farnsworth’s eyes. As the grizzled lawn-tractor Odysseus of The Straight Story, he creates the most lived-in portrait of old age ever seen in an American film.

BEST ACTRESS — Hilary Swank
Forget, for a moment, the way that she looks in Boys Don’t Cry — the whole fragile, waif-prince androgyny — and just think back to Swank’s voice: quivering, seductive, the sound of desire, and dread, in bloom.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR — Jude Law
As Dickie, the beautiful, charmed ’50s-expatriate slacker of The Talented Mr. Ripley, he’s a walking fantasy of WASP indolence: golden skin, golden hair, golden soul. To say that the film feels emptier after he disappears is hardly a criticism. Law’s Dickie is the dream who rules Tom Ripley’s nightmare.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS — Chloe Sevigny
In Boys Don’t Cry, she plays Brandon Teena’s lover as a wallflower you want to save from wilting, her desolation so vivid she turns a tuneless karaoke quaver into lip-synch heartbreak.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY — Topsy-Turvy
The characters don’t just speak but feel in complete sentences. They have a literacy of the heart, and Mike Leigh’s glorious Gilbert and Sullivan epic revels in their Victorian passion for the sublime caress of language.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY — Election
Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor’s high school political comedy is so lifelike in its detail, it’s practically an insult to call the film a satire. The election itself is pure Machiavellian glee, but then, so is the fumbling suburban adultery of Matthew Broderick’s scoundrel-sap teacher.

BEST DIRECTOR — Spike Jonze
With wizardly playfulness, he puts you right inside John Malkovich’s head, and the odd thing is, it feels like the most natural place in the world to be.

BEST PICTURE — American Beauty
Look closer and you’ll see a faux masterpiece, a movie that flirts with “dark” desperation only to sugarcoat tragedy by making its hero into a martyr-saint. Still, the craftsmanship is luscious, the acting indelible; to me, this is the one nominee that jells on its own (flawed) terms.

LISA SCHWARZBAUM

BEST ACTOR — Russell Crowe
Some nominees command notice by demanding look at me. Without ever drawing attention to his astonishing transformation, Crowe loses himself body and soul in the unglamorous role of a tormented whistle-blower, utterly becoming the flawed hero of The Insider.

BEST ACTRESS — Hilary Swank
I could easily make a case for McTeer. I could happily support Moore. But I must, with admiration and gratitude, bow to Swank for her burning commitment to gender-blind honesty in Boys Don’t Cry.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR — Jude Law
Haley Joel Osment is amazing. Still, Law has the harder work to do as a seductively opaque playboy in The Talented Mr. Ripley. He plays languid, bored, churlish, and naive — and we never see him sweat.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS — Samantha Morton
Actors love playing mutes — ah, the chance to do Silent Eloquence! But Morton makes the young, lusty laundress in Sweet and Lowdown so specific and so intriguing that she shapes the actions of every character around her.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY — Topsy-Turvy
Only those who haven’t seen it would think that Mike Leigh’s beautiful script is ”only” about the making of The Mikado. In fact it’s a meditation on art, character, and the terrors and temptations of modernity, and it glows with joy.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY — Election
To the old equation that all of adult life is based on high school, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor have written a brilliant new proof, elegant and wise about human behavior, and accepting of human frailty.

BEST DIRECTOR — Sam Mendes
How good is this guy? He took an inconsequential sitcom story of American family dysfunction (oooh, Dad’s feeling empty? Time to smoke pot!) and, with consummate theatrical skill and a great sense of style, made American Beauty seem way more trenchant than it actually is.

BEST PICTURE — The Insider
How good is this movie? Well, it’s no Topsy-Turvy. But of all the nominees, it’s the most passionate. It’s the most mature. And it’s the only movie that dares to be about something — rather than merely impressing with atmospheric twinkle dust.

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