Friday, May 2, 2014

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 2000

The Contenders:
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Erin Brockovich
Gladiator (winner)

What’s Missing

As always seems to be the case, reducing the Best Picture nominees to a spare five films leaves off a lot of potential great ones. Tops on that list for me is O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Remember the Titans, Requiem for a Dream, Memento and Billy Elliot seemed like possible candidates, as did Almost Famous and High Fidelity. Only in the strangest of years would films like Chicken Run, Pitch Black and American Psycho make the cut, but I can dream, right? On the foreign front, it’s a shame that the inclusion of Crouching Tiger pretty much eliminated In the Mood for Love from any contention, because that film is damn gorgeous.

Weeding through the Nominees

5: Say goodbye to Erin Brockovich right away. There’s nothing particularly bad about Erin Brockovich but there’s also nothing particularly notable about it, at least from my perspective. It’s a fine film and a good story, but it’s really not much more than another David and Goliath battle that ends up with the ending that the audience wants. The portrayals are good, even though I kind of dislike all of the characters as depicted. It’s not a terrible film; I just think that 2000 had a lot of better ones.

4: It seems like the most popular position for winning films and performances for me in these little rundowns is fourth, and that’s where I’m putting Gladiator, the eventual winner. Don’t get me wrong--Gladiator is a fine movie filled with solid performances, great action, and a lot of the trappings I want from a big action-y epic. But I don’t love the way it was filmed. I want to actually see the action, not get vague glimpses of the action as the camera shudders past. And, really, there were no surprises at how the story played out, were there? Made 30 years earlier, it would likely have a happy ending. In the more modern era, it settles for an appropriate and satisfying one. It’s good. It’s just not the best of its year.

3: I liked Chocolat a ton when I watched it. I think it might be a film that is almost impossible to dislike, but likability isn’t enough to make something the best film of its year. Chocolat’s problem is that it follows a path blazed by a lot of films before it. It’s a story we all know wrapped up in a different color paper. I stand by my assessment that it is perhaps the finest example of the “outsider slowly wins over everyone” story, but it really is just that story. It’s sweet, it’s pretty, it’s sexy and sensual and I’ll happily watch it again. It’s just not grand enough to be Best Picture.

2: Traffic is the other side of that chocolate Chocolat coin. It is expansive and ambitious and tries to do a lot within the confines of its running time. Even better, it succeeds at a great deal of what it attempts. The issue that Traffic has is that it delivers its message with the subtlety of a mallet to the kneecap. I like that it manages not only to indict drug traffickers as bad but also throws blame on the war on drugs as well. There’s enough blame to go around and Traffic is big enough and daring enough to try it. More subtlety and more finesse would go a long way here. I don’t need the film’s ultimate message in neon letters the way we get it here.

My Choice

1: This leaves us with Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon which has everything that each of the other nominees has on the positive side and none of their negatives. First, this is a lush and gorgeous film, a true pleasure to look at, just like Chocolat. It’s an engaging and interesting story with intrigue and double-crosses, just like Erin Brockovich. It’s epic in scale and gives us sword battles and martial skill, just like Gladiator. And it’s ambitious in its storytelling and satisfies completely like Traffic. And it does this without being heavy-handed, without annoying camera work or characters, and by giving us a beautiful and new story to enjoy. I think it’s the obvious pick not just for foreign language film, and I’m betting I’m not alone in that. Oscar had a chance to share the love with something really different this year, and they screwed the pooch.

Final Analysis


  1. Ah, the reposted comment!

    Disagreement may very well be the spice of life, but I'm sorry to say that I agree with you. The fact that "Gladiator" won made me feel that "Tiger" had been robbed. The latter was a superior film in all respects, even if we include the somewhat draggy entr'acte out in the desert with our young and quarrelsome lovers (I was much more enthralled by the subtler, deeper, more mature love story between the two older principals, Shu Lien and Li Mu Bai).

    And of course, as a fight-choreography junkie, I think there's simply no comparison between the rough, brutish work done for "Gladiator" (Ralph Moeller, for Christ's sake! Brute!) and the fabulously savvy work done by Yuen Wo Ping for "Tiger." Wire-fu has fallen out of favor in recent years, but it makes perfect sense in the context of this lyrical fairy tale.

