As far as film history, the year 2001 will most be remembered for the first installments of two billion dollar franchises, The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Other than that, not much will be remembered about the year. It was an exceptionally weak year for movies.
This was reflected in a relatively unimpressive group of Best Picture nominees. Ron Howard’s good but not great A Beautiful Mind would take top prize against Robert Altman’s Gosford Park, Todd Field’s In the Bedroom, and Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. The other nominee: Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, which began a three-year streak of the franchise’s entry being nominated.
I’ve always felt Fellowship was the best of the trilogy and I certainly would’ve had no problem with it winning over Mind. The Academy decided against some edgier material, such as David Lynch’s critically lauded Mulholland Drive and Chris Nolan’s twisty thriller Memento.
Ron Howard took Best Director over Altman and Jackson. Lynch would be nominated here for Mulholland, as well as Ridley Scott for Black Hawk Down. Field and Luhrmann were the two auteurs whose Picture was nominated left out. Certainly, I would’ve reserved a slot for Nolan for his work in Memento.
Denzel Washington would earn his first Best Actor prize for Training Day (he won Supporting Actor for Glory in 1989). Other nominees: previous year’s winner Russell Crowe for Mind, Sean Penn for I Am Sam, Will Smith as Ali, and Tom Wilkinson for In the Bedroom.
I would have considered Johnny Depp for his performance in Blow or Billy Bob Thornton in Monster’s Ball. Keeping with the Memento kick, how about Guy Pearce for his challenging lead role? And if you’ve read my previous Oscar History posts, you’ll notice I usually advocate for comedic performances, which the Academy typically ignores. So how about a shout-out to Ben Stiller for his hilarious turn as Derek Zoolander?
Oscar history would be made as Halle Berry became the first African-American to win Best Actress for Monster’s Ball. It would also be the first year where both the Actor and Actress prizes went to African-Americans. Other nominees: Judi Dench in Iris, Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge, Sissy Spacek for In the Bedroom, and Renee Zellwegger for Bridget Jones Diary. Other performances worthy of consideration: Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive and Audrey Tautou in Amelie.
Jim Broadbent was a surprise Supporting Actor winner for Iris, beating out favorites Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast and Ian McKellen in Lord of the Rings. Other nominees: Ethan Hawke for Training Day and Jon Voight in Ali.
Steve Buscemi in Ghost World and Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums were worthy nominees. And here’s a totally outside-the-box selection from me: Bruce Davison’s wonderful performance as Kirsten Dunst’s dad in the romantic drama Crazy/Beautiful, a greatly underrated film.
Jennifer Connelly would win Supporting Actress for A Beautiful Mind. Other nominees: Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith (both for Gosford Park), Marisa Tomei for In the Bedroom, and Kate Winslet for Iris.
I probably would have found room for Cameron Diaz’s effective performance as Tom Cruise’s jilted lover in Vanilla Sky.
So, all in all, other than some historical Actor and Actress winners, 2001 was a pretty blah year for the Academy. A Beautiful Mind is a solid flick, but definitely one of the least memorable Best Picture winners of recent years, as I see it.