Finally, a year has come when the Academy nominated correctly
… or almost. One would be hard pressed to argue against the
voters’ reasoning for naming a fantasy, a devastated
father’s story, a high-seas adventure and a Tokyo tale among
2003’s elite — though the horse is questionable.

Kate Green

As always, there remain some fringe films that unfortunately
missed the cut because of their lack of marketing power (“In
America,” “Big Fish”). And for once, quite
amusingly, we won’t be seeing Harvey Weinstein or his
company’s name on the list of winners (but it would have been
nice to see “City of God” or “Kill Bill”
among the possibles). While he’ll blow off steam to every
reporter in the country that “Cold Mountain” had its
nomination hindered by a late release date, there is no avoiding
the fact that it just wasn’t one of the year’s
best.

Suffice it to say that “Seabiscuit” seems the oddest
of all nominees. Having garnered an improbable seven noms, the
best-looking summer film has ridden the whole way on the money
behind its awards push. Top-lined by a superb cast, including the
scene-stealing William H. Macy, it certainly received the most
critical acclaim of the summer and added an amazing look to an
already American audience-oriented story.

However, it often dragged, provided the usual sappiness
attributed to such a success story, and limped past the climactic
match-race in an uncaptivating comeback plot turn. The acting was
good, not great; same with the direction; and the film’s best
quality, it’s cinematography, pales in comparison to the
other films in that category. This nomination is more a purchased
one than an honorable one with a real prospect of winning.

“Mystic River,” conversely, has probably the best
chance to snatch the statuette from New Line’s deserving
hands. Praised by critics as a cinematic triumph, yet no better
than some of the year’s other depressing tear-jerkers
(especially the other Sean Penn showcase, “21 Grams”),
Clint Eastwood’s non-Western opus has the benefit of names:
Eastwood and Penn, but virtually all of the all-star cast as well
— Robbins, Bacon, Gay Harden, Linney and Fishburne.

Yet even though the acting was certainly outstanding and the
script superb, too many gimmicks and an uncalled for Lady Macbeth
ending leave holes in “Mystic.” It certainly has a
right to stand alongside the other nominees, but it would be a
shame for Eastwood to walk away with Oscar this year.

Ah, the swashbuckling epic that is “Master and
Commander.” Russel Crowe and more so Paul Bettany deserved to
be honored in their respective categories, and this high-seas
adventure has the action and heart the Academy loves. Peter Weir
again showcases his enviable talents in a superb exploration of
character and friendship in the line of fire. To call this
achievement praiseworthy would hardly do it justice.

Considering all aspects of “Master” places it in a
unique position amongst the contenders. While it has everything
“Gladiator” wanted and the outpouring of subtlety
Ridley Scott only wished for, it has the unfortunate task to take
the eyes off “The Return of the King.” It has a
miniscule chance to win, but the chance still exists. To
Weir’s credit, he did manage to create probably the best
pirate-like film in half a century; however, the prize belongs
elsewhere.

“Lost in Translation” appears somewhat like the
Little Engine That Could in this race. Struggling through an uphill
battle, it needs every “I think I can” it can muster.
As Sophia Coppola’s sophomore effort,
“Translation” stunned critics and moviegoers alike with
a fantastic story and even better acting. Scarlett Johansson is a
welcomed young face to the popular front, and Bill Murray performed
his heart out in his best portrayal yet. This train took the Best
Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy Golden Globe home, and it
has the rumblings of a Cinderella written all over it.

Too bad. The youngest member of Hollywood’s royal
Coppola’s has only a smidgen of hope to steal the pot.
It’s a cute little film, but that’s its problem: no
marketing power. Many voters will surely be enamored with the only
indie on the list, but the steamrolling juggernaut of an adaptation
that is “Return of the King” looks to crush everything
in its path.

And deservedly so. Not only is “The Lord of the Rings: The
Return of the King” the final chapter in one of the greatest
trilogies ever written made into one of the greatest trilogies ever
filmed, but it also has the balance that its predecessors lacked.
Peter Jackson’s masterful filmmaking has the best odds for
Hollywood’s most coveted prize, and the third time should be
a charm.

Sweeping and inspiring, breathtaking and heartfelt, this
one’s got the goods. Some say that the Academy has waited
three years (and through presenting arguably worse films with the
gold) to crown the “King,” and New Line certainly made
sure everything fell into perfect order to make it happen. Sound,
editing, special effects, acting, directing, writing … you
name it, this one’s got the best of it.

Thus, when it comes time for the endless ceremony, an adventure
in itself, to say goodnight, the right movie for once will be
awarded its due. Odds are for the little hobbits, and justifiably
so. Congratulations Oscar, you’re going home.

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