The Playoffs
Awards that are not, in fact, the Oscars: A weekly column

1/06/02: The People's Choice and Broadcast Film Critics awards
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1/06/02: The AFIs
You think I took a bullet for you guys on the People’s Choice? Well, obviously you didn’t catch the Broadcast Film Critics Awards on E! just now, and I don’t blame you—this was not a ceremony meant to be televised. It was basically an insiders’ dinner with a camera crew there to fulfill the E! channel’s self-admitted goal of becoming the biggest “kudocast” whore ever. (What’s up with this new word “kudocast,” anyway?) It was not an “awards show” as you and I generally know it—literally, imagine your local Optimist Club staffed by movie stars. And that’s not a bad comparison, because all the winners speechified at such length that I started having flashbacks to old scholarship competitions.

If I could sum up the show in one image, it would be this: Lord of the Rings’ Sean Astin and Orlando Bloom (you know, the hot elf?) ambled out gamely to present the Best Young Performer award, and poor little Dakota Fanning (I Am Sam), who won, was so short she couldn’t even see over the podium. So, in a moment of gallantry, Bloom lifts the kid up to the microphone. And proceeds to hold her there, graciously, as Fanning proceeds to thank everyone she’s ever met in her young life. EVER. It got so bad that the audience burst into laughter every time she took a breath and started up again—at least six times by my count—but preternaturally poised little Dakota just kept yammering on, while Bloom grinned and winked at the audience, the strained look on his face betraying that the kid was getting heavier by the minute.

Friends, Dakota Fanning was not even the longest-winded of the bunch. Not by far. The show was scheduled to run on E! from 6-7 and it ran until 8.  You and I, the audience, are Orlando Bloom—and man, did was kid heavy after two hours.

But I’ve bitched enough. What we really learned from the BFC awards was this: I have a burgeoning suspicion that the Oscars are going to come down to two-lane race between A Beautiful Mind (which took Best Director, Best Film, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress at the BFCs) and Lord of the Rings. Maybe Moulin Rouge is in there somewhere. To my mind, the Golden Globes next weekend are going to be about A Beautiful Mind and Moulin Rouge fighting it out to see who makes it to the finals. I’m not sure I’m ready to attempt predicting the Globes themselves—maybe I’ll take a stab at it as the weekend draws closer—but I know me some
Oscar logic, which would run as follows:

Mulholland Drive. Pro: An early critics’ front-runner among both people who legitimately thought it brilliant and people who were too afraid to admit they just didn’t get it. Con: Too “weird.” The Academy isn’t going to want to enshrine this alongside the Great Monoliths of Cinema—no way.

Memento. Pro: Highly original, an early critics’ favorite. Con: A small, independent picture—not really “sweeping” or “epic” enough. And while the Academy always loves “sweeping,” keep in mind that they will particularly want something inspiring this year, of all years. Also, it’s “kinda weird.”

In the Bedroom. 
Pro: If they back an indie to go all the way, it’ll be this one rather than the previous two. The acting is fabulous, and if Sissy Spacek doesn’t win Best Actress, I’d like to know who will. The subject matter, while harrowing, is also less “exotic,” as it were. Con: Still too small and intimate a film. Also, really bleak and depressing (in Oscar logic, not in my opinion per se).

Moulin Rouge. Pro: The very earliest front-runner, the Golden Globes may put some heat back on this one; Nicole Kidman is nominated both for dramatic and comedic/musical actress, so we know they love her. It’s epic eye-candy spectacle; it’s not as bizarro as Mulholland Drive, but it’s just crazy enough to make the Academy feel admirably adventurous. Con: It’s still pretty bizarro. Friend of Digest Brett reports that, upon seeing it recently, he liked it, but “could see why some people wouldn’t like it.” The Academy is comprised of a lot of those people.

