Monday, October 30, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 2004

The Contenders:

The Aviator
Finding Neverland
Million Dollar Baby (winner)

What’s Missing

As usual, there are plenty of movies that I think could be mentioned in the context of Best Picture for this year, and as usual, there are a bunch that I love that would never get a notice from the Academy. Those “never in a million years” movies start with Hellboy, a movie I genuinely love and never get tired of. The same could be said of both Kung Fu Hustle and Shaun of the Dead. Still unlikely but slightly more in the ballpark is Layer Cake and also Collateral, which is a far better movie than most people seem to remember. It’s always a stretch to consider an animated film for Best Picture, but The Incredibles absolutely qualifies. 3-Iron was probably far too strange a romance to attract much attention, and while The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind got a lot of award buzz, it was ignored when it came to Best Picture. While I probably wouldn’t nominate Vera Drake is the sort of movie that typically gets attention in this category. I’m genuinely surprised at the lack of nomination for Downfall. I’m even more surprised that Hotel Rwanda didn’t make the cut.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. With Million Dollar Baby, I officially became tired of boxing movies. I understand that this is a movie that uses boxing to tell its story and it’s a boxing movie the way that Field of Dreams is a baseball movie, and I don’t really care. It’s well made, well-acted, and I can’t specifically pinpoint something about it that I think needs to be changed except for the fact that I just don’t like it a whole lot. It’s not a movie I’ve ever thought about watching a second time, and I don’t know that I ever will. I wouldn’t have nominated it, let alone named it as Best Picture. The Academy should’ve known better.

4. I don’t have anything against Finding Neverland except that it’s the sort of movie and story that doesn’t really stay with me. When I posted my review of this, I said that it was a film that felt like a very nice dessert to me. It’s delicious in the moment, and once digested, makes absolutely no impact. It’s another film that I wouldn’t nominate from a year this strong. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but also nothing about it that recommends it past a single viewing. In a year with this many good and great movies, it doesn’t belong here.

3. With Ray, we’re starting to get to films where I understand the nomination a little more clearly. The best part of Ray aside from the music is Jamie Foxx, who was awarded the Best Actor Oscar for the performance. In a case like this, it’s difficult to separate the performance from the movie itself, especially when that performance has so much to recommend it. And that’s really my issue here. Once we get past Jamie Foxx, there’s just the story and not a lot else that I remember very well. It’s a good film, but not good enough for this year.

2. The same could be said of Sideways, which I am putting above Ray because it has more performances that I really like. The lead performance from Paul Giamatti is a great one, and he is ably assisted by Thomas Hayden Church, Sandra Oh, and Virginia Madsen. It also has one of the best and most heartbreaking film moments of its decade. It’s a hell of a good movie, but probably still wouldn’t end up with a nomination from me in a completely open field. In a weaker year, though, I’d support the nomination and possibly a win.

1. Given the five nominations, The Aviator is my favorite of them. I realize that, having said that, I’m likely to get a lot of pushback since, like Gangs of New York, I seem to like this movie a lot more than everyone else does. I find the story fascinating as a character study and as the story of a very interesting life. It’s beautifully put together and grand in a way that a lot of modern movies aren’t. Limited to the nominations, it’s the one I’d pick, consensus be damned since I have the feeling that I stand alone here. But it’s my blog, and ultimately, it’s not my real pick.

My Choices

On my Letterboxd page, there are two movies from this year that I think could have been nominated that I have at five stars. Those are The Incredibles and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I would happily take either of those. I have Collateral, Downfall, 3-Iron, and The Aviator all at four-and-a-half stars, which means that three of those would likely round out my list of five nominations. But whichever three get added, they all take a back seat to the first two. My head goes with Eternal Sunshine, but my heart goes to The Incredibles, which I think is still the greatest animated film ever made.

Final Analysis


  1. You're not alone in your admiration for The Aviator which would be my choice also even in an open field but then I hated Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Also I'm very variable on Scorsese but this is one time where I think he tempered his excesses and found a story that worked with his gift for big storytelling and sweep.

    Of the other nominees I was rather bored with Sideways though I thought the acting very fine, I felt a big So What at the end of Million Dollar Baby and I loved Finding Neverland but not enough for it to be my winner. I really should break down and watch Ray, my complete disdain for Jamie Foxx has always kept me at bay.

    Of what's missing I'd propose Bad Education, A Very Long Engagement and A Home at the End of the World as all better and more worthy films than several that made the cut.

    1. I completely understand the disdain for Jamie Foxx. And yet I've found him pretty compelling in both Ray and Collateral. Perhaps he's an actor better suited for drama. Ray is quite good and he's the best thing in it (aside from the music).

      Happy to know that I'm not alone in my love for The Aviator. I always feel abandoned when that movie or this year comes up in conversation.

  2. On my IMDB "Favorite Movies Year By Year" list, I have put down The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou for 2004. The only film mentioned here that might make me change my mind is A Very Long Engagement. The only World War I film that MIGHT be better than A Very Long Engagement is the movie they're making in The Stunt Man.

    1. You'd have to go a very long way to knock Paths of Glory out of position for best World War I movie, and All Quiet on the Western Front is a damn close second...and may be first on some days.

      The Life Aquatic is on my to-watch list. It's one of the only Wes Anderson movies I haven't seen.

    2. Have you seen King's "The Big Parade?" For as much as I love King's "Stella Dallas," by my reckoning, "The Big Parade" is his masterpiece, and one of the best war movies that I've ever seen. I still find it hard to believe that it came so soon after the end of the war to end all wars. It's a truly remarkable piece of film-making and film history. The non-CGI/special effects filming of the missing limb amazes me to this day.

      As for the best film of 2004, I'd have given it to "Spider-Man 2" with "Hellboy" and "Hotel Rwanda" also in the mix.

    3. I have seen The Big Parade, and it's a movie that definitely needs to be in the conversation when it comes to great World War I films.

      Spider-Man 2 is the best of that trilogy, and I'll always have a soft spot for Hellboy.

  3. This was a tough, tough year. Your opening paragraph was a great reminder of that. Man, you mention some awesome movies. That includes a big yes to Collateral and Hotel Rwanda. No love for Kill Bill, Vol. 2?

    I actually really like all of the nominees except Finding Neverland, which just doesn't float my boat. I would've been okay with any of the other four winning, limited to just those options. Like you, I would have The Incredibles and Eternal Sunshine in my field, with the latter getting the win.

    1. Truthfully, I haven't seen Kill Bill Vol. 2. I really didn't like the first one, so I haven't seen the need to continue and finish the series.

    2. I actually like Kill Bill Vol. 1 better, as it's more action and the Bride v. the Crazy 88 segment is pure action genius. Vol. 2 is quieter, more introspective, more horror in some ways, and has a different overall tone which I don't like as much. Maybe you would.

      I do enjoy the whole saga.

  4. As hard as it was to watch, I think Million Dollar Baby is an excellent film. When I was re-watching it for the blog, I asked my wife if she wanted to re-watch it with me. She declined and told me it was about the most depressing movie she had ever seen and I'd have to go it alone.

    1. I agree it's a hard watch. For me, though, it's not just that it's a hard watch. It's that I don't like it that much.

  5. This will NOT suprise you.

    Incredibles for the win! :-)

    1. I don't know that it's a wrong choice. It's such a great film.