    1. No surprise here that I pretty much endorse everything you have written. I don't have a problem with the middle weird little romance, but I agree that the requited-but-unfulfilled romance of Shu Lien and Li Mu Bai is far more tragic and interesting.

      I like wire-fu when it's done well, and I don't know if it's ever been done better than here. As well, perhaps, but not better. In fact, it's the use of the wire-fu that is responsible for a great deal of the beauty here.

  2. Based strictly on repeatability, Oscar got it right. Crouching Tiger is great but I haven't watched it in ages. Gladiator is drop in easy. Artistic issues aside. The flying fight scenes are great but most Jackie Chan films have great martial arts action. It's not a criticism, just a preference. Crowe, Phoenix and Reed were special.

    1. And for me, it's just the opposite. I think I've watched Gladiator twice since it came out and I've watched all or part of Crouching Tiger a number of times. Given the choice, I'd almost always pick Crouching Tiger of these five films. A big part of this is the fight choreography of Gladiator. I sincerely wish that more people would film fight scenes like they film them in martial arts films.

      Yes, Jackie Chan films have great fight scenes and even great wire fu. Crouching Tiger has that, plus a beautiful story filled with tragic romance, gorgeous scenery, and an engaging plot, three things that Chan's films typically lack. It's a complete experience, and I don't know that I would change a thing were it up to me.

  3. The question arises on whether non-English speaking movies should even be nominated since there is a separate category for Foreign Language films. For example, the year The Departed won, I thought The Lives of Other or Pan's Labyrinth were better films, but they competed in their own category.

    And for the record, I'd pick Crouching Tiger over Gladiator, but not by a lot. In Gladiator, I would rather have seen Kenneth Branagh in the Joaquin Phoenix role, but maybe that's just me.

    1. It's a legitimate point. It almost feels like a foreign language film needs to be more than just really good to be nominated for Best Picture, and that usually means that it will just end up winning its own category (like, say Amour in recent years).

      I like Phoenix in that role, but I think Branagh could do it pretty well.

  4. I completely agree that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon should have won. It was clearly the best of the nominees to me. Having seen and loved Spartacus Gladiator was just a remake of one of the many stories going on in Spartacus. I liked Chocolat quite a bit, but like you said it's not Best Picture material. I liked Erin Brockovich, but like you said we'd seen it before. Finally, I disliked Traffic for the heavy handedness that you mentioned ("Did we mention drugs are *bad*") and because it was the very first movie I ever got taken completely out of because of shakycam.

    1. I think Crouching Tiger is really the best of these films, and I'd argue that it was the best of the year.

      We've had that conversation about Traffic before. I agree its heavy-handed, but I think it's a better film than you do because of how even-handed its treatment is of the actual problem with the drug war. Yes, it applies the message with a mallet, but the complete message (drugs are bad, and the drug war is just as bad) is very interesting, and I give it a lot of credit for that.

  5. This is an odd year for me, I love Gladiator but don't see it as a Best Picture winner and your choice Crouching Tiger is visually beautiful, the action is wonderfully staged and I love Ang Lee as a director but I just didn't connect with the film. I didn't hate it I just didn't care for it all that much. I know I'm in the minority but the friend I saw it with in the theatre originally didn't much like it either so at least I'm not alone.

    I suppose my pick of these five would be Traffic since it's the only one I'd put on my personal ballot but there it wouldn't be my choice to take the prize. My five would be Best in Show, Billy Elliott, Thirteen Days, Traffic and Wonder Boys which would be my winner.

    I know Requiem for a Dream has it adherents who find it visceral and revelatory I found it soul crushing and completely depressing, I loathed it. Ellen Burstyn was brilliant in it though and should have taken the award but Roberts had the momentum.

    1. Wonder Boys is one I still need to catch up with, but I'll get there.

      Requiem for a Dream is the sort of film I find very easy to respect but I don't plan on ever watching it again. It's just too much to take. But I do love Burstyn in it.