In this project, I’ll be watching each Best Picture winner, regardless of if I’ve already seen it, at random years, and then watching the two nominees with the most Oscar nominations for that year to find out, in my pompous assessment, if the Academy made the right choice. If I’ve already seen the subsequent nominee, I’ll move on to the next most nominated for that year.
The 74th Academy Award Best Picture nominees I watched: A Beautiful Mind, Gosford Park (8), Moulin Rouge! (7)
[ bold = winner / italics = losers (nominations) ]
When I watched these: January 21st – 26th, 2018
The snacks: we tried hummus pods from Costco. Huge mistake.
The year: 2001.
Did I skip any of the movies?: Yep; Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring had 13 nominations and managed to lose to Russell Crowe’s second-best movie.
So why did the other movies lose?
2001 marks a progressive year in the Academy. For the first time in Oscar history, the winners of Best Actor and Best Actress were both African-American. While I am unable to comment on their merit, having never seen Training Day nor Monster Ball, I have seen several other films released in 2001 that were passed over, namely Lord of the Rings, Memento, Pearl Harbor, A.I, and Shrek. Only one of these was nominated for Best Picture. Shrek perhaps is unwarranted. A.I. would’ve swept awards in the 70s, and Pearl Harbor is a homage to 40s and 50s war films. Were these politically driven decisions?
Gosford Park is about social class, ultimately. A British murder mystery that reeks of Agatha Christie works, the film similarly introduces a flurry of characters into a small space; worse, some are given alternative names. I was lost within five minutes. I followed along and tried to keep track Isobel, who appears to be the lead, but really she is just the everyman in a mob of servants. Everyone is snobby; I didn’t like anyone. The ending is cathartic, but it wasn’t really shocking or mysterious, making for a movie that’s never actually compelling. The cinematography and costuming is A+, but it isn’t nearly enough to get the Oscar.
Moulin Rouge throws out all conventions immediately. It’s gaudy, colorful, and loud, and the leading lady is basically a glorified prostitute (Kidman). Enter Christian (McGregor), a poor bohemian writer in Paris (shades of One Night of Love and An American In Paris?) who cuts through the flamboyant carousel and falls for the courtesan Satine, and, yep, she falls in love with him. Kidman can sing, but McGregor steals your heart with his voice and sincerity. The cinematography follows suit with the mad pace — the camera darts, slides, takes on precarious angles, and focuses on exaggerated facial expressions. It resembles the witty dialogue of Pulp Fiction, the narrative of Mary and Max, and the outlandish production scale of The Great Ziegfeld. To further borrow, the film reworks popular songs in blatant musical anachronisms, occasionally in mashup form. The overacting throughout Moulin Rouge! is intentional, but when everything is loud, nothing is loud. The singing and choreography resound as the big achievement in this one, but obviously it wasn’t enough.
So why did A Beautiful Mind win?
Russell Crowe plays an idiot savant — it worked in Rain Man, right? — so the viewer is supposed to be sympathetic to this guy, even through a remarkably erratic narrative. Nonetheless, it’s a compelling enough film; the cinematography is nice, and Nash’s “comic relief” and alter egos in general provide some dimension to an otherwise conventional plot.
The movie that should have won: Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
It’s clear the Academy botched this. Lord of the Rings led in nominations and provides a more compelling plot than A Beautiful Mind, tremendous effects that exceed that of Moulin Rouge!, and a cast of characters easier to identify with than anyone in Gosford Park despite its fantasy genre.