On Feb. 12, many in the movie community awoke with stars in their eyes. Others awoke with stunned looks on their faces. The Oscar race had begun. Some were glad, some sad, others had to be downright mad.
You know who made the list. Now let’s see who didn’t but perhaps should have.
The first victim had to be Gene Hackman. He turned in one of the funniest performances of the year in “The Royal Tenenbaums.” He was the lynchpin in a movie with a large cast of incredible talent. It’s hard to stand out with actors like Angelica Huston, Danny Glover and Bill Murray, not to mention the Wilson brothers—Owen and Luke—along with Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Stiller. Hackman truly dominated the film with his outstanding performance.
What about those inhabitants of “Ghost World”? Steve Buscemi took a wonderful turn as the loser-suitor Seymour, but got left at the altar by the Academy. His work was overlooked as was that of his co-star, Thora Birch. She brought to the role of Enid a sense of hopelessness and defiance rarely seen in teen roles today. The film itself was good enough to be on many top 10 lists this past year.
Both of these films got caught in the same situation: they weren’t considered good enough to be nominated for best picture, but they snagged nominations for their scripts. “Ghost World” nabbed one for best adapted screenplay, and “The Royal Tenenbaums” for best original screenplay.
They are joined in this regard by “Memento.” Guy Pearce delivered a superb acting job in this non-linear movie. Told in reverse, the story is perfect for home-viewing, where one can go back and see things initially missed.
The absence of Billy Bob Thornton in the acting category remains a mystery. He stood out in no fewer than three pictures. In “Bandits,” he played Terry Collins, the mastermind to a string of bank robberies who’s simultaneously introverted and magnetic. And he outperforms both Bruce Willis and Cate Blanchett.
In “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” he was Ed Crain, barber and modern man. Caught in an existential film noir nightmare, he played it understatedly. Smoking and cutting hair, he was the picture of a man ripe for the temptation to make it big and then fall hard.
Thornton’s latest film is “Monster’s Ball,” also part of most top 10 lists. The Academy passed over Thornton in favor of his co-star, Halle Berry.
Another overlooked performance in “The Man Who Wasn’t There” belonged to Tony Shalhoub. His Freddy Riedenschneider is a masterful portrayal of a lawyer who does not seek justice, but his own self-aggrandizement. He’s oilier than the Exxon Valdese spill.
If you think “Shrek” and “Monsters, Inc.” were overlooked, think again. They’re in the new “best animated feature” category.
Why no nomination for “A.I.”? It was possibly the most thought-provoking film of the year, but it was also a movie that either moved you or had you shaking your head. “Vanilla Sky” made us use our gray matter as well, but it too failed to grab the Academy’s attention.
There will always be good films that don’t make Oscar’s list. And there will always be actors who, despite outstanding performances, are overlooked. Only history—and video/DVD rentals—will tell which films are the real classics.
Case in point: who’s rented “Shakespeare in Love”—1998’s best picture winner—lately?
Mike Parnell is pastor of Burgaw Baptist Church in Burgaw, N.C.