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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Picture, 1999-2000)

The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.

I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.

This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.

1999

American Beauty

The Cider House Rules

The Green Mile

The Insider

The Sixth Sense

Analysis:

American Beauty is one of those movies that made me love film. It came out right during that magic age where you really start to take movies in and see real movies. I probably shouldn’t have seen it at age 11, but on the other hand, a good film is a good film, regardless of whether or not it has a scene of Kevin Spacey jerking off in the shower.

Hey, we’ve all been there.

Spacey is a middle-aged man whose life just has no spark anymore. His marriage is distant, his kid hates him, he hates his job, and he hates his life. And this is a movie about (and this is not a spoiler, because he says it right at the top) the year he has before he dies. Pretty sure most of you have seen this, but if not, just watch it. It’s awesome.

I love this movie. I’d vote for it every time. I mean, sure, put it in a stronger category and we can discuss it. But here, I don’t see anything that beats it. I could want to look at The Insider, but I wouldn’t take that over this. This movie is a classic. Nobody remembers specifics of The Insider as well as they remember specifics of this. This is the choice for me all around.

The Cider House Rules is the Weinstein nominee of the year. That by now is a thing that we all understand.

Tobey Maguire grew up at an orphanage run by Michael Caine, an ether-addicted doctor who performs abortions and cares for orphans. So pretty much what I’m aspiring to be. He decides he doesn’t really want to follow in Caine’s footsteps so he goes out on his own into the world. He ends up on an apple farm run by Charlize Theron’s family. She’s engaged to Paul Rudd, who’s going off to fight the war, and he’s living in their barn with the black family that picks the apples. It’s all dramatic and shit.

It’s a very solid movie and is well made and engaging, but — and I think most of you will know what this means — it’s a Weinstein special. A movie that’s solid and fine, but really only gets all the big nominations because Harvey campaigned for it like crazy. I’d love to read a book about his methods for doing this (because I’m sure not all of them are totally above board and are, in a way, similar to how elections are won). I like this movie, but also… the way these all got nominated is way more interesting to me. Because it’s designed to appeal to Oscar voters, and people like the films well enough. But also… are you really gonna vote for this? When you’re not in the year the films do sort themselves pretty easily, don’t they? This falls immediately to fifth for me. Maybe some people like it as high as third, but does anyone actually vote for this? Does anyone actually vote for any of the Weinstein Oscar specials?

The Green Mile is Frank Darabont directing a Stephen King short story set in prison. Sound familiar?

The only difference is, this one has a literal magical negro.

Tom Hanks is a prison guard on death row, and the film is about his time specifically during the years when Michael Clarke Duncan is there. He’s a large black man convicted of raping and murdering two little white girls. The guards pretty quickly realize he probably didn’t do it, but are unable to do anything about that. The film focuses on the day to day lives of these people, and how each of them are changed by Duncan.

It’s a very good movie. I haven’t seen it in years, but I remember thinking that, while I liked it, there’s concern that going back to it might elicit a lesser response than I originally had. I feel like I might see it as trying a bit too hard. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it holds up. I don’t know. It’ll never be Shawshank, and that’s not my concern.

The Insider is potentially Michael Mann’s best film. Yeah, yeah, I know, Heat, I know. I’m partial to Collateral myself. But this movie is great. It’s a straight drama, and it’s wonderful.

Russell Crowe is an executive for a tobacco company who knows they are lying about the dangers of their product. He ends up being fired and, despite having to sign a bunch of NDAs that prevent him from disclosing anything, he goes to CBS with his knowledge that they knew the dangers of cigarettes and deliberately lied to the public. And this causes a shit storm for both him and the network.

It’s great. It really is terrific. I would want to vote for this if not for American Beauty. Unfortunately it ends up a second choice for me, but goddamn, do I love this movie.

The Sixth Sense. We live in an era where kids don’t automatically know the twist to this movie. How fucked up is that? We’re all so old. But also, fuck those kids.

Bruce Willis is a child psychiatrist with a past who is tasked to work with Haley Joel Osment, a boy without friends. His secret?

It’s actually a really well put-together film. It might be M. Night’s best. People love Unbreakable. I’m indifferent toward that. Signs is my personal favorite. But this one seems to have it all put together in a nice way. It was a phenomenon when it came out, hence this nomination. It had no real shot at winning and falls right to the back of the pack for me. Pretty much three of these movies are ones I like well enough but would never take. Normally this would be a fifth but here it’s a fourth, just because — no on Cider House.

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The Reconsideration: American Beauty is, to me, the best film in the category. So that’s what I’m taking. I like The Insider a lot, but it’s not American Beauty. The others are nice, two of them are very well remembered, especially from their year, but none of them are American Beauty. That will always be the choice for me in this category.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (rankings and films):

  1. American Beauty
  2. The Insider
  3. The Green Mile
  4. The Sixth Sense
  5. The Cider House Rules

My Vote: American Beauty

Recommendations:

American Beauty is a Best Picture winner and just an all around essential movie. Pretty much anything that makes the top 100 of the IMDB list is essential, just because it means nearly everyone has seen it. And not that I’ve looked at that list in years, but I remember it being like, 35 or something at the time.

The Insider is essential. It might be Michael Mann’s best film, and it’s just incredibly made. Everyone needs to see this. It’s not as obviously top tier essential as the classics, but it’s a film that all film buffs need to see at some point.

The Green Mile was essential. Now, ehh. Probably just a high recommend? The cast is stacked. That helps. I don’t think this means as much as it did fifteen year

The Sixth Sense is essential. Because everyone knows it. So you gotta see it. Sometimes it’s just that simple.

