Oscar 2003: Snubs

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Article by Mark Dujsik

In my eyes last year, the Academy basically could do no wrong.  Four of the Best Picture nominees were in my top ten for that year and three of those were in my top five.  I listed a generous number of snubs, but at times, I really had to rack my brain for some of them.  This year is an entirely different beast.  I'm not afraid of a lack of material but of having so many disappointing omissions to list that a lot of them will slip my mind.  So, bear with me; we've got a lot to cover.


Bowling for Columbine

A documentary has never been nominated for Best Picture, and I didn't think one as controversial as Bowling for Columbine would change that fact.  I really hoped it would, but so is life.  I'm actually quite surprised the film received a Best Documentary nomination, as the committee behind that award typically ignores any documentary that has gained some kind of financial success.

Minority Report

Two years in a row, Steven Spielberg has made the best fiction film of the year, and two years in a row, that film was completely robbed of any major nominations.  Minority Report is nominated for one—count it—one Academy Award, and it's in the useless sound editing category.  The film is just as timely as Bowling for Columbine, and yet it's easy to forget that and simply get caught up in its complex plot and vibrant world.


How does a film about an alien invasion turn into the story of a man reconciling with his faith?  And on a more important level, how does a director get that story to work?  Signs is a film about humanity's deepest fears and most desperate hopes played against the backdrop of a family and a world in a time of overwhelming distress.  Thanks once again to the Academy's long term memory problems, the film did not receive a single nomination.


Steven Spielberg, Minority Report

Two years in a row, Spielberg has re-proven himself a master storyteller and redefined himself as a director, and two years in a row, he was ignored.  What makes it worse is that this year Spielberg had two chances for a nomination and was denied them both.  Choosing between his work on Catch Me If You Can and Minority Report is fairly simple.  Knowing the Academy's short-term memory, though, it probably was the other way around for them.

Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

I'm still dumbstruck by this omission.  What were they thinking?  I mean, seriously, what were they thinking?  I don't feel like stating Jackson's obvious successes in translating the scope of J.R.R. Tolkien's gigantic fantasy epic to the screen, but think about the way in which Jackson has made The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers stand out by making sure it does not stand on its own.  Kiss any chance of the best film nominated for Best Picture winning goodbye because of this confounding snub.

M. Night Shyamalan, Signs

Back in 1999, the Academy jumped the gun on Shyamalan.  Yes, The Sixth Sense was certainly the announcement of a major talent, but I had a feeling this filmmaker had something much more to say and a very distinct way of saying it.  Unbreakable reinforced that and was a much more ambitious work.  Then Signs comes along and finally fulfills this young talent's ability to weave a story with the best of them.  Shyamalan's meticulous pacing is next to very few in building tension and suspense.


Robin Williams, One Hour Photo

Williams played a creepy guy three times this year, but his haunting performance in One Hour Photo is the actor's best work to date.  It's mostly about the Williams persona and the way writer/director Mark Romanek gets us to identify with Sy Parrish, only to pull the rug out from under us.  Williams manages to allow the audience inside the head of this sad, disturbed man with his subtle and layered performance.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Catch Me If You Can

In Catch Me If You Can, DiCaprio finds the perfect balance between his star appeal and his acting abilities to give weight to the suave but naïve, talented but troubled antihero Frank Abagnale Jr.  Abagnale's age varies from fifteen to mid-twenties as the film progresses, and DiCaprio primarily makes the shifts with changes in his physicality.  The true accomplishment of his performance, though, is the way in which he conveys Abagnale's mental and psychological maturation.

Tom Cruise, Minority Report

There's a good reason Cruise continues to get work.  It's because we don't get bored of him.  The reason for that is because he continues to push the limits of his star status by taking on—especially at this stage in his career—riskier roles in more complicated films.  Minority Report finds the actor toying with his action hero persona and gives us John Anderton, a man completely driven, at first, to prove his innocence and then to discover what possible reason could exist for him to be guilty.

