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Re: Best Picture and Director 2004

Posted: Thu Dec 19, 2013 7:25 pm
by Sabin
There are some years where I have an overwhelming favorite movie of the year. Usually it lands miles away from any Oscar consideration, like A Separation, Everyone Else, or The Assassination of Jesse James.... Sometimes, it's within the realm of consideration, like WALL*E or Silver Linings Playbook (or in retrospect, A Separation might have actually been in the cards for a nomination had the release been stronger). I'm not sure that Before Sunset or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would have been nominated in a ten picture slate (maybe Eternal Sunshine... would) but it's hard for me to even mention this race without adding: "By the way, these movies were amazing." For the period of my life when they were released coupled with the fact that it's hard to muster more than warm affection for the best of these films, checking off the best of the year feels a bit silly without these two. Give Best Original Screenplay to one, give Best Adapted Screenplay to the other, and announce them both at the very end of the night so the world knows what's what.

2004 is notable for kicking off a long streak of me watching what I perceived a fluffy Oscar non-starter , promptly checkign it off my list, and then realizing I was very wrong. When I saw Finding Neverland, I thought "This is visibly a misfire." I don't think I predicted it for a single Golden Globe. Was it the state of the race or did Oscar voters just need a hug after the election? Did they, like, those kids, need to be told that everything was going to be okay? Marc Forster was the absolute worst choice to direct this film and tis nominations for Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume are baffling. At least that fucking kid didn't get nominated.

At this point, the era of Miramax was over and the era of The Weinstein Company had not yet come to light. Strange then that 2004 was a year where Focus couldn't get a contender in the final five. After Gosford Park, The Pianist, and Lost in Translation (with Brokeback Mountain, Atonement, and Milk to follow), I don't understand what exactly happened. Either way, Miramax still had two horses in the race: Finding Neverland and The Aviator. I think I envisioned the latter film much in the same way I've been looking at The Wolf of Wall Street...I knew it was coming but it was hard to really pin down whether or not it was going to work (stay tuned...).The Aviator strikes me as an intermittently successful motley of Scorsese-ian preoccupations padding out an elaborate white elephant. Even when it doesn't work, it's never less than engaging, but what truth are we supposed to take away from it? I think biopics are underrated for the first half or so because it's always fun getting to know somebody, let alone somebody worthy of their own movie. I'm not sure where it rests in Scorsese's new millenium ouevre, but it's intersting that the movie that earned him the most nominations might now stand as one of his more underrated. And it's certainly more interesting than something like Ray.

I remember being slightly torn between Million Dollary Baby and Sideways at the time because I thought they were both about as good. Million Dollar Baby is a strong film that I almost wish was destined to being one of Eastwood's gems that never got close to winning. Its pleasures weren't made to stand up to the scrutiny of a Best Picture winner (sandwiched between The Return of the King and Crash, I'd say it looks just fine). Watching it again, I think it's a stronger film without the third act. I hesitate even calling it a "twist". It's heartbreaking, for sure, but aside from giving Eastwood the chance to do the best acting of his career (and man, should he have won!), everything that defines the first half of the lovely film is gone. I think Sideways had it even worse. It so clearly wasn't a movie built to live up to Owen Gleiberman's proclamation that it's the best romantic comedy since Annie Hall (not even the best that year). But I've seen the film again and again over the years. Like Almost Famous (I realize now that the opinions I'm voicing are likely shared by nobody on this board), it's a movie that lives on as a shared experience. You watch it, you go on the journey, you may remember thinking it wasn't as great as everybody said, but it stays with you. And for me, I kept going back on that journey. Overrated, sure, but close to ten years later (!!!), I think it's the film that's aged the best. It gets my vote for Best Picture.

And surely, Mike Leigh deserves a mention for Best Director someplace and this is as good a time as any. I haven't gone back to Vera Drake since it came out but it's one of his better films. I can't vote for Secrets & Lies in the year of Fargo, I've given it to Eastwood elsewhere, and I don't feel the need to laud Alexander Payne's directing.