The Cider House Rules is a solid to high recommend. I like it, but outside of the Oscar win, it’s not overly essential for anyone, really. Just a solid film that’s worth seeing.

The Last Word: Great choice. Nothing else holds up. Cider House Rules would have been one of the weaker winners of all time and forgotten almost immediately. Green Mile would have looked awful, winning while Shawshank lost. The Sixth Sense — well, how well does that film hold up after all the secrets are out? Fine, but… it’s not a proper winner. Wouldn’t have held up. The Insider — ehh. American Beauty’s the only choice here, and they made the right one.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

2000

Chocolat

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Erin Brockovich

Gladiator

Traffic

Analysis:

Chocolat is a pure Weinstein special. Though whereas The Cider House Rules actually felt light it might have some teeth in the way of winning awards, this one… wait for it… purely confectionary.

Juliette Binoche opens a chocolate shop.

That’s kind of it. But also, the town is run by the church, who thinks that’s bad, and then all the people in the town kinda like it. And it’s about all the stories of the townsfolk who come into the shop, and her being a single mother and all that.

It’s actually a good movie. The problem with it comes when it forces its way into the Best Picture list and you’re like, “Ehh, it’s not that good.” It’s the idea that it could have won that’s worrisome. That’s why these Weinstein movies are so dangerous. When they win, it can be a problem if the movie’s only there because of campaigning and not actual strength. Fifth choice all around, this one.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one of those movies that I can’t believe got nominated. Yet, it was a phenomenon and is still thought of as a great film. So good on it.

I’ve seen this movie like five times and still can’t really explain the plot. People want a sword, and there’s a lot of fighting and stuff.

It’s good, and all the stunts have become iconic, but I couldn’t honestly tell you what it’s about. It looks great. It’s not my favorite film in the category, and I would never take it. It’s objectively probably a third choice based on how it’s held up next to the other choices. Still not something that’s for me.

Erin Brockovich is one of two Steven Soderbergh movies on this list. The lesser of the two, but still, an achievement.

Erin Brockovich is a single mother who needs a job. After a car accident and trial which gets her nothing (for which she blames her lawyer), she shows up at his office demanding a job. She browbeats him into hiring her. Eventually, she ends up helping him in a class action lawsuit where about 500 people are suing an energy company whose practices led to a much higher risk of cancer and other illnesses. Despite not having any legal background whatsoever, she proves vital to the case.

I assume this got on because Julia Roberts was at the height of her powers. It’s a good movie, but also a weak Best Picture nominee. It’s a very likable movie that moves and works because Soderbergh doesn’t overdo the elements you’d assume a Julia Roberts movie would overdo. Still a fourth choice here that would normally be a fifth choice. No way I take this. A solid nominee that I’d also consider a “filler” nominee.

Gladiator. You have to know this movie.

General is betrayed and sent to be murdered. He escapes, is captured and becomes a gladiator, and eventually returns to Rome as such. And he will have his revenge.

He also really likes touching wheat.

This movie is amazing. The effects are dated, the story is actually pretty simplistic. Very much in the realm of those 50s Roman epics. Still, I love it. This movie was great. One of those films that we all liked best even though it doesn’t necessarily fit the traditional mold of Best Picture winner. Though, also — yeah it does! That’s what’s so weird about it. I know certain people prefer the next film to this, but this is similar to a situation we’re gonna have in a few years — most of us liked this best, so what’s wrong with it as a winner?

Traffic is Steven Soderbergh’s bigger, more acclaimed film of 2000. The fact that he managed two Best Picture nominations and two Best Director nominations in a single year is truly impressive. Not even Francis Ford Coppola did that. Though… there’s no question whose two films are better.

This is about the war on drugs. Told in three distinct stories. One is Michael Douglas as a crusading judge whose daughter becomes an addict. One is Benicio Del Toro as a cop dealing with all the corruption in Mexico surrounding drugs. The third story is about a DEA investigation into a cartel lord. They have to protect a witness long enough to testify, while the drug lord’s wife is taking over affairs while he’s in prison and is trying to eliminate the witness.

It’s a great film. Based on a TV show. This is the film that a lot of people felt should have won. I’m not one of those people, though I wouldn’t have been upset had this won at all. It’s incredible.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Gladiator is my choice. It’s my favorite film and there’s no clear choice above it. I think it’s a perfectly fine winner. Traffic would also be a fine winner, but this is about what I’m taking, and for me, that’s Gladiator.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (rankings and films):

  1. Gladiator
  2. Traffic
  3. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  4. Erin Brockovich
  5. Chocolat

My Vote: Gladiator

Recommendations:

Gladiator. You haven’t seen this already?

Traffic is essential. For Oscar buffs, for film buffs, must see for all. It’s great.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is essential. Do you not know this already?

Erin Brockovich is essential for Oscar buffs. Essential for the turn of the century there. Probably. You kind of have to mention it. It’s a solid biopic, and one of those movies you can just put on and watch. I would see it. I think most people know the title because of how weirdly iconic it’s become. Just watch it. It’s Soderbergh. Don’t you know he makes great movies?

Chocolat is not essential. Worth watching. It’s very entertaining. One of those movies that satisfies your movie… sweet tooth.

The Last Word: Jury’s out on whether or not this was the right choice. I think it’s fine. Traffic would have also been good. That’s the on-paper classy choice. Gladiator’s the populist choice, the movie we all enjoy the shit out of. Both are in the same realm all-time in terms of where they’d be (or are, in the case of Gladiator) as winners. So both are good choices. I’m happy either way. Nothing else would have held up. It’s either Traffic or Gladiator. Those are the only films that work.

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(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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