Best Actor, 2001
(Click on the linked film titles for reviews of the corresponding films.)

Russell Crowe
A Beautiful Mind


An undeniable hot streak, and like Tom Hanks in '93 and '94, Crowe put out his product in the right order: if Gladiator had opened after A Beautiful Mind, he might not even have been nominated, much less in line to repeat. His work as John Forbes Nash, no matter which Nash it is we're watching (and please remember that, for the purposes of this film, I don't care), he deepens the character masterfully, ages him gracefully, and underplays the schizo-genius stuff so intelligently that we are miles away, by the grace of God, from palaver like Shine.

It is hard to dispute that a lot of the machinery in A Beautiful Mind is urging us rather ungently to identify with Crowe's character, if not to love him. It is also hard to dispute that Crowe hasn't nearly ingratiated himself with his creative community in a fashion that encourages bounteous rewards. Those debits would affect him no matter who his competitors were; that an alternative as gripping as Washington presents himself only provides less of a reason to vote for Crowe this time out.
Sean Penn
I Am Sam

It is not unimaginable that I Am Sam could facilitate one of those Harry and Tonto or Cat Ballou moments when a dorky, unpretentious project builds enough of a constituency to sneak past all the morbid voters trying to make up their minds amongst a homicidal cop, a vigilante father, and a sufferer of paranoid delusions. In fact, H&T's Art Carney defeated an amoral detective, a vigilante comedian, and a sufferer of paranoid delusions (Michael Corleone, not Hercule Poirot, whose paranoia was well-founded). History loves to repeat itself—and that's to say nothing of Rain Man.
A Beautiful Mind is Rain Man. I Am Sam isn't Rain Man. I Am Sam isn't even Charly. Am I being idealistic here? Would anyone actually vote for such a mawkish, cheap motion picture? Is this how we want Sean Penn to be remembered??
Will Smith

A convenient option for those who want to see a black Oscar winner but couldn't stomach the full experience of Training Day.
Look, people, let's just settle this: no way does the fact of race (and the compensation for racial imbalances) not influence a sizable number of votes, but also no way do more than a handful of voters, if even that many, cast their ballots on race alone. Smith will be judged on his performance and on the appeal of the movie, and by most insider opinions, neither was much better than uneven.
Denzel Washington
Training Day

A formidable record of smart, unpredictable work in the last decade, beginning with Malcolm X, a picture for which most voters now recognize he deserved Al Pacino's award, and continuing through Philadelphia, Devil in a Blue Dress, Courage Under Fire, The Siege, and the current John Q. Denzel doesn't make blockbusters but rarely makes flops, and Training Day yielded him the chance to play delicious villainy, which as Anthony Hopkins and Joe Pesci can tell you is not always a bad thing.
Denzel's biggest obstacle is his own movie: Training Day gets pronouncedly bloodier as it continues, and it doesn't start as a walk through the park. A lot of voters, particularly older ones, may reject the material, and Russell Crowe has now bagged the Golden Globe, BAFTA, and SAG awards all in a row.
Tom Wilkinson
In the Bedroom

No one has spoken much about this nomination, but if the Russell/Denzel face-off becomes dominated by the negatives (Crowe is a jerk and doesn't need two Oscars, Denzel's movie is assaultive and he doesn't need two Oscars), Wilkinson provides the best compromise solution: a revelatory turn by a British actor (we love those!) in a high-profile Best Picture nominee that increasingly focuses on his character's thoughts and actions. He won the New York Film Critics' award.
One of the people who isn't saying much about this nomination is Tom Wilkinson himself: unlike Crowe and Washington, and unlike Wilkinson's own costar Sissy Spacek, this nominee hasn't yet herded himself all over the PR circuit making sure that people are keeping his performance in mind. It may be too low-key a portrayal to generate a lot of excitement, anyway.

WHO WILL WIN: These are the days when I wish the Academy would at least publish the margins by which a victor defeated a runner-up. I think Washington will take it, but not by many votes, and he may have more than one nominee chasing down his tally if Wilkinson strikes enough fancies.

WHO SHOULD WIN: There's no doubt in my mind that Crowe and Washington are the two picks of this litter, so the debate over who will claim the trophy and that over who deserves it are essentially identical in my mind. I was impressed in new ways by Crowe, an actor I always like anyway, but Washington almost blew me out of the theater—which you can call overacting, or scenery-chewing, or thin characterization, but I believe instead that Washington kept finding new layers in Alonzo's psychology even when the script seemed well exhausted for new dimensions. Crowe's performance is a feat; Washington's feels like a triumph.

...AND WHO OUGHTA BEEN INVITED: Gene Hackman being omitted for The Royal Tenenbaums surprises and disappoints me, but I'll get over it. Guy Pearce missing out on all the Memento hoopla seems even more unjust, but history will preserve him. If I could wrest any of the non-nominees onto this roster, I'd have to choose between Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge and John Cameron Mitchell in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, two representatives of the (gasp!) Musical/Comedy division that beamed and sang and danced and emoted and delighted and disintegrated, all until the well-being of their entire movies seemed lashed to these inventive, sincere, insouciant performances. Theirs are the two faces and voices I remember from a whole year of acting.

Home 2001 the Oscars E-Mail