It was during an interview with Mark Kermode that I asked him how long someone really needs to gestate on a film, and come up with a proper review. “About ten years,” he said. I get his point. Each awards season, it’s about, at best, what feels like the best film right then. Not the one that settles over a period of time, or shows you new things each time you watch it. But the one that you watched once, and affected you once. It’s the only way, anyway, I can think of why A Beautiful Mind won a Best Picture Oscar.
This weekend, then, is the Academy Awards once more. And I thought it’d be worth rewinding ten years, to see whether the Academy’s choices on February 27th 2005 still stood the test of time. The Aviator won the most gongs that night, with five, but Million Dollar Baby was the big winner. So let’s go through some of the key categories…
Million Dollar Baby
What else was nominated:
The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Ray, Sideways
Ten years on, that line-up of Best Picture nominees can’t help but look weak. How many of us harp on about how great a movie Ray is, a decade later? And whilst The Aviator and Finding Neverland have their moments, neither seems like a flat-out classic, or close to it.
Sideways, even at the time, looked the strongest of the Best Picture nominees in 2005, and it’s certainly the film that’s endured the most. I liked Million Dollar Baby a lot when I first saw it, but it’s a film that hinges heavily on a big twist (that I won’t spoil here), and it didn’t quite work for me in the same way second time around. I wonder if it’s a one-watch film, in truth.
The glaring omission, and arguably the eligible film that’s endured the most, is Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. Personally, I’d edge Sideways over it, but Michel Gondry’s daring, original movie at the very least should be on the nominees list. Other 2004 releases that I’d class as better than Ray and Finding Neverland? Try Downfall, Kinsey, Howl’s Moving Castle, Dead Man’s Shoes, Before Sunset, Friday Night Lights, and The Machinist. None of them got a look in.
Jamie Foxx (Ray)
Who else was nominated:
Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda)Johnny Depp (Finding Neverland)Leonardo DiCaprio (The Aviator)Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby)
To be fair here, Jamie Foxx’s performance as Ray Charles was excellent. It’s no secret that a biopic is a good path to the nomination list – just ask Benedict Cumberbatch this year – but still, only Don Cheadle on that list really gives Foxx a run for his money. It’s interesting that, a decade on, Messrs Depp, DiCaprio and Cheadle are still bereft of Oscar gold.
The omissions? Jim Carrey’s excellent lead turn in Eternal Sunshine, and the heart-breaking Paul Giamatti in Sideways were the obvious snubs at the time. But what about Christian Bale in The Machinist? Billy Bob Thornton in Friday Night Lights? Or Javier Bardem in The Sea Inside?
Then there’s Liam Neeson in the woefully underrated Kinsey, too, and the incredibly bold work from Kevin Bacon in The Woodsman. And whilst the movie itself is far from perfect, Kevin Spacey was a good Bobby Darin in Beyond The Sea.
Bruno Ganz, as cinema’s best ever Hitler (and the instigator of thousands of YouTube parodies), is a sore omission, meanwhile.
Foxx’s performance, though, is pretty much a perfect Oscar role, and remains the only really memorable feature of an otherwise pretty much forgotten movie. My love of Sideways, though, would have edged Giamatti for this one. The moment where he describes his perfect bottle of wine is just wonderful.
Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby)
Who else was nominated:
Annette Bening (Being Julia)Catalina Sandino Morena (Maria Full Of Grace)Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake)Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind)
Hilary Swank is excellent in Million Dollar Baby, just as she was excellent in Boys Don’t Cry. I can’t, in my heart, begrudge her two Oscars. But I can mourn the fact that the Academy had a chance to give gold to Imelda Staunton, and missed its chance. Staunton’s work in Vera Drake was an absolute standout on the list of nominees for me, and that’s factoring in that the Best Actress line-up was arguably better than the Best Actor one.
So who was overlooked? Uma Thurman in Kill Bill: Volume 2 was always going to be a long shot, but Nicole Kidman in Birth was arguably a better bet. Samantha Morton for Enduring Love, Julie Delpy and her guitar for Before Sunset and Emily Blunt for My Summer Of Love would have been good shouts as well.
Still, for me, it was Imelda Staunton then and it’s Imelda Staunton now, for her outstanding work in a role that still feels like it matters.
Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby)
Who else was nominated:
Taylor Hackford (Ray)Mike Leigh (Vera Drake)Alexander Payne (Sideways)Martin Scorsese (The Aviator)
Until the late charge for Million Dollar Baby, this was going to be the year that Martin Scorsese finally won his Oscar (he would eventually break his duck with The Departed, a couple of years later). But Million Dollar Baby had momentum, in a rat race that was less about the film, more about the election campaigns. I’d argue that Eastwood was a sound choice when he won for Unforgiven, but that Million Dollar Baby isn’t up there with his best directorial work (even though I like the film).
The decision to overlook Michel Gondry for Eternal Sunshine in place of Taylor Hackford for Ray looks downright scandalous in hindsight. But then, didn’t Brad Bird deserve a nod too for The Incredibles? Michael Mann had a shout for Collateral too, whilst Oliver Hirschbiegel for Downfall should have broken out of the Foreign Language movie category.
In truth, though, this should have been Gondry’s Oscar. So many moments in that film still strike.
Best Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett (The Aviator)
Who else was nominated:
Laura Linney (Kinsey)Virginia Madsen (Sideways)Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda)Natalie Portman (Closer)
Again, a really strong field here, and I struggle to begrudge Blanchett an Oscar. That said, I also think Laura Linney’s was the best of the performances that the Academy chose to highlight here. Add in the fact that she’s been one of America’s best and most underappreciated acting talents of any gender for the past decade, and she’s long overdue more recognition. But she was excellent in Kinsey, it’s just the film itself didn’t have the necessary ‘buzz’ and ‘momentum’. Surprisingly too, the Academy missed a chance to nominate Meryl Streep for something: The Manchurian Candidate remake may have disappeared from most people’s conscious, but her work in it was excellent.
It was never going to happen meanwhile, but a shout to one of the cast of Mean Girls would have been earned here. If you’re looking for eligible movies that have really, really endured, with performances to match, then surely it’s a strong candidate.
Best Supporting Actor
Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby)
Who else was nominated:
Alan Alda (The Aviator)Thomas Haden Church (Sideways)Jamie Foxx (Collateral)Clive Owen (Closer)
When Al Pacino took home his Oscar for Scent Of A Woman, we all knew. Few people outright loved Scent Of A Woman, but here was an irresistible chance to vote for a man in an Oscar-friendly role, and reward his career. Never mind that Scent Of A Woman remains far from Pacino’s best work. Just consider it the Oscar we owe you for Dog Day Afternoon.
Morgan Freeman should have won for Seven. Morgan Freeman should have won for The Shawshank Redemption. Heck, Morgan Freeman had a case for Lean On Me too. Here’s quietly strong, as usual, in Million Dollar Baby, but there’s a sense of it being a lifetime achievement award too.
Of those nominated, Clive Owen’s Closer role arguably remains his career highlight, whilst Thomas Haden Church and his broken nose stuck long in the mind once Sideways was done. There had been a campaign of sorts to get David Carradine a nod for Kill Bill Volume 2, but as with Uma Thurman’s Best Actress chances, it was always a long shot.
Lots of the cast of Friday Night Lights for one, whilst Bill Murray in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou was wonderful. I’ve a sneaking regard for the cast of Danny Boyle’s Millions too, which never got a sniff at anything.
If I had to pick one of the nominated performances to win, I can see the temptation to choose Freeman though. But I do think that Jamie Foxx was the heart of Collateral. I don’t love the film as much as some, but it’s comfortably as good as his gong-laden work in Ray.
And the rest…
There were things that the 77th Academy Awards clearly got right. The best original screenplay Oscar went to Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry and Pierre Bismuth being the film’s writers), whilst The Incredibles was the easy, easy winner of the Best Animated Feature Oscar. Furthermore, Sideways won Best Adapted Screenplay, although we’d have been happy if Before Sunrise had nabbed it too (Before Sunrise‘s screenplay was deemed ‘adapted’ because it was based on pre-existing characters). Furthermore, Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing of The Aviator was hard to grumble with.
This has been an interesting experiment for me, though. Ten years on, as I thought may be the case, the film that earned the most big Oscars, Million Dollar Baby, is the one I hear pretty much the least about. The ones that missed – Downfall, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, and Sideways – crop up in conversation far more often. And, I’d wager, get watched and appreciated more often too…