There are times when we swear that “Entertainment Weekly” has either bugged our office or is tapping into our conference calls. Numerous pieces of ours wind up on their pages at almost the exact same time, be it a list of the best sequels, cinematic stoners, or our long-gestating piece on the Bullz-Eye Fantasy Band Draft, which will drop later this year. They’ve even named their hot/not meter “The Bullseye.” Hmmm.
And sure enough, they scooped us once again, when they put the top awards from various Academy Awards results to a new vote, to see how the current Academy would fix the previous generation’s “mistakes.” We’ve been throwing that idea around for over a year, and just when we begin to put pen to paper: boom! -- they beat us to the punch. We’re not at all surprised that they saw the appeal in such a topic; every year there is at least one head-scratching moment, one that usually owes more to awarding a long-overdue actor for their overall body of work than for the performance at hand (ahem, Al Pacino, “Scent of a Woman”). Enter Bullz-Eye, Mighty Mouse-style, to save the day and make sure justice is served. We’ve examined recent Academy Award winners and their competitors, and we found a few, um, irregularities. Revisionist history begins now, and with a two-parter, no less.Elaine Benes summed up our feelings for “The English Patient” as well as anyone. Actually, that’s a tad unfair; we didn’t think “Patient” was awful, just long and, in the end, anti-climactic. Without Juliette Binoche carrying her co-stars from start to finish (her Oscar, unlike this one, was well deserved), we wonder if “Patient” would have received half the praise that it did. Then there’s “Fargo,” which featured invaluable contributions from its leads, the supporting cast – more on one of them in a minute – and even the characters who were only in a scene or two (Marge Gunderson’s Japanese high school classmate had us in tears). It’s funny, shocking, coy, and best of all, normal, an expertly crafted movie all the way around. Guess the Academy wasn’t quite ready for the Coen brothers yet. We’re still convinced that this was one of those Jack Palance moments, where the presenter simply read the wrong name and the Academy was too embarrassed to correct them. (This is not to say that we think Palance actually made a mistake when he read Marisa Tomei’s name; we’re just having fun with the urban legend.) Gooding’s performance in “Jerry Maguire” boiled down to four words – don’t make us say them – while Macy’s Jerry Lundegaard was hilariously sad, the most pathetic, cowardly would-be crook you’re likely to meet. We got the sense that even Gooding knew a horrible mistake had been made. When he went up to accept his award, he refused to leave on cue, surely knowing that this would be the first and last time he would get to give an acceptance speech. Macy will surely win an Oscar before all is said and done, but after his performance here, it should have already happened. Arguably the biggest case of buyer’s remorse in Oscar history. “Shakespeare’s” stunning upset of “Saving Private Ryan” was Miramax’s finest hour -- for about an hour. The next morning, Hollywood realized that they had been hustled, and the backlash against Harvey Weinstein’s “campaign methods” began in earnest. Make no mistake; “Shakespeare” is a fabulous movie, devilishly clever and surprisingly action-packed for a supposed chick flick. But there wasn’t a moment in “Shakespeare” as indelible as the Omaha Beach invasion, or Jeremy Davies’ meltdown as he watches a German soldier slowly climb the steps to kill the shooter that Davies was supposed to protect. And just try not to flinch when you hear the bullets whizzing by your head. To us, this is the movie that stole two Oscars. Along with robbing Payne and Taylor, Michael Caine won the Supporting Actor Oscar for his work in “Cider House,” against one of the most impressive lists of nominees in movie history. For the record, our money was totally on the kid from “The Sixth Sense,” though we honestly would have been happy if Tom Cruise (“Magnolia”), Michael Clarke Duncan (“The Green Mile”) or Jude Law (“The Talented Mr. Ripley”) had won. But back to the subject: “Cider House” has all but faded into the ether, while “Election” is considered one of the best teen comedies of all time, with Payne and Taylor simultaneously skewering and celebrating every character in the story. And look at that cast: you don’t get much more “right place, right time” than Reese Witherspoon and Tracy Flick. Wow. Just -- wow. This is such a colossal oversight that we can’t help but think that there was some payola involved. After dominating the Original Song category in the early ‘90s, Disney’s luck had run out of late – Michael Bolton singing the “Hercules” song “Go the Distance,” (shudder) – and their still-hand-drawn animated features were definitely taking a back seat to Pixar’s CGI classics. In comes Phil Collins, in a blatant attempt to re-create some Elton John “Lion King” magic. It was cynical and dull -- and it worked. Parker would get his revenge in a “South Park” episode, having Kurt Loder say, “Phil Collins, by the way, divorced his wife by fax and then married a 27-year-old.” The last shot of Collins, who carries his Oscar with him in the entire episode, shows said Oscar shoved up a certain body cavity that shall remain nameless. Works for us. We’ll be honest: we’ve never quite understood why the world is so enamored with Julia Roberts. This is not to say that we think she’s a bad actress, but that we think she’s a bigger movie star than she is a contributor to great cinema. And that’s fine; Hollywood needs its movie stars, and God love those willing to sacrifice any semblance of a personal life in order to please the masses. Having said that, when it was time to pick the Best Actress performance for that year, we’re willing to bet that the vast majority of the voters picked Roberts’ work in “Erin Brockovich” for one of two reasons: they were either blinded by her star power, or they were unable to finish watching “Requiem for a Dream,” Darren Aronofsky’s unforgiving addiction drama, and therefore never saw Burstyn’s utterly devastating performance in the movie’s third, harrowing act. If they had seen her, they would have voted for her, simple as that. File this one under “Academy Awards: Payback Edition.” Denzel