OSCAR NOMINATIONS AND REACTIONS 1999

Words fail me at the moment. I am glad to see that enough Academy voters saw Topsy-Turvy to score four nominations, but I am outright dismayed that in the most exciting, experimental year of studio filmmaking since the 1970's, seven nominations in major categories went to The Cider House Rules, a film that could have been made in the 1950's. As ever, the announcement of the Oscar nominees simultaneously gave me an excited thrill and a dour disappointment: I haven't seen The Green Mile yet, and in fact I have avoided it, but does the Academy really think it's a better movie than Being John Malkovich? I know Cider House isn't. Then again, to avoid sounding too grumpy, I'm thrilled to see such top-flight, easy-to-overlook talent as Sean Penn, Catherine Keener, and Toni Collette be included on the Oscar ballots, and for demanding films like Boys Don't Cry reap major recognition. A quick rundown by category, including full lists of nominees:



BEST PICTURE

American Beauty
The Cider House Rules
The Green Mile
The Insider
The Sixth Sense
I admire the inclusion of ornery, adventurous studio projects like American Beauty, The Insider, and The Sixth Sense as much as I roll my eyes at the genteel conventionality of The Cider House Rules. Again, I have not seen The Green Mile quite yet, but the preview trailer gave me little hope. I'm excited that Best Picture might still be a close race, but I wish it were so because five or even three stellar pictures were competing rather than two I like very much (but do not love), one that I admire (but don't quite like), and a fourth that leaves me utterly cold. Only The Green Mile, by virtue of missing out on crucial Directing and Editing nominations, can be counted out early; it's now occupying that lame-duck Few Good Men position of the one-time front-runner that's slipped way to the back of the pack.


BEST DIRECTOR

Lassë Hallstrom, The Cider House Rules
Spike Jonze, Being John Malkovich
Michael Mann, The Insider
Sam Mendes, American Beauty
M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense
I am pleased that Being John Malkovich's extraordinary creativity was recognized in this category. Even though my true favorites are missing from this roster, I do feel that Jonze, Mann, Mendes, and Shyamalan all participated in the shake-up of Hollywood conventions we all observed in 1999, and it's nice to see young talent—all but Mann are debut directors—so publicly applauded. Hallstrom, who in 1987 represented the frisky, outside-Hollywood talent, has reversed into the symbol of what is safe and utterly un-daring; the support for such an understated, stylistically undistinguished nominee is a good clue, as were nods for The Full Monty's Peter Cattaneo and Il Postino's Michael Radford in the past, that affection for Cider House runs wide and deep. Then again, Full Monty and Il Postino only wound up with two trophies between them.


BEST ACTRESS

Annette Bening, American Beauty
Janet McTeer, Tumbleweeds
Julianne Moore, The End of the Affair
Meryl Streep, Music of the Heart
Hilary Swank, Boys Don't Cry
Look, Ma, no goofs! Though Tumbleweeds has not yet opened where I live, I can state that the other four actresses are all truly deserving talents contributing incisive work, even when, in the cases of Moore and Streep, their scripts do not quite deserve their prodigious talents. Hilary Swank seems like the front-runner after all her critics' prizes, so long as Hollywood checks its urge to hand its highest prize to a bigger, more tested star. As many people have already noticed, Meryl Streep now ties Katharine Hepburn's record of 12 acting nominations, though she won't move any closer to Hepburn's other record of 4 wins—at least not this year.


BEST ACTOR

Russell Crowe, The Insider
Richard Farnsworth, The Straight Story
Sean Penn, Sweet and Lowdown
Kevin Spacey, American Beauty
Denzel Washington, The Hurricane
The Hurricane and The Straight Story, both once considered highly probable for Picture and Director nominations, both slipped badly in recent weeks and wind up with only Washington's and Farnsworth's starring performances to represent them. Conversely, Sean Penn, whose chances at a nomination few people entertained as more than a long-shot, steals his way onto the list; there's a myth out there that Hollywood doesn't like Sean Penn, but an Entertainment Weekly survey conducted in 1998 found that such illustrious actresses as Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore single him out as the actor they'd most like to work with. Meanwhile, Jim Carrey gets dropped again; I hope he doesn't take Hollywood's continued indifference to his work as a deterrent against the interesting projects he's selected in the past few years. But it would be hard to blame him, wouldn't it?


BEST SUPP. ACTRESS

Toni Collette, The Sixth Sense
Angelina Jolie, Girl, Interrupted
Catherine Keener, Being John Malkovich
Samantha Morton, Sweet and Lowdown
Chloë Sevigny, Boys Don't Cry
In an ironic twist, the disappointing turnout for Being John Malkovich may actually help Catherine Keener in the long run, especially if fans of the movie rally around her to ensure the film isn't forgotten. In a field made exclusively of first-time nominees all younger than 40, there is no "sentimental vote" to reckon with, so the race will be tight. I'm glad to see Collette's work remembered, though I wish room could have been made for Cameron Diaz's Malkovich work—as admirable an assault on typecasting as Tom Cruise is doing in Magnolia—and it's a shame that a year full of sterling supporting work from Julianne Moore couldn't land her a nod here, where she'd have been out of Hilary Swank's formidable way.


BEST SUPP. ACTOR

Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules
Tom Cruise, Magnolia
Michael Clarke Duncan, The Green Mile
Jude Law, The Talented Mr. Ripley
Haley Joel Osment, The Sixth Sense
In my mind, Haley Joel Osment is the easy pick of this bunch, which alone among the Oscar races repeats the Golden Globe roster exactly. I was the only critic I read who was predicting against Christopher Plummer, so I am not surprised not to find him here, and even though I didn't include Duncan or Law in my final prognostications, no one on this list arrives unexpectedly. John Malkovich seems to have fallen prey to the same weird idea that nixed Peter Falk for Wings of Desire: that these men were actually "playing themselves," or that such a performance would be easy even if that's all they were doing. I trust that time will not erase the amazing sequence in which Malkovich played dozens of copies of himself, which could rightfully have earned him his own Best Ensemble Performance citation.


BEST ORIG. SCREENPLAY

American Beauty, Alan Ball
Being John Malkovich, Charlie Kaufman
Magnolia, Paul Thomas Anderson
The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan
Topsy-Turvy, Mike Leigh
Four of five correct picks, and four of five entrants appear on my Top 10 list for last year—what's to complain about? The first four nominees were locks for Screenplay citations virtually from the moment they opened, but I am gratified to see Mike Leigh's hilarious and deceptively resonant Topsy-Turvy round out the group. Like The Madness of King George in 1994, Topsy-Turvy was a barely heralded British import which, through careful release patterns and crucial critical support, snuck in at the eleventh hour with dazzling momentum, capturing three technical nods as well as this mention. I hope more people will take the Academy's cue to go see the film!


BEST ADAP. SCREENPLAY

The Cider House Rules, John Irving
Election, A.Payne & J.Taylor
The Green Mile, Frank Darabont
The Insider, Eric Roth & Michael Mann
The Talented Mr. Ripley, Anthony Minghella
I think one can already cede this race to John Irving, whose literary celebrity combined with the unanticipated fondness shown for his film means that the Academy will want to honor him somewhere. Besides, given the accusations of inaccuracy plaguing The Insider, of permissive overhaul in the Ripley script, and of self-repetition in Frank Darabont's latest Stephen King treatment, Cider House only has Election to worry about, which is to say, it doesn't need to worry at all. My 5-for-5 success more than anything else reflects what slim pickings there were for strong adaptations in 1999.


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