Oscar hits and misses

Our film reviewer lists his picks for Academy Award winners and should-have- been winners

If I had my way, the Oscars would be called “The Grimmies.” The award would be a Todd McFarlane action figure of myself giving the finger and sticking my tongue out.

The telecast would be 30 minutes long, Joel Schumacher wouldn’t be allowed on the premises and a drunken Norm MacDonald would host. Tenacious D would perform all nominated songs, and anybody attempting to dance would be taken out with a high-powered water hose. The awards would be hurled at the winners so as to eliminate their blathering victory spews.

As it stands, this year’s telecast on March 25 (my birthday!) should be better than years past, because Steve Martin will be at the helm. No Billy Crystal, no lame-assed Crystal song parodies. Consider yourself safe for one year, for the gods of network television have saved you visitations to the medicine cabinet for multiple Pepto Bismol cocktails.

Gladiator will probably take Best Picture. It’s a good film, but it’s not even close to being the year’s best movie.

Traffic is the year’s best, and while nominated, votes for Erin Brockovich, both directed by Steven Soderbergh, will hurt Traffic‘s chances. Chocolat, a cute movie, should not be in this category. If I had to list my Top 10 feel-good movies of the year, Chocolat would qualify, but it is too slight to be bumping off should-be nominees like Almost Famous, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and High Fidelity.

The race seems to be between Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Gladiator. Maybe enough Crouching Tiger supporters will defect, because it is assured the Best Foreign Film Oscar, and hopefully they’ll toss their votes to Traffic. I’m getting carried away by wishful thinking.

Should Win: Traffic

Will Win: Gladiator

Lasse Halstrom has been snubbed for Chocolat, something that doesn’t pain me. However, Stephen Daldry has crept into this category for Billy Elliot, a film not nearly as good as Chocolat, so that’s just silly. Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous) or Stephen Frears (High Fidelity) should’ve been nominated.

This could be one of those years where Best Director and Best Picture do not match up. Steven Soderbergh, nominated for both Traffic and Erin Brockovich, will probably cancel himself out.

Ridley Scott is supposedly a major jackass, so his work for Gladiator actually becomes a long shot. Ang Lee, who already took the Directors Guild Award, often the predictor for Oscar, has the momentum. While not my first choice (that would be Soderbergh for Traffic), I wouldn’t be crestfallen if Lee were to take it.

Soderbergh has two Best Picture nominations to go with his Best Director nominations, in my mind solidifying him as the year’s best director. Alas, voters will probably split on which of his films they liked best, and Soderbergh will go home sans the naked golden boy. The man did his own camera work for Traffic. Will somebody please throw some awards at this guy!

Should Win: Steven Soderbergh (Traffic)

Will Win: Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)

I love Tom Hanks and find it funny that his two best performances, for Apollo 13 and Saving Private Ryan, are not the films for which he has Oscars. His nomination for Cast Away is deserved: Beyond the obvious amazing physical transformation, Hanks delivered a thoroughly engaging performance, being the only human on screen for the majority of its running time. That qualifies him as a lead contender in this category, and my ears are closed to the “He already has two Oscars!” whining.

Watch out for Ed Harris, who is amazing in Pollock. Harris directed himself and did some impressive painting to make his transformation into Jackson Pollock, the mentally troubled artist, remarkable. Emotionally and physically gripping, his work puts him into a neck-and-neck race with Hanks.

Russell Crowe was great in Gladiator, but Harris and Hanks covered more of the emotional spectrum. Geoffrey Rush is my pick for this year’s worst major nominee, absolutely non-deserving of his nomination for Quills, in which his Marquis De Sade wasn’t even deserving of a Best Supporting Actor nod. Rush’s nomination excluded actors like Michael Douglas (career-best work in Wonder Boys), George Clooney (ditto for O Brother, Where Art Thou?) and John Cusack (double-ditto for High Fidelity), and that is the year’s worst Oscar blunder. Javier Bardem could sneak in there for his beautiful work in Before Night Falls, although that film’s lack of notoriety is an impedance.

Of those nominated, winner should be: It’s close, but Ed Harris (Pollock)

Deserved award, but wasn’t nominated: Michael Douglas (Wonder Boys)

Will Win: Tom Hanks (Cast Away), and that’s fine by me

This is Julia Roberts’ award for Erin Brockovich, and she deserves it. Were she not to win, either Laura Linney (You Can Count On Me) or Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for a Dream) would be a nice consolation.

While Joan Allen is a great actress, she is not the best thing about The Contender (that honor goes to Jeff Bridges). Juliette Binoche was captivating in Chocolat, just not deserving of contention in this category, because her role wasn’t very demanding.

Why am I still writing about this? Julia Roberts is going to win.

Should Win: Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich)

Will Win: Roberts

All hail Benicio! Benicio Del Toro will snag this one for his incredible work in Traffic.

Joaquin Phoenix actually delivered a better performance in Quills than his nominated work in Gladiator. Albert Finney (Erin Brockovich) and Willem Dafoe (Shadow of the Vampire) were outrageously good in their respective films, as was Jeff Bridges in the mediocre The Contender. But this category is all about Benicio this year, and a loss by him will cause rioting.

Should Win: Benicio Del Toro (Traffic)

Will Win: Benicio

Should’ve Been Nominated: Jack Black, godammit! (High Fidelity)

Another lock, and deservedly so, for Kate Hudson (Almost Famous). While Frances McDormand is my overall pick for Best Supporting Actress for both Wonder Boys and Almost Famous, Hudson’s is the single strongest performance in this category.

Judi Dench was a decent scene-stealer in Chocolat, Marcia Gay Harden was powerful in Pollock and Julie Walters was a kick in Billy Elliot, but this puppy goes to Hudson.

Should Win: Kate Hudson (Almost Famous)

Will Win: Hudson

SCREENPLAY OCARS will probably go to Traffic for Best Adapted and Almost Famous for Best Original, an award that will be deserved for Cameron Crowe. Best Song is between Sting, for his heartwarming contribution to The Emperor’s New Groove titled “I Used to be One of the Great Punk Artists in the World, and Now I Write Shitty Disney Songs,” and Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed” for Wonder Boys. Dylan will win, in a vain attempt by the Academy to show that it’s cool.

One last wish: Steve Martin hosts the show wearing a pair of rabbit ears or an arrow through his head. This would make it all worthwhile, even if Gladiator sweeps.