Campbell Scott, Roger Dodger

The voice is what sells Scott's performance as womanizing manipulator and advertising genius Roger Swanson.  The second he starts talking, we know exactly what we need to know about him, simply by the quality and timbre of his voice.  There's an honesty behind the words as well that completely solidifies our understanding of his single-mindedness.  He believes in every word he says, and while we may not believe in it, we undoubtedly believe that he does.


Lesley Manville, All or Nothing

The power of Manville's performance lies in the fact that she's able to give us a clear picture into the mind of Penny, a grocery store worker in a very long-term relationship with a lackadaisical cab driver, even in moments of pure silence.  It's most apparent and invaluable in the penultimate scene of All or Nothing in which she finally reveals everything pent up inside of her.  Watch her face as the tables are turned and she is forced to confront the possibility that she may not love the man she's essentially been married to for years.  It's heartbreaking.


Colin Farrell, Minority Report

When you really get right down to it, Danny Witwer is a plot device, but in the hands of Farrell, he becomes a fully-realized character whom we want to trust but can't help but have our doubts about.  His performance is all in the details—the way he incessantly smacks gum in his mouth, the way he kisses a religious pendant before going into a fight (and at one final moment), the look on his face when Anderton has a gun at his face and the alarm goes off, signaling an imminent murder.  Farrell savors every moment he's on screen.

Andy Serkis, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

I'm not even sure if I agree with myself on this one, but I'm going to list him/it anyway.  Serkis' facial appearance and gestures may have been enhanced through special effects, but it is his physical and vocal interpretation of Gollum on display in The Two Towers.  Perhaps credit for the effectiveness of Gollum's realization on screen should go to the special effects team, but the character arc and development still begins and ends with Serkis.

Noah Taylor, Max

What a challenge it must be to play history's most infamous monster.  What an even greater challenge it must be to portray him at a time when his ideas are starting to take shape.  Taylor gets at Hitler's vulnerability at the beginning.  Here's this weak, quiet, awkward veteran who has some art he'd like to sell.  Then as he becomes more comfortable with his surroundings, his true colors begin to show.  By the time the film is over, Taylor has become embodiment of Hitler's passion during his speeches.

Jude Law, Road to Perdition

As nice as it is to see Paul Newman on screen, I really don't understand how his performance overshadowed Law's in the eyes of the Academy.  He has quickly become one of the most reliable character actors around, and his freelance crime scene photographer Maguire is his creepiest creation thus far.  In a complete transformation, Law oozes slimy malevolence.


Kate Winslet, Enigma

Hester Wallace starts off a quiet, mousy intellectual secretly devastated by the loss of her friend and becomes a low rent detective determined to solve the mystery without getting into too much trouble.  It's a testament to Winslet's abilities as an actress that the role is so memorable for such simple reasons.  She simply lets us in on the danger and excitement her character must be feeling and makes us realize just how enticing the whole affair must be.

Samantha Morton, Minority Report

The Precog Agatha lies in a pool of nutrients, wearing a skintight suit, and is tortured with the knowledge of the future and haunted by the sins of the past.  Morton rarely speaks in this role, but when she does, there's no doubting how important it is.  If a performance revolving around a song can be nominated, then surely a performance that climaxes with a heartbreaking monologue can be too.


Y Tu Mamá También

I don't know what compelled the Academy's foreign language film committee to snub this funny, sad, sexy, and ultimately uplifting film, and frankly, I don't want to know.  Y Tu Mamá También is structured like a road movie, but it contains incredible insight into the minds of its characters, the nature of sex and sexuality, and the difficulties that come with living in the society in the background.  It's one of the most human films to be released last year.



Just as his direction of Signs indicates the maturation of a major talent, so too does Shyamalan's screenplay for the film.  Moments of dread are expertly juxtaposed with flashes of humor, and a dinner table scene adroitly captures the pathos of the central family's loss.  Shyamalan also doesn't rely on a twist ending but instead allows everything that has happened lead to one cosmic or highly coincidental (depending on your outlook) event.

Igby Goes Down

Burr Steers' first screenplay is a sarcastic, caustic, and surprisingly bittersweet tale of a boarding school dropout and runaway who tries to escape his responsibility, his class, and his genes.  The first thing that stands out about the script is the series of hilarious one-liners, but on closer inspection, Steers deserves much praise for transforming his sardonic satire into a genuinely moving character study by the time the film ends.


