Odd Choices for the Oscars

I guess I should be thrilled that “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” was nominated for eleven Oscars yesterday. To me it was a no brainer that Peter Jackson should have also been nominated as Best Director. Clearly the movie also deserved its many of the other nominations, including Best Music and Best Makeup. Since both the movies and the director were skipped in these categories over the last two years the chances are good that Peter Jackson will win Best Director this year, and LotR:RotK will win Best Picture. Hollywood has some serious dues to pay Peter Jackson and Wingnut Films.

So why am I ticked off? Because despite the stellar acting by a superb cast, it did not receive even a single acting nomination. For me it is hard to pick among such worthy candidates from the film. Let’s start with Elijah Wood. I long ago got over that he was too young to play the part (Tolkien portrays Frodo was in his early 50s). And I must say as I watched Wood’s antics in the extended DVDs I personally don’t like the guy. He comes across as young (which he is), abrasive, arrogant and full of himself. Nonetheless his performance across all three films was outstanding. It’s hard for me to pick his best scene, but the one that comes to mind is the one at the end of “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” where he decides to leave his friends and travel to Mordor alone. His performance in that scene alone was worthy of an Oscar.

Arguably Sean Astin as Sam should have at least been nominated for a Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor nomination. In LotR:RotK his acting reached a crescendo. Like the horse Seabiscuit he came from behind and surprised all of us with the quality and depth of his acting. Was it because he portrayed someone who was at heart a very simple and plain man that he was overlooked? Maybe Sean didn’t deserve an Oscar, but surely he deserved a nomination.

And how could the selection committee get through the movie and not possibly nominate Miranda Otto for Best Supporting Actress? My wife loathes the character of Eowyn in the book. And yet she was totally blown away by the depth and complexity of Miranda Otto’s performance. At all three showings of the movie that I attended, the highlight for both me and the audience was Eowyn’s killing of the Witch King. It was one of those magic movie moments that are increasingly rare. You know, the kind where you get so lost in the story that the whole world goes away you actually become one with the story. That scene is unforgettable and produces a primal thrill that never really leaves you. I have been engaged in tasks as mundane as driving when I recall the scene and tears spring from my eyes.

Along with Elijah, Sean and Miranda there were also top notch performances from Bernard Hill (as Theoden), John Nobel (Denethor) and of course Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn). Here we have six excellent candidates and yet not a single nomination. It makes no sense. Instead, who do we get? Johnny Depp for “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Give me a break! Yes, it was a very comic and enjoyable performance but his performance was hardly one deserving of a nomination. It was so over the top it was in outer space somewhere. As my wife pointed out, he looks like he is either high on dope or drunk throughout the movie. The man belonged in detox.

Other odd nominations included Keisha Castle-Hughes in “Whale Rider”. It was certainly not a bad performance for a girl about 13 years old, but hardly one of an actress at the top of her form. I really liked “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” but Best Picture? Nah! Not even close. I haven’t seen every movie on the list but of those I’ve seen the only movie that deserves coming close to LotR:RotK would be “Seabiscuit”.

It’s been clear to me since “The Color Purple” lost both Best Picture and Best Director in 1985 that something is wildly wrong with the Oscar’s nomination and selecting process. While there will always be disagreements, when things are that out of skew all we can do is shake our heads. It is not our judgment that is at question, it is Hollywood’s judgment that has gone awry. But time is the ultimate arbiter. “The Wizard of Oz” lost in 1939 and is now an acknowledged classic. The same is true of “The Color Purple” and will be true of the Rings pictures, even if Hollywood snubs them and Peter Jackson one more time. A hundred years from now people will be huddling around their plasma screen TVs to see the Rings movies one more time. “Master and Commander” will be forgotten as just another sea picture.

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