Oscars 2006: Stripes’ couch critics select our own winners
Stars and Stripes March 5, 2006
Seen any of the 2005 Academy Awards nominees?
That’s OK. Meet eight people who have — Stripes’ Oscar couch critics. They saw them so you don’t have to.
The group returns for its third year of watching, debating and selecting who they believe deserves to receive the award. Check out the show on March 5 to see if Oscar voters agreed.
Best Picture“Brokeback Mountain”“Capote”“Crash”“Good Night, and Good Luck”“Munich”Words used by the critics to describe this crop of nominees: Depressing. Thoughtful. Preachy. Intense. Subpar.
“Is not-so-good one word?” one critic asked.
For many of the critics, picking a winner in this category was like choosing among the least of evils. Underwhelmed, they settled on the movie that wasn’t a biopic (“Capote”), wasn’t based on a historical event (“Good Night, and Good Luck,” “Munich”) or from a literary source (“Brokeback Mountain”) — “Crash,” an ensemble drama about racism in Los Angeles released last summer starring several well-known actors.
Karen thought the movie, written by last year’s best picture winner “Million Dollar Baby” scribe Paul Haggis, had two things going for it. “‘Crash’ is a completely original concept, but … I would also say it was the only film in which I did not shift around and think, ‘Is this almost over?’”
Rich, who supported “Munich” in this category, felt like there was no way the Academy would reward “Crash,” which was too preachy. But Pat favored the film despite its heavy topic. “All of these movies, there was a risk of them being very preachy and I think two or three of them were, but some of them rose above that.”
Luisa felt “Crash” was an important film and deserving of Oscar recognition. “Because it’s interesting for Americans to realize that they actually do this. … As a foreigner, you see those things and you go ‘Oh, that’s right, people do behave like that and they do say those things about each other.’ I thought it was really good.”
The movie that generated the most conversation among the critics was “Brokeback Mountain,” a drama involving a gay relationship between two sheepherders that begins in the 1960s. Stateside, the movie has received a ton of hype and has been rewarded with a BAFTA and a Golden Globe and is the critical favorite going into this Oscars.
Several were frustrated with the movie, especially its ending.
“I was very disappointed in ‘Brokeback Mountain,’” Rich said. ”I thought it was overly built up. I kept waiting for some big climax, some revelation. All they did was pick up two points in these guys’ lives, follow them for a couple of decades and leave it off. At the end of the movie, you’re kinda left going, ‘huh?’”
It reminded him of “Out of Africa.”
Pat was bothered about the way the buildup defined the movie as a love story, but Kate said she didn’t think it was a love story at all.
Chris, who couldn’t pick a fave in this category, said he thinks “Brokeback” will win. “It was kind of antiseptic [in its] approach to this subject — [trying] not to be too out there.”
The committee felt that “Match Point” (“I thought that was the best movie I saw all year,” Chris said), “North Country,” “Cinderella Man” and “Walk the Line” were missing from this category. Also missing, a movie that, when mentioned, generated laughs — “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
“That is the one thing missing from all five of these — [none is] fun to watch,” Karen said.
Best Animated Feature Film“Howl’s Moving Castle”“Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride”“Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit”There was little debate on the best animated feature. While the committee felt animation-wise, “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride” might be better, it was the big screen turn of an old favorite we wish would win.
“[‘Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit’] has what a lot of animated films don’t have anymore, and that’s heart,” said Chris. “So many of these are ‘sit the kid down for two hours and keep them quiet while watching Pixar,’ and here was something that was warm and fun and didn’t look like everything else that was out there.”
Best ActorPhilip Seymour Hoffman, “Capote”Terrence Howard, “Hustle & Flow”Heath Ledger, “Brokeback Mountain”Joaquin Phoenix, “Walk the Line”David Strathairn, “Good Night, and Good Luck”This category didn’t generate much conversation beyond Philip Seymour Hoffman’s uncanny portrayal of writer Truman Capote in “Capote.”
“I was fascinated by … Hoffman; he just transfixed me,” Rich said. “I always thought he was an ordinary- looking guy. Every time he turns up in a movie, I’m like, ‘Why did he get [in this movie]?’ Sorta like John C. Reilly, ‘Why does this guy keep getting roles?’, but then I watch the movie and I’m astounded at how good they are. … He was dead-on, as close as you can get.”
Pat agreed that Hoffman, who has already won a Golden Globe for this role, should get an Oscar, too. “He was stunning. Hoffman’s a real, real actor, I feel. These other guys are, right now, kind of stars [rather than actors].”
The critics did appreciate the challenge Heath Ledger faced in his very understated role in “Brokeback Mountain,” and a vocal minority pushed for Terrence Howard, who played a pimp in “Hustle and Flow,” especially as it is an original, fresh role. Some of the critics were concerned about how some actors might be perceived as impersonating, rather than portraying, and might suffer in comparison to Jamie Foxx’s Oscar-winning turn as Ray Charles in 2004.
