THE OSCAR WARRIOR: Part 2

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The Weekend Warrior looks at the potential 2004 Academy Awards candidates

By Edward Douglas

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

The Supporting categories are even less cut and dry this year, as there are so many great actors and actresses playing memorable roles in smaller movies this year. The question is how many of them will be seen by the time nominations need to be turned in. The good thing is that this category has always been one where lesser known actors and actresses in smaller independent films can be acknowledged.

At the top of the list of guaranteed nominees for Best Supporting Actor is Tim Robbins, whose memorable performance as a man, sexually abused as a youth and suspected of murder, made Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River one of the most powerful dramas of the year. Robbins has appeared in many great movies over the years, but has only been recognized by the Academy once before. Warner Brothers will do whatever it takes to make sure he’s not forgotten by the Academy this year.

The other major studio movie that could get attention in this category, despite being neglected elsewhere, is Universal’s Seabiscuit. It had a number of decent supporting roles, most notably William H. Macy as a radio announcer. After missing out on an Oscar for the Coen Brother’s Fargo, Macy has stolen so many movies with his great characters, that the Academy might feel like he deserves the nomination, despite it being a small part.

Macy isn’t the only actor to make another attempt for Oscar gold after a previous nomination. Both Benicio Del Toro and Albert Finney were nominated in 2000. Del Toro ended up winning in the category for his performance in Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, and many feel that his dark and brooding performance in Alejandro Innaritu’s 21 Grams is his crowning achievement. Big Fish star Albert Finney has been nominated for five Academy Awards including once in this category for Steven Soderbergh’s other 2000 movie, Erin Brockovich, which he lost to Del Toro. With a Golden Globe nomination under his belt for his performance as a father with no grasp on reality, Finney is the best candidate for the annual “he’s old and he really deserves to win an Oscar while he can” category.

The returning candidates will be competing for nominations with two actors in two smaller movies that have been well received by the critics. The oddest name to show up in the critics’ awards is that of Alec Baldwin, who plays a ruthless Vegas casino boss in The Cooler. Likewise, Peter Sarsgaard did a great job playing the editor of the New Republic that discovers that his star writer has made up most of his news stories in Shattered Glass. It’s an amazing performance from a little known actor that has gotten the movie compared to All the President’s Men.

Two wildcards in the category include Djimon Hounsou, for his performance as a man dying of AIDS in Jim Sheridan’s In America, Sean Astin for his recurring role as Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and The Last Samurai‘s Ken Watanabe, who was the only other Golden Globe nominee in this category.

So far, the critics have split between Sarsgaard and Baldwin, with a scattering of nods for Tim Robbins, and Albert Finney seems almost guaranteed to get a nomination. That leaves the fifth spot for either Macy or Del Toro, whose names will be recognized by Academy members for their previous work and nominations. Despite being overlooked in the Golden Globes, Del Toro’s stronger performance should endure over Macy’s inconsequential role in Seabiscuit.

When there are so many cards on the table, it’s hard to determine a winner, but Robbins seems to be the early favorite. It’s a great performance and the Academy will probably want to give him his due.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

An even tougher category is the supporting actress one, because there weren’t many major supporting roles for women this year. Many actresses who gave great performances this year might also be considered lead actresses, but this category looks like a hotbed for actresses in independent films.

Scarlett Johansson is probably the best example of an actress suffering from “which category should we put her in?”. Like Julianne Moore in The Hours last year, Johansson’s performance in Lost in Translation has gotten as many supporting nods as lead actress nods so far. She’s nominated in the lead category for the Golden Globes, and the Academy will follow suit. She stands a better chance at winning as a supporting actress but her role is pivotal, and there are no other actresses in the movie that Johansson might be competing with.

One of the stronger candidates is Patricia Clarkson, who has received so much recognition for her supporting performances in movies, including Far From Heaven, The Station Agent, and All the Real Girls, that she is becoming the quintessential supporting actress. That said, it’s her role in Pieces of April that has gotten her notice from the Golden Globes, Independent Spirit Awards and at the Sundance Film Festival. The Academy will feel silly not doing the same.

There are a few more recognized names in the race: Holly Hunter already won an Oscar and a number of other awards for Jane Campion’s The Piano in 1994, and her role as the mother of a troubled teen in Thirteen, will likely get her a second nod. Renee Zellweger is once again getting a big push from Miramax for her role in Cold Mountain, and although critics have not loved her performance, the name recognition and her Golden Globe nomination in this category will get her into the race.

That leaves two spots open and five worthy candidates. The last two Golden Globes nominees in this category are Hope Davis for American Splendor and Maria Bello for The Cooler. They may have a tougher time getting recognized, due to their lack of name recognition, as might Shohreh Aghdashloo, who plays Ben Kingsley’s obedient wife in House of Sand and Fog.

Two actresses overlooked by the Hollywood Foreign Press, who gave powerful performances this year include previous Academy Award winner Marcia Gay Harden, who played Tim Robbins’ wife in Mystic River, and Emma Thompson, as a wife who learns her husband is cheating on her, in Richard Curtis’ Love Actually. The year Harden won an Oscar as Ed Harris’ wife in Pollock, she was also overlooked by the Golden Globes. She is very likely to get a second nomination, edging either either Davis or Bello out of the race. Having not been recognized by any of the critics’ circles or been nominated anywhere else, Thompson will have a hard time getting in, despite her previous experience in the Oscar race.

