Film Scouts Comment

Breaking Down the Oscar Nominations, Part II

by Richard Schwartz
HOLLYWOOD, Feb. 15 -- An analysis of the rest of the key Academy Award nominations:


Sam Mendes for "American Beauty" -- Not only a first-time nominee, but a first-time feature director. How's that for outstanding achievement? The favorite here, especially if "American Beauty" wins Best Picture.

Lasse Hallstrom for "The Cider House Rules" -- Lasse, come home! No, he's not a dog, although he is the guy who directed "My Life as a Dog." And also "Something to Talk About," but we'll forgive him for that one. It would be suprising to see Hallstrom win here, but then again, it was surprising to see him nominated over Anthony Minghella, Norman Jewison, Milos Forman, et al.

Michael Mann for "The Insider" -- Mann should get the award here simply for directing his first movie during which we didn't once check our watches and we weren't subjected to some aimless neon-and-smoke introspective Tangerine Dream-infused moody interlude. Russell Crowe's character did seem to have a little Sonny Crockett in him, though.

Spike Jonze for "Being John Malkovich" -- A few years removed from directing Weezer videos and this guy is already sitting on top of the cinema world with his first feature? Seems strange that the Academy saw to recognize this quirky film, but maybe it's a make-up call for the unjust omission of Spike Jonze's other project "Three Kings" (he plays fourth banana to Clooney, Cube and Marky Mark).

M. Night Shyamalan for "The Sixth Sense" -- A win for this guy would be a newspaper headline writer's dream. "Oh What a Night!" "A Wonderful 'Night' for Oscar!" "Academy 'Nights' New King!" And, no, he would not be the first "M" to win. After all, "Bond" boss Judi Dench won the Supporting Actress award last year.


John Irving for "The Cider House Rules" -- Makes sense to give a literary great the award, especially because he adapted a book by... John Irving.

Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor for "Election" -- One of the wittiest films of the year gets its lone recognition here. Certainly deserving, but the film owes as much or more to Payne's direction.

Frank Darabont for "The Green Mile" -- Another Darabont screenplay adapted from another Stephen King serial. The only problem? Brevity, or lack thereof. To paraphrase that old quote, if Darabont would've had more time, he would've written a shorter screenplay.

Eric Roth & Michael Mann for "The Insider" -- Of all the adapted nominees, this might be the greatest achievement. These guys adapted a two-and-a-half hour movie from a 10-page Vanity Fair article.

Anthony Minghella for "The Talented Mr. Ripley" -- A new spin on an old Patricia Highsmith novel, but a disappointing third act weakened this story.


Charlie Kaufman for "Being John Malkovich" -- The guy's first feature screenplay, and a wondefully wacky one at that. But wait until you see his next project, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind." It's the fact-or-fiction life story of "Gong Show" creator Chuck Barris.

Alan Ball for "American Beauty" -- A sharp peek through the keyhole at dysfunctional suburban angst. And, continuing the trend, it was the guy's first feature screenplay. In a tough category to call, Ball's the front-runner.

Paul Thomas Anderson for "Magnolia" -- Like Alexander Payne, he's a fresh talent more revered for his filmmaking than his writing. But he'll take the accolades any way he can. Like his "Boogie Nights," an intricate character study, but far more audacious. And that could work for or against him here.

M. Night Shyamalan for "The Sixth Sense" -- So much has been made about the film's final twist as to neglect the soul of the story. Without the surprise ending, this film still works. But it's even more fun to go back and dissect, scene-by-scene. To make a film so watchable the second time around is a real credit to the storyteller.

Mike Leigh for "Topsy-Turvy" -- The veteran in this category penned a genuine critical favorite, but how many folks could stay awake through this one?


"Buena Vista Social Club" -- A reputable director in Wim Wenders, a heartwarming story about elderly Cuban jazz musicicans, a popular soundtrack album and concert tour, and all of the major documentary awards. Naturally, a lock for the award. But, then again, there's always something up with the docs, as this category has snubbed "Hoop Dreams," "Roger & Me" and plenty other deserving films in the past. If not, look for Sundance faves "Ghengis Blues" and "On the Ropes." There are no Holocaust documentaries this year.


"All About My Mother" -- Not necessarily Spanish director Pedro Almodovar's best film, but certainly the best foreign film of the year. A sweet, funky melodrama. And, most importantly, the film that introduced us to Penelope Cruz.


A toss-up -- The possibility exists for a Newman Brothers' sweep -- Thomas for his "American Beauty" score and Randy for his "Toy Story 2" single "When She Loved Me." There's no strong favorite in the score category this year, but there's always 38-time nominee John Williams (seriously, he's really been nominated 38 times!). In the song category, history (Prince notwithstanding) favors MOR lightweights like Newman, Phil Collins or Diane Warren. You really think the Academy would honor either a maverick like Aimee Mann or, gasp, Trey Parker, the guy who also wrote that ditty entitled "Uncle F!@#$%ker?"

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