I might be wrong, but I suspect there has never been a movie to win Oscars for Directing, Acting, Writing, and Editing, and still go home without the Picture prize. When Tom Cruise read out Steven Soderbergh’s name, that was four from four for Traffic, and I for one was actually thinking this could go and win best Picture. And at that moment I wanted it to. That Director announcement seemed to be time up for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon though, which also had four Oscars, but with Ang Lee taking the DGA this was a swing in a different direction. But that Russell Crowe win for Best Actor, to which even he was stunned, suggested that Gladiator just about edged it. Three movies neck and neck going into the final award though is both unique and gratifying. Nobody at that moment really knew for sure.
Here are five of my personal choices, otherwise ignored that year:
Best Actor – Christian Bale (American Psycho)
Although he will never be my favorite Batman, Christian Bale deserves some credit for the diversity of the roles he takes on. I don’t know what physical shape Bale was in when he landed the lead role in the film version of American Psycho, but it was clear watching it that he was in the tip-top physique of Patrick Bateman. What he also captures with ease is the psychology and charisma of Bateman. The movie, like the book, is almost a satire, and black comedy in parts, and Bale handles the awkward, social side of him as well as he does the outright monstrous side of his personality. It is a performance you are guilty of enjoying.
Best Original Screenplay – Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy (Best in Show)
This is bonkers. An ensemble character piece about a group of mismatched dog owners journeying to a dog show. This being docu-comedy genius that is Christopher Guest, it comes over as a mesh of hilarious moments and dialogue, delivered by a cast of performers in their wackiest form. And they have to be, these are everyday folk who just want the best for their talented dogs, and they all have varying degrees of enthusiasm, expectations, and personal problems. The feel that we are there to watch these brilliant people at this vital time of their lives (including them being directly interviewed to the camera) is nailed down so expertly. The script paces back and forth between these misfits, and Guest here uses many of his regular actors and actresses, so fans like me are familiar with all of this lively nonsense, and want to soak up every second.
Best Adapted Screenplay – John Cusack, DV DeVincentis, Steve Pink, Scott Rosenberg (High Fidelity)
High Fidelity could have fared much better at the Oscars. True, the narrative and the characters did tend to cater for a certain type of audience. When I saw it, I was at university, pining over girls, obsessing over music, and making top five lists with friends. So yeah, this was right up our street. The universal element this movie has is the screenplay. The story that centers around broken relationships and Rob’s (John Cusack) self-indulgent, and eventually self-redeeming, rants. And thanks to Jack Black too, some of the funnier lines are delivered to perfection. But when it is not downbeat or just sulky, this is still an amusing and sharp adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel – it carries over the tone and style of his writing really well. Where the Academy just not into good music that year?
Best Supporting Actor – Mark Ruffalo (You Can Count on Me)
Seeing Mark Ruffalo in You Can Count On Me now is rather nostalgic. He certainly appears younger, skinnier, and his character drags an air of trouble through the gravel. Ruffalo has not really changed, always been a likable and recognizable force on screen, without ever really being spectacular. In this movie by Kenneth Lonergan, and what you might call Ruffalo’s breakthrough role, he is nothing short of excellent. His character is so aware of his shady background, but still believes he can justify himself, be a good influence on his nephew, and prove himself worthy to his older sister (Laura Linney, Oscar nominated here). The Supporting Actor category was a mixed bag that year, full of talent, but I felt then Ruffalo was more than worthy of a slot. And I still believe that now.
Best Picture – Almost Famous
So what does Almost Famous have to offer for a Best Picture contender? I’ll tell you. It has a cracking soundtrack for starters, both the excellent rock songs and Nancy Wilson’s guitar tinkers. It has the brilliant Frances McDormand as a mother we all love and fear. Kate Hudson floating through the whole thing like a fine breeze, with a big heart and tears in her eyes. It has the semi-fictional rock band Stillwater, led by Jason Lee and Billy Crudup, utterly compelling in their self-involved bickering and so-called love for the music. At the helm is the writer-director Cameron Crowe, bringing to live with vivid realism and passion his own auto-biographical love letter. It has genuine comedy, and the laughs blend with the diary-like scope of what is sometimes a rock band road movie, sometimes a family melodrama, sometimes a love story (of many depths). It also has a sincere lead performance by the young Patrick Fugitt, whose acting here crosses over to audition territory – you’re never really sure if some of his lines are spoken by the actor or the character (and some of his out-of-character lines are in the cut). It most definitely adds to the movie’s charm, Almost Famous is terrific, like no other that year, or any other, period. I declare this easily the best movie of the year to not make the actual Best Picture five at the Oscars.
Originally published 1st November 2014.