Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Oscars of the Aughts Extra: 2000 Superlatives

To put a final button on the year 2000 for "Oscars of the Aughts," I thought it would be fun to put up who I would have nominated from the pool of films that I watched for the project. Granted, this shouldn't be representative of my feelings for the entire year 2000, and pulling nominees from a pool of 17 films made for some difficult choices. Anyway, here's what my Academy Awards would have looked like for the year.

*denotes my winner. Clicking the category heading will take you to the corresponding article about the actual category from the year.

*Almost Famous
Billy Elliot
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Requiem for a Dream

This one was close between Requiem for a Dream and Almost Famous, but ultimately I have to go with the latter. Cameron Crowe's semi-autobiographical film about a young writer (Patrick Fugit) going on tour with '70s rock band Stillwater for an article for Rolling Stone Magazine is a delight, both as a coming-of-age tale and a love letter to rock & roll. There's hardly a single false note in the film, and the highlights range from Philip Seymour Hoffman's understated performance as editor Lester Bangs to the famous sing-a-long of "Tiny Dancer" by the feuding band. It's just the right amount of sweetness and nostalgia, a celebration of the music and a cautionary tale of the lifestyle.

*Darren Aronofsky, Requiem for a Dream
Cameron Crowe, Almost Famous
Ang Lee, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Ridley Scott, Gladiator
Robert Zemeckis, Cast Away

Oscar may have gone with Steven Soderbergh in this category for Traffic, but I'd argue that Aronofsky's take on "drugs are bad, mmkay?" is the superior work. For one, it's far more visceral, as Aronofsky uses rapid cuts and unconventional angles to create the effect of having illicit substances coursing through your bloodstream. Moreover, instead of a lecture, Aronofsky has crafted the story into a horror film, complete with soul-crushing acts and grotesque disfigurations. On top of this, he pulls top-notch performances from his cast, including Jared Leto, Ellen Burstyn, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans (astonishingly, only the lattermost is not an Oscar winner today). There's no denying that Aronofsky was working at the top of his talent here; too bad it would take another decade for the Academy to catch up.

More after the jump.

Jamie Bell, Billy Elliot
Chow Yun-Fat, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Russell Crowe, Gladiator
*Tom Hanks, Cast Away
Mark Ruffalo, You Can Count on Me

As I said in my evaluation of the actual Best Actor category, Hanks' performance in Cast Away remains one of the best in a career full of embarrassingly great performances. Even though all five of these men did fantastic work, I have to stick with Hanks. It's hard to argue with a man who broke our hearts with his relationship with a volleyball.

Joan Allen, The Contender
*Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream
Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me
Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich
Michelle Yeoh, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Again, it's hard to argue with Burstyn. She gave what is, out of this bunch, my single favorite performance of the year. Moreover, her performance is perhaps the most heartbreaking in the movie, if only because her Sara isn't aware she's even an addict.

Billy Crudup, Almost Famous
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Almost Famous
Tim Blake Nelson, O Brother, Where Art Thou?
*Gary Lewis, Billy Elliot
Joaquin Phoenix, Gladiator

The most remarkable thing that Lewis, who plays Billy's (Jamie Bell) stern coal-mining father, does in Billy Elliot is constantly remind us that he's a human being who's grappling with life just like the rest of us. Even when he's demanding that Billy give up dance lessons, Lewis lets the man's cracks show, the fear of losing his job - and therefore the family's livelihood - seeping through to the surface. That he never calls attention to himself is even better. Lewis has taken a role that could have been rote and given it untold life and depth. It's nothing short of incredible.

Kate Hudson, Almost Famous
Holly Hunter, O Brother, Where Art Thou?
*Frances McDormand, Almost Famous
Julie Walters, Billy Elliot
Zhang Ziyi, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Once again, I'm siding with my original choice from the Academy's nominees: none of these performances stay with you quite the way McDormand's does. Given the fact that the role could have very easily been an afterthought, it's all the more wonderful.

Before Night Falls; screenplay by Cunningham O'Keefe, Lázaro Gómez Carriles, and Julian Schnabel
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; screenplay by Tsai Kuo Jung, Wang Hui Ling, and James Schamus
O Brother, Where Art Thou?; screenplay by Ethan Coen & Joel Coen
*Requiem for a Dream; screenplay by Hubert Selby, Jr. and Darren Aronofsky
Traffic; screenplay by Stephen Gaghan

Even though Requiem for a Dream works more thanks to Aronofsky's direction, credit to the screenplay - adapted from Selby, Jr.'s novel - must be given. It makes for a slow descent into madness, but once it reaches that point, it takes off at a breakneck pace of horrific treatments and devastating consequences. That all of the characters don't feel like mere junkies looking for a fix, but are rather given humanity and yearnings, makes it all the more effective.

*Almost Famous; written by Cameron Crowe
Billy Elliot; written by Lee Hall
Cast Away; written by William Broyles, Jr.
The Contender; written by Rod Lurie
You Can Count on Me; written by Kenneth Lonergan

Finally, I'm going to have to go with my original selection - and the Academy's - for this one. This screenplay is just entirely too good to not be named the best, with all due respect to the other nominees. It's hard to top such a moving ode to the power of music.

What would you have chosen?

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