It is not fair to say that because A Beautiful Mind won Picture and Director, that the Academy were just not into darker movies. True, this has the true story, the sensible direction, and redemption. But the subject matter was deep, emotional, and powerful. The other nominees were a murder mystery (Gosford Park), a drama about grief (In the Bedroom), a fantasy story (The Fellowship of the Ring) and downbeat musical (Moulin Rouge) All dark in their own way. That said, A Beautiful Mind was nowhere near my favorite movie of the year, and would likely have not made my list in the days of ten nominations.
It was actually a rather bleak year for movies, in the subject matter not the quality of the movies. David Lynch and Ridley Scott won Directing nominations (without Picture), for Mulholland Drive and Black Hawk Down respectively. Not exactly feel-good right? Look at some of the acting nominations. Horrendous cop Denzel Washington. Halle Berry suffering unimaginable grief – like Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek. Varied ailments were also portrayed by Russell Crowe, Sean Penn, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman. Ben Kingsley was an assertive crook, Ian McKellen was a wizard, and Marisa Tomei sees her lover murdered.
Even the Screenplay nominees represented some other gritty narratives like Memento, or grim comedies like The Royal Tenenbaums or Ghost World. It looks like the big, colorful characters of Shrek, Bridget Jones and Amelie, were providing the shinier side of the coin – and even some real laughs or joy. That said, the five-nominated feel-good Amelie surprising lost the Foreign Language Oscar to No Man’s Land, a Bosnia war movie. Of course.
Okay, so you get the picture. There must be some solace, then, in what the Academy did not nominate. I selected five movies that could / should have made the Best Picture five. Oh, if only there were ten then. The names Lynch, Coen and Nolan will be spoken again. These five demonstrate some vivid colors, as well as some crisp black and white (and in some cases, both). They are, though, predominantly dark in theme and story – but I promise you the list finishes with a flourish.
Best Picture – The Man Who Wasn’t There
I’m struggling to think of film-makers who do plans gone wrong and characters in a tight spot better than the Coen brothers. Set in the late forties here, shot to capture the period, and the movies of that time. Transferred to black and white too, the still (unbelievably) Oscar-less cinematographer Roger Deakins is a magician as he has pulled lights and shadows from his hat. Carter Burwell’s score is once again fitting. And there are enough bouts of suspense and turns to keep you intrigued by the whole thing. Billy Bob Thornton portrays a small town man illuminated to be given a much larger presence, and although Ed Crane plays a part in his own eventual downfall, his performance still carries a weight with us, the audience, that we still have to feel for this man at the very end.
Best Picture – Mulholland Drive
One of the great moments of the Oscars this year occurred when Ron Howard won Best Director. No, that announcement was not the great moment, it was seeing nominees David Lynch and Robert Altman shaking hands and patting themselves knowingly. They had nothing against Howard, they just seemed to have a mutual appreciation that they would not win that award – though I suspect Altman was very close. Sharing the Director prize at Cannes with Joel Coen (The Man Who Wasn’t There) was more like it. Mulholland Drive is simply brilliant in pretty much everything it does. As to what exactly it all means will continue to be up for debate – like many of Lynch’s movies. The movie is emotionally surreal, makes you feel pain, wonder, and a kind of despair, for characters who either are not what they seem or change identity during the course of the narrative. Scored by Lynch regular Angelo Badalamenti in super form, this is poignant music in its terror, romance and sorrow. And then of course there is Naomi Watts, who first appears in the movie so fresh faced and innocent, and does not really cease to continue transforming as the movie progresses.
Best Picture – Memento
What many believe is Christopher Nolan’s début had audiences shaking their heads in awe. A narrative that ventures backwards and forwards (in color and black and white respectively) where the main character Leonard (Guy Pearce) starts to uncover what the hell is going on as we, the audience do, be it via polaroids, or tattoos. It was a revolutionary notion in cinema, and superbly executed by Nolan. The screenplay was co-written by his brother Jonathan, and was supposed to win Original Screenplay at the Oscars wasn’t it? I mean, even eventual winner Julian Fellowes said he thought Memento would get it. The Academy have not proved to us that they like Nolan enough, even now.
Best Picture – Shrek
I know, I know, they hardly ever nominate animated features for Picture, not even with the expansion of the nominees. Well, they should. Animated movies now can really pack an emotional as well as an entertaining punch, and can stand up and fight with the average Joe-Live-Action-Feature. The Animated Feature category was introduced just in time for Shrek, but was also bad luck for the equally good Monsters Inc. Mike Myers voicing an ogre with a Scottish accent and Eddie Murphy as a donkey might have been a tough sell, but you would not believe it now. There are plenty of genuine laughs and feelings to be shared here, and some of the timing of that humor is spot on.
Best Picture – Amelie
There are very few words, in English or French, to encapsulate how I feel about Amelie. But generally speaking it would be hard for anyone who has seen it to convey the wonder of, say, it’s production design. Or the vivid and wizardry movement of Bruno Delbonnel’s camera. And how it is all edited together. Or even the impact the music by Yann Tiersen has on you, the audience, as well as the flow of the characters and the story. Jean-Pierre Jeunet did incredible visual things with Delicatessen, this is right up that street. Right in the center is the delightful Audrey Tautou as Amelie, an Emma Woodhouse in a whimsical Paris tending to everyone else’s affairs until her own lonely reality becomes too close for comfort. Nominated for five Oscars you can’t help but wonder what might have been if you add to that Picture, Director, and Actress, with possibilities for Editing and Score.
Originally published November 3rd 2014.