Re: Best Picture and Director 2004

Posted: Fri Nov 22, 2013 1:09 am
by Heksagon
Yeah. Personally, I have just tried to block any memory that Haggis was in any way involved in this film. :mrgreen:

Re: Best Picture and Director 2004

Posted: Thu Nov 21, 2013 8:45 am
by Eric
That or buyer's remorse over Paul Haggis.

Re: Best Picture and Director 2004

Posted: Thu Nov 21, 2013 1:37 am
by Heksagon
I'm a bit surprised that Sideways is winning this with a decent margin over Million Dollar Baby. I seem to recall that quite a few people were disappointed with Sideways at the time of its release, but I guess this is compensated for by the larger number of people who really loved it.

Re: Best Picture and Director 2004

Posted: Wed Nov 20, 2013 6:01 pm
by Mister Tee
2004 is the pretty rare year where the Oscars largely meshed with my tastes. In fact, if you take the directors' list and swap out Ray for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you'd about have my favorites on the year.

Eternal Sunshine is, indeed, the big miss for me: Charlie Kaufman's most human but still wonderfully inventive script, perfectly realized by Michel Gondry and a fine cast, with Kate Winslet at near her peak. How nice the script even managed to win despite its lack of other nods.

Apart from that, I'd advocate for Bad Education and The Incredibles; not much else.

I put Finding Neverland in the same category as Chocolat: it's nothing I'd ever nominate, and it's annoying to see voters choose it over far more vital work. But, apart from the "heroine coughs/soon to be a corpse" part of the narrative, I didn't find it offensively bad, and don't begrudge people who like that sort of thing.

Ray's Academy popularity was something of a mystery to me. All sorts of comparable musical bios over the years have garnered lead acting nominations without spilling over into the best picture race; why was this one so over-rewarded? That said, I did find the movie's take on Ray Charles to be at least more clear-eyed than the one displayed toward Johnny Cash a year later. Walk the Line followed thebeloved "guy kicks his addiction and finds inner peace" formula. Ray said, if only subtextually, Ray Charles made great music for years and years, and he did it while using substances most of the way -- what do you make of that? It's not a lot to justify a movie, but it did make Ray slightly more than the norm.

The Aviator is probably, in script terms, the weakest of the four remaining films, but it's an absorbing enough dive into the Hollywood of the 30s and 40s, and a reasonably interesting look at a man who was a living mystery for half my life. Above all, I find it a dazzling piece of directing. The material may not be right in Scorsese's mean streets wheelhouse, but, as with The Age of Innocence, he takes hold of it and makes it feel terrifically exciting and creative. The film did come out, as BJ notes, during the period where Scorsese (and his most avid fans) were ravenous for him to win best director, and it may be that desire influenced my choosing him. But, trying to be detached about it, I still think The Aviator, of all films nominated for directing that year, is the one most enhanced by the man at the helm -- something I can't say about the film for which he won two years later. I still think Scorsese deserved to be named best director here, and he gets my vote.

Million Dollar Baby, though, is an overall more cohesive work, and I had no problem with its being named best picture. It's not exactly super-fresh material (although where it goes in the final reel is certainly a surprise), and it's not perfect --Haggis' trashy/hanger-on relatives really drag down the proceedings. But, moment-by-moment, it's a very touching film, full of grace notes that elevate the familiar characters and situations into something of delicate beauty. Eastwood gives perhaps his best self-directed performance (though I still rate In the Line of Fire more highly), and Swank and Freeman match him perfectly. This was definitely one of the films that made the year memorable.

And yet, I liked two better.

Though I don't approach Damien's level of loathing, I've never been much of a Mike Leigh fan. I'd trooped dutifully, over the years, to Life is Sweet, Naked, Topsy Turvy, and been thoroughly unimpressed each time; only Secrets and lies appealed to me much, and even there not on the level it did so many. Well, this is a case of persistence paying off, because I really liked Vera Drake. It was at once a gripping study of a mostly ordinary woman whose world is shattered, and a wide-ranging look at what post-war deprivation did to Britain (especially those in the lower-to-middle classes). Imelda Staunton's Vera was the face of those trudging-forth Brits, and it's heartbreaking to see her punished so horribly for what is, in her heart, a kindness to her fellow citizens. This is the only time I'd even nominate Leigh for best director, and he gets consideration. As I say, I've chosen Scorsese, but Leigh deserves at least a small salute .

