Going for the Gold: Oscar Picks 2005


And the award goes to… Handicapping this year’s top Oscar nominees

Credit: Beth Rankin

After last year’s yawn-inducingly predictable Oscars (Lord of the Rings won Best Picture, Charlize Theron took home Best Actress, blah blah blah…), it’s exciting to finally see some competition for the 77th Annual Academy Awards. With only two surefire winners out of the six major categories, the Oscar race is more intense than ever. Here, our pop arts movie critics Jason LeRoy, Jon Dieringer, Robert Taylor and Andrew Hampp weigh in on who will win, who deserves to win and who didn’t even have the chance to win the year’s top awards.

Best Actor

Nominees: Jamie Foxx – Ray, Clint Eastwood – Million Dollar Baby, Johnny Depp – Finding Neverland, Don Cheadle – Hotel Rwanda, Leonardo DiCaprio – The Aviator

Will Win:

Andrew Hampp: Jamie Foxx – Ray. Last week’s Grammys serve as further proof that anything Ray Charles-related will dominate this awards season. Plus, it certainly doesn’t hurt that Foxx’s powerful performance as Charles uncannily resembles the man himself.

Jon Dieringer: Jamie Foxx – Ray. Foxx won every award conceivable, and his transformation from third-rate sitcom comedian to serious actor was one of the greatest surprises of 2004. Foxx put more preparation and work into this role than most actors do in an entire career, and his victory will be well-deserved.

Robert Taylor: Jamie Foxx – Ray. Every year, at least one race is a lock. This is it — if the award doesn’t go to Foxx I’ll eat my hat.

Should Win:

Andrew Hampp: Don Cheadle – Hotel Rwanda. In one of the least competitive Best Actor races in years, Cheadle was the glue that kept audiences stuck on the often emotionally grueling Hotel Rwanda. Likely to be the first of many nominations for the versatile Cheadle.

Jon Dieringer: Foxx.

Robert Taylor: Don Cheadle – Hotel Rwanda. All eyes were pointed so hard on Jamie Foxx’s excellent portrayal of Ray Charles they overlooked this near-perfect performance. It’s not as showy a role and wasn’t done just to get a nomination (like Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron and Will Smith did in recent years with their biopics) but it is the most subtle yet most emotional of the bunch.

Wasn’t Even Nominated:

Andrew Hampp: Helloooo Paul Giamatti?! Although it’s great to see Johnny Depp nominated two years in a row, this year with Finding Neverland, his nomination easily could’ve gone to Sideways’ Giamatti, whose lovable schlub Miles Raymond was the emotional heart of a full-bodied movie.

Jon Dieringer: Kevin Bacon – The Woodsman. It’s unfortunate that The Woodsman has been so unjustly overlooked by the Oscars, whether it is because of the risqu‚ subject matter or lack of solid publicity. Bacon’s ability to earn sympathy for the most unlikely of characters alone is what makes his performance Oscar worthy, but that is hardly the extent of the depth of his performance.

Robert Taylor: I wasn’t impressed by many actors this year; in fact only three of the nominated actors deserved the credit (Foxx, Cheadle and DiCaprio). I’d subtract Depp and Eastwood and throw in Ryan Gosling (The Notebook) and Jim Carrey (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).

Best Actress

Nominees: Hilary Swank – Million Dollar Baby, Annette Bening – Being Julia, Catalina Sandino Moreno – Maria Full of Grace, Imelda Staunton – Vera Drake, Kate Winslet – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Will Win:

Andrew Hampp: Hilary Swank – Million Dollar Baby. Everyone loves a good comeback story, and who better than 2000 Best Actress winner Hilary Swank, who nearly faded into Hollywood oblivion right up until Baby’s release? A subtle, nuanced performance will likely give Swank the edge against over-the-top Annette Bening and little known Imelda Staunton.

Jon Dieringer: Hilary Swank – Million Dollar Baby. Entertainment Weekly tried to create buzz around the idea of a “rematch” between Swank and Annette Bening after the 2000 “upset” when Swank won for her role in Boys Don’t Cry. The truth is, there is no contest—Swank has just built up too much momentum at this point for Bening to come through. If anyone causes an upset this year, it will be Catalina Sandino Moreno or Imelda Staunton.

