Bruce Fretts gives one hint: It isn't Carrey or Damon

By Bruce Fretts
Updated February 16, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

EW names the biggest Oscar snubs

Forget Jim Carrey. To me, this year’s biggest Oscar snubs were delivered to ”The Hurricane” and ”Being John Malkovich.” Shockingly, neither of these very different, very effective films was nominated for Best Picture. ”The Hurricane” received only one nod (Denzel Washington for Best Actor), and while ”Malkovich” earned honors for director Spike Jonze, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, and supporting actress Catherine Keener, the equally deserving Cameron Diaz and John Malkovich were overlooked.

First, let’s briefly review the case against ”The Hurricane.” It’s been charged that Norman Jewison’s boxing biopic whitewashes Rubin Carter’s criminal record, creates a composite racist-cop character who railroads him into prison, and overemphasizes the role that a Brooklyn teenager and members of a Canadian commune played in finally getting him sprung.

All of which would’ve been compelling evidence if ”The Hurricane” had been competing for a Best Documentary nomination. But it was up for a spot as Best Picture, and that’s exactly what it is — a picture, an old-fashioned, ”good versus evil” morality play that works on every emotional level. ”We tried to present a thematic truth,” Jewison recently told EW. ”I was more interested in the dramatic relationships rather than in endless, repetitive scenes of testimony.”

An unapologetically liberal Message Movie might seem hopelessly outmoded compared to current cybercinema like ”The Matrix,” but there’s no denying the visceral gut punch that ”The Hurricane” packs. How can you not be moved when Washington — in a haymaker of a performance — pleads from behind prison glass with his wife to divorce him (”I’m dead. Just bury me, please.”) and with his lawyers to hurry up and free him already (”I’m 50 years old. I don’t have a few more years!”)?

So let the nitpickers pick their nits. ”The Hurricane” stands in a grand tradition of fictionalized films. ”Whenever you do pictures like ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ or ‘Patton’ or ‘All the President’s Men,’ you have to use the tools of drama to tell a story,” Jewison said. ”I wouldn’t mind being in company with those pictures.” Too bad the Academy didn’t agree.

Maybe ”Malkovich” was too offbeat to make the cut as a Best Picture candidate. Still, there’s no excuse for Diaz’s and Malkovich’s stellar work to be passed over in favor of such lesser turns as Toni Collette’s in ”The Sixth Sense” and Jude Law’s in ”The Talented Mr. Ripley.”

Diaz could’ve coasted on her looks, but she decided to coast on her talent instead. She’s shown a rare flair for comedy, from her eye-popping debut opposite Jim Carrey in ”The Mask” to her seminal role in ”There’s Something About Mary .” And in ”Malkovich,” she plays way against type as Lotte, a mousy pet-shop girl (á la ”Rocky” Oscar nominee Talia Shire). The actress etches a touching portrait of a woman so uncomfortable in her own skin that she doesn’t come fully alive until she enters a portal in Malkovich’s head. Her deeply humane performance grounds this outlandish movie in heartwarming reality.

Malkovich is being punished for playing himself — except that he’s not really playing himself, just a hilariously pompous, self-adoring actor who happens to be named John Malkovich. Plus, the part encompasses multiple personalities. Malkovich also must act as if he’s possessed by John Cusack’s and Diaz’s characters, and he appears in one head-spinningly surrealistic scene as every person in a crowded restaurant, including a waiter, a child, and a sultry female lounge singer.

Kaufman’s script mocks the star’s ”stubble, too-prominent brow, and male pattern baldness” and refers to him as an ”overrated sack of s—.” Actors aren’t known for having a sense of humor about themselves, so if not an Oscar, Malkovich at least deserves a good sportsmanship award. ”I just thought it was quite funny,” Malkovich recently told EW. ”I didn’t so much worry if it was about me. I’m not terribly sensitive.” For the sake of his ego on Oscar night, let’s hope not.

(Additional reporting by Tricia Johnson)

Being John Malkovich

  • Movie
  • R
  • 112 minutes
  • Spike Jonze