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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Picture, 2003-2004)

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.

2003

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Lost in Translation

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Mystic River

Seabiscuit

Analysis:

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

This one wins. The trilogy as a whole — this wins.

Lost in Translation is such a great movie. But also, so hipster. (Right, though?)

Bill Murray is an aging actor whose career is floundering in the US. He’s in Tokyo to shoot a whiskey commercial, since it’s one of his only real sources of income. He’s alone, a stranger in a strange land, and miserable. Scarlett Johansson is in Tokyo with her husband, a photographer, in town for a shoot. She’s left alone most days, and is also miserable. The two meet by chance and find a connection.

It’s a great film. It really is. It’s got a lot of humor and is so utterly watchable. Would I take it? Not a chance. Maybe if Return of the King weren’t here, we could talk. But it is here and there’s no doubt that’s where the vote is going. This being nominated here is a triumph unto itself.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a really awesome movie that got completely buried by Return of the King.

Russell Crowe is a ship captain trying to track down a French war ship during the Napoleonic Wars. It’s ship vs. ship, and a bunch of cool naval stuff in between.

I really like this movie a lot. I might think to take it in another year. But it’s not another year. And Return of the King dominates this. But still — every time I go back and watch this movie, I realize again how great it is and wonder why they never made more of these.

Mystic River is Clint Eastwood’s return to the Oscars, where he’d stay for the next decade. Strange, given the film, but sure.

It’s about three Boston boys. One day, when they’re kids, a car stops and tells them to get in. One of them does. He’s abducted and raped and all that. Eventually he escapes. Cut to thirty years later. One of the three boys is a cop, one is a criminal, the other (the one who was abducted) is a construction worker. The criminal’s daughter goes missing and is found dead, and as they try to figure out who did it, a bunch of old stuff comes bubbling up to the surface.

It’s a decent film. Solid Dennis Lehane stuff. But it doesn’t feel like a Best Picture nominee, let alone a winner.

Seabiscuit is a biopic of the famous horse. Horse racing movies are an odd genre. They’re very niche and yet somehow always watchable.

The thing about the horse is that it was never thought of as any good, but then with the right owner, the right trainer and the right jockey, it became the most famous horse in America, overcoming tremendous adversity (including fractured legs!) and winning during an era where America needed something to root for.

I love that this was nominated. I love this movie. Shouldn’t have won at all, but I love that it got the nomination.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: It’s Return of the King. There’s not really a whole lot more to add there. It’s not even close.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  2. Lost in Translation
  3. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  4. Seabiscuit
  5. Mystic River

Rankings (films):

  1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  2. Lost in Translation
  3. Seabiscuit
  4. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  5. Mystic River

My Vote: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Recommendations:

If you haven’t seen, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, you’re gonna need some help.

Lost in Translation is essential. You should know it’s essential. If not, let me tell you a thing or two.

Seabiscuit is a very high recommend. I love horse movies and I think this might be the best. The book is incredible and the movie is very good. Definitely worth seeing, though you’re more than fine if you want to skip it.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is awesome. Not essential, but a very great action movie that is actually way better than you think it is, even if you’ve seen it. High to very high recommend. Not something all need to see, but it’s well worth seeing by all.

Mystic River is essential for Oscar buffs. Otherwise it’s a Clint Eastwood directed movie based on a novel by the guy who churns out paperbacks people read that have been turned into at least four movies (Shutter Island, Gone Baby Gone, Live by Night), and it stars Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laura Linney, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden and Eli Wallach, for good measure. Probably essential all around for film buffs, I’d say.

The Last Word: Return of the King is the choice. They backloaded the franchise, and as such, it swept. This was a culmination of all three winning, and even without that, Return of the King was the best choice in the category. Sure, Lost in Translation is great, but it wouldn’t have been a great winner. Nor would anything else have been. They made the only choice they could have made, and it’s one of the best choices they’ve ever made. This so perfectly encapsulates 2003.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

2004

The Aviator

Finding Neverland

Million Dollar Baby

Ray

Sideways

Analysis:

The Aviator is Martin Scorsese’s biopic of Howard Hughes. It’s a real treat.

I love everything he does with this movie, from the two-strip Technicolor look for the first act, to the way he mixes Hughe’s public and private lives — this movie is incredible.