Sideways, though, is my favorite film of the year -- a wonderful comedy that somehow spends two hours with people whose lives could easily be viewed as depressing and sends you out of the theatre buoyant. I'm totally on the side of those who say the Miles/Jack friendship is a sort very familiar to me. Haven't the rest of you had friends who stuck around in your life what seemed years past their prime? -- who no doubt wouldn't come into your life today, but have gravitational pull simply from longevity? I can even make the case for WHY they continue to be friends: Jack enjoys having a friend who makes him feel accepted by smart people, and Miles thrives on the fun Jack brings into his life (it's a twist on the old Astaire/Rogers he gave her class/she gave him sex theory). And the film is about what happens when things (here, other relationships) put that bond to the test. It's about lots of other things, too: the hesitations at getting involved after a break-up; the feeling of not having measured up to one's life goals; and, yeah, the love of good wine. That the movie covers all this ground and is so consistently funny throughout lets us know that Payne/Taylor are a filmmaking team with whom to reckon. The film also owes a ton to its quartet of fine actors -- for me, especially the guys, who are better than they've ever been elsewhere. I take BJ's point, that, visually, the film is nothing much. But writing at this level is awfully rare, and it deserves to be celebrated once in a while. Sideways for best picture.

Re: Best Picture and Director 2004

Posted: Wed Nov 20, 2013 11:46 am
by FilmFan720
Note: I haven't seen Vera Drake, an embarrassment for a huge Mike Leigh fan. It might change my vote here.

Another truly fantastic year for movies, followed by a lackluster collection of nominations. The year's two best films were heartbreaking portraits of flawed relationships: Before Sunset and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Before Sunset changes all thoughts of what a sequel could be, while Eternal Sunshine played with every rule of filmmaking to give an explosive cinematic experience. And that wasn't all. We also had such fantastic cinematic pieces as Primer, Bad Education, Kinsey, House of Flying Daggers (which I am alone in preferring to Hero), The Dreamers, Mean Girls, Los Angeles Plays Itself, Kill Bill vol. 2, Prisoner of Azkaban and Team America...what a fantastic group of films.

As others have said, the fact that Kinsey was left off this list while both Ray and The Aviator, two dull and poorly acted biopics, is an insult. But neither is as dull or paint-by-numbers as Finding Neverland. All three are lazy nominations.

I like Alexander Payne a lot, but Sideways is not his shining moment. He gets wonderful performances out of some actors you wouldn't expect them from, but the script has enough problems and the ending ethically questionable enough that I can't really endorse the film fully.

I can endorse Million Dollar Baby, though. A year after a failed Eastwood film took several major awards, here came a film that highlights everything Eastwood does well: the acting is minimal yet powerful, the direction tight and the film is stripped of any sort of sappiness that could sneak through with anyone else. The Academy got this one completely right.

Re: Best Picture and Director 2004

Posted: Tue Nov 19, 2013 8:18 pm
by Cinemanolis
1. Before Sunset
2. Dogville
3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
4. Sideways
5. Closer

1. Lars Von Trier - Dogville
2. Michel Gondry - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
3. Alexander Payne - Sideways
4. Bernardo Bertolucci – The Dreamers
5. Walter Salles - The Motorcycle Diaries

Re: Best Picture and Director 2004

Posted: Tue Nov 19, 2013 7:57 pm
by The Original BJ
I thought 2004 was a pretty strong year overall. My top two were Dogville and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Obviously, the former wasn't coming within the stratosphere of mainstream awards, but for my first-year film school student self, it expanded my idea of what a movie could be that felt completely eye-opening. I had bigger hopes for Eternal Sunshine, the year's great American film, and had predicted Gondry for the lone director spot; two measly nominations for such a wildly imaginative, visually thrilling, and equally hilarious and tender film felt like a great disappointment.

Kinsey was a more traditional awards candidate, and maybe as a result, I was even more crushed by how much voters just brushed it aside -- it struck me as hugely annoying that, in a year when so many biographies did well, the one that I viewed as the best (and the one with the most thematic resonance) was treated as persona non grata.

