Grey picks the Oscars

Wednesday, February 4, 2004

by Leroy Grey

Okay, so no one saw the Panthers beating the spread. How do you restore your reputation as a know it all? By predicting the Oscars, of course.

The Academy Awards are an annual gala that rivals the premier sports championships for national discussion. And if you could somehow name-check the winners before the envelopes open, that would be sweet, wouldn't it? Kinda like when you're at your friend's place shouting along with Jeopardy, and you're the only one in the room who knows it's a rerun. Isn't that fun?

Now, I may not have seen the majority of these films, and I may not know the accountants at Price Waterhouse Cooper, but I have my formulas, culled from years of researching Academy behavior. No guarantees, but you got some decent info here to make your own informed decisions (without having to see the movies)

BEST ACTOR: Ben Kingsley (HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG) has already won one, and nobody's talking about this movie. Jude Law (COLD MOUNTAIN) is getting his first nomination, for his first Oscar-caliber performance; that might be recognition enough for him. People think Bill Murray should have won something for "Rushmore"; his LOST IN TRANSLATION character certainly feels familiar. Sean Penn's been nominated four times, and this time, he's in a movie (MYSTIC RIVER) as good as he is. Plus, he was in another movie ("21 GRAMS") that had people talking Oscar. But is his emotional everyman performance enough to beat out Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow (PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN)? Depp's just as admired for his acting, and he's more likely to show up.

My pick: I want Depp to win, and I never get what I want, so I'm picking Sean Penn.

BEST ACTRESS: WHALE RIDER is a small movie about a South Pacific girl who tries to assume her tribal destiny. It's an independent hit, crossing borders and connecting with audiences, because of Keisha Castle-Hughes' performance. Carrying a movie with an unconventional performance does a lot for Oscar chances. Only two things working against her: it's her first nod, and she's 12 years old. Young performers usually do well at the supporting level, but the Actress award rewards careers almost as much as performances; that helped Diane Keaton (SOMETHING'S GOT TO GIVE) get a nod for playing Diane Keaton. Samantha Morton (IN AMERICA) played a struggling wife and mother; Naomi Watts (21 GRAMS) plays a struggling widow and mother. They cancel each other out. The final nominee, Charlize Theron, has all the right elements to win: she's a popular actress who's been getting noticed for a while, and she pulled off a transformation that's being compared to "Raging Bull".

My pick: Charlize Theron

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Let's get the easy stuff out of the way. Benicio Del Toro (21 GRAMS): already won. Ken Watanabe(THE LAST SAMURAI) and Djimon Hounsou (IN AMERICA): not big enough. The nominees that put on a show are Alec Baldwin (THE COOLER) and Tim Robbins (MYSTIC RIVER), so it comes down to experience. Tim Robbins has a couple of award-worthy performances under his belt ("Shawshank Redemption", "Bull Durham", "Bob Roberts"); Alec Baldwin was in "The Cat in the Hat". On a serious note, "Mystic River" got nods all around for its cast; being in an 'actor's movie' might be the edge Robbins needs.

My pick: Tim Robbins

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: More spoilers come out of this category than any other. Dame Judi Dench, Whoopi Goldberg, Anna Paquin, Marisa Tomei - the supporting actress category seems to have its own rules. But there are still 'rules.' For example, nobody's repeated in this category yet; sorry, Marcia Gay Harden (MYSTIC RIVER). In fact, the winners tend to be making their first major award bid; sorry, Renee Zellweger (COLD MOUNTAIN) and Holly Hunter (THIRTEEN). So, that leaves Patricia Clarkson (PIECES OF APRIL), who you might remember from the TV series "Murder One" and such films as "The Station Agent" and "The Green Mile" - and Shohreh Aghdashloo (HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG). I've never seen her in anything before, either.

My pick: Shohreh Aghdashloo

BEST DIRECTOR: This is like the "best coach" award, the one who manages all these elements together, and still creates a singular voice. Often, it feels like a career achievement award (don't tell that to Scorcese). The first 'rule' is, of course, to have a best picture contender: that knocks out CITY OF GOD. The second 'rule' is that the movie can't be too 'small'; sorry, LOST IN TRANSLATION. The odds are against Clint Eastwood winning a second directing Oscar for MYSTIC RIVER. That leaves RETURN OF THE KING and MASTER AND COMMANDER, both epics of the first order, both supersized titles, both directed by guys named Peter. Weir's had the longer career (Truman Show, Dead Poet's Society, Witness), but Jackson's on the hottest streak (all three Lord of the Rings movies). This one comes down to noise.

My pick: Peter Jackson

BEST PICTURE: This is the award the Producer gets to accept, for putting all the pieces together to make as close to a perfect movie as possible. What helps your chances? A Best Director Nomination helps (Goodbye, SEABISCUIT). In fact, the more nominations, the better the chances, period. LOST IN TRANSLATION has four, MYSTIC RIVER has six. MASTER AND COMMANDER and RETURN OF THE KING have ten and eleven, so I'm saying it's down to those two. The trump card? The fact that the makers of LORD OF THE RINGS delivered a near perfect film trilogy. "Star Wars" couldn't do it. "Godfather" couldn't do it. Lord knows, "The Matrix" couldn't do it. Assuming the films are equally good...

My pick: LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING

Let's buzz through the rest. Technical categories? Pick period pieces for costumes, realistic films for sound and editing, and fantasies for makeup, effects and design awards. Screenplays? Pick the one the director wrote, especially if he/she's not going to win director. Documentaries and Short Films? Pick the longest name. Music? The catchiest tune that's not funny (I'm picking the one by Sting,) and John Williams. Foreign Film? I don't recognize any of this year's directors or actors, so I'd have to pick the newest one (the one from Canada)

Haven't seen them? Don't worry, it's better that way. The reason it's easier to pick the flicks without seeing them is, they're all good. If you only saw some of them, you might get attached, and that throws the judgment off. Judge them on the presumption that they're equally good, because they probably are. It really is an honor to be nominated.

Well, that's my system. And I fully expect to be proven wrong. Maybe the cartoon that Walt Disney and Salvador Dali worked on will get Animated Short. Maybe Djimon Hounsou will get some respect, or the Lord of the Rings will get shut out...

There is only one way I know to have a better grasp of this year's Oscar race: go out and see the movies. Find your own favorites. And if you can't understand why "School of Rock" wasn't represented, remember that "Citizen Kane," "Star Wars," and every movie Hitchcock made got snubbed, for being ahead of their time. Good luck.

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