For months now, we’ve been muttering that 2001 was the worst year for movies in a decade, that it would be impossible to come up with five worthy Best Picture contenders. Now the race is on, and who were we kidding? There are plenty of candidates for the big prize — although, with one major exception, they’re not the kind of movies that usually get nominated. The exception is A BEAUTIFUL MIND. The story of schizophrenic Nobel laureate John Forbes Nash Jr. had ”Oscar bait” stamped all over it from the moment Ron Howard and Russell Crowe signed their contracts, and, unlike many of its competitors, the film lived up to the hype. Growing critical dissatisfaction about the liberties taken with the facts of Nash’s life could eventually hurt its chances to win — but that’s later.
The other films in the race, though, will mark 2001 as a strange year. For instance: No otherworldly sci-fi/fantasy film has earned a Best Picture nod since Star Wars, but the huge critical and popular success of the LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING should snap that hex. No live-action musical has competed since All That Jazz, but the technical prowess and visual virtuosity of MOULIN ROUGE should be hard for voters to ignore. And dark, bleak dramas, however acclaimed, usually settle for acting nominations (think Leaving Las Vegas, think Requiem for a Dream), but IN THE BEDROOM may just go all the way.
The fifth slot is even more of a wild card. Will Academy voters surprise everyone and go for the studied wackiness of THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS or the acclaimed alt-reality of MULHOLLAND DRIVE? Will they allow DreamWorks’ shrek to settle for a mere Best Animated Feature nomination, or Miramax’s AMELIE to languish in the best foreign film ghetto? (Given the massive rivalry between the studios that goes back to Shakespeare in Love’s Best Picture win over Saving Private Ryan, it’s no surprise that the Shrek trade-ad campaign has been arguably the year’s most aggressive.) Will members prefer the hard-swinging filmmaking of ALI (hurt by a fast box office drop) or the well-liked but frothy country-house high jinks of GOSFORD PARK? Our guess: In a year when the U.S. military is on the minds of voters, Ridley Scott’s combat drama BLACK HAWK DOWN appeals to the Academy’s older male voters enough to edge the competition.
For your consideration
For your consideration
As soon as we saw it, we tattooed a reminder onto our tummies. Fact #1: MEMENTO deserves a Best Picture nomination. In the astonishingly assured hands of writer-director Christopher Nolan, this tense, time-twisting, perfectly realized thriller about a haunted amnesiac was, quite simply, the year’s cleverest movie. A year later, we still can’t get his head out of our heads.