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EW's Critics debate the Oscar nominees

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Lisa Schwarzbaum
Lisa Schwarzbaum Illustration by Eric Palma

Lisa Schwarzbaum
Image credit: Lisa Schwarzbaum Illustration by Eric Palma


He Said/She Said

In the first of their email debates, Owen Gleiberman and Lisa Schwarzbaum pick the Best Supporting Actresses apart

EW’s critics square off on the Oscars

LISA: Hey, Owen, I look forward to these weekly email chats, and I like jumping right into the category of Best Supporting Actress, since that’s the award that’s handed out before I’ve barely had time to get a handle on the evening’s fashion trends. So, how about those ”Gosford Park” gals? If I were Emily Watson, I’d have my knickers in a twist, what with Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith getting all the attention. Helen and Maggie, Helen and Maggie, Lordy that’s a lot of plummy acting. I’m no great fan of the film — look beyond the larky fun poked at snooty Brits and boorish Hollywood folk and I think it’s a cranky and supercilious piece of work. But I do think Watson carried the heavy, supporting load while Mirren and Smith got to cut loose. (Has Maggie ever done anything but?)

You know, don’t you, that I’m a big Kate Winslet fan. Winslet takes risks, and she never chooses a softer interpretation when a harder one is more truthful. That said, I can’t really remember her performance in ”Iris,” can you? I know she plays a young woman with a bad haircut, a great mind, and a great appetite for sex, but Winslet isn’t so much supporting the film as warming up the space for when Judi Dench appears as the older, addled Iris Murdoch and pees on the floor, isn’t she?

Great gusts of support may now blowing in the direction of Jennifer Connelly in ”A Beautiful Mind.” But in my ideal telecast, Marisa Tomei will have a chance to make some nutty acceptance speech on Oscar night while commentators recall her zig-zaggy career since ”My Cousin Vinny.” Tomei’s so unexpectedly good in ”In The Bedroom,” isn’t she? She takes a slap in the face from Sissy Spacek so well.

And isn’t that what this Oscar category is all about?


Owen Gleiberman
Image credit: Owen Gleiberman Illustration by Eric Palma


He Said/She Said

EW’s critics take on the Best Supporting Actors. Owen gets Beastly, Lisa offers him a Ring

EW’s critics take on the Best Supporting Actors

OWEN GLEIBERMAN
February 20, 2002 12:37 PM

You know, Lisa, on Oscar night, it’s easy to pretend that the fun is all in the horse race. You pick your winners, you watch the contest play out, and there’s no need to take any of it all that seriously. But daydreaming about how you’re going to spend the office-pool money gets put on hold the moment you come to one of those categories you really DO care about. Suddenly, you’re forced to own up to how invested you are. I feel that way right now about Best Supporting Actor. To me, the category this year is sort of like real estate, in that it all comes down to one word: Kingsley, Kingsley, Kingsley.

What can I say? I want my man Ben to win! He deserves to — overwhelmingly — for his already legendary performance in ”Sexy Beast,” where he plays that bullet-headed cockney gangster with so much scary style, such pure volcanic excitement, that it’s impossible to take your eyes off him. Sure, a lot of actors can make a bad guy riveting, but Kingsley gives this one such amazing layers. You don’t just love to hate him — you’re caught up in his psycho mind, his whole demonic gamesmanship. Kingsley didn’t get the momentum he deserved from the year-end critics awards, a couple of which went to Steve Buscemi, probably because his character in ”Ghost World” was like a film critic without a job. To me, though, Kingsley’s performance in ”Sexy Beast” is what movies are all about.


Lisa Schwarzbaum
Image credit: Lisa Schwarzbaum Illustration by Eric Palma


Spacek’s Shot

News Flash! EW’s critics agree on Best Actress. In fact, they’re throwing a royal Sissy fit

News Flash! EW’s critics agree on Best Actress

LISA SCHWARZBAUM
February 27, 2002 11:02 AM

So, Owen, don’t you think Nicole Kidman looked great in her Oscar dress? Oh, wait, that was the British Academy Awards she was working the other night, smiling gamely even though she lost out to Judi Dench in ”Iris.” I keep thinking the Oscars have already been handed out and the fashion photos have already run in magazines, what with all the other prizes leading up to the big show. I’m more and more impressed with Kidman’s playfulness and versatility — the nomination could have just as easily gone her way for ”The Others” — and I’m excited to see where her new personal independence takes her creatively.

But the woman I want to see on stage accepting the Oscar for Best Actress is the one least likely to make a fuss over her wardrobe: Sissy Spacek. What I love about her performance in ”In the Bedroom,” and what I think sets her apart from her colleagues in the category, is the fluidity and understatement with which she deepens our understanding of her character, a highly competent middle-aged wife and mother who knows no highly competent way of dealing with family tragedy. In scenes where Spacek explodes (that smashed dish! that slapped face!) she’s vivid. But for me, her most enthralling moments are also the quietest. I mean, I’d give her an Oscar just for the vignette of grief in which she smokes and stares, unseeing, at late-night TV.


