Best in Show 

Picking and choosing for the Oscars.

The best picture of 2004 won't win that Oscar this year, alas, because the best of 2004 wasn't nominated: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Michael Gondry, there was not a film released in 2004 that could match Eternal Sunshine in emotional depth, cinematic invention, development of character, and social consequence.

Oscar and I have had differences before, and we will again. No hard feelings, right? However, I have taken the liberty of creating my own awards for films and performances that Oscar overlooked, which I shall list alongside my Oscar predictions. I'll call them the Boseys.


Alan Alda -- The Aviator

Thomas Haden Church -- Sideways

Jamie Foxx -- Collateral

Morgan Freeman -- Million Dollar Baby (will win and should win)

Clive Owen -- Closer

This is a contest between three men. Alda's nomination is a thank-you for years of fine work and good sportsmanship. Foxx's nomination would be competitive if he weren't also nominated for Ray's leading performance -- which he will win. Sideways won't win Best Picture, but if academians want to acknowledge the film, they might go with Haden Church. I think the nomination is thanks enough. Clive Owen may surprise all and take it, though the nomination will certainly accomplish as much as a win would for Owen's rising career. But it's Freeman's year -- a valedictory for a distinguished career, no previous wins, and a performance that reminds us that it takes more effort to create an old, worn-out shoe from scratch than a new one.

But the Bosey goes to Danny Huston for Birth. There was, for me, no finer supporting performance last year. In a film that could have drifted too far from the real, Huston grounded co-star Nicole Kidman and the film itself with alternating patience and rage.


Cate Blanchett -- The Aviator

(will win and should win)

Laura Linney -- Kinsey

Virginia Madsen -- Sideways

Sophie Okonedo -- Hotel Rwanda

Natalie Portman -- Closer

Portman, in her first adult role, shares with Okonedo "the nomination is your prize" nod that goes along with performances the academy wants to recognize but not award. Their nominations, like Owen's, will get them better projects and more clout down the road, so no additional award is necessary. Linney is a Hollywood favorite and somewhat overdue, but Kinsey's overall exclusion from major categories makes her nomination the only laurel I think it will get. Madsen will win only if there is a doubtful Sideways sweep, so I think Blanchett will go home with the gold in a nod both to Blanchett's extraordinary interpretation of The Aviator's Katharine Hepburn and to Hepburn herself.

But the Bosey goes to It's a tie. Were there two more striking performances by supporting actresses last year than Bryce Howard of The Village or Irma P. Hall of The Ladykillers? Howard's magnetism and gravity and Hall's doting Christian fire made silk purses out of sows' ears last year, elevating mediocre films to a degree of distinction otherwise unearned.


Don Cheadle -- Hotel Rwanda

Johnny Depp -- Finding Neverland

Leonardo DiCaprio -- The Aviator

Clint Eastwood -- Million Dollar Baby

Jamie Foxx -- Ray

(will win and should win)

Jamie Foxx will win this for his towering, unforgettable turn as the beloved Ray Charles. Case closed. The only possible spoiler is Eastwood, who, among the other nominees, is the least likely to be nominated again and win. And who among you who saw Million Dollar Baby was not stunned to see the man cry?

But the Bosey goes to Gael Garcia Bernal for Pedro Almodovar's Bad Education. This is an extremely difficult role made to look extremely easy by this rising star. And the mercurial nature of the film makes this, truly, maybe three different performances rolled into one. All good.


Annette Bening -- Being Julia

Catalina Sandino Moreno -- Maria Full of Grace

Imelda Staunton -- Vera Drake

(should win)

Hilary Swank -- Million Dollar Baby

(will win)

Kate Winslet -- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Some view this as a rematch between 1999's divas Swank and Bening from Boys Don't Cry and American Beauty, respectively. It's not. Bening's lovely performance might win in a weaker year but not alongside the more substantial fare in this category. Newcomer Moreno, repeat after me: "It's an honor just to be nominated." Kate Winslet: "Once again, not my year." Only Staunton, I think, has a shot at unseating the favorite, Swank, who buffed and trained like a pro boxer to play just that in a performance that was both triumphant and heartbreaking. But Staunton, a mostly unknown career veteran of third-banana roles in mostly British art-house fare, provides a more thorough, heartfelt performance. I would not begrudge Swank, but my heart is with Staunton.

But the Bosey goes to Nicole Kidman, who made too many movies last year. However, two of them, Dogville and Birth, feature extraordinary work by her, with her sensitive turn in Birth as the stand-out. Not better than Swank or Staunton, but remember the Bosey is given to what Oscar overlooked.


Martin Scorsese -- The Aviator (will win and should win)

Clint Eastwood -- Million Dollar Baby

Taylor Hackford -- Ray

Alexander Payne -- Sideways

Michael Leigh --Vera Drake


The Aviator (should win)

Finding Neverland

Million Dollar Baby (will win)



Both categories are between two men: Eastwood and Scorsese. The overrated Sideways may surprise all, but these elder statesmen of American film have crafted these categories' finest work. The Aviator, as a film, does dozens of things excellently while Million Dollar Baby does a few things perfectly, and I think that this is the difference between the two. Philosophically then, I should prefer Baby, but I don't. I was compelled more by The Aviator, which managed to be as much an intimate examination of character as it was a grand-scale pageant of Hollywood and politics.

But the Bosey goes to Michel Gondry and his Eternal Sunshine, of course, for the reasons mentioned above (darn you, Oscar!). But in second place for the Bosey: Sam Raimi and Spider-Man 2. Scoff all you want, but was there a more effective film in all of 2004? It mastered its genre and improved on its 2002 original with a great story, swell character development, and lots of heart. I would also have been happy to have Fahrenheit 9/11's Michael Moore or The Passion of the Christ's Mel Gibson nominated as directors but not their films, which were problematic and not better than the other nominees in the Best Picture category. Who were better than Moore or Gibson at telling their stories with focus and precision, not to mention well passion?

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