Oscar Pool 2003: A Pith Production proffers the possibility that you might pick the Oscars!

As I have a longish Oscars piece all ready to go, let’s GET READY TO RUMBLE!

We saw Chicago on Saturday, too. I lack the musical theater gene, so I felt that it was… OK.

I sure don’t think it’s 13 Oscar nominations worth of film. On the other hand, I didn’t see anything wrong with it – the cinematography was excellent, the actors did actually emote through the songs (John C. Reilly’s “Mr. Cellophane” being my personal favorite), and, well, I can’t argue with a couple hours of dancin’ ladies in their skivvies. Especially when it pleases the wife.

That said, the Academy is voted by theatrical professionals, and the story at Chicago‘s heart appeals very deeply to that audience.


Chicago is up against The Hours, The Two Towers, Gangs of New York, and The Pianist in both Best Picture and Best Director. Pedro Almodovar is up for Director for Talk to Her as well.

The musical also received Best Actress (Zellweger) and Supporting Actress/Actor nominations (both Queen Latifah and Zeta-Jones; and Reilly, respectively).

Although Reilly’s nomination may be deserved, he’s given more compelling performances in the past. The sad-sack cop in Magnolia comes to mind, if I recall correctly.

Of the other nominees for best actress, I’ve only seen Meryl Streep in Adaptation, and although I adored the film, I must admit to some puzzlement over her nomination for the performance (as is the case for Chris Cooper’s nomination in the same vehicle). So from what I’ve seen, Zeta-Jones might have a shot, but I can’t really say.

So looking now at Zellweger, um, it was quite a show. And since the whole movie is basically a long exercise in how her character re-imagines her fate as a Broadway musical with her as the star, it’s hard not to imagine that somehow, Renée Zellweger holding the damn trophy is the last scene in the movie, one that was somehow cut.

So I predict she’s gonna win it.

Now, I’ve not seen The Hours, and I have no doubt that Kidman’s performance is something remarkable. But Hollywood ain’t gonna slap someone on the back for making a movie about suicidal depression, any more than they will Peter Jackson for this year’s installment of The Lord of the Rings.

Speaking of films that won’t win, I’m thinking movies about the plight of Jewish artists during the Holocaust might not be the right kind of big-ticket ring-a-ding-daddy picture that moves the herd to vote either. At least this year. And if the film’s directed by the world’s most famous pederast, in the year that Pee Wee Herman is fighting child porn charges, well . . . Let’s just say that Hollywood has a shameful history of acting in response to guilt-by-association pressure. So scratch The Pianist, unless Polanski makes some kind of public appearance linking his film to resistance against the war in Iraq and makes it stick. Which won’t happen.

And sorry, Pedro, you’re really not in the running here, as far as I can tell. Of course, I speak from ignorance here, and really mean see your film one of these days. Just like many, many of the voters for the award.

So who’s left?

Ah, Martin Scorsese and Gangs of New York.

(crap, I wrote a whole essay about Scorsese’s film that I DID – NOT – SAVE. Time to write it again.)

If you read any reviews of Scorsese’s film, I’m not going to add anything to the discussion, honest. Allow me to summarize: the film is sprawlingly huge, immensely ambitious, and almost at every level, a failure. The failure comes as a result of Scorsese’s overreaching.

In the whole film, there was only one time that I felt a specific poor filmmaking choice was made – in a gang battle seen near the opening of the film, the soundtrack suddenly introduces a thumping techno beat, which immediately vanishes. For the duration of the film, the musical soundtrack is composed entirely of music one might have heard in the streets of mid-19th century New York, much of it drawn directly from the American Memory archive I mentioned here recently.

The film’s center is Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance. However, it feels as though this is some sort of error, as the plot of the film presents Leonardo DiCaprio’s character as the protagonist, with whom Scorsese wishes us to empathize and identify. Unaccountably, this emotional connection never materializes.

To cut to the chase, this film is far from the best work that Scorsese’s ever done. Of course, famously, that’s likely to remain Raging Bull. So what’s Marty doing on the list this year?

In essence, the nomination comes in recognition of the scope of Scorsese’s ambition in the film, and as an amelioration of the obvious injustice of Scorsese’s never-won-an-Oscar status. That’s right. This director has never won an Oscar for Best Picture or for Best Director. This alone should be evidence of the political, rather than artistic, nature of the Oscars.

So, can Gangs of New York win in a horse race with Chicago? I think it’s possible. But the award would go to Scorsese not for the film itself, for the specific artistic and technical accomplishments of the film. In the end, Chicago is a better film, one with no depth, but perfectly executed. As far as I can see, it is nearly ambitionless, grounded in nostalgia and an effort to right another wrong, Bob Fosse’s inability to bring the piece to the screen himself.

But, combined with the appeal of the worldview it espouses to the voting membership, it will be the big winner. Before the jury votes to acquit his client, Richard Gere’s Billy Flynn sings, “How can they see with sequins in their eyes?”

So, here are my picks, then:

  • Best Picture: Chicago
  • Best director: Rob Marshall or Martin Scorsese
  • Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis
  • Best Actress: Reneé Zellweger
  • Best Supporting Actor: no pick – I haven’t got enough of a sense of the contenders
  • Best Supporting Actress: Catherine Zeta-Jones
  • Best original screenplay: Gangs of New York
  • Best adapted screenplay: Chicago (or Far From Heaven, or My Big Fat Greek Wedding – but I doubt it.)

Mind you, I’d rather see Adaptation win for best adapted screenplay, but there’s no way in hell producers are going to vote for a picture about how a screenwriter out-clevered ’em. I do feel constrained to note that the screenplay for About a Boy was really just remarkable – in another year, it might well have won.

It should also be noted that The Two Towers was up only for a handful of awards this year, and among the major categories only in best picture. This is largely because the Academy ruled it ineligible in several of the categories (so that under ‘makeup’ this year, you’ll find only Frida and The Time MachineThe Time Machine! – nominated).

Anyway. Here’s a link to the nominations list hosted by the Academy.