A-List: Best Picture Nominee Slates - Part 3

By J. Don Birnam

August 4, 2016


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5. 2001: A Beautiful Mind Beats Four Better Movies

In 2001, the five nominees were A Beautiful Mind, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge!, Gosford Park, and In the Bedroom. So, we're looking at another superb lineup where the worst movie, by far, won.

A Beautiful Mind, also called The King’s Speech, also called The Imitation Game, also called The Theory of Everything, is fine as good as it goes, but Aaron Sorkin writes about troubled, misunderstood geniuses way better than Ron Howard could direct them. Worse, the movie pales in comparison to one of the best musicals of all time (Moulin Rouge!), Robert Altman’s last gift to movie lovers (the whodunit costume drama Gosford Park), the first of three fantasy masterpieces that culminated in a sweep of the Oscars (Lord of the Rings), and a touching, emotional melodrama (In the Bedroom).

It is somewhat embarrassing for the Academy that the blander A Beautiful Mind did as well as it did when SAG went for Gosford Park and the PGA for Moulin Rouge. Still, the DGA decided Howard was overdue after his Apollo 13 snub from a few years prior, and that was that. In any case, as we have seen, years such as this one, where the guilds are all over the place, show that the field is strong. The year also had Mulholland Drive and Training Day as possible nominees, as well as Pearl Harbor - just kidding. But Amelie, Memento, The Royal Tenenbaums and Shrek could have all also made it and been respectable.

We are definitely in top five territory now, folks.


4. 2002: Chicago in Another Narrow Victory

And, the very next year is another one of my top five. Clearly, the presence of a Lord of the Rings nomination automatically raises the quality of the slate (except of course that the year Lord of the Rings itself was one of the weakest overall). In any case, I love all five nominees this year, which included The Two Towers, The Hours, The Pianist, Gangs of New York, and the eventual winner, Chicago. This is the last year that a movie that focuses on female characters, that is almost entirely comedic, and that is a true musical, won Best Picture. It is also another split year, with Roman Polanski taking the top Directing award from Rob Marshall for the Holocaust movie. Gangs of New York, meanwhile, became the first in a string of stunning defeats for Martin Scorsese that culminated with his 2006 win (below).

And the movies not nominated in some ways put these strong nominees to shame. Far From Heaven was snubbed, like this year’s Carol (so, not much has changed I suppose), and Talk To Her, Adaptation, Frida, Catch Me If you Can and My Big Fat Greek Wedding were all worthy contenders.

There’s not much more to say except I think the deserving winner won, although I know that choice is far from popular or accepted. But, if you’d allow me, when you consider that almost every winner since then has told the story of straight white guys (with the next entry on my list the only exception), the triumph for Chicago makes the Academy seem a lot more progressive than the current controversies over women and minority nominations would lead you to think…

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