Other movies I found wonderful across the movie-going spectrum were Before Sunset, Bad Education, and The Incredibles.

The glass-half-full take on Finding Neverbland would be that at least Marc Forster was excluded from the director lineup. I spent most of the fall season rolling my eyes as person after person kept asking me with wild enthusiasm if I'd seen this emotionally overwhelming Peter Pan-themed movie. I didn't remotely respond in the same way as those fans did. I found the movie dwelled upon pretty annoying main themes, celebrating a man-child who would rather play fantasy with little kids than deal with adult issues, and viewing childhood with the kind of noxious nostalgia that would only appeal to me if I were in a state of perpetually arrested development. And it wasn't very well made either, with very little sense of magic in the fantasy sequences, and way-too-literal storytelling (where elements from J.M. Barrie's real life OBVIOUSLY inspire parts of Peter Pan, because there's no way a writer could have come up with that stuff on his own). And, of course, it's the kind of movie where when a character starts coughing in act one, know how that's going to turn out. This was clearly the wrong Kate Winslet movie nominated for Best Picture.

After seeing Ray opening weekend, I assumed, as the rest of the world did, that Jamie Foxx's work as Ray Charles made him an exceedingly strong Best Actor candidate; it didn't even remotely cross my mind that the movie would be a Picture/Director nominee. Ray was the blandest kind of biography, a totally paint-by-numbers affair, where childhood trauma directly informs everything else that ever happens, where the plot bounces from one life event to another with little sense of narrative cohesion, where historical events (like the entire civil rights movement) get lip service as background but never bear any thematic weight. I thought Foxx's performance was strong (though I found the "you WERE Ray Charles" enthusiasm rather overinflated) but this was a case where basically one central role carried along an entire movie to undeserved awards attention. As for Taylor Hackford, he's more competent than Forster, but that's about it. Another waste of space nominee.

I was really starting to give up hope that Scorsese would ever win an Oscar after The Aviator. He finally made the kind of epic movie that had been regularly winning Best Picture for decades (and to which his own Goodfellas had disappointingly lost), and voters passed again. On Oscar night, I was deeply rooting for Scorsese in the Director category...but that was similar to my enthusiasm two years prior, more for the man's career than for this specific achievement. Which isn't to dismiss The Aviator, which had a lot of merits -- amazing production design that lovingly recreated Old Hollywood, exciting flying sequences, and a strong supporting cast (buoyed most of all by Blanchett). But, though Leo was stronger than his black hole in Gangs, he wouldn't really soar for Scorsese until next time, and the plot, like a lot of this year's biographies, did start to feel like it just went on and on. Scorsese, like last time, directs a mammoth production with great energy and professionalism. But it seemed to me that this wasn't among the most personal of Scorsese's projects -- you can definitely see his touch, but it feels more hemmed in -- and given that I've voted for the director three times already, I don't feel the need to vote for him again here. But, gosh, I was crushed when he lost.

Mike Leigh's inclusion in Best Director was probably the most pleasant surprise for me on nominations morning, and one I hadn't really considered a possibility. Vera Drake is one of the director's strongest films, a film that takes a BIG political issue and focuses very specifically on how it affects a small group of people in very personal ways. As always, the sense of lived-in environment and bonds between family members are beautifully realized by Leigh and his actors (and, the unsung heroes of this movie, his below-the-line design team). And the performance of the year from Imelda Staunton has to be considered the magical result of the union between filmmaker and muse. And yet, despite liking so many of Leigh's films, he's not a director who I've ever deeply wanted to vote for as best of the year. His directorial process typically produces interesting films, but my Best Director choices generally tend to be more stylistically energetic than Leigh tends to be. He doesn't get my vote, but I'm grateful for his filmography.