Owen Gleiberman
Image credit: Owen Gleiberman Illustration by Eric Palma


Hankering for an Oscar

He Said/She Said: EW’s critics have two Best Actors to Crowe about. And in the finest tradition of lofty debate, there’s some bitch-slapping going on

EW’s critics have two Best Actors to Crowe about

Owen Gleiberman
March 6, 2002 12:03 PM

We haven’t really gotten too much into predictions, have we? I don’t know about you, Lisa, but I tend to leave that stuff to the Vegas oddsmakers, and to the even savvier oddsmakers on our staff. But this year, in the category of Best Actor, I feel like I have to start with a prediction, because it says so much about where the Academy is coming from these days. Basically, I buy the conventional wisdom that Russell Crowe, despite his pronounced tendency to bitch-slap the people who don’t broadcast his award-show poems, is going to win for ”A Beautiful Mind,” taking home his second Oscar in a row, after winning for ”Gladiator” last year. Personally, I think Crowe’s ”Beautiful Mind” performance is brilliant (more on that in a moment), but consider just how odd this double win would have seemed, say, 15 years ago.

Back then, we’d all be saying that the fact that Crowe had won LAST year was the single biggest thing going against him. Now, it’s like, Sure, he won last year, he’ll win this year, he’ll win the next 17 years in a row — what’s the big deal? I think this is a sign of the way that Tom Hanks has changed the Oscars. The Academy used to insist more on spreading the honors around. But Hanks’ multiple wins in the ’90s became a form of canonization — in effect, the new template for how to be crowned not just Best Actor but Star of the Moment. When Crowe wins this year, he’ll essentially be usurping Hanks’ role as the new king of Hollywood. Which tells me that we’re starting to move, as a culture, away from neo-Jimmy Stewart niceness and over to neo-Brando nihilism.


Lisa Schwarzbaum
Image credit: Lisa Schwarzbaum Illustration by Eric Palma


Political Asylum

He Said/She Said: Sparks fly over the Best Director race. Lisa submits to the”Rings” master, while Owen is opting for Opie

Sparks fly over the Best Director race

LISA SCHWARZBAUM
March 13, 2002 1:57 PM

Owen, during our last Oscar debate, you were the one with the unified field theory about this year’s Best Actor race. So as we begin talking about our Best Director choices, I propose — well, not so much a grand notion as a small observation that this category is one where career wins and losses are evened out. And where, as also happens among Best Supporting Actress nominees, all bets are off. Steven Spielberg knows this. Ron Howard knows this.

That, at any rate, is my story, and I’ll stick with it. Even as I announce to anyone who’ll listen — and I know you don’t back me up here — that Peter Jackson obviously and clearly deserves the award for taking the year’s (and his career’s) biggest risk — and triumphing. And he deserves the statue right now, not two or three years down the line when the next two episodes in the trilogy are released and the score is re-tallied. I’ll stump for ”LOTR” as Best Picture when we sit down for our final pre-Oscar email chat next week. But for now I’ll say that the very thing that sets this fantasy epic above so many other modern movie spectacles is the integrity and artistic vision — yes, that unlearnable thing — of Jackson himself, inspired and excited by directing a gigantic, make-or-break studio classic and confident of his own filmmaking language.


Owen Gleiberman
Image credit: Owen Gleiberman Illustration by Eric Palma


Final Showdown

He Said/She Said: Owen and Lisa debate the Big One: Best Picture. She praises the ”Lord,” but he’s only interested in the ”Bedroom.” Typical

Owen and Lisa debate the Big One: Best Picture

OWEN GLEIBERMAN
March 20, 2002 11:38 AM

Well here we are, Lisa, in the last of our Oscar debates. I have to say: It’s been great fun sparring with you, and agreeing with you (sometimes) too. As we go into the home stretch, one question dominates all others in this year’s Academy Awards, and I can’t wait to find out the answer. You know what I’m referring to: Who, exactly, was behind the campaign to smear ”A Beautiful Mind” with accusations of homophobia and historical whitewashing? Was it Harvey Weinstein? Matt Drudge? Wolfgang Puck? It’s anyone’s guess, though I do predict that all of this will be water under the bridge after Sunday, when ”Mind” walks away with Oscars for Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, director Ron Howard, and — the big enchilada — Best Picture itself. So, at long last, let’s talk about that ultimate category.

I already noted the merits of ”A Beautiful Mind” in our Best Director discussion last week, but just to reiterate: I think it’s a very good movie, but not remotely the best one nominated. My choice for that is ”In the Bedroom.” It’s a film of quiet power that sneaks up on you in more ways than one — in fact, I don’t think I even fully understood the film until I saw it a second time. As a portrait of a marriage spun into breakdown by tragedy, it’s clearly a drama of searing moments, but its true test as a work of art is that final section, in which Tom Wilkinson’s character builds up to an act of cold brutality. Is it revenge — a kind of refined American Playhouse ”Death Wish”? That’s what I thought the first time. On a second viewing, it became clear to me that Wilkinson was acting not out of hatred, or not simply so, but because he and Sissy Spacek’s character had both decided that they needed to destroy this man, lest his freedom destroy them. To me, that’s a perception that speaks to the true, hidden, intimate heart of how a marriage really works. And it’s the disturbing and galvanizing drama of that insight that makes ”In the Bedroom,” to me, the finest and most resonant of the five films nominated.


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