Another debut screenplay the Academy ignored is Brent Hanley's gothic horror tale.  The story is first and foremost about a family in Texas torn apart by faith and fanaticism.  That is why Frailty works as well as does.  Take out the twist at the end, and you would still have a devastating tale of shattered familial bonds.  With the twist, though, the film is that and a frightening and incredibly powerful think-piece.


Minority Report

Scott Frank and Jon Cohen take Philip K. Dick's short story and weave a futuristic neo-noir filled with eclectic characters and the stink of corruption and the human element of incompetence brewing in Washington, D.C.'s department of Pre-Crime.  They also strike a timely nerve about the state of American civil liberties and bring up an array of metaphysical quandaries about predetermination and free will.  And they do it all without interrupting the central narrative.

Catch Me If You Can

Frank Abagnale Jr.'s memoirs of a life as a con man are brought to the screen by Jeff Nathanson's rich and detailed script.  Nathanson touches upon the complexities of the father/son and surrogate father/son relationship and the disintegration of the American family while spinning a very entertaining comedy of deception.  Most importantly, though, Nathanson gives us an understanding of Abagnale's innocent modus operandi and his gradual change as he grows up to take responsibility for his actions.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Is it because Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, and Peter Jackson added more conflict to J.R.R. Tolkien's second installment of The Lord of the Rings?  It was kind of necessary when you think about it.  Is it because the Academy for some reason considered the "one film" aspect of the "trilogy" and decided that it's not three separate screenplays?  No, I think they just dropped the ball on this one.


Minority Report

Janusz Kaminski's harsh and ethereal lighting captures the constraint of the futuristic world and the feel of an old noir.  Each new locale has a distinct feeling that still maintains the overall look of the film.  There are unforgettable images here, partially because of Spielberg's shot composition and the rest because of Kaminski's ability to create tangible atmosphere.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Maybe it's the "one film" thing or maybe it's because Andrew Lesnie won last year, but still the world of Middle-Earth comes to life in New Zealand as seen through Lesnie's lens.  It isn't the same look as the first film, either, as Middle-Earth falls on dark times, Lesnie subtly washes out the picture so that it looks more like the final shot of The Fellowship of the Ring than anything else that came before it.


Minority Report

I'm seriously at a loss here.  To say that Spider-Man's fun but obvious effects were better than the almost seamless and imaginative effects in Minority Report is dumbfounding.


Minority Report

The Temple, the apartment complex infested with "spiders," the automobile assembly line, the jailhouse for the unconvicted, and many other wonderful locales are memorable to everyone but members of the Academy.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was nominated last year, but Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is a different character in the second film.  Plus, the Chamber of Secrets itself is an eye-opener and no mistake.

Far from Heaven

For a film as technical proficient at capturing the look of an era, it's shocking to see this absent from the list of nominees.  I figured Far from Heaven would really shine in these categories, and for the most part, it did.  The thing is, though, it deserved this nomination as well.



I cannot remember a film whose success depended so much on its use of sound.  Maybe it was too quiet for the Academy, but that was the point.  Just like it's what we don't see that frightens us most, it's that uneasy silence that gives us chills.


The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

After exploring the special features on the extended Fellowship DVD, I gained a newfound respect for the costume designers behind The Lord of the Rings.  This is incredible workmanship.


The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The return of Fellowship music may have turned a few people in the Academy off, but Howard Shore 's new scoring is still incredibly effective.

Minority Report

I'm not complaining about John Williams' nomination for Catch Me If You Can, as his jazzy score for that film is a nice change of pace for him, but Minority Report's ambient choral work and booming action compositions are great.


"Something to Talk About" from About a Boy

In a year when U2 and Eminem (Academy Award nominee Eminem still sounds funny to me) are nominated for their work, why not Badly Drawn Boy as well?  It's an addictive song.

"Gollum's Song" from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

How easy it would have been to write another uplifting song that captures the themes of The Lord of the Rings.  Instead, "Gollum's Song" is a sad ode to one of the most fascinating characters to appear on screen this past year.

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.