Washington already had an Oscar on his mantle at the time for his work in “Glory,” but that did not stop him from suggesting that race was somehow involved when the Academy didn’t award him for his work in “Malcolm X.” (He lost to, yep, Al Pacino in “Scent of a Woman.”) It wasn’t, of course (he lost because he was up against an Academy favorite who was also a seven-time loser, and they were all about the Lifetime Achievement Oscar at the time). But that didn’t stop Washington from all but declaring war on his former “Virtuosity” co-star this time around, and doing the biggest press blitz of his career in order to get the big prize. Sadly, it worked, and Julia Roberts – who, as we’ve established, shouldn’t have been onstage in the first place – actually said “I love my job” when announcing Washington’s name. From our perspective, Washington doesn’t deserve that Oscar any more than Pacino deserves his. Both chewed scenery like they hadn’t eaten in weeks, and both were beneficiaries of the warped Academy logic that two wrongs make a right. If Crowe hadn’t won the year before for “Gladiator,” it’s a mortal lock that he’s the winner here. Half a billion dollars in worldwide box office does not disguise the fact that “Shrek” features some of the laziest writing this side of a Friedberg/Seltzer movie. The arrows that Jeffrey Katzenberg slings at his former employers at Disney are sophomoric and unoriginal, the voice work is uninspired – Eddie Murphy did much better work as the dragon in “Mulan” – and Lord Farquaad? They actually named a character in a kids movie Lord Farquaad? The best example of how condescending “Shrek” is comes during the “Dating Game” segment, when they mention piña coladas and getting caught in the rain. Ha ha, cute one. Then, just to make sure everyone gets the joke, they play “Escape (The Piña Colada Song),” as if to say, “Did you get it? Huh? Are we going too fast for you?” Lastly, they threw in references to Riverdance and the Macarena. The Macarena, really? In 2001? Insulting, cheap and lazy, across the board.
“Monsters, Inc.,” on the other hand, respects the intelligence of its viewers, and most importantly, they keep it clean, with only one off-color joke to speak of (the yellow snow cone). And just try not to weep like a little girl at the movie’s final scene. Smarter, sweeter, funnier, with better voice direction and no obnoxious rock soundtrack as its score, “Monsters, Inc.” outclasses and outdoes “Shrek” in every possible way.Rumor has it that the screenplay for “Lost in Translation” was only 65 pages long. Most scripts are around 110 pages, which means that Ms. Coppola deliberately left room – lots, and lots, and lots of room – in her story for the actors to improvise and find the right voice for their characters (or just pad the running time, in the case of the golfing scene). This begs the question: if the actors are coming up with the dialogue and molding the characters on the spot, then how on Earth does Coppola deserve an Oscar for her “writing?” Casting is obviously the key to making a great movie from a good script, but a good script is one that any actor can pick up and knock out of the park. Coppola, meanwhile, gave her actors nothing but space to “breathe,” and would have had nothing to show for her efforts if she didn’t have funny man Bill Murray to do the heavy lifting. If anyone should get that Oscar, it should be him.
But in truth, neither of them deserves that Oscar; Andrew Stanton and his mates at Pixar do. Their story about a clown fish that loses his son and battles impossible odds to find him is funny, smart, thrilling, sweet and heartbreaking. And they wrote it all themselves, wonder of wonders.To be fair, this one isn’t a staff pick; it’s mine and mine alone. My colleague Jason Zingale loved “Crash,” as did most people. I, however, loathed it like no movie I’ve seen since “Shrek.” The manner in which people would instantly spew the most hateful, ignorant nonsense in scene after scene was just unbearable, and I wanted to throttle Sandra Bullock’s ridiculously underwritten shrew of a character. Granted, “Brokeback Mountain” is not a perfect movie by any stretch, but I’ll take it over “Crash” any day of the week and twice on Sunday for the sheer fact that it didn’t try to beat me into a coma about what a racist pig I am. Fuck you, Paul Haggis. This is an extreme example of snubbing, since “Children of Men” wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture. While we loved the movie that finally won Martin Scorsese his first Best Director Oscar, there was nothing released that year that challenged our minds and stirred our souls like “Children of Men.” Blame for this one has to fall squarely on the studio: Universal appeared to have a lot of faith in Alfonso Cuarón’s adaptation of P.D. James’ dystopian 1992 novel earlier in the fall of 2006, but by the time its Christmas release came around (limited, of course), they had ceased nearly all promotion. (They didn’t even screen it for us until the next year.) Who knows, maybe some of Marty’s more, um, persuasive fans made Universal an offer they couldn’t refuse. All we know is that this deserved a slot in the Best Picture category a heck of a lot more than “Babel.” And have we mentioned the tracking shots? Don’t get us wrong, we think Tilda Swinton is a fine, fine actress. Hell, she stole “Burn After Reading” from a very funny, very talented group of people, and she was fine in “Michael Clayton.” But she was just that – fine. When the prognosticators were predicting her to win, we thought they were kidding. Then we did the math: “Michael Clayton” was looking at being shut out in the voting – “No Country for Old Men” was a lock for Director, Picture and Supporting Actor, Daniel Day-Lewis a lock for Actor, Diablo Cody a lock for Original Screenplay – so the Academy looked for the most winnable category “Clayton” was nominated in. Bingo, Supporting Actress.
This, of course, leaves Blanchett, the most watchable and entertaining aspect of the most needlessly obtuse biopic we’ve ever seen, out in the cold. Maybe the voters thought she didn’t “need” another Oscar because she had just won for her work in “The Aviator.” No matter how you slice it, this is no way to decide who wins awards and who doesn’t. You may as well start taking bribes from the studios. It would be more honest than this, that’s for sure.