Film Scouts Comment

Breaking Down the Oscar Nominations

by Richard Schwartz
HOLLYWOOD, Feb. 15 -- The 72nd Annual Academy Award Nominations were announced this morning by AMPAS President Bob Rehme and two-time Oscar-winner Dustin Hoffman. What follows is a breakdown of the nominees:


"American Beauty" -- Family dysfunction in suburbia with a heavy-handed ironic twist. The one film that might define 1999. Level heads might claim the black humor here is too black for those placid Academy voters, but let's not forget previous darker fare -- 1991 Best Picture winner "Silence of the Lambs," for starters. And maybe the new millennium brings with it edgier tastes from Academy members. After all, these are the same guys who honored a song from "South Park: The Movie!" Ironically, though, the rub here is that this film is perhaps not as maverick as it seems, stumbling into a rather predictable, and pedestrian, climax. Still, the front-runner.

"The Insider" -- So maybe Disney didn't botch the ad campaign as much as we thought? Or perhaps this film's excellence overcame a shoddy marketing and release strategy by the Mouse House? Either way, this film should contend with "American Beauty" for the top prize. Apparently voters weren't concerned over talk this film plays fast and loose with the facts, or at least not as concerned as they were regarding "The Hurricane." And don't be fooled by those who say this anti-tobacco-slanted film is here because of liberal political biases; it's engaging storytelling and compelling filmmaking.

"The Sixth Sense" -- Here's one film that won't really profit from the recognition - everyone's already seen it. The populist choice, and certainly the rooting favorite in the peanut gallery. And, believe it or not, this is not even the first Bruce Willis film to receive the top nomination -- see 1994's "Pulp Fiction." The advantage here is that this is not a Bruce Willis movie, but rather a wholly original, sometimes frightening experience that rather fortuitously taps into that heightened spiritual consciousness thing happening in society right now. Or maybe it's just a really good movie. Either way, it's a rather refreshing, and recent, development to see Academy and mainstream tastes aligned.

"The Cider House Rules" -- Somewhat of a surprise nominee, and many are crediting the Miramax marketing campaign, spearheaded from Harvey Weinstein's hospital bed. Not to steal any thunder away from a richly deserving film, but "Cider" should be happy merely to be in the house.

"The Green Mile" -- Again, a slight surprise, but only because the movie opened to such mixed reviews in early December. The real surprise is that this film receives a nod but leadman and perennial nominee Tom Hanks gets ignored. Is his everyman act wearing thin? Or was his character's Dixie dialect considered a Gump redux by voters? Unlike director Frank Darabont's other nominee "The Shawshank Redemption," this film is miles away from Best Picture status.


Denzel Washington in "The Hurricane" -- Academy voters chose right. "Hurricane" was not a great film, but it featured a great performance. One can already envision the scenario in which Washington wins the award and invites Rubin Carter up on stage. Another scrapbook moment. The only thing standing in his way is the equally deserving Kevin Spacey in a more deserving film.

Kevin Spacey in "American Beauty" -- Passed over for the Golden Globe, this could be his opportunity to strike back. Problem is, Spacey and Washington are so similar -- they're roughly the same age, both past winners of the Best Supporting Actor trophy, and both at the fore of this decade's greatest actors (only Spacey seems to pick riskier roles) -- that the only appropriate outcome might be a tie. If Spacey doesn't take home the Oscar, at least we know he'll be back here numerous times.

Russell Crowe in "The Insider" -- A much greater likelihood of Crowe winning an award than the film itself, which may be too ho-hum in subject matter for the body politic. After passing over the Australian actor for "L.A. Confidential," the Academy might seek to correct its mistake. But in the year of Denzel and Spacey, it might be tough to break through.

Sean Penn in "Sweet and Lowdown" -- The Academy might seek to correct its mistake in passing over Penn for the Spicoli rule in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." Seriously, this ranks as a true surprise, maybe the biggest one, since everybody thought this spot belonged to Jim Carrey's Kaufman impression or Matt Damon's unspectacular con man. Not a chance Sean Penn will win, however.

Richard Farnsworth in "The Straight Story" -- A sentimental favorite as the 79-year-old ex-stuntman becomes the oldest Best Actor nominee ever. "Straight Story" is his showcase, and the film's "growing-old" themes could resonate with an older-skewing voting bloc.


Michael Caine in "The Cider House Rules" -- Every year features a sort of career achievement award; this seems to fill the bill this year. Not to deny the specific performance any credit, but Caine's entire body of work is due recognition. A sentimental favorite in what always seems to rank as the strongest acting category (but where's Christopher Plummer?).

Tom Cruise in "Magnolia" -- Cruise couldn't win an Oscar for his brave portrayal as a wheelchair-bound Vietnam vet or the tortured keeper of an autistic brother or even a renegade sports agent with a heart of gold, but by prancing around like Yanni at the Acropolis, making brash chauvinistic remarks and saying the word "cock," he's now a popular favorite.

Michael Clarke Duncan in "The Green Mile" -- Voters proved they have a greater love for this movie than the critics do, so that may bode well for Duncan. A classic supporting actor role.

Jude Law in "The Talented Mr. Ripley" -- The greatest thing about this movie… well, maybe next to Phillip Seymour Hoffman. First-time nominee will be back here as well, and the voters know that.

Haley Joel Osment in "The Sixth Sense" -- The Justin Henry Lifetime Achievement Award. This kid was so great that he probably could've pulled Tom Cruise's role with credibility to spare. Certainly, George Lucas should've given him a look for Anakin Skywalker.


Hilary Swank in "Boys Don't Cry" -- Maybe the closest thing to a shoo-in this year. A gender-bending role in a deeply serious film that is even money for the top actress prize. And, hey, let's hear it for the first ever nominee to star in "Beverly Hills, 90210!"

Annette Bening in "American Beauty" -- If, for some reason, Swank is bypassed, look for Mrs. Beatty to step up to the podium. Obviously, her chances are helped if the film sweeps the other major categories.

Janet McTeer in "Tumbleweeds" -- She's foreign, unknown and nobody saw this movie (and those who think they did actually saw the similar mother-daughter road picture "Anywhere But Here"). That can't help.

Julianne Moore in "The End of the Affair" -- A potential supporting nomination becomes a lead actress candidate in another weak year. Moore may just be the hardest working actress in show, which explains her meteoric rise. She'll be back.

Meryl Streep in "Music of the Heart" -- Yes, she's one of the greatest actresses of a generation, but why nominate her for this sapfest? Was it simply to put her in a tie with Kate Hepburn for career nominations? Her shelf is full -- don't expect an addition this year.


Catherine Keener in "Being John Malkovich" -- Perhaps the most grounded role in a totally offbeat movie, this may be a "safe" way for the Academy to recognize "Malkovich" (and, speaking of, there's another MIA in the supporting actor category).

Toni Collette in "The Sixth Sense" -- The populist groundswell for the film should help Collette, whose stunning performance and wicked Philly accent were not forgotten. If Keener stumbles and Haley Joel Osment loses out, maybe an award here will be considered suitable recognition.

Angelina Jolie in "Girl, Interrupted" -- Nice start to a career. A Golden Globe last year for "Gia" and an Oscar nod here. Not too bad for Jon Voight's daughter, but don't expect a victory here.

Samantha Morton in "Sweet and Lowdown" -- Oh, how they love Woody Allen movies. Don't look for anything more.

Chloe Sevigny in "Boys Don't Cry" -- If Swank wins, then don't expect this film to receive any more, even if Sevigny was outstanding.

Coming Up: An Analysis of the Writing and Directing Categories

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