Oscar Buzz All Points To Law

Mainstream movie critics from coast to coast have a new thing to complain and muse about this year. Everyone is having trouble predicting the Oscars—that gala of beauty and filmmaking brawn that will have the world talking for weeks in late winter about J. Lo’s Versace gown, which I predict this year will be daring combination of faux buffalo hide and a Bennifer t-shirt. The problem is, in 2004 (insert gasps, fainting, etc.), there are no front-runners. No Lord of the Rings. No American Beauty or biopics starring Russell Crowe. Some in the industry see this as a good thing, because it could allow “smaller” films to enter the playing field.

But what makes this year different? Nothing really. Hollywood usually requires a major blockbuster drama or historical epic and one art-house gem, jewel, rhinestone or igneous rock to count on a successful awards season. It’s not that these categories aren’t around this year. The problem is that this November-December awards season, the love is spread out. We have two large-scale star-driven historical epics—Oliver Stone’s Alexander and Martin Scorcese’s The Aviator (starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes)—and a handful of well-received arty movies that will allow Oscar voters to convince themselves that they have not in fact caused the death of cinema. Among these are Almodovar’s Bad Education, The Motorcycle Diaries, A Very Long Engagement, Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic, Sideways, and Mike Nichols’ adaptation of the popular yet frightfully insipid, faux-edgy Patrick Marber stage play Closer.

The chances that this year will be a turn towards the “small” film is highly unlikely. Even the “art” films that interest the Academy are typically star-driven character movies with established directors and sizeable budgets (like most of the above), and there are plenty of those this year to go around. Plus, bemoaning the absence of a “front-runner” is a bit silly at this point. We still have two massive biopics. We have The Phantom of the Opera. We have plenty of arty movies to fill in the gaps. And Fahrenheit 9/11 isn’t going anywhere—the Weinsteins will likely labor to get Michael Moore’s film nominated for everything from Best Picture to Best Original Song.

Unless The Phantom of the Opera turns out to be a winner (doubtful), I would predict that Alexander will go home with the top prize this year. The reasons are simple—the film is apparently quite watchable (not necessarily a requirement for a Best Picture winner if you’ve seen A Beautiful Mind or Braveheart), Colin Farrell is, like, so hot right now, Oliver Stone hasn’t been on the map in a while, and it apparently has (drumroll) a brief gay sex scene! The latter chunk is important, particularly in the year that Satan returns for another four years in the White House. Hollywood is obsessed with its own pseudo-progressive politics, and even though Alexander’s “gayness” is situated within an antiquated culture in which man-on-man action was mostly confined to a master-slave dimension, this will likely be lost on the Academy and Alexander will thus become a highly “liberal” film.

But honestly, who really cares. The best American films of the year thus far (Undertow, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I Heart Huckabees) will likely be ignored, though the Academy might throw a screenwriting bone to the last two. The more important thing to discuss, is how we can change the Academy Awards. For this year, there is one clear and present option: Best Jude Law Performance. Though my appeals to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to institute this annual award may not be successful, let’s assume that it will be.


Options abound in the Jude Law category this year. For fans of the classic, Talented Mr. Ripley-esque Jude, his roles in Closer and Alfie are the most likely award-winners. In both, he plays a slutty metrosexual who learns some important life lessons. He has sex with more women in Alfie, but Closer is rated R so it could edge out the tamer, less naked PG-13 Jude. But this could be a rough category. Jude goes arty with his role in David O. Russell’s I Heart Huckabees, playing his typical dispassion and narcissism in a film targeted primarily at a more intelligent crowd. Could fans of the existential Jude win out? Unfortunately, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a threat to the other three. Jude branches out, playing a ’30s-clad narcissist who is also an action hero. The new territory Jude treads on in this film (placing his hotness against an all-digital background with scary robots and a dumber Gwyneth Paltrow than we’ve ever seen before) could make Sky Captain the winner.

But don’t forget his small role in The Aviator as Errol Flynn. The Academy will find that so cute. Regardless of the outcome, Jude will certainly be frozen in a capsule and thawed in 3049 as a novelty because by then everyone will have three heads due to the nuclear apocalypse that occurred shortly after the 2008 election.

—Staff writer Clint J. Froehlich can be reached at