5 Oscar Could Have Beens: 2003

“It’s a clean sweep.” Steven Spielberg announced enthusiastically as he declared The Return Of The King winner of Best Picture – like we did not know that was going to happen considering the movie had taken each of the ten Oscars it was nominated for that far (remarkably though, no nominations in Sound Editing or Cinematography). It was touted as the possible winner before the show, but it was an unprecedented steam-roll that became more obvious as the night went on. It was clearly a reward for all three films, but did the trilogy deserve this kind of recognition finally. Yes. And did The Return Of The King warrant eleven Oscars? No. Was this fair on other contenders? No.

The main contender was Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (with just four nominations – what?), marking the first time an American woman was nominated for Director. If that does not make you feel a shameful disbelief, not much in the movies can surprise you. Mystic River gathered some serious acting attention, and put Clint Eastwood right back on the map as a director. Although it took two Oscars (because The Return Of The King was not nominated) from ten nominations not many felt Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World was going to shake up the race.

And that Best Actor category may have been just the two nominees, Sean Penn (Mystic River) and Bill Murray (Lost in Translation), with drama conquering comedy once again in this arena. Though Murray’s performance was not so much comedy, which made this all the more special. And he should have won.

Charlize Theron also did not have much competition (sometimes at the Oscars competition has nothing to do with what is the best), though once again I can’t be too subjective when I say Naomi Watts (21 Grams) was my choice here. To add, Watts was the only Actress nominated at the Oscars, the BAFTAs, Golden Globes, and Screen Actors Guild.

The inclusion of Keisha Castle-Hughes in the Actress list not only raised a few eyebrows, it also marked a terrific showing for the youngsters – maybe a case for a category for child performers. No, I’m not talking about Agent Cody Banks, Cheaper By The Dozen, or What A Girl Wants. I mean more like Sarah and Emma Bolger (In America), Thomas Sangster (Love Actually), Evan Rachel Wood and Nikki Reed (Thirteen), or most of the cast of School of Rock. Like the following though, there was no room for such talent:

Best Picture – Finding Nemo

Forget about the kids (no, not literally), animated movies have always struggled to be taken seriously with regards to Best Picture nominees, but many of them (like Toy Story, or the later Wall-E) often stand the test of time and remain the popular choices with adults as well as children. Finding Nemo is one such gem, a motion picture so undeniably gratifying, you actually would be forgiven for forgetting it is animated at all. It would have been no shock to see this nominated, even before the days of nine or ten Picture entries.

Best Director – Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (21 Grams)

The Academy (and many awards groups) went for Babel in a very big way, but somehow felt 21 Grams was not worthy of the same attention. Where they just not ready? Was it too much? 21 Grams is too much at times, but that is what makes it great. That, and the three central actors of Naomi Watts, Benecio Del Toro, and Sean Penn (should have joined the other two come nominations time). And that shuffled narrative structure. The grainy, bleak way it is shot. This is a movie experience that is frame-for-frame compelling. I watch it and still try to figure out why that scene is there, or just how Inarritu did it. The actors are just plowed through the mud, and you can almost feel their grief, their guilt, their pain. I would go as far as to say a Best Picture nomination was not out of the question either.

Best Actor – Paddy Considine (In America)

So I have to come to the assumption then that Paddy Considine was just not as well known in the States as Samantha Morton (Best Actress nomination) and Djimon Hounsou (Supporting Actor). At the time I did not see In America, as good as it is, making much of an impression when the nominations were announced. The two acting nominations it did score were something of a surprise then, but that just left me scratching my head as to why Considine did not get in, if in fact the movie was this well-liked. You could argue this is his movie, as he is terrific in this as the character who believes he is the strongest, but is the one to make the biggest change. On more than one occasion he pulls the acting carpet from under the feet of his nominated colleagues – who are both excellent to be fair.

Best Original Score – Lisa Gerrard (Whale Rider)

A small movie from New Zealand like Whale Rider, was always going to have an enormous battle if it was expecting to compete with big guns. And although jointly composed the memorable Gladiator score with Hans Zimmer, and formed the enigmatic Dead Can Dance, not many will talk about Lisa Gerrard in the same breath as a James Horner or a John Williams (not nominated this year – gulp). No matter, if you get to devote some time to her music catalog you will, at the very least, be magnetized by her haunting and beautiful floating tones. Gerrard’s Whale Rider score is slightly more subtle than those utilized in previous films (The Insider for example), but this is nonetheless a tranquil and heart-tugging composition that merges perfectly with the movie’s resonance.

Best Cinematography – Lance Accord (Lost in Translation)

Lost In Translation won Original Screenplay, with so little dialogue. This does not mean this was did not warrant the win. A screenplay is words describing dialogue and actions – what you see not just hear on a movie screen. And Lance Accord delivers a beautiful visual landscape here, of both the expanses and the isolation of Tokyo, and of the characters Bob and Charlotte themselves. There maybe are no words, then, for the composition of the chalky brightness, or the dark frames full of colorful lights, or the reflections from a swimming pool, or views beyond a hotel window. Some of it hand-held, some of it just sitting there, a wandering gaze. I’m sure there a thousand ways to interpret every color and frame and vivid light, but what is not really up for debate is how marvelously Accord’s camera captures everything it needs to. Superb. See for yourself:

Originally published 8th November 2014.

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2 thoughts on “5 Oscar Could Have Beens: 2003

  1. I’m not much of a fan of the year of 2003 in movies, but I have a few that I’d pull out and preserve for years to come:
    Cabin Fever
    Finding Nemo
    Kill Bill: Vol. 1
    Lost in Translation
    Mystic River
    Old School
    Seabiscuit
    The Last Samurai
    The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

    I think Sean Penn in Mystic River was the best male performance, but barely over Bill Murray in Lost in Translation
    I think Uma Thurman in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 was the best female performance
    I think the year’s best scene was Kill Bill: Vol. 1 when The Bridge faced off against the Crazy 88s
    I think the best film of the year was Mystic River
    I think Peter Jackson can keep his Best Director Oscar

    Like

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