Robert Taylor: Hilary Swank – Million Dollar Baby. Swank will win for her “give me the Oscar now and rescue my career so I don’t have to do a sequel to The Core” performance.

Should Win:

Andrew Hampp: Kate Winslet – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Time will tell that multi-colored hair, a fruity name and a quirky personality will make Winslet’s Clementine the most memorable female performance of the year. Throw in the fact that Winslet has been a triple Oscar nominee and a triple loser, and you’ve got the year’s most overlooked nominee next to Martin Scorsese.

Jon Dieringer: Swank.

Robert Taylor: Imelda Staunton – Vera Drake. No contest, every person who has seen the movie will attest that hers is the best, most heartfelt performance of the bunch. Though a little part of me would feel gratified if Winslet won for Eternal Sunshine.

Wasn’t Even Nominated:

Andrew Hampp: Jennifer Garner – 13 Going on 30. What can I say? Jennifer Garner made me smile profusely in a movie that exuded joy and happiness throughout its 100 minutes. The role may not have been much of a stretch for Garner, but her Jenna Rink brought out the 13-year-old in anyone who saw this film.

Jon Dieringer: Jena Malone – Saved! Regardless of whether or not Saved! was actually a good movie, Malone did a great job of showing how her character was beset by the peer pressure of her fanatical Christian friends in her attempts to reach her own conclusions about morals and values.

Robert Taylor: How the hell could the Academy have overlooked Uma Thurman for, hands down, the best performance of the year, perhaps the decade. Did they even watch Kill Bill Volume 2? And how could they turn a cold shoulder to Emmy Rossum, who shined in Phantom of the Opera and stole the hearts of all the men in the audience in the process? Or Bryce Dallas Howard’s starmaking turn in The Village?

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Thomas Haden Church – Sideways, Morgan Freeman – Million Dollar Baby, Clive Owen – Closer, Jamie Foxx – Collateral, Alan Alda – The Aviator

Will Win:

Andrew Hampp: Thomas Haden Church – Sideways. Who’da thunk the guy from “Wings” and “Ned & Stacey” would be taking home an Oscar? Certainly not this viewer, who still can’t decide if Haden Church’s wooden performance was character-related or unintentional. But this is one surefire award for a film that may see its Best Picture statue go to Million Dollar Baby.

Jon Dieringer: Thomas Haden Church – Sideways. Church will win practically by default. Alan Alda’s role in The Aviator is practically restricted to one scene where he plays the (appropriately) one-dimensional “corporate bad guy” character. Morgan Freeman played the same role he plays in every other movie he’s in. Jamie Foxx isn’t likely to win for both actor and supporting actor. That leaves Clive Owen as Church’s main contender.

Robert Taylor: Morgan Freeman – Million Dollar Baby. Freeman got the token role of the sidekick/friend in Million Dollar Baby that would be overlooked in any other movie. But since he is Morgan Freeman he will not just get nominated, he will win.

Should Win:

Andrew Hampp: Clive Owen – Closer. Owen was the sympathetic victim in a quartet of liars and cheaters, most principally his on-screen wife Julia Roberts. Owen’s scene when he confronts Roberts about her affair with Jude Law is one for the vaults.

Jon Dieringer: Church. Church’s performance was absolutely hilarious and absolutely heartbreaking—often at the same time. The thought of an actor this talented wallowing in sub-mediocrity as a sitcom star for so long makes me want to cry.

Robert Taylor: Clive Owen – Closer. I’m not a big supporter of Closer, but considering the competition (Foxx is the only one worthy of consideration) he’s my choice by default.

Wasn’t Even Nominated:

Andrew Hampp: Jude Law – Closer. Law warrants a nomination, if only because he was in freakin’ every movie this year. But he certainly did play a convincing creep in a year that also saw him portray a pilot, a British playboy and Errol Flynn. Does the man have to work with Anthony Minghella again to get another nomination?!

Jon Dieringer: Mark Ruffalo, Collateral. In Collateral, Ruffalo had to be the sensible character amid so much chaos. The film reaches a point where the audience is rooting more for him than any of the main characters, and that is the mark of a great supporting performance.

Robert Taylor: The nominees aren’t the only ones worthy of the praise this year. Where is James Garner (The Notebook)? I would have liked to see a shake-up by having Alfred Molina nominated for Spider-Man 2, the most critically acclaimed film of the year. Or how about all the great supporting players from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, they all were excellent. And where is David Carradine from Kill Bill Volume 2?