As has been the case many times in the past, this is the category where literally anyone can get nominated and win, and this is a good year for another surprise. If Scarlett Johansson gets nominated in this category, she is the clear-cut winner. If not, the surprise might come from either Gay Harden or Thompson getting the nomination and then winning in the category despite being overlooked by the Golden Globes. Or it could go to an Academy favorite like Zellweger or Hunter. (Basically, it’s an open playing field at this point.)

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

“Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen” or Original Screenplay is another category that allows for the acknowledgement of smaller dramas and independent films. This may be due to the bigger studio movies being based on books, as is the case this year with The Lord of the Rings, Master and Commander and Cold Mountain. Movies such as Memento, Monster’s Ball, Far from Heaven, Talk to Her and You Can Count on Me are just a few of the independent movies that received nods in the past few years, despite not receiving Best Picture nods. Comedies also stand a better chance in this category than elsewhere.

The only movie that is pretty much guaranteed a screenplay nomination is Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. It will probably have a harder time against the bigger studio movies in the Best Picture and Best Director categories, but this seems like the best category to acknowledge Sofia Coppola’s movie. This is the movie to beat.

Another smaller movie that should get recognized for its script is Jim Sheridan’s personal drama, In America, written with his two daughters. Alejandro Inarritu’s 21 Grams was completely shunned from the Golden Globes, but the Academy might be a bit more generous with this powerful and innovative drama. If it gets nominated, Innaritu will be following hot on the heels of Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, whose Y Tu Mama Tambien was nominated last year. The independent film Thirteen is also notable, since it was written by one of its stars when she was fourteen. The coming of age drama has received a lot of attention for the realistic way youth is depicted. It’s a bit of a dark horse and will have trouble getting attention, but it’s a strong enough script to steal the second “indie slot” from 21 Grams.

A number of British hit comedies stand a good chance at getting into this category, despite being overlooked in most others. Richard Curtis’ Love Actually is a moving holiday comedy-drama that won over audiences this past November, and it features many great actors-actresses. Curtis’ writing has always been well respected, after receiving a previous nomination for 1995’s Four Wedding and a Funeral.

While Disney’s CGI family blockbuster, Finding Nemo-the top grossing film of 2003-is guaranteed a place in the Best Animated Film category, some industry people might feel that it’s strong enough to get it into some of the non-conventional categories, such as this one. The only epic historical film that might get recognized in this category is Tom Cruise’s The Last Samurai, but it will be more contingent on whether the Academy wants to include it in the Best Picture category. It seems like it might be overlooked in favor of the movies based on popular books.

The four nominations will likely be split up between conventional indie fare like In America and bigger comedies like Love Actually, but this is the category for Lost in Translation to win, so the rest of the candidates will be fairly inconsequential.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Unlike the Original Screenplay category, the “Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published” category tends to include many of the Best Picture nominees, but there’s always space for one of the movies that didn’t warrant a Best Picture nod to get recognized here. Very often, this will go to one of the less epic films and there should be a number of surprises.

Of course, the three movies with Best Picture potential-Cold Mountain, Mystic River, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King-could also get a screenplay nod, as the writing makes up a large part of a movie’s worth as Best Picture. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was overlooked in this category, but the finale will probably not be overlooked. Of the three, Cold Mountain is more likely to be omitted.

Two adaptations that might get recognized even without Best Picture nominations are Universal’s Seabiscuit and Master and Commander, since they’re both based on popular bestsellers. Even if they don’t get actors’ or director’s nominations, both were worthy adaptations, although Seabiscuit has a better chance at getting nominated. Likewise, Big Fish may get ignored as far as Best Picture, and Tim Burton might be overlooked as a director, but the screenplay is strong enough to get noticed.

Like Mystic River, the film adaptation of House of Sand and Fog is a powerful drama with a strong script by director Vadim Perelman, which helped bring out the best in actors Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly. American Splendor, based on Harvey Pekar’s autobiographical comic, is another smaller movie that might get noticed, but it may be overlooked in favor of its numerous Independent Spirit nominations.

Essentially, we’re looking at The Return of the King, Mystic River, Seabiscuit, Big Fish, and either House of Sand and Fog or American Splendor, as the strongest candidates. Although it may seem like The Lord of the Rings could take this category, a Best Picture win does not always mean that the screenplay will receive recognition. Screenplay awards have often gone to smaller character-driven dramas, so this could be a consolation prize for Mystic River screenwriter, Brian Helgeland. Either Seabiscuit or Big Fish could also pull out a surprise win.

However things pan out, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will make their nominations announcement on January 27th at 5:30AM Eastern and the Oscars will be awarded on February 29th, 2004.

Special thanks to Edward Havens of FilmJerk.com for his assistance.

THE OSCAR WARRIOR PART 1: Best Picture, Director, Actor & Actress