Friday, February 23, 2007

The Winner Takes It All Part I

It’s Oscar time again. The nominations are out already and among the five people in each category, one will take home the statuette on the big night. But how the winner is selected? Here’s a randomly selected list of 10 actors as we try to find out what made them winners, and their USP (unique selling point) as well

The winner: Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles (Ray)
Other nominees: Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina (Hotel Rwanda); Johnny Depp as Sir James Matthew Barrie (Finding Neverland); Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes (The Aviator) Clint Eastwood as Frankie Dunn (Million Dollar Baby)
What did the trick: Eastwood was out of question. There were other awards for him. Both Depp and DiCaprio, along with Foxx played real life personalities. Foxx got the upper hand in popularity quotient. Barrie was too English, too literary, despite Depp’s powerful presence and, Hughes, who remember him, anyway? Foxx as Ray gave a classic underdog story a new edge. His refusal to continue as a victim, and his grit and determination made for a classic Oscar tale. Add to that Foxx’s life-like portrait of Ray Charles, the way he folds his hands, the way he lip-syncs the original Ray Charles songs.
The USP: Ray’s last confrontation with his wife, before he decides to accept rehabilitation.

The winner: Sean Penn as Jimmy Markum (Mystic River)
Other nominees: Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl); Ben Kingsley as Behrani (House of Sand and Fog); Jude Law as Inman (Cold Mountain); Bill Murray as Bob Harris (Lost in Translation)
What did the trick: Kingsley was and would remain Gandhi. Depp’s role, despite its brilliance, was too commercial. Law’s was a good act, but the film was a disaster. The competition was between Murray as movie star struck in Tokyo and Penn as a conman turned a family man turned a conman. Murray’s was too philosophical whereas Penn’s was realistically middle-class America. And we all love our conmen with a heart of gold (Vito Corleone et al), and we all love Clint Eastwood!
The USP: Jimmy sitting on the pavement after realising that he killed Dave wrongly, and trying very hard not to betray his emotions before Sean. A perfect combination of vulnerability and strength.

The winner: Denzel Washington as Alonzo Harris (Training Day)
Other nominees: Russell Crowe as John Forbes Nash (A Beautiful Mind); Sean Penn as Sam Dawson (I Am Sam); Will Smith as Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali (Ali); Tom Wilkinson as Matt Fowler (In the Bedroom)
What did the trick: Wilkinson was a strong contender as a grieving father. Smith, for his first time nomination, did not stand a chance. Crowe was inspiring, but he had already garnered the statuette. And Washington, after so many nominations, deserved an Oscar anyway.
The USP: In fact, the film is a letdown in terms of Washington as an actor. He does nothing except for talking very fast. He deserved an award from Malcolm X, The Hurricane or Philadelphia. Yet, better late than never.

The winner: Russell Crowe as Maximus Decimus Meridius (Gladiator)
Other nominees: Javier Bardem as Reinaldo Arenas (Before Night Falls); Tom Hanks as Chuck Noland (Cast Away); Ed Harris as Jackson Pollock (Pollock); Geoffrey Rush as Marquis de Sade (Quills)
What did the trick: Both Hanks and Rush was winners already, and Crowe was a huge commercial success. There was no competition.
The USP: When Maximus confronts Commodus in the arena to utter a simple but profoundly moving sentence. “….I’m Maximus, father to a dead son, husband to a murdered wife, and I’ll have my revenge, this life or the next…”

The winner: Roberto Benigni as Guido Orefice (Life Is Beautiful)
Other nominees: Tom Hanks as Captain John H Miller (Saving Private Ryan); Ian McKellen as James Whale (Gods and Monsters); Nick Nolte as Wade Whitehouse (Affliction); Edward Norton as Derek Vinyard (American History X)
What did the trick: Benigni won in a game of deductions. Hanks was already a winner. Nolte was old, Norton was too young and Mckellen was a gay man playing a gay man (The Academy was not open to it until Capote happened in 2005).
The USP: When Guido translates the German official’s speech to prove to his son that the concentration camp is just the part of an extended game of hide and seek. An ultimate piece Chaplinisque humour.

The winner: Jack Nicholson as Melvin Udall (As Good as It Gets)
Other nominees: Matt Damon as Will Hunting (Good Will Hunting); Robert Duvall as Euliss Dewey (The Apostle); Peter Fonda as Ulysses ‘Ulee’ Jackson (Ulee’s Gold); Dustin Hoffman as Stanley Motss (Wag the Dog)
What did the trick: Hoffman and Duvall were already winners. Damon was selected for the original screenplay for the same film, and, who’s Peter Fonda? And then, everybody loves Nicholson.
The USP: Finally, when Udall learns to love his neighbour’s dog!

The winner: Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump (Forrest Gump)
Other nominees: Morgan Freeman as Ellis Boyd Redding (The Shawshank Redemption); Nigel Hawthorne as George III (The Madness of King George); Paul Newman as Sully Sullivan (Nobody’s Fool); John Travolta as Vincent Vega (Pulp Fiction)
What did the trick: Newman belonged to anther generation and Travolta was too much of a box office star, and Hanks’ role highlighted whatever is good about America. After that, does anyone stand a chance?
The USP: Every time he starts, “My mummy told me…” and you get a lump on the throat. Life is a box of chocolate…

The winner: Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs)
Other nominees: Warren Beatty as Bugsy Siegel (Bugsy); Robert De Niro as Max Cady (Cape Fear); Nick Nolte as Tom Wingo (The Prince of Tides); Robin Williams as Parry (The Fisher King)
What did the trick: If you have to choose among villains, better choose the suave one. That where Hopkins won. He was certainly better than De Niro’s bad man.
The USP: His super-confident body language, his clear eyes, the way he says, “Clarice…,” and of course, his taste for human flesh. He was the best things about the film, even if it was for just 16 minutes.

The winner: Daniel Day-Lewis as Christy Brown (My Left Foot)
Other nominees: Kenneth Branagh as Henry V (Henry V); Tom Cruise as Ron Kovic (Born on the Fourth of July); Morgan Freeman as Hoke Colburn (Driving Miss Daisy); Robin Williams as John Keating (Dead Poets Society)
What did the trick: The award belonged to Freeman, but he was black. Among the others, a physically challenged character always gets the sympathy vote, and Day-Lewis did managed an impossible performance as a man with cerebral palsy. The Academy was still riding the wave of awarding Dustin Hoffman an award a year earlier for his performance as a mentally challenged in Rain Man and since Day-Lewis’ performance was superior to Hoffman’s, the Academy had no other option.
The USP: Every scene where Christy Brown proves that he’s no less than a normal man.

The winner: Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone (The Godfather)
Other nominees: Michael Caine as Milo Tindle (Sleuth); Laurence Olivier as Andrew Wyke (Sleuth); Peter O’Toole as Jack Gurney (The Ruling Class); Paul Winfield as Nathan Lee Morgan (Sounder)
What did the trick: Caine and Olivier, nominated for the same film cancelled each other. Anyway, it was the year of Don Vito Corleone. The way Brando transformed himself is probably the greatest makeover of all time. Brando, however, declined the award.
The USP: The scene where the don talks to Michael for one last time.

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