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Natalie Portman – Closer, Virginia Madsen – Sideways, Cate Blanchett – The Aviator, Laura Linney – Kinsey, Sophie Okonedo – Hotel Rwanda

Will Win:

Andrew Hampp: Natalie Portman – Closer. In what seems to be a dead heat between her and Blanchett, Portman gets the edge for shedding any trace of her trademark Portman-isms (if you wanna see those, they’re put to fantastic use in Garden State). In a movie that was all about being truthful, Portman’s performance couldn’t have been more honest.

Jon Dieringer: Virginia Madsen – Sideways. Madsen has already swept the awards ceremonies, and with good reason—for being a little-known actress beyond the typical age of “the love interest,” she is truly the highlight of what many are calling the best picture of the year. It’s not easy to make a convincing performance of falling in love with Paul Giamatti, and she pulls it off.

Robert Taylor: Cate Blanchett – The Aviator. I love Katherine Hepburn, and love how perfectly Blanchett embodied her independence and vivacity. Rest assured the Academy will get at least one award right this time around.

Should Win:

Andrew Hampp: Cate Blanchett – The Aviator. As a long-time worshipper at the altar that is Cate Blanchett, it pains me to say that 2005 is still not the awesome Aussie’s year to step up to the podium. Oh sure, it’s a spectacular performance (hell-o golf course scene!), but Blanchett seems more likely to win for a star turn. Someone give this woman another period piece, stat!

Jon Dieringer: Madsen.

Robert Taylor: Blanchett.

Wasn’t Even Nominated:

Andrew Hampp: Rachel McAdams – Mean Girls. Boo, those whores at the Academy for completely overlooking the insanely witty masterpiece that is Mean Girls! And boo especially for ignoring McAdams, who flawlessly embodied the high school bitch Regina George in all her two-faced glory. Come on, Academy, like Laura Linney really needed that nomination for Kinsey…

Jon Dieringer: Sandra Oh – Sideways. It’s too bad that the academy was apparently uncomfortable with pitting to actresses from the same film against each other, because Oh turned in an equally great performance, showing great range and adding considerable depth to what could have easily been a role with less weight.

Robert Taylor: Minnie Driver took the role of diva to hysterical new levels in Phantom of the Opera, Maia Morgenstern broke our hearts in Passion of the Christ, and Emma Watson went from child star to actress with her brilliant work in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Best Director

Nominees: Martin Scorsese – The Aviator, Clint Eastwood – Million Dollar Baby, Taylor Hackford – Ray, Alexander Payne – Sideways, Mike Leigh – Vera Drake

Will Win:

Andrew Hampp: Martin Scorsese – The Aviator. Scorsese finally found the film that synched with both audiences and critics, making 2005 the year the four-time nominee will take home his very first Golden Boy.

Jon Dieringer: Martin Scorsese – The Aviator. They made the mistake with Hitchcock, and there’s only so much time to avoid making it with Scorsese—brilliant directors, no Academy Awards. This could very well be the year that Scorsese gets his award with a great many back payments included. After all, this is the man who made the greatest film of all time, and one year he lost best director to Kevin Costner. It’s a shame, though, because as Scorsese films go, The Aviator is only a middle-of-the-road achievement.

Robert Taylor: Martin Scorsese – The Aviator. His best and most epic film in years is the best of the chosen contenders and let’s face it, the guy has had to nod his head and look happy he lost too many times in the past. I won’t even contemplate Eastwood coming from behind and winning; that would be too much for me to handle.

Should Win:

Andrew Hampp: Martin Scorsese – The Aviator. What can I say? His film had the best cast, best cinematography and best time period out of all the other nominees. Eastwood wishes he could make a film so entertaining without killing a single character.

Jon Dieringer: Clint Eastwood – Million Dollar Baby. There haven’t been no-B.S. filmmakers like Eastwood since Howard Hawks and John Ford. He is truly a master craftsman of a classic order—the director who is the undisputed master of the film but not the star (in a figurative sense—after all, as an actor, he is the star of this film). It’s a close race between Eastwood and Scorsese.

Robert Taylor: Scorsese.

Wasn’t Even Nominated:

Andrew Hampp: Michel Gondry – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Although it’s nice to see this film nominated for Best Original Screenplay (an award Sunshine undoubtedly deserves), it hurts to see neither the director nor the film itself nominated as well. Gondry’s direction is what made Eternal Sunshine the most original, memorable movie of the year, and it’s a shame he didn’t get more recognition for it not only from the Academy, but from the other awards ceremonies as well.

Jon Dieringer: Michael Mann – Collateral. Either Collateral was released too early in the year or voters thought it was too much of an action film to take it seriously, but Mann deserves credit for making such a tight, thrilling crime picture.

Robert Taylor: Their work speaks for itself: Mel Gibson (The Passion), Michael Moore (Fahrenheit 9/11) and Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill Volume 2).

Best Picture

Nominees: The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby, Ray, Sideways

Will Win:

Andrew Hampp: Sideways. Although heat has generated behind The Aviator and Million Dollar Baby these last few weeks, expect the previous frontrunner to pull back in the lead at the last second and take home the gold. The Academy should hopefully come to their senses and elect this essentially perfect movie once they measure it against its flawed competitors.

Jon Dieringer: It’s impossible to say. Sideways was hyped heavily early on, but the subsequent overkill—everyone wanted to be the one who discovered the obscure little major studio film no one ever heard of—may have hurt it. Million Dollar Baby seems to be the current favorite, but it is also threatening to fall victim to Sideways syndrome. The safest bet is probably The Aviator, since it’s a little too slick and not the best movie of the year—which makes it fit the Best Picture bill pretty well.

Robert Taylor: Million Dollar Baby. Clint Eastwood to studio: “Hey guys, let’s do a boxing picture, only this time with a FEMALE underdog who is better than she seems, an old trainer (me) and we can even throw Morgan Freeman in for good measure and some respectability. Think Rocky without the uplifting score and any trace of happiness. Oh, and at the end I want to [CENSORED] just because doing it will ensure us a Best Picture win.”

Should Win:

Andrew Hampp: Sideways. Eastwood and Scorsese both made big creative strides this year, but they’ve made Alexander Payne’s quiet masterpiece the sudden underdog in a highly competitive category. Sideways is just like a glass of Pinot Noir its characters drink so liberally – it doesn’t register much when first ingested, but its greatness reveals itself to you the more time you spend with it.

Jon Dieringer: Sideways. It’s difficult to explain why Sideways should win without hurting the film—hype has been its biggest enemy. Like Five Easy Pieces, Sideways is a movie that doesn’t necessarily dazzle throughout, but when it’s over, audiences realize that its greatness lies in something far more—and far different—from the sum of its parts. If you haven’t seen it yet, wait for it to come to video, and see it on your own terms.

Robert Taylor: The Aviator. Crap, do I really have to choose between these pretenders? The Aviator is the only standout of the bunch, but even though it’s Scorsese’s best in years it’s nowhere near the best of his career.

Wasn’t Even Nominated:

Andrew Hampp: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. What’s it gonna take for the Academy to see that Charlie Kaufman movies are more than just good screenplays? Eternal Sunshine was Kaufman’s most successful merging of director, cast and screenwriter yet, and an impossibly romantic movie that puts so-called “great” love stories like Casablanca to shame.

Jon Dieringer: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Talk about getting the shaft. Eternal Sunshine stands out from the thousands of other movies about love by having something entirely new and relevant to say. Factor in the arrival of Michel Gondry as a legitimate film director—he has already proved himself the master of the music video form—and it was one of the best films of the year on all accounts. This is the classic that people will be writing about in the future when wondering how on Earth it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture.

Robert Taylor: None of the nominees even made it on my top 10 list. The Academy decided to sidestep any controversy whatsoever by failing to nominate the masterpiece Passion of the Christ or the great Fahrenheit 9/11. It also skipped over Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Phantom of the Opera, Kill Bill Volume 2, Open Water, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Undertow, Hotel Rwanda and Spider-Man 2. In other words, any movie not specifically made just to get a nomination.

Jason LeRoy: Closer. I would say Eternal Sunshine, but that’s been duly noted by Andrew and Jon. Closer was a startling and seething portrayal of the evil committed by otherwise normal human beings engaged in “romantic” relationships.