Best Supporting ActorGeorge Clooney, “Syriana”Matt Dillon, “Crash”Paul Giamatti, “Cinderella Man”Jake Gyllenhaal, “Brokeback Mountain”William Hurt, “A History of Violence”This category generated the most debate — and took the longest for the committee to settle on a winner. But with five great performers vying for best supporting actor honors, it wasn’t a surprise.
Paul Giamatti led the early discussion, a nominee in the best actor category last year for his turn in “Sideways.”
“I want to see him win an Oscar,” Kate said of Giamatti, although Pat says he overacted in last summer’s release “Cinderella Man.” Instead, Pat and Rich favored William Hurt. “You got to see how exasperated he gets when something doesn’t go his way,” Pat said. “It’s so subtle, and so beautiful, you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s it, that’s a winner.’”
Rich said that despite the performance, one thing might keep Hurt, who won best actor in 1986, from the award. “He’s funny, he’s evil, he’s violent, he’s terrifying, but he was only in it for five minutes.”
Luisa is pulling for triple Oscar nominee George Clooney.
But it was Matt Dillon’s role as a racist cop that impressed the critics.
Doug pointed out, “By the end of that movie, I hated [Matt Dillon’s character].”
“Then he’s done his job,” said Rich about Dillon.
Best ActressJudi Dench, “Mrs Henderson Presents”Felicity Huffman, “Transamerica”Keira Knightley, “Pride & Prejudice”Charlize Theron, “North Country”Reese Witherspoon, “Walk the Line”It was too easy to pick a winner in this category. Felicity Huffman’s name came up the second we opened the best actress discussion. The critics deviated from topic only to dismiss three of the other actresses as unworthy.
But not Huffman, who plays a man in the midst of sex-reassignment surgery who discovers he has a son. The pair then take a cross-country trip together. It’s a departure from her “Desperate Housewives” role (started after the completion of “Transamerica”).
“She’s in nearly every scene of that movie, and she carries it and I can’t imagine the movie working with anyone else,” Karen says.
As for the previous winner, Charlize Theron, Doug said she doesn’t stand a chance. “She wasn’t too convincing, but I still enjoyed the movie.”
Best Supporting ActressAmy Adams, “Junebug”Catherine Keener, “Capote”Frances McDormand, “North Country”Rachel Weisz, “The Constant Gardener”Michelle Williams, “Brokeback Mountain”Split between two actresses, both first-time nominees, the critics found themselves struggling.
First up: Amy Adams, who fully realized her role as the flighty, pregnant sister-in-law in the Southern family drama “Junebug,” and already has taken home a Screen Actors Guild honor.
“If she wins [the Oscar], she should really tip her hat to the writers,” Pat explained. because that was such a well-written piece for her.”
But our kudos ultimately go to Rachel Weisz for her role in “The Constant Gardener.” Weisz has earned the BAFTA and Golden Globe nods for the role.
Chris wondered why she was in this category. “I was surprised she was up for supporting actress because she had as much screen time in that film as anybody, and … that was one of the best films I saw all year. Considering everything you see of her is in flashback mode. … It was really well done.”
Kate worries that Rachel has been in some less-than- Oscar-worthy movies like “Constantine” and “The Mummy,” and that might affect her chances for getting the award.
Doug also pushed for Frances McDormand for her challenging “North Country” role.
Stripes’ couch critics are: Pat Dickson, Washington Bureau Chief; Douglas Gillam, graphic designer; Luisa Hernandez, marketing; Rich Killmon, sports copy editor; Danielle Kiracofe, Scene editor; Chris Six, assistant manager editor photo/graphics; Karen Willenbrecht, Pacific copy dek chief; and Kate Williams, Scene editor.
Oscars for the rest of us
Stripes’ Oscar critics didn’t limit their movie viewing to the best picture candidates. They also saw some other movies they declare winners:
Chris says that this movie was a surprise and credits it to Steve Carell. “It was priceless. Instead of just being all cheese jokes, there was actually some depth to it, and that was what surprised.” Karen points out that this flick is a cultural touchstone. “You can quote a line from that movie and almost everyone around you in any situation will know what you’re talking about.”
“War of the Worlds”
Kate says, “Watching ‘War of the Worlds’ is a visceral experience. You’ll find yourself grieving for our overtaken planet while in the theater, feeling vulnerable and potentially under attack from aliens at any moment after you leave it, and grudgingly admitting that, for all his other issues, Tom Cruise is a darned fine actor. Dakota Fanning is, as always, terrific as his often-terrified daughter. The narrative technique and special effects add to the experience instead of being distractions, as they often are in other summer flicks.”
Danielle says, “Solidly put together and a wonderful re-imagining of ‘Batman.’ The perfect balance of mood and writing, along with the talents of future Oscar winner Christian Bale, help to reimagine the dark hero as real rather than comic.”
“History of Violence” (on DVD March 14)
Doug says, “A good movie. If you watch it, during the movie, you’re really trying to [figure out] if Viggo Mortensen did have a bad past, or is he [being] confused with someone else?”
Other movies to see: