Winner: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Director: Peter Jackson
Distributed by: New Line Cinema
This was an exciting year for Peter Jackson and everyone for LOTR, but not a lot of other people. In probably one of the most predictable Oscar years, LOTR took home just about everything it seems. It was nominated for eleven Oscars, and it took home eleven Oscars. Everybody knew it was going to happen. The Academy was just waiting till the last film to reward the series. Too bad it was for probably the weakest of the trilogy. I love the first film and the second one is my favorite, but the third is just...well...the end. I love this film too, but I mean, come on, you can't beat the second one with the ents and the Battle of Helms Deep. All three films probably represent the best trilogy of all time, save for Star Wars. This was an unfortunate year for all the other Best Picture nominees, as they had to try and overcome the clear favorite of the race. It was futile however, and some pretty decent films like Eastwood directed, Mystic River, and the indie surprise, Lost in Translation. Then there was Master and Commander and Seabiscuit. Meh. Any other year Mystic River probably could have taken home the prize, but noooo, it just had to come out in 2003! Luckily for other films, LOTR was not nominated for any acting awards, but they did win just about every technical award, along with the Oscars for Adapted Screenplay and Director! LOTR remains to be the only fantasy genre picture to win the Oscar, and third film to win eleven Oscars (the most ever) the others being Ben-Hur and Titanic. This was probably the most boring Oscars I've ever seen, though. They could have given it all the awards and called it a night, and it would have saved everyone there about four hours of bad jokes and dance numbers. Oh, and I didn't bother with a plot, because I know you've all seen this movie. Everyone has.
Winner: Million Dollar Baby
Director: Clint Eastwood
Distributed by: Warner Bros.
Million Dollar Baby, if you take the title literally, is the story of a baby that wins a million dollars through a crazy turn of events. It's basically a combination of Blank Check and Baby's Day Out. Actually, it's the story of a girl, Maggie (Hilary Swank), who longs to be a boxer. She coaxes a retired boxing coach, Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood), into training her and he enlists his old boxer friend, "Scrap Iron" (Morgan Freeman), to help. They both train her into a decent fighter and she eventually accepts to compete in a championship match. Let's just say, it doesn't end like you think, and it involves a stool. I'm not going to go any further into the movie, since there may be some people who still would like to check the film out. A little over ten years later, we have a Clint Eastwood directed film, starring Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman, except this time they aren't cowboys, they're old boxers. I guess the formula works! All Eastwood has to do is keep starring with Freeman in films and he's got Oscar gold! See, that was the problem with Mystic River, no Eastwood or Freeman. The film was a hit with audiences and critics, though some didn't like the controversial ending. It didn't stop it from knocking out other nominees like: The Aviator (another film that didn't deserve the Oscar that the Academy was waiting to give Scorsese), Ray, Sideways, and Finding Neverland. So, not a bad year at all. I'm telling you though, it's the whole Eastwood involvement. It helps that many of the Academy voters are from his era. Baby ended up winning Best Director, Best Actress (Swank), and Best Supporting Actor (Freeman).
Director: Paul Haggis
Distributed by: Lionsgate
I have to imagine that this film winning caught even Haggis by surprise. It wasn't the front-runner, and it wasn't released during the "Oscar season." Probably the most controversial win in recent Oscar history, the film had divided critics and audiences. It deals with eight different stories during an average day in L.A. In these stories that slowly intertwine, we see the effects of racism, fear, and prejudice. The movie takes an interesting take on racism though, as it shows those reacting to racism as being racist in some ways themselves. No one is perfect. But, Haggis makes it clear that many of the actions are done out of misconceptions or from ignorance not outright malice. It has an ensemble cast, including: Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, and Matt Dillon. Most criticism came to the movie after it won Best Picture. It went from being one of the best films of the year, to being preachy garbage. I couldn't believe the backlash this movie got. I personally like the movie, but I do admit that it should have never won. Its competition that year was: Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Goodnight, and Good Luck, and Munich. That's one heavy year. All films were serious, and some were even pretty dark. The clear favorite was Brokeback Mountain. Then a funny thing happened: it didn't win. Why? Well, some think that there was a lingering fear of homosexuality in the Academy at the time. Others believe that Crash spoke to the Academy in a fundamental level. The movie was based in L.A. and that's exactly were the aged voters live. Whatever the reasons, it turned into a huge controversy that ruined Crash's reputation. It hadn't even been nominated for any of the top Golden Globe prizes, so how did it get anywhere in the Oscars? It only took home three Oscars in the end, the unexpected one, one for Best Original Screenplay, and one for Best Editing. Woohoo. See this movie if you haven't, if only to judge for yourself whether it deserves all the hate.
Winner: The Departed
Director: Martin Scorsese
Distributed by: Warner Bros.
So it finally happened. The Academy could finally give Scorsese his long deserved Oscar that they had decided to withhold until now. Is The Departed the best of the Scorsese bunch? No, but it's up there, and its definitely better than his last couple outings. The Departed deals with an undercover cop (Leonardo Di Caprio) who is deeply ingrained in the Irish mafia in Boston, and an undercover mafia member (Matt Damon) who is deeply ingrained in the Boston P.D. They both realize there's a mole in each group and must race to expose the other. The supporting cast includes Jack Nicholson as the mafia boss, and Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, and Alec Baldwin as men in the Boston P.D. Like I said, this was a long overdue Oscar win for Scorsese, but some feel it was a lifetime achievement award, and not a legitimate win. Scorsese himself said the reason he won this time was because, "this film actually had a plot." The Departed's competition that year consisted of: Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, and The Queen. Not a bad year actually, but I really think that the Academy finally found a movie worthy of the Scorsese Oscar. The film was rated as many critic's number one movie of the year, and was at the forefront of the Oscar race. Probably the only gripe against the movie was that it wasn't as good as the Chinese original called Internal Affairs. The only thing that was a bit off this year was the snub of Guillermo del Toro's, Pan's Labyrinth, a film which was the highest rated for the 2000's on Metacritic. It probably couldn't have beat The Departed, but it could have at least went in instead of Babel. Pan's Labyrinth is a very good film, and it's too bad it didn't get recognized. The Departed also won for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing. It's a great mob movie, so if you're in the mood for something Scorsese, but something more recent, check it out.
Winner: No Country For Old Men
Director: The Coen Brothers
Distributed by: Miramax Films
I didn't really pay that much attention to the Oscars after LOTR won in 03'. If the films that were up for Best Picture interested me, than I'd make a conscious effort. I don't think I even watched 04's Oscars at all, and only peeked in on the next two. This year was different. I was very interested to see which film would win: No Country For Old Men or There Will Be Blood. I'd seen both films and loved them both. Who was I rooting for that year? Well, if you know me, than you know that I love the Coen Brothers. I own most of their movies and some (The Big Lebowski, Fargo, Raising Arizona, O Brother Where Art Thou?, and Barton Fink) are among my favorite films. Sure, they've had a few bumps like The Ladykillers, Burn After Reading, and The Hudsucker Proxy (which is still a good film) but their still better than a lot of the films out there. OK, maybe not The Ladykillers, that was pretty bad. That being said, I'm going to try and be unbiased. I wasn't unbiased the night of the Oscars, though. I really wanted the Coens to get their due. They did, of course, and also collected statues for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. They became the fifth directors to collect three Oscars for one film, giving that they wrote, directed, and produced the film. No Country For Old Men, adapted from the book by Cormac McCarthy, deals with an old sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) trying to track down two men. One of the men, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), had stumbled upon a drug deal gone wrong in the desert and took the $2 million dollars that he found in a duffle-bag. The other man, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), is the hit-man sent out to retrieve said money. The film is excellent, I'll just say that now. I'm not doing a great job in describing it, so please go see it. I'm not sure if it's better than Fargo, but it's pretty high up on my list. The best out of the bunch is Bardem, who plays the bowl cut-sporting assassin with scary resolve. He is basically unstoppable evil. The film is actually a lot like Fargo. Both movies deal with an old fashioned cop that it appears is powerless to stop the growing evil invading their town. That's what's so great about both these movies; they both have a collision of innocence and violence. The name of the movie comes from the lament of the elderly sheriff, who throughout the movie bemoans the changes that are happening. Juno, Michael Clayton, and Atonement were the other nominees, though they were never favorites to win. No, it all came down to Men and Blood. While Daniel Day-Lewis' performance may have been astounding, it couldn't take the momentum away from the twisted western the Coen brothers had made.