My Best Picture vote would be a toss-up between Sideways & Million Dollar Baby. I'm very grateful I saw Eastwood's film on opening morning, when I had no idea what the Big Twist was. I had been deeply enjoying the movie up until that point -- loved the casual banter between Eastwood and Freeman, and found Swank's triumph over her struggles powerful. But the big plot turn caught me completely off guard, and moved the film into a sphere that was just overwhelming with emotion. By the time we got to "Mo cuishle means my darling," I felt the movie had reached a level of heartbreak that was just gut-wrenching. And all of this was directed with a graceful touch by Clint Eastwood -- his film is old-fashioned, but its simplicity is a beautiful thing. (And, judging from the difference between those films written by Paul Haggis but directed by Eastwood, and those directed by Haggis himself, Eastwood clearly has an ability to take the writer's more sledge-hammer impulses and allow them to land with a lot more well-earned sensitivity.) Million Dollar Baby is a movie about disappointment, about characters whose dreams often don't come true, but have to keep going on in whatever way they can, if they can. That last hazy shot of Eastwood (maybe?) inside the restaurant feels like the perfect conclusion to the movie -- despite everything he has been through, he can only keep on keeping on, hoping for something better in the future. Like Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby is a dark and haunting tragedy. I didn't pick Eastwood in Director last year, but I'll choose him here as tribute to the films that really defined his late career renaissance as a great director.

Alexander Payne would be quite a bit further down in my director rankings -- I'm a big fan of his films overall, but they're much more dazzling on a writing/acting level than a visual one. (Though I agree with what Mister Tee wrote in the Nebraska thread, Payne's latest represents a significant step up in that department). But what Sideways lacks in cinematographic wow, it more than makes up for it with the writing elements -- smart dialogue, memorable characters, and a storyline that provides a lot of insight into human conditions. I know a lot of people made the claim that Miles and Jack aren't believable as old friends, but I completely bought their relationship -- even at my age, I have close friends who, time and time again, make me remember that we're friends simply because we've known each other for so long, not because we have all that much in common. I think the Miles-Jack bond explores this type of dynamic -- which I can't be the only one who relates to -- in very honest and hilarious ways, and the Miles-Maya romance provides a more dramatic counterpoint, a relationship between two people slightly past their prime struggling to find a genuine connection with each other. I also think the movie is pretty damn hysterical, with scenes like Giamatti drinking the wine waste, or breaking into the guy's apartment to steal back his wallet, provoking far more laughs in me than many broader comedies, simply because the laughs are more strongly tied to the struggles of a very real character. And, like Million Dollar Baby, the movie has a lovely last shot -- we can hope Maya is on the other side of that door, but we can't know for sure. So, in acknowledgment that the best of film comedy can have the resonance and depth of many top dramas, Sideways for Best Picture.

Re: Best Picture and Director 2004

Posted: Tue Nov 19, 2013 1:17 am
by Heksagon
I like this year because it has my favourite winner of the decade - in fact, I feel Million Dollar Baby is the best winner since Schindler's List. Million Dollar Baby is a very simple film that nearly everybody likes; when I see something like that I just start wondering how other films can't deliver on much better premises. It gets my votes, obviously.

I also feel that The Aviator is a very good film, in spite of its Television Movie story. A well structured screenplay and solid direction cover up the linear story as well as Leonardo DiCaprio's limited acting abilities.

Finding Neverland and Sideways are tricky to comment on. They both have significant flaws, but in the end, I enjoyed them both.

Sideways is really carried by two of the best acting performances of the decade, by Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church, who both have a number of excellent scenes. The story is OK, although not necessarily much better than what you see in many obscure independent films. The main issue I have is lack of chemistry between main actors; in many scenes, you just don't get the feeling that Giamatti and Church's characters would really be friends. Even worse, Virginia Madsen's character is woefully under-developed compared to Giamatti and Church's characters, and she doesn't have a lot of chemistry with Giamatti either.

Finding Neverland is held back by its predictable story and mediocre acting (in spite of having a decent cast), but I do like the way in which the film combines fantasy, realism and art. A lot of films have tried to show art as a gateway to fantasy, but few have done it as efficiently as Neverland.

As for Ray, well, let's just say that I don't like Jamie Foxx's performance - which I consider to be a superficial hack performance by a mediocre actor - and that pretty much ends my sympathy for this film. Furthermore, Ray is a lot more like a TV biopic than The Aviator is.

Re: Best Picture and Director 2004

Posted: Mon Nov 18, 2013 12:21 pm
by Reza
Voted for Sideways and Payne.

