The African Queen. Psycho. 2001: A Space Odyssey. Rebel Without a Cause. Easy Rider. Close Encounters of the Third Kind. All six of these classics were named to the American Film Institute’s 1998 list of America’s 100 Greatest Movies, but not one of them won an Academy Award for Best Picture. In fact, none of them were even nominated for Best Picture. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that of the 70 Best Picture award winners crowned by the Academy up to that point, fewer than half of them — only 32 — were honored by the AFI.
The fact is, the Academy doesn’t have the best track record for identifying greatness. Why that is so could fill a book (Emanuel Levy’s All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards, for example), but let’s at least agree that Oscar campaigns often take on lives of their own. Studios spend millions to position their films for an Oscar, and box office performance, off-screen politics, or a lifetime of previously unrewarded excellence can often sway even the most diligent Oscar voter.
But truly great films have a way of asserting themselves over time. They latch on to the American subconscious in ways unimagined when initially released. (Shawshank Redemption comes to mind.) Time is the ultimate judge.
Maybe the Oscars should operate like the Baseball Hall of Fame: Wait five years after a film is released before voting on it. By then, all the hype surrounding the films would dissipate, and the Academy could objectively judge a film purely on its merits. (Plus, we could keep Arnold Schwarzenegger out for admitting steroid use.)
So fear not, Dreamgirls. Oscar may have rejected you, but time is on your side. But for now, let’s re-examine the 2002 awards and see which performances and films resonate five years later. Russell or Denzel? Lord of the Rings or A Beautiful Mind? Halle or Sissy? Ladies and gents, the inaugural class of EW’s Hollywood Hall of Fame:
Best Supporting Actress
WINNER: Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind (1st nomination)
Notable recent work: Hulk, House of Sand and Fog, Blood Diamond
What we said then: ”There’s only one thing tougher than playing a schizophrenic mathematician with a Southern accent who ages four-and-a-half decades over the course of a two-hour movie: playing his wife.”
Helen Mirren, Gosford Park (2nd nomination)
Notable recent work: Calendar Girls, Shadowboxer, The Queen
What we said then: ”Mirren has long infused the steeliest of women with a heartbreaking sense of vulnerability.”
Maggie Smith, Gosford Park (6th nomination)
Notable recent work: Harry Potter, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Keeping Mum
What we said then: ”She nearly embezzles a whole movie; her twitches, quips, and dismissals repeatedly bring down the house.”
Marisa Tomei, In the Bedroom (2nd nomination)
Notable recent work: Someone Like You, Anger Management, Alfie
What we said then: ”Surprisingly earthy.”
Kate Winslet, Iris (3rd nomination)
Notable recent work: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Finding Neverland, Little Children
What we said then: ”With its frank sexuality, this is arguably the gutsiest turn of the bunch.”
Upon Further Review: Oscar’s judgment in this category was excellent, although Judi Dench, who was nominated for Best Actress for Iris, deserved notice here for The Shipping News as well. However, two nominated performances stand tallest five years later. Connelly always had the makeup of classic screen siren, but often gave the impression she was uncomfortable with all that beauty. Her best roles, like 2000’s Requiem for a Dream, seemed designed to undermine her ethereal looks. As John Nash’s compassionate wife in A Beautiful Mind, she resists getting lost in Russell Crowe’s orbit by translating her character’s frustration and dedication into the heart of the film. In Gosford Park, Smith almost hurts her chances by making everything look so darn easy. You haven’t been properly insulted until Lady Trentham looks down her nose at you and pretends to pay you a compliment. ”Me?” she insists. ”I haven’t a snobbish bone in my body.” A delicious performance from one of the greatest of dames. But since Smith is only one of what are really 23 lead roles in Robert Altman’s sprawling class study of upstairs/downstairs, give Connelly the edge for carrying more weight. Kudos, Oscar.