Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Oscars Hindsight Project: 2000

Previously: 1990, 1995

This post is a part of a joint effort with Roommate Mark over at The Critical Condition. If you haven't already been there, click on over to read about the Best Supporting Actor and Actress categories at the 2000 Oscars. How well have those nominations aged in the past 10 years? I'll kick things off with the lead categories below...

Best Actor
1. Russell Crowe -- Gladiator (WON OSCAR)
2. Tom Hanks -- Cast Away
3. Ed Harris -- Pollock
4. Javier Bardem -- Before Night Falls
5. Geoffrey Rush -- Quills

Mark: Wow. It's hard to get excited about this category. Granted, if Russell Crowe hadn't spent the ten years after Gladiator becoming a bloated sack of ego, then I might feel differently... but I can't change history.

No matter how much I dislike Crowe's image or feel bored by his recent work, however, there's no denying his turn as Maximus made him a superstar and made a mediocre action movie seem dangerous, sexy, and worthwhile. It was clear in 2000 that the role would define him, and it's clear today that it does.

Meanwhile, Cast Away is the last movie to feature a truly memorable role for Tom Hanks (his hairdo in The Da Vinci Code doesn't count as a character). Titular island dweller Chuck Noland is not as iconic as Forrest Gump or Big's Josh Baskin, but he still captures Hanks' Everyguy appeal. The film wouldn't work if he weren't so convincingly emotional with a volleyball, so deliriously happy when he learns to make fire, so very relatable in his Westerner-gone-native attempts to survive. Because Hanks carries the entire movie by himself, remembering it at all means remembering his work, and that gives him a historical leg up.

The next three performances are all in the same boat. I mean, they're all good -- maybe even great? -- but is anyone thinking about them now? Maybe, maybe Harris' turn as Pollock still springs to mind, and in that year, it played like a fresh look at his range, so I'm putting it third. Before Night Falls gains traction by being the film that introduced the English-speaking world to Javier Bardem, but let's not kid ourselves: This is not the performance that defines him. In retrospect, No Country for Old Men even raises Night's profile, because now it's easier to remember it as the first movie that got Javier Bardem an Oscar nomination. (Join me in ten years when we're struggling to remember Biutiful.) And lastly, I give you Quills, a creepy-good movie based on a creepy-good play that features a creepy-good lead performance. In my heart of hearts, I wish Kate Winslet had gotten tapped for this, too, but I accept that almost no one cares about Quills as much as I do. Overall Grade In Retrospect: B-

Joe's Rebuttal: The one change I'd make to these rankings would be to bump Bardem up one slot. Before Night Falls was such a breakthrough for him, and now that he's on his third nomination this year with Biutiful, I would think Academy voters would look back on this nomination with some pride that they recognized him when it was still "brave" to do so (he's gay! he's Cuban! No one knows his name!). Nothing against Ed Harris, either, as he and Bardem give the two best performances in the category in a year when so many amazing lead turns (Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys, Mark Ruffalo in You Can Count on Me, Christian Bale in American Psycho, Billy Crudup in Jesus' Son) got the shaft.

1. Julia Roberts -- Erin Brockovich (WON OSCAR)
2. Laura Linney -- You Can Count on Me
3. Ellen Burstyn -- Requiem for a Dream
4. Joan Allen -- The Contender
5. Juliette Binoche -- Chocolat

Joe: Back when 2000's nomination class was announced, my mind was tortured with thoughts of the women who might've taken Binoche's space in this category. Renee Zellweger in Nurse Betty was so good! Or even Bjork in Dancer in the Dark! Of course, Bjork would have the last laugh with the swan dress, and Zellweger would go on to dozens of nominations before finally winning and making everybody sick of her, and Binoche would go on to give many better performances than this one, so I guess it all shakes out in the end.

I have to admit, at the time I thought Joan Allen's nomination here would hold up better in ten years. The speculative fiction of a woman president amid a sex scandal played better in the immediate aftermath of the Clinton presidency, I guess. And, as I mentioned in the 1995 article, Joan Allen's Oscar hot streak has cooled now (though, to be fair, her Oscar-caliber roles are what have dried up).

Burstyn and Linney, however, both gave performances that have continued to burn brightly throughout the decade, particularly among Julia Roberts agnostics who like to talk about who should have won the Oscar that year. I personally was fine with Julia winning, but I can't deny that the Burstyn and Linney partisans have a point. But even if one of them did violate the rules of the universe and unseat Julia, I don't think either Sarah Goldfarb nor Sammy Prescott would stand as tall in the culture as Erin Brockovich still does. I've said it before and I'll say it again: there is value -- real cultural value -- in a movie star giving a movie-star performance that seeps its way into the bones of the country at large. Maybe not everybody will be able to quote full lines of dialogue from that movie ("two wrong feet in fucking ugly shoes," to give but one example of many), but somewhere between the push-up bra and the neck brace and Silkwood-style advocacy, that character landed right in the heart of America: pushy, loud, and poorly dressed. God bless her for it. Overall Grade in Retrospect: B+

Mark's Rebuttal: I can't conceive of ranking these performances in any other order. I agree, Joe, that Great Movie Star Performances are valuable, and they're also incredibly rare. There just aren't that many people who can sizzle on screen like Julia does in this movie, and dammit, she does deserve an Oscar for what she brings to the role. (I'll make the same argument in defense of Sandra Bullock's win, which seems much more appropriate to me a year later, even if The Blind is half the movie that Erin Brockovich is.)

Again, for 2000's Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, click your way on over to The Critical Condition.

Next week: 2005, which will give me an opportunity to link back to my seminal hissyfit on behalf of
Brokeback Mountain


jessica said...

Castaway has been on HBO a lot, and I still will stop on it for a while to watch Hanks. What he did was so hard there, effectively portraying what it's like to be completely alone for 4 years. I love that movie. It may not be as defining for him as Gladiator was for Crowe, but of the two roles, it's much more beloved in my mind.

Also, I'm glad you guys hold up Julia's win. I would switch Allen and Binoche, just because Chocolat makes me smile and The Contender is all but forgotten (didn't Jeff Bridges make funny sandwich orders or something?), but that's a minor quibble.

Also also, Javier Bardem is gay?? Didn't he just get married to and have a baby with Penelope Cruz? Obviously he could still do that gay or not, and I don't pretend to know all the gay actors out there (or even all the gay actor gossip out there), but I would've thought I'd have heard something about that.

InfoMofo said...

It's odd but I feel like I associate Julia more with her speech from that year than her actual performance, but even if that's all that made it memorable, it still stands out in that field. I would nudge Burshteyn a tiny bit above Laura Linney just because I still can't look at an old style refrigerator without shuddering.

Gladiator was just... I know so many people who hold this movie up as some sort of cinematic triumph, and I am completely meh about the whole thing.

Robert Hamer said...

I can definitely see the pro-Julia arguments, but I have to admit you kinda lost me with your Sandra Bullock comment.

Kristen said...

I think the cuban/gay thing is about the character and not the actor? I was confused by that part too.

Joe Reid said...

Yes, that part referred to Bardem's character. (See Before Night Falls, people! It's really good!)

jessica said...

Ah. That makes way more sense.

SHough610 said...

I found my way here from General Haberdashery. But I don't know how you can rank Julia Roberts above Ellen Burstyn's performance. I know there's value to a movie star playing a big movie star part (which could be argued for Crowe's performance). But I think Burstyn is the most painful part of an incredibly arresting film.

And it's funny you mention Brokeback, I was just railing on how pissed I was it didn't win recently. Crash, fucking really?!