Sunday, February 19, 2012

Academy Awards Best Picture Revisited: Erin Brockovich (2000)

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Well just a few short days after I wrote about a Best Picture nominee 2001, it's time to write about the
year 2000 the week before the Academy Awards take place. While I did not go as far back as I wanted, it was fun to re-visit the 2000s and the films that were nominated for Best Picture, and the films that should have been nominated for the prize, or won.

There were years when I would say the Academy did pretty well like 2007, 2009, 2010.  Ironically two of those years there were more than 5 nominees so it makes sense that most of the quality films were included.  There were also years the Academy just had brain farts and left off brilliant films like in 2008 when they nominated the boring film The Reader over The Dark Knight, or 2004 when they nominated the over rated bio-pic Ray over my favorite film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  There may be a few here in 2000 as well, or well three.

When I was looking at the first year of this decade i realized I only owned one of the five films nominated for Best Picture, Erin Brockovich.  This says two things to me.  The first this says is that this year was filled with weak Best Picture nominees, and the second is that I probably own the films I think should have been nominated.  The first statement in partially true, and the second statement is true.  Erin Brockovich was directed by a double nominee for Best Director that year, Steven Soderbergh.

Steven Soderbergh was a king of the indie scene in the mid 80's/early 90's.  His most acclaimed film during this time period was the film was the 1989 film sex, lies, and videotape.  Videotape was an audacious look at the world of sex, voyeurism, and fetish, and was one of the best films of that year.  Soderbergh's next big film did not come until about ten years later in 1998, and it was called Out of Sight.  Sight was the first pairing with Clooney and Soderbergh.  Soderbergh and Clooney would go on to work with each other in the Ocean's movies.  2000 has and will be known as the year of Soderbergh; he accomplished a tremendous feat, he was nominated for Best Director for two different films in one year.  The first film was Erinc Brockovich, and the second his vastly superior Traffic.  Soderbergh ended up not splitting the votes and won for Traffic.  After 2000 Soderbergh has not been nominated for the trophy again.  While Soderbergh saw financial success with the three Ocean's films his films have received poor to middling reception since.  I am most excited for the film he has coming out this summer about a bunch of male strippers called Magic Mike.

Back to 2000 though and year of some big hits and misses.  The Best Picture nominees for this year were Chocolat, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, Gladiator, and Traffic.  While I enjoy and respect Erin Brockovich, the story of the women who helps a town put together a law suit against big bad corporate America, I would not have nominated it for Best Picture that year.  The film is solid, and Roberts gives one of the performances of her career.  After watching this film this morning I can say with good authority that Julia Roberts and Albert Finney have amazing chemistry and provide two of the best acting performances for the year.  Roberts is not just playing herself as she often does; she actually has some acting chops in this film.  Finney is just plain great as he usually is in everything he does.

Of the the other nominees the two that belong here without question are Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and Traffic.  These two films are film are some of the best work I have seen.  Chocolat had America and Hollywood with its charm, but charm fades, and this movie fades away to become one of the many forgettable Best Picture nominees.  While I respect many things about Gladiator, I must say this film (which won Best Picture) felt the same as many other prior Best Picture winners, including Ben-Hur, and Braveheart. So what was the Academy missing?

Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous is a sharp poignant, witty tale about a young boy who wants to be a writer, loves music and goes on tour with a band for Rolling Stone.  Crowe used his own life experiences to create the characters, which shows that there is so much heart.  2000 was the year of the movies about drugs.  Darren Aronofsky's film Requiem for a Dream is a dark talk about use and abuse of a variety of different drugs from diet pills to cocaine.  This film is one of the most haunting films I have ever seen.  Requiem garnered a nomination for its star Ellen Burstyn, but was snubbed across the board for its dark tone.  What gets the fifth spot?    There is Curtis Hanson's Wonderboys, about drug addict college professor.  Kenneth Lonnergan's You Can Count on Me, which is about a dysfunctional brother and sister.  Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy about a failed play by Gilbert and Sullivan.  Then there is always the great mockumentary Best in Show by Christopher Guest, which makes fun of the world of dog shows.  Of this list I would have to pick Wonderboys.

My 2000 Best Picture nominations would be as follows:
Almost Famous, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Requiem for a Dream, Traffic, and Wonderboys

While I love Erin Brockovich and the message behind the film, it would not have made it into my top five of the year.  With one week until the Academy Awards I will be retiring this until next year when I will look at the Best Actress category.  In one week we will be adding a new winner to the Best Picture crowd, and we will see how The Artist stands the test of time.

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