In 2003 war started with the invasion of Iraq, just days before Oscar ceremony. As a direct result they cut down on the glitz in respect of this, and the tone of the show lacked it’s usually glow. Understandable. Some of the speeches paid tribute to this whole awful affair – I particularly remember Best Actor winner (a popular surprise) Adrien Brody saying a few words about war, just minutes after sucking Halle Berry’s face off. Chicago’s Picture win, and Roman Polanski’s Director win almost demonstrated how shook up everyone was during that time. I like to think, as much as Chicago’s win was undeserved, that this somehow seemed familiar to the outburst of musical cinema following World War II to simply cheer the people up and help them move on. I believe it may have been a comforting win for that reason. The outbreak was only days before, true, but like Chicago taking the big prize, we could see it coming for a while.
There were some grim movies this year. Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York sank and was left empty handed after being nominated nine times. Stephen Daldry pushed forward his melancholic with The Hours. Nicole Kidman won for Actress, though clearly a supporting role, meaning the more deserved Julianne Moore (Far from Heaven) and Renee Zellweger (Chicago) lost out. One movie that did not make Director or Picture that many people thought should was Road to Perdition. And so begins my five alternative selections of could have beens:
Best Picture – Road To Perdition
This too showed the darker sides of Tom Hanks and director Sam Mendes, but only Paul Newman was nominated in the major categories. I remember watching the Oscars in the UK and someone mentioning how (the great) Conrad L Hall had not won Cinematography partly out of sympathy for, or tribute to, his death, but simply because this was the best shot, the best looking movie of the year. And she was right.
Looking closer at this year, which was a tough race for Best Actor anyway, I noticed how many possible contenders there were. For starters you had Leonardo DiCaprio (Catch Me If You Can or Gangs Of New York) and Robin Williams (Insomnia or One Hour Photo) standing out in two movies. You could even arguably add Al Pacino for Christopher Nolan’s movie. Two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Road To Perdition), wrapper-turned-actor Eminem (8 Mile), and Edward Norton (25th Hour) were also strong contenders with heavier roles. On the lighter side of things SAG nominee Richard Gere (Chicago) may have got in, the movie was obviously popular. And a couple of other comedy performances were also worthy of mention, one being Hugh Grant (About A Boy).
Best Actor – Adam Sandler (Punch-Drunk Love)
The other, though nominated in several comedy categories in the pre-Oscar awards, is not really a comedy performance. Rather it is an edgy turn of pace for Adam Sandler in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love. We are use to seeing Sandler screaming at a golf ball or, well, generally pissing about. His name was never meant to be mentioned as an Oscar contender, but his sedated and compelling performance here did have people talking about him at the time in that very light. I have to add, too, that there is to this day, still something about Anderson’s somewhat eccentric work that does not sit right with the Academy.
The diversity of these year’s nominees though was most apparent in the Screenplay categories. Pedro Almodovar actually won the Original Screenplay Oscar for Talk to Her (for which he also earned a deserved Director nod). His competition ranged from Todd Haynes for Far from Heaven, Nia Vardalos for the hilarious My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and Carlos Cuaron and Alfonso Cuaron for Y Tu Mama Tambien. Ronald Harwood’s win for The Pianist was considered a shock at the time with The Hours (David Hare) and Adaptation (Charlie and Donald Kaufman) considered the favorites. About a Boy (Peter Hedges, Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz) also sneaked in, as did Chicago (Bill Condon) Bold and odd respectively. For me, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor (About Schmidt) not making the short-list was unusual – it had the WGA nomination and won Screenplay at the Golden Globes.
Regardless of war, we always appreciate writing that is diverse and refreshing that can compete at the Oscars. Without digging too deep we have:
Best Original Screenplay – Jennifer Westfeldt & Heather Juergensen (Kissing Jessica Stein)
In some ways Kissing Jessica Stein is your typical New York romantic comedy. Except this is pretty top tier when you want to actually laugh, and appreciate a flip-side romance where a girl simply wants to date another girl. And Jennifer Westfeldt is perfect as a neurotic romantic here a la Woody Allen, which is a great on-screen match with Heather Juergensen’s more forward, speak-your-mind kind of girl. It would have been an illustrious thing to have these women writers and actors alongside Nia Vardolos this year.
Best Adapted Screenplay – Roger Avary (The Rules Of Attraction)
Even a movie shot so ambitiously and hyper-actively as The Rules Of Attraction has to start with the screenplay. Or even the book by Brett Easton Ellis (Less Than Zero and American Psycho were his previous books-into-film). Roger Avery manufacturers as many visual techniques as he can here, and although definitely not for everyone, it is certainly worth seeing in its entirety. It has a split-screen point of view scene that appears to merge into one. A predatory James Van Der Beek (who is anything but wholesome Dawson here). A deep cutting suicide scene. An amusing botched suicide attempt. A snowflake falling on a teardrop. And a scene done so rapid-fire it would have been ten minutes longer in any other movie. To name just a few.
Comparing them purely on their merit within their trilogy, I am just going to come out and say The Two Towers was the Empire Strikes Back or The Godfather II of The Lord Of The Rings series. Forget about, for now, what would happen the next year when The Return Of The King would stampede over everything as the Academy compensated for neglecting the incredible trilogy. Those three years that The Lord Of The Rings movies were released really fucked with the voting system. For these movies, this was its worst year (winning two Oscars from six nominations), but the superior movie of the three.
Never mind a category worthy of Andy Serkis’ great work playing Gollum, this should have been a Supporting Actor contender. There was no nominations for Screenplay, Cinematography, Costume Design – and not even Make Up, where there were just the two nominees that year. What?! Oh yeah, and Peter Jackson was not anywhere to be seen on the Director list. There was no room for Score either, which moved toward a different, and possibly better theme this time around. Howard Shore also wrote the music to Fran Walsh’s lyrics for the also missing Song, performed by the heavenly Emiliana Torrini. I wonder how Oscar history would have altered had this been given the love it deserved.
Best Original Song – Gollum’s Song (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers)
Originally published 5th November 2014.