By John H. Foote
It happens every year. Inevitably there is one film (or more) that deserves to be nominated for Best Picture but for whatever reason misses the list, to be re-discovered by generations of audiences later and celebrated as the work of art it always was. Look at City Lights (1931), or King Kong (1933)? Both masterpieces of cinema yet ignored by the Academy Awards when first released. Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg each cite John Ford’s magnificent The Searchers (1956) as one of the finest American films ever made, yet when first released, despite glowing reviews, the film did not receive a single nomination!! And of course the list goes on to include 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Last Tango in Paris (1973), Badlands (1974), and so many other great films to numerous to name.
For this piece I have gone back to 2000 and cited one or two films a year, totalling twenty in all that could have easily been Best Picture nominees, and will in years to come be discovered for the masterpiece they are. Pure indulgence, and please, give me yours.
2000 – REQUIEM FOR A DREAM — I remember seeing this for this time at TIFF and walking up the street to interview the actors and directors, feeling filthy. It is that sort of film, one that immerses you in the world of the characters and never allows you to get out. Ellen Burstyn gave the performance of several lifetimes as Sara, a lonely widow addicted to speed which she thinks will help her lose weight for her imagined appearance on her other addiction, her favorite TV show. All around her addiction runs rampant, and she and her son will each experience their own private hell as they fall int the depths of despair dealing with their addictions. How did this get missed as a Best Picture nominee? Tough going? Sure, but worth every second.
2000 – CAST AWAY — A superb film from Robert Zemeckis with an Oscar worthy performance from Tom Hanks as Fed Ex supervisor, Chuck, the only survivor of a plane that goes down in the vast Pacific, leaving him stranded on a small island. Hanks gives the best performance of his career, but Zemeckis does a fantastic job allowing the story to unfold, patiently, drawing us into the world of isolation on the island. A triumph that deserved to be nominated over at least three of the nominees. On screen the entire film, Hanks gives the performance of his lifetime, and though he won the NY Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor, that Oscar eluded him.
2001 – THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS – I think this is the best film Wes Anderson has made, superbly written, nicely directed and acted with stunning clarity by the entire cast but in particular Gene Hackman as the rascally old coot Royal, who has betrayed and lied to just about everyone he knows including those he loves. But damned if they cannot forgive him yet bizarrely keep letting him back into their lives! Gwyneth Paltrow does excellent work as his morose daughter and Anjelica Huston is marvelous as his ex-wife.
2001 – A.I. – ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE — In years to come I think this film will come to be appreciated for the masterpiece it has always been, and in the manner of 2001 (1968) be championed for being challenging, difficult and often overwhelming in its emotional power. Steven Spielberg rushed it into being made after the sudden death of Stanley Kubrick, who brought the project to the younger director years earlier. Haley Joel Osment is miraculous as David, a robot boy who can love unconditionally, but cannot, like humans, turn off his love. It can be tough going sometimes, but the daring is what makes the film unique. The boldest film of Spielberg’s post-Schindler career.
2002 – FAR FROM HEAVEN — The New York Film Critics Circle honored this one with every award except the one it deserved most, Best Actress, so at least the Academy Awards got that right in nominating Julianne Moore for her career best work. Todd Haynes directed and wrote the film as an homage to the fifties films of Douglas Sirk, women’s films, and he does a smashing job, from the brilliant look of the film, to the music, to those superb performances from Moore, Dennis Quaid, as her husband slowly coming out of the closet in fifties America, and Dennis Haysbert as the black yard worker she befriends and falls for.
2002 – ROAD TO PERDITION – Sam Mendes followed his Oscar winning American Beauty (1999) with this melancholy gangster film about fathers and sons, and what fathers will do to keep their boys safe. Tom Hanks is outstanding as hit man Michael Sullivan, thought of as a son by the chief mobster Paul Newman until his own son does the unthinkable and kills Sullivan’s family. Each man goes to great lengths to protect their blood, forgetting that they once thought of each other s father and son. Newman is brilliant, hell, the whole film is brilliant and should have been a Best Picture nominee.
2003 – OPEN RANGE — This was a surprise hit in the summer of 2003, a well made western from Director Kevin Costner, who had fallen from grace since his Oscar winning days with Dances with Wolves (1990). With character acting great Robert Duvall as the trail boss, and Costner at his very best as the former gunslinger, the pair comes into a town ruled by a vicious Irishman who does not take kindly to free grazers who feed their herd and move on. What emerges is one of the best gunfights in film history, fast, loud and deadly and some damned fine acting along the way. Both Duvall and Costner shine, with Michael Gambon pure evil as the villain.
2003 – THE LAST SAMURAI — Edward Zwick helmed this epic about a survivor of Little Big Horn, Aldren (Tom Cruise) who is struggling with alcoholism when asked to go to Japan to train their military in order for them to go to war against the feared samurai living in the mountains. In the first skirmish Aldren is taken hostage by the samurai and spends the winter with them, first as their prisoner, and then slowly a friendship evolves until he is one of them. Cruise is in top form, and Ken Watanabe is superb as Kasamoto, leader of the mysterious warriors feared by the army. An intimate epic.
2004 – THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST — Say what you will about Mel Gibson, and yes, there is a great deal to say, but the man can direct. His film about the last twelve in the life of Christ is punishing cinema, yet startling in its bold realism. Everyone who believes in the teachings of Christ owes it to the man to see the agonizing manner in which he was killed, and the way he just keeps moving forward. My God what faith he had. Much was made of supposed anti-Semetism within the film…I saw none. Instead what I watched was a film of extraordinary power, as though the crew had been transported back in time.
2005 – KING KONG — How does one of the years best reviewed films not get a nomination for Best Film? How is it that a lesser film actually wins Best Picture? King Kong, as directed by Peter Jackson was a stunning work that both paid homage to the original film and surpassed its genius in every way. The visual effects are astounding, the performances, perfection and the courage of Jackson to shoot the final battle atop the Empire State Building in daylight was unspeakably brave. Naomi Watts was lovely, but Kong is the star of this one.