Oscar night is upon us, and all America is preparing for a marathon television-watching session come Sunday night. We will drool over the most beautiful gowns and guffaw at the most ridiculous, make predictions and judgments that will evaporate once the winner is announced, and generally revel in good old-fashioned Hollywood glamour.
But this year's awards mark the beginning of a new era, a new century and the beginning of the end of predictability at the Academy Awards.
Most notable among this year's Academy Award nominees are the omissions -- and that, I think, is a good thing. It indicates that the field was crowded with interesting, well-acted, artfully produced films that did not borrow tired Hollywood formulas to succeed. And it is proof that five nominees for excellence in each category are not enough.
Of course, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences represents traditional Hollywood at its most revered -- professors emeritus of glitz and glamour who are still so enamored, as are we, with the accomplishments of the big studio/big star system of the previous century that to let go of that would feel like sacrilege. So expect this year's awards to evoke nostalgia for the good old days that are surely and inevitably slipping away, out of the hands of the old elite and into the hands of a den of young lions who will turn the art form on its ear in years to come.
Here are my favorite omissions, in no particular order.
In the best actor category, crowded with great performances, I would have included Edