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For the week of Feb. 23 through Feb. 29, 2000

Oscar field is cause for optimism

Film critic David Meyer on the Academy’s nominations

Express Staff Writer

Oscars 2000

Once Dustin Hoffman revealed the Oscar nominations last Tuesday morning from Beverly Hills, film critics got grumpy for one reason or another: Jim Carrey was spurned; The Green Mile was undeserving; Ripley was too dark for the Academy and Magnolia too clever.

"How could the Academy do that?" seemed to be the critics’ collective whine. Ketchum’s David Meyer, who writes about film for the New York Times and teaches film classes at The New School in New York City, saw the nominations in a different light.

The Cider House RulesTobey Maguire and Charlize Theron, who starred in The Cider House Rules, will be laughing their way to the Oscar ceremony on March 26. Their film received seven nominations, including Best Picture. (Photo by Stephan Vaughan)

"I think it’s cause for optimism," he said in a telephone interview from New York, where he lives half the year. "This was a year in which the big films were not stupid. You can’t say that for the past two years.

"While The Green Mile is a classic Hollywood cornball movie, American Beauty attempts to be truly subversive. And The Insider is the most intelligent movie from Hollywood I‘ve seen in years. It was a smart year for movies, and the Academy’s choices reflect that."

American BeautyAmerican Beauty director Sam Mendes and stars Annette Bening and Kevin Spacey have a lot to talk about. The film took eight nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Actor. If you missed it on its first run, you can catch American Beauty this week at the Magic Lantern in Ketchum. (Photo by Lorey Sebastian)

Meyer quickly defended The Sixth Sense, which many critics claimed pulled in six nominations—including for Best Picture—because it pulled in $280 million.

"The Sixth Sense, with all its dark aspects, is more profound than just a horror movie," Meyer said. "That screenplay had been floating around Hollywood and building interest. It sold for a high price and then nobody messed with it. It was nice to see something that was intended to be smart and stayed smart.

"I’m astonished that Bruce Willis was not nominated," Meyer added. "He continues to branch out and expand as an actor. It’s a very restrained and intelligent performance, but he doesn’t get the credit."

Man on the MoonJim Carrey could be left wondering why his performance as Andy Kaufman in Milos Forman’s Man on the Moon received no Oscar attention. (Photo by Francois Duhamel)

When it comes to Jim Carrey, who was the big story last week for not being nominated for his performance as Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon, Meyer was not surprised.

"Carrey’s performance was like a black hole," he said. "It drew in energy and emotion. He played self-containment so well that we never got a sense of the guy. For me, it was a real one-note show and in the end dull. I would have been really amazed if he got nominated, but I know they'll hype this as the big shocker, especially those who never went to see the film."

Now, Carrey is in what Meyer called the Robin Williams bind.

"Carrey must play a straight, dramatic role—like Williams in Good Will Hunting—to have a chance at an Oscar. Since he's viewed now as antic and eccentric, he must go mainstream."

The Academy was most astute in its choices of Supporting Actress nominations, according to Meyer.

"These are choices that really attentive, cinephiles might have made," he said. "While the Best Actress nominations are the big names—except for Hilary Swank—the Supporting Actress nominations are the most up-and-coming actresses. It’s like looking at the major leagues and the top drafts in the minor leagues."

Supporting Actress nominee Samantha Morton, who played beside Sean Penn in Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown, is "the most interesting young actress in movies today," Meyer said.

Like other film critics, Meyer got riled by some Academy choices.

"I’m astonished they nominated Jude Law [for Supporting Actor], who can't act at all," he said. "He just goes around looking cool, in a certain showbiz way."

And the Academy left out Dreamlife of Angels, which Meyer called the best foreign film of the year.

Also, he said, Phillip Seymour Hoffman was overlooked for his minor but scene-stealing role in The Talented Mr. Ripley.

"His and Kate Blanchet's were the best performances in Ripley," Meyer said. "Hoffman did something new and unique in Ripley. He got hosed by the Academy."

So is American Beauty going to clean up on Oscar night?

"It’s a tough call in all categories, except for Tom Cruise as Best Supporting Actor in Magnolia," Meyer said. "I think Spacey will win Best Actor and Annette Bening will win Best Actress, but I want Richard Farnsworth and Hilary Swank to win."

One thing audiences can count on, Meyer said, is a coming year of even better movies.

"We’re starting to see that the American mass audience doesn’t have to have stupid movies anymore," he said. "Audiences are becoming so sophisticated with all the well-directed commercials, with creative videos on MTV and with the filtering up of independent films. Big audiences are ready for better filmmaking."


The Oscar Nominations


American Beauty

The Cider House Rules

The Green Mile

The Insider

The Sixth Sense


Russel Crowe, The Insider

Richard Farnsworth, The Straight Story

Sean Penn, Sweet and Lowdown

Kevin Spacey, American Beauty

Denzel Washington, The Hurricane


Annette Bening, American Beauty

Janet McTeer, Tumbleweeds

Julianne Moore, The End of the Affair

Meryl Streep, Music of the Heart

Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry


Michael Caine, The Cider House Rules

Tom Cruise, Magnolia

Michael Clarke Duncan, The Green Mile

Jude Law, The Talented Mr. Ripley

Haley Joel Osment, The Sixth Sense


Toni Collette, The Sixth Sense

Angelina Jolie, Girl, Interrupted

Catherine Keener, Being John Malkovich

Samantha Morton, Sweet and Lowdown

Chloe Sevigny, Boys Don’t Cry


Lasse Hallstrom, The Cider House Rules

Spike Jonze, Being John Malkovich

Michael Mann, The Insider

Sam Mendes, American Beauty

M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense


P.T. Anderson, Magnolia

Alan Ball, American Beauty

Charlie Kaufman, Being John Malkovich

Mike Leigh, Topsy-Turvy

M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense


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