Oscars, politics and how to sort it all out

The Sixth Sense was nominated for six Academy Awards two years ago. However, the slow film with a good twist went 0-6 when it came time to naming the winners. In other words, when it comes to nominations and who actually wins, it’s all politics. After taking a quick look at the nominees announced Tuesday, it appears this year is no different.

At first glance, some of the Oscar match-ups are reminiscent of recent years.

Right off the bat, the best picture race seems to be predictable when examining the precedent. Remember when Titanic faced off against L.A. Confidential in the 1997 Oscar year? Or, how about two years earlier when Braveheart and Apollo 13 went at it?

In both years, the larger, more grandiose film took the award over the stylized drama with strong acting. This year’s favorites for best picture are Lord of the Rings against A Beautiful Mind.

While Lord has the upper hand with a mammoth 13 nominations (only Titanic had more), would the Academy snub Ron Howard (director of Mind and Apollo) again?

In The Bedroom and Gosford Park represent the obligatory independent drama and comedy nominee slots, but will have to settle for an acting or screenplay award. And Moulin Rouge was so daring in an otherwise lackluster year, the crazy musical farce was just nuts enough to outbid Black Hawk Down for the fifth Oscar slot.

But it’s not just the best picture race that has reasons why films are nominated and which one will win. Every year, the acting categories are almost as bad as real political races.

With three black actors present in the top two races this year, we may just see the first black winner since Cuba Gooding Jr.’s victory in 1996. But will we see two? Probably not. But let’s take a look at who is nominated anyway.

In the best actor race, Will Smith and Denzel Washington share spots on the short list with Sean Penn, Russell Crowe and Tom Wilkinson. While this is an especially good year for Best Actor nominees, it may be easier to pick apart these contestants.

Will Smith received a nod for his departure into a serious role that took a lot of guts and conviction. However, Ali was both a critical and commercial failure, which classifies his nomination as a political statement accepting Smith into the heavyweight acting ranks.

Sean Penn has been waiting for his Oscar and may actually be a dark horse this year. But his foray into mental retardation didn’t make a big enough splash to justify giving him the award now, especially since he has been passed up for better work, i.e. Dead Man Walking. And on the same token, Tom Hanks set the bar for repeat performances, and while Russell Crowe’s job in A Beautiful Mind is commendable, it’s no Forrest Gump.

Which leaves Tom Wilkinson against Denzel Washington as the two leading contenders. Washington won previously, but did so earlier in his career – and after strong turns in recent years, he is due. But Wilkinson’s role is more important, and In The Bedroom was an acting-driven film, which made it work. While Training Day did make it onto a few top ten lists, Bedroom made it onto more.

In the Bedroom is in the running for both top acting categories and will win one of them.

So if Wilkinson does win Best Actor, Sissy Spacek will be left with a nod of respect in the Best Actress race. This leaves room for Halle Berry to snatch the award with little competition, especially since Billy Bob Thornton is absent from the Best Actor list.

Judi Dench won an Oscar three years ago and even though Renee Zellweger did well in the role of her career, she hasn’t had much of a career.

Therefore, Nicole Kidman remains the only competition for Berry and Spacek. Ultimately, Berry should get more votes, but Moulin Rouge’s entry in the Best Picture race solidifies Kidman’s chances. Especially since many feel her performance in The Others should have had her double-listed.

The supporting races have a nice balance of old and new faces, although age won’t factor into who wins.

Ben Kingsley and Ian McKellen present the real challenge in the supporting actor race as Kingsley’s Ghandi- Gone-Bad turn in Sexy Beast and McKellen’s Obi-wan incarnate represent the old man votes. And even though Star Wars is basically Lord of The Rings all over again, Alex Guiness played McKellen’s role first.

As for the rest, the usually strong supporting actor race is remarkably weak this year. After all, Ethan Hawke made the grade. Jon Voight’s latest impersonation of a historical figure (he also played FDR in Pearl Harbor) as Howard Cosell in Ali will probably face the same fate as co-star Smith with an afterthought. But don’t be surprised if Iris’ Jim Broadbent takes the cake as voters will surely compare his serious nominated role with his oddball turn in Moulin Rouge.

On the flip side, the usually weak supporting actress category is muscled up with acting chops in Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren, both nominated from Gosford Park. Smith’s cynical snob was fun, but Mirren had the more powerful performance. It is her final scene, where the twist is revealed, that will remain with Oscar voters.

It is great to see Marisa Tomei get the nod for In The Bedroom, but after her My Cousin Vinny debacle (where rumor has it Jack Palance read the wrong name and gave her the Oscar), she will never win again. And Kate Winslet, the third nominee from Iris, like Penn, has been nominated two previous times, and this little-seen film won’t be enough to give her the prize this year.

But just as Kim Basinger took home L.A. Confidential’s consolation prize in 1997, Jennifer Connelly has emerged from A Beautiful Mind with the right look at the right time and will more than likely be Oscar’s golden girl this year.

As far as who got snubbed, Steve Buscemi (Ghost World), Dakota Fanning (I Am Sam) Cameron Diaz (Vanilla Sky), Audrey Tautou (Amélie), Gene Hackman (The Royal Tenenbaums) and Billy Bob Thornton (Monster’s Ball) should all throw their own party because their performances were just as good as anyone’s. But as Jim Carrey will attest, there are only five nominees, and sometimes you’re not one of them.

However, the Oscars aren’t announced until March 24. That leaves Miramax and the rest of the money-throwing movie studios exactly 37 days to tinker and tweak with the right Oscar ads to turn an otherwise friendly competition into, well, politics – as usual.

  • Contact William Albritton at oraclewill@yahoo.com