Picks for the Oscars: Lord of the Rings, Mulholland Drive
What started out as a terrible year in film turned pleasantly solid with a flurry of great films coming out towards the end of the year in time for the Academy Awards. And I must give the academy some credit this year. All five of the films nominated for Best Picture are high quality motion pictures deserving of praise, which is not usually the case.
My personal pick out of the five films up for the Oscars' biggest prize is "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring." Maybe I'm just a geek at heart, but Tolkein's classic fantasy world recreated by Peter Jackson is a movie that can be appreciated by all age groups and is fantasy movie magic that has not been seen since "The Empire Strikes Back." If I was growing up now instead of in the early eighties, I would be collecting Frodo Baggins and Gandalf action figures instead of the Luke Skywalker and Han Solo dolls that I played with in my youth. And of course, this Peter Jackson classic runs rings around the first "Star Wars" prequel.
The main Best Picture competition for "The Lord of the Rings" is "A Beautiful Mind." Although it is the least impressive of the nominated films, it is at times an inspiring film, with great performances by both Hollywood's golden boy Russell Crowe and talented, beautiful Jennifer Connelly. The paranoid schizophrenia is handled very well by director Ron Howard, but the end is a bit formulaic and sappy.
The most ridiculous and over-the-top of the nominations is "Moulin Rouge," which I have heard often described as unwatchable. As someone who usually abhors cheesy love stories, I made myself watch this film. And I was amazed and rewarded. It is a love story, but the emotions and drama are presented in an original and dramatic way that I found moving. And it is incredible to watch, a real visual masterpiece. Not in the least bit subtle and absurd at times, "Moulin Rouge" won me over because it was like nothing I'd ever seen before. Nicole Kidman gives a classic theatrical performance. And no, it's not for everyone, but I applaud Oscar for rewarding the unconventional.
"In the Bedroom" is the opposite of "Moulin Rouge," subtle and realistic. The acting in this movie is wonderful, as a mother, father, and girlfriend deal with a terrible tragedy. Every moment is scrutinized and observed with painstaking detail by director Todd Field. It is a true great look at mourning, grief and what results from it.
Finally, "Gosford Park" is a great film, not because of its mystery whodunnit plot twists, but because of its look at social class, comparing the elites to maids and butlers at a social gathering in early twentieth century England. It has great performamces by an ensemble cast, and is Robert Altman's finest film in years. His ability to flow dialogue from one conversation to the next is still unmatched, though often imitated.
However, my pick for the best film of the year is David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive." I was glad Lynch at least got a token nomination for Best Director, but Naomi Watts really deserved a nod for Best Actress. This was the most original and fantastic film of the year, where you never know what will happen next and the end leaves you piecing it together to figure out what happened. It is Lynch's spooky and intense direction as well Watts' alternately overly stable and desperate performance that make this Lynch's masterpiece.
Two stylized movies that rival "Moulin Rouge" but ultimately fall short are "Ocean's Eleven" and "The Royal Tenenbaums." "Ocean's Eleven" is not trying to achieve any emotional artistry and accomplishes everything it sets out to do. Steven Soderbergh is better in cool, flashy movies like this and "Out of Sight," rather than his two over-rated Oscar-nominated films from last year, "Erin Brockovich" and "Traffic."
"The Royal Tenenbaums" is very clever, and Gene Hackman deserved a Best Actor nomination that he didn't get, but the characters are so cartoonish that their emotions seem forced. When one character declares his love for another, nobody really cares. But it is still a very fine film, because of its cool style and the interesting, unpredictable high jinx that occur in this unconventional story.
Two movies that were probably penalized for appearing in theaters too early in the year were "Ghost World" and "Memento." Steve Buscemi was absolutely robbed when he was not nominated for his role as the lonely middle-aged dork in "Ghost World," a film that is subtly critical of modern society and does teen angst credit by humanizing it and not criticizing it. "Memento" is just an ingenious idea, letting us understand what it is like to have no short-term memory by showing the film backwards so that audiences do not know what happened before, just like the protagonist. At least it got a nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
Rounding out my top ten is "Startup.com," which was the year's best documentary, showing the rapid rise and fall of one internet startup company and what it did to the people involved. Below is my own list of the top ten films of 2001, along with how I would vote for the nominees in the major categories. Compare mine with yours, and then watch the Academy Awards on March 24. Then email me with your comments if you like: email@example.com.
Jesse Fask's Top Ten Films of 2001
1. Mulholland Drive
2. The Lord of the Rings
3. In the Bedroom
4. Moulin Rouge
5. Ghost World
7. Gosford Park
8. Ocean's Eleven
9. The Royal Tenenbaums
Best Picture: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Best Director: David Lynch, Mulholland Drive
Best Actor: Tom Wilkinson, In the Bedroom
Best Actress: Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge
Best Supporting Actor: Ian McKellan, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Best Supporting Actress: Helen Mirren, Gosford Park
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This story was published on March 2, 2002.