My picks for 2004:

Best Picture
1. Sideways
2. Dogville
3. Kinsey
4. The Sea Inside
5. Bad Education

The 6th Spot: Million Dollar Baby

Best Director
1.Alexander Payne, Sideways
2. Lars Von Trier, Dogville
3. Pedro Almodovar, Bad Education
4. Bill Condon, Kinsey
5. Mike Leigh, Vera Drake

The 6th Spot: Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby

Re: Best Picture and Director 2004

Posted: Mon Nov 18, 2013 9:40 am
by Big Magilla
I didn't loathe Vera Drake. It and Secrets & Lies were emotionally charged dramas that made the bottom half of my top tens in their respective years, but I'm still scratching my head over Mike Leigh's now seven Oscar nominations - five for writing films that were largely improvised and two for directing uneven casts.

Re: Best Picture and Director 2004

Posted: Mon Nov 18, 2013 8:06 am
by mlrg
Voted for Million Dollar Baby and Eastwood.

On the other hand, I absolutely loathed Vera Drake.

Re: Best Picture and Director 2004

Posted: Mon Nov 18, 2013 8:03 am
by Eric
Apparently, even though I can never forget that Finding Neverland was nominated, I'd completely managed to block out the fact that the just-as-awful Ray was also a best picture nominee. I was a lot colder on Kinsey than many others here, but its dismissal against Ray provided plenty of grist for the argument that Oscar voters only go nuts for biopics when they're centered around people who are instantly, physically recognizable.

01. Tropical Malady
02. Light Is Calling
03. Before Sunset
04. Anatomy of Hell
05. Bad Education
06. Los Angeles Plays Itself
07. Cowards Bend the Knee
08. Vera Drake
09. Moolaadé
10. The Raspberry Reich

Re: Best Picture and Director 2004

Posted: Mon Nov 18, 2013 7:30 am
by Precious Doll
I can't complain about the inclusion of Million Dollar Baby, Vera Drake & Sideways - all very well deserved nominees. All the other nominees left me cold.

My picks for the year:

1. Vera Drake (Mike Leigh)
2. Sideways (Alexander Payne)
3. Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel)
4. Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood)
5. Walk on Water (Eytan Fox)
6. Nobody Knows (Hirokazu Kore-Eda)
7. The World According to Bush (William Karel)
8. Mean Creek (Jacob Aaron Estes)
9. Kinsey (Bill Condon)
10. Head On (Fatih Akin)

Best Picture and Director 2004

Posted: Mon Nov 18, 2013 4:54 am
by Big Magilla
2004 was what I would call an off year at the Oscars. I remember thinking late in the year that Alexander Payne's Sideways, which had been a film festival favorite which I hadn't seen, and Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, a surprise year-end releases which nobody had seen, had to be the awards saviors and they were. People laughed when I predicted a win for Million Dollar Baby sight unseen, but that's the kind of year it was.

I wish Bill Condon's Kinsey hadn't scared off awards granters beginning with the critics, but if it couldn't muster much support among critics, it wasn't going to find much from the Academy. Still one nomination, albeit a good one for Laura Linney, was way too little.

I also liked Terry George's Hotel Rwanda well enough to place it among my top five of the year, although I could see that it might be a bit too intense for the Academy.

Cartainly Kinsey and Hotel Rwanda would have been better choices than Taylor Hackford's Ray, that aside from Jamie Foxx's finely modulated portrayal of Ray Charles and the incorporation of a goodly amount of his music was standard biopic and Finding Neverland, Marc Foster's half-baked attempt at exploring the creative process of J.M. Barrie's writing of Peter Pan. Aside from the lovely work of Kate Winslet and the against type performance of Julie Christie as the inspiration for Captain Hook, the film was pretty much a disappointment.

Martin Scorsese's The Aviator was a mixed bag for me. It had nice production values and an impressive star turn by Leonardo DiCaprio with interesting supporting ones from Alan Alda and Cate Blanchett, though she was only scratched the surface of Katharine Hepburn. On the other hand I didn't learn anything about Howard Hughes I didn't already know.

The finely crafted Sideways and the heartrending Million Dollar Baby remain the best films of the year for me. I think Sideways has aged better, but I have to acknowledge Eastwood somewhere and I can't think of a better place to do it, so my votes go the MDB and him.