Not necessarily the best choice for Best Picture, but given the category, it’s pretty much this or Million Dollar baby, right? (Yeah, yeah, I know, you people and your Sideways. We’ll get to that.) And since this is easily my favorite film, I’m probably gonna be taking this again.

Finding Neverland is our second of three biopics in this category.

This one is about J.M. Barrie and the writing of Peter Pan. It came from his relationship to a woman and her son.

It’s a very solid film. Weinstein special, but a solid film. Everyone who watches this generally likes it, but I don’t think anyone actually votes for it. It falls immediately to the back of the pack in this category.

Million Dollar Baby is one of those movies you watch the first time and find yourself really affected by it. Now over a decade later… how’s it holding up?

Hilary Swank is a 30-year-old woman who wants to be a boxer. She goes to Clint Eastwood’s gym to train. He “don’t train girls.” Eventually she wears him down and he trains her. And she starts winning fights. The two grow close as she works her way up the ranks. And eventually, during her biggest fight… tragedy strikes. And the movie takes a completely different tone.

It’s good. I like it a lot. Just… I don’t like it as much as I like The Aviator. So I wouldn’t take it.

Ray is a biopic of Ray Charles. Jamie Foxx is Ray.

Not a whole lot more to add there.

I love the film. It’s great. Solid third choice for me in this one. Standard biopic stuff, so it would be a fourth or fifth choice other years. I just don’t happen to love most of the category, so it makes it to third here. Wouldn’t take it at all though.

Sideways is Alexander Payne, whose stuff I usually really like. For some reason I hated this movie for years. And now, each time I go over this Quest, I make sure to rewatch it to see if my feelings have changed.

Paul Giamatti is a wine enthusiast who is taking his friend up to wine country before his impending marriage. They get into some hijinks. Giamatti starts romancing his favorite waitress and his friend starts sleeping around despite his impending wedding.

I — here are my full thoughts on this one: this is my least favorite Alexander Payne film (I admittedly haven’t seen Citizen Ruth yet). I hated it for specific reasons mainly owing to having very strong reactions during these Oscar years both for and against films. Now, with over a decade having past and my rewatching it a bunch, I’ve made peace with this movie. I think it’s perfectly good. I just… it’s not my favorite. I think it’s just okay. People think it’s a masterpiece, that’s fine. I’m an About Schmidt man, myself. For some, they take this. That’s cool. For me, actual fifth in the category. Would never vote for this at all. Personal preference.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: Well it’s certainly not Finding Neverland. Nor is it Ray. Both are solid, but no. I don’t like Sideways, so we know that’s not happening. And as much as I like Million Dollar Baby — no. Can’t take that. Don’t love it that much. So it’s The Aviator. That’s the only choice here. I love The Aviator, and I take it because I have to. Put it a year in either direction and it’s not the choice. But here, it works. So it’s the choice.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. The Aviator
  2. Million Dollar Baby
  3. Ray
  4. Sideways
  5. Finding Neverland

Rankings (films):

  1. The Aviator
  2. Million Dollar Baby
  3. Ray
  4. Finding Neverland
  5. Sideways

My Vote: The Aviator

Recommendations:

There’s only one remedy if you haven’t seen The Aviator.

Million Dollar Baby is a Best Picture winner. So for that it’s essential. Plus it’s a great drama that a lot of people love. And a film most people will like a lot when they see it. Because it’s one of those emotional films that does work. It’s a tearjerker, but Eastwood never makes it overly cloying. Still, essential.

Ray is essential for Oscar buffs and a film all film buffs should see. Everyone loves Ray Charles and this is a great biopic with an Oscar-winning performance. Why would you skip it?

Finding Neverland is not essential but solid. A good biopic that does work very well and is worth seeing. High recommend.

Sideways is Alexander Payne. And his films are essential. End of story.

The Last Word: I don’t know what there is to say about this one. Million Dollar Baby might have been the choice. I can see it at least holding up decently as a winner. The Aviator wouldn’t have been a better choice. At best it’s the same level, which is — fine. The others don’t hold up at all. They just don’t. So maybe they made the best choice they could have for a subpar year. I prefer The Aviator, but I can’t say that was the best choice. I think this might be okay.

– – – – – – – – – –

(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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