Best Picture, 2001
(Click on the linked film titles for reviews of those movies.)

A Beautiful Mind


The Golden Globe for Best Picture (Drama) remains the most consistent bellwether for triumph in Oscar's biggest category, and A Beautiful Mind has felt like a front-runner for months now. Destined to pick up at least one and quite possibly both of its potential acting statues, abetted by Ron Howard's and Akiva Goldsman's respective Guild prizes, all of the typical forecasters of Oscar success are in place. It's possible that a backlash against the backlash has had time to develop: i.e., what's the big deal about deviating from fact?

At the same time, that's one heck of a backlash. Already, voters who think A Beautiful Mind seems inordinately safe next to the dazzlements of The Fellowship of the Ring or Moulin Rouge are likely to think the Howard film was even more of a compromise than it seemed. Crowe's BAFTA shenanigans may hurt the film's overall chances. No biopic that wasn't simultaneously a war epic or period spectacle has won in this category since The Life of Émile Zola in 1937.
Gosford Park

Popular with actors and now with audiences, Gosford Park is an unlikely hit that demonstrates in that Room With a View way that classy entertainment can be proferred on a shoestring budget by a cast, a writer, and a director who know what they're doing. Altman is clearly back in Nashville shape.
A Room With a View did not win Best Picture, nor has any film with so slight a budget since Driving Miss Daisy, or perhaps Chariots of Fire. Even Nashville failed to collect any prizes outside of Best Song, outshone by a giant moneymaker, a lavish visual panorama, a crime story, and—the winner—a mental-illness picture. Sound familiar?
In the Bedroom

Like Gosford Park, this film also proves that classy entertainment can be made on a shoestring, but this time on home soil with audible dialogue. Won the LAFC Prize.
With no Best Director nomination and no technical citations, a picture this small and depressing is bound to be passed over. Even the Miramax PR people won't help; they can get anything nominated, apparently, but the only pictures they've driven to a win were the giant, expensive projects The English Patient and Shakespeare in Love.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

The picture with the most nominations almost always wins, and The Lord of the Rings has the BAFTA prize and the inaugural AFI award to back it up. Hollywood likes to reward commercial smashes with artistic credentials, since it's the kind of work that keeps everyone's paycheck coming in. While A Beautiful Mind's support has dwindled in some corners, the champions of this film seem to have been steadfast in their support throughout awards season.
Mary Poppins and Star Wars—very different pictures, but fueled by magical spectacle and fantasy imagination—parlayed their multiple nominations into all kinds of technical victories and even an acting statuette for Julie Andrews. But when it came time for Best Picture, voters in those years went with My Fair Lady, a proven Broadway musical, and Annie Hall, essentially a two-character comedy of no conspicuous technical distinction. Old Academy biases die hard.
Moulin Rouge

Like The Lord of the Rings, Moulin Rouge put the adventure and the optical extravaganza back in studio filmmaking and has amassed a dedicated legion of fans. It's the closest thing to a love story among the Final Five, and with a surprise Producers Guild Award to match its National Board of Review prize and its Golden Globe in the Musical/Comedy division (over Gosford Park), the film has appreciable awards momentum and support from all the Branches. Perhaps survives the downscaling to TV (i.e., Academy screener tapes) more easily than the grand vistas of Fellowship.
That missing Director nomination isn't a good sign, nor is the fact that Moulin Rouge grossed less than half of what A Beautiful Mind pulled in, and less than a fourth of Fellowship's windfall. Summer releases have a hard time competing against films still in theaters, which is partly how Shakespeare in Love pulled off the definitive upset in this category in the last 20 years.

WHO WILL WIN: A Beautiful Mind still has the edge, even if the edge gets smaller every day. What keeps the film afloat, more than anything else, is that Gosford Park, Lord of the Rings, and Moulin Rouge essentially appeal to the same demographic of voters who like their directors bold, their screenplays adventurous, and their frames packed with detail. A Beautiful Mind has the fans of craftsmanly, foursquare studio production all to itself.

WHO SHOULD WIN: I would probably mark the ballot for Gosford Park, then scratch it off in favor of Lord of the Rings, then remember how much I loved Moulin Rouge, and then get confused until I finally returned to my first instinct. The good news is that an upset by any of A Beautiful Mind's major challengers will equally appeal to me.

...AND WHO OUGHTA BEEN INVITED: Let's say that the presence in this category of A Beautiful Mind does indicate that the Academy needs at least one exemplar of contemporary, studio-funded, Orc-less cinema in each year's Best Picture lineup. What was wrong, exactly, with Ocean's Eleven, a popular word-of-mouth smash that taught everyone a lesson about how to maximize on star personas; how to edit five or six related plots unravelling simultaneously; how to make a revision of an old film feel like a blessing and not an ordeal; and how to deliver all of it with such unerring visual precision and editing-room wit that the screen all but radiates? Maybe Soderbergh has had a long enough moment in the sun, and now we can go back to taking him for granted.

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