Denerstein: Oscar may be golden, but he's not exactly King Midas
February 15, 2003
For the next month, many of the stories you'll be reading about movies will center on the Academy Awards. This year's Oscars will be presented March 23. If precedent holds, it may seem like March 24 before we're done.
You know the drill. Was the best performance by an actress in a lead role given by Salma Hayek (Frida), Nicole Kidman (The Hours), Diane Lane (Unfaithful), Julianne Moore (Far From Heaven) or Renee Zellweger (Chicago)?
Who'll win? Who should win? Blah. Blah. And more blah.
Oscars have a way of focusing movie discussion until the day after the awards. At that point, Oscar begins the slow conversion from importance to trivia.
With Oscar, it's best to strike while the iron is still hot enough to press the old tux. So a few thoughts in the wake of this week's nominations.
Conventional wisdom has it that the Academy Awards serve as major career boosters. Maybe, but few of this year's nominees stand to benefit in that regard.
Adrien Brody, a young actor who has done lots of good work, was recognized in the best-actor category. Brody played pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman in director Roman Polanski's The Pianist, the story of a Jewish musician who survived the Holocaust.
Brody had been cast in a major role in Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line (1998), but the bulk of his work landed on the cutting-room floor. The Pianist provided him with the kind of showcase he needed to make a major impact.
Brody's nomination should elevate his status in Hollywood. I don't know whether it will make him a leading man or a movie star, but he'll no longer be an actor whose face is more recognizable than his name.
Similarly, Stephen Daldry (The Hours) could gain from his nomination in the directing category. Daldry's previous movie (Billy Elliot) was reasonably popular but didn't suggest that he was capable of the kind of supple and serious work required to bring the big-screen adaptation of Michael Cunningham's novel to the screen.
I was delighted that Christopher Walken, an actor whose line readings can be as unpredictable as the weather, was recognized for playing Leonardo DiCaprio's father in Catch Me If you Can, but it will take more than one night on the red carpet to catapult him out of the cult category.
Chris Cooper's nomination for his portrayal of rogue horticulturist John Laroche in Adaptation was terrific and right. Will it make him a headliner? Not likely.
Queen Latifah, recognized for her work in Chicago, should be able to raise her movie stock, but nominees such as Julianne Moore, Renee Zellweger, Meryl Streep, Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson and Michael Caine don't have much to gain from an Oscar. I'm not saying they shouldn't win - only that their careers probably won't be altered if they do.
And keep this in mind: Oscar pictures aren't necessarily where Hollywood butters its bread. As a movie executive told Variety this week, all the best-picture nominees (except Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) are aimed at the over-35 crowd.
Using Oscar to judge quality can be a little misleading. Consider acting. Let me mention some names you won't hear on Oscar night. In a column that appeared on the day after the nominations, I mentioned two of the worst omissions: Dennis Quaid (Far From Heaven) and Alfred Molina (Frida), both of whom easily could have turned up in the best-supporting-actor category.
Others were also bypassed.
Maggie Gyllenhaal. She played a masochistic office worker in Secretary. Gyllenhaal, an actress of singular intelligence and wry humor, was both coy and assertive in a movie that demanded that she make strange behavior seem recognizably human, a tough acting challenge.
Robin Williams. He's gotten Oscar attention before but was never better than in One Hour Photo, a movie in which he resisted all temptation to cuddle up to an audience.
Derek Luke. The young actor was completely convincing as an angry young sailor with a troubled past in Antwone Fisher.
Campbell Scott. Roger Dodger was a small (and not entirely successful) movie, but Scott gave a mesmerizing performance as a womanizing adman with contempt for just about everything that fell under his cynical gaze.
Christopher Plummer. He made a wonderfully coldhearted villain in Nicholas Nickleby. In a less crowded field, Plummer probably would have gotten a best-supporting-actor nod.
Alan Arkin. I didn't much like Thirteen Conversations About One Thing, but Arkin's performance as a manager at an insurance company conveyed the dusty boredom of every man laboring in obscurity in every office in America.
I'm not trying to be inclusive. I came up with these entrees while perusing a list of performers whose names were being thrown around in the weeks before the nominations. I did it to remind myself that Oscars aren't the only gauge of success. They may not even be the best gauge.
No, that has more to do with the way actors, to take one example, help create characters who live in our memories, who seem as real as people we know.
So on March 23, remember: Inside every envelope will be the name of a winner. The name of the best will still be open to debate.
Well I think everyone knows the meaning of the award and outcomes etc.. but still an interesting read anyway. It doesn't prevent me from rooting for my favourites