Beautiful Mind. Pro: You know, I really thought this one was going to get left behind when all the critics’ lists came out with the three M movies on top. But all of a sudden, Beautiful Mind’s shot ahead, and it’s Oscar catnip, quite honestly: Previous winner Crowe plays crazy.  Mild-mannered Hollywood darling (and as-of-yet non-winner—you know what we say about the Lifetime Achievement Oscar of Pity, right?) Ron Howard balances out the bizarro elements with an inspirational story (that actually kinda whitewashes the truth). It’s also a (mostly) true story. Ka-ching! Con: The only thing this movie has going against it is that people might prefer to vote for the other films for their own reasons. As I write, I realize, with something of a sinking heart—this puppy’s as built for glory as if it were constructed in a lab.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
Pro: It’s a big box-office/little underdog success story that recently took the AFI’s top laurel, reassuring those voters who might feel that fantasy is just too lightweight a genre for Best Picture. LOTR, like Moulin Rouge, is also epic spectacle; not only that, but, like A Beautiful Mind, it’s inspirational. Hell, it’s the closest any of the possible contenders comes to tapping into our national post-terrorism anxiety (five bucks says the Oscar telecast will find a way to show that clip of Ian McKellen reassuring Elijah Wood that “we must do what we can with the times we find ourselves in,” or whatever he says). Con: The inevitable backlash is beginning, and the suspicion that fantasy really is too lightweight (or geeky, for that matter) a genre for a Best Picture may do this one in. And here’s something you may not have thought about: It’s the only film on the list that will have, with an ironclad guarantee, a sequel. Not just one, but two. Will the Academy want to give FOTR the Oscar, knowing that there are two more Lord of the Rings films to come that might be just as good, if not better?

And what about the other films—Ali, Black Hawk Down, Gosford Park, Monster’s Ball, Shrek, and so on?
Again, this is not a critical judgment of the individual films, but rather where they stand in relation to each other, popularity-wise, at this point. I feel a lot of heat for Gosford Park in general (it’s taken home some recent director, picture, and script awards) and for Monster’s Ball’s acting in particular, but I don’t feel an overall impetus behind either of them. I don’t feel any heat behind Black Hawk Down anymore—and it’s unfortunate that a clear-eyed look at how war can go terribly, terribly wrong is probably not what the American people are really into right now. Ali mysteriously dropped off the face of Planet Buzz as soon as the critics’ lists started to come out—not, ironically, because of any racially-biased indifference to Will Smith; he’s the one thing the critics love about the film. No, every single review I’ve read has said something to the effect that Michael Mann’s film doesn’t live up to Smith’s performance—it doesn’t delve deep enough into the man himself, preferring to basically be a fictionalized remake of When We Were Kings. Shrek—it was great, but are you kidding me? It sounds like a solid bet for Best Animated Film, but has nowhere near the weight (or self-importance, whichever way you look at it) to beat out some of these other films. I still think that Gosford Park, for one, has a very good shot of getting nominated for Best Picture—instead of, let’s say, Memento. It’s still anyone’s guess, you know. And if you think "feeling heat" sounds like the modus operandi of a cheap fortune teller, well--that's not my Ouija board under the desk, why do you ask?

1/14/02: Let’s have a little talk about the Broadcast Film Critics Awards, shall we?

I had thought this column was going to focus on the People’s Choice Awards, but that would just be piling on at this point. We all knew they were going to be ass, and they were. It’s the kind of show where everyone involved—the management and the nominees alike—had so thoroughly been debriefed as to who had won ahead of time as to make the show exponentially more unbearable. It’s the kind of show where Reba McEntire, an eight-time (!) winner as a singer, was nominated in the Best Comedic Actress or Whatever This Particular Awards Show Calls It, and right as they got to her in the nominee list, had her come up onstage and perform her show’s theme song—right before she won the category. It’s also the kind of show where host Kevin James announces, ten minutes until close, that they’re “short on show,” and invites Tony Danza to come play catch with him onstage. Which they do—he tosses Danza a mitt, lobs a ball at him, and they shoot the breeze for five minutes: “You seen my curve ball?” “No, but here’s mine.” “Hey! What, you playin’ a little chin music?” Then James starts glancing over the audience: “Look, there’s Tom Hanks. He won tonight [twice, in fact]. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t know anything about World War II.” This jibe was almost funny enough (because, let’s face it, in the snarkiest corners of our minds, we were all thinking the same thing) to make the show worth the previous two hours. Almost.

Surprise! Tom Hanks won twice
--for Favorite Actor and Best Dramatic Actor