Bruce Fretts names the year's best movie, but you'll have to read on to find out what it is

By Bruce Fretts
Updated December 09, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Here’s the film that should win every Oscar category

No matter what the studios’ ”For Your Consideration” ads may say, it’s rare when a film merits Oscar nominations in every major category. Last year, ”Shakespeare in Love” received nods in all of the top races except one — Joseph Fiennes was justly denied a Best Actor bid for his Will-o’-the-wispy portrayal of the Bard.

This year, one film has earned a shot at a clean sweep: ”Being John Malkovich.” Sure, it’s not your typical Oscar flick. It’s a comedy. It runs less than two hours. And it’s not a huge hit (although it has hung onto the lower rungs of the top 10 for a few weeks now). Yet ”Malkovich” exhibits excellence in its every aspect. Consider…

BEST ACTOR John Cusack. He’s the least likely nominee — and may be the most deserving. As a frustrated puppeteer who finds a portal into the titular actor’s mind, Cusack bravely creates a craven, wholly unsympathetic character. Hiding his still-boyish good looks beneath a Deadheadesque frizz, the onetime teen-movie idol (”The Sure Thing,” ”Say Anything”) does his most mature work to date.

BEST ACTRESS Cameron Diaz. Like her on-screen spouse Cusack, she buries herself under a nightmarish hairstyle (a look slightly less flattering than her gooey ‘do in ”There’s Something About Mary”). But she finds true beauty inside her character, a woman who — skip to the next paragraph now if you haven’t seen the movie — discovers she wants to be a man only by entering Malkovich’s brain.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Catherine Keener. Any woman who can convincingly tempt a guy to cheat on Cameron Diaz should get some sort of a prize. After years of stellar roles in indies (”Living in Oblivion,” ”Your Friends and Neighbors”) and thankless ones in studio dreck (”8MM,” ”Switch”), Keener may have finally made a name for herself. The most common comment I heard in the theater after the movie was ”Who WAS that woman?”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTORS John Malkovich, Orson Bean, and Charlie Sheen. If Malkovich were playing an actor by another name, he’d be a shoo-in for his surreal tour de force. Just as good are ’70s game-show staple Bean (who’s unexpectedly touching as Cusack’s ancient boss) and Sheen, in a deliciously self-lacerating cameo.

BEST DIRECTOR Spike Jonze BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY Charlie Kaufman. It’s impossible to separate these categories because ”Malkovich” feels like such a unified vision, even though it’s the work of two men. Music-video vet Jonze’s off-kilter visuals perfectly suit Kaufman’s one-of-a-kind debut script. Whatever these two were smoking when they made this movie, it oughta be legalized.

And finally, BEST PICTURE ”Being John Malkovich.” Hey, I know it’s a longshot. But if I could just find a portal into Oscar’s head…

Being John Malkovich

  • Movie
  • R
  • 112 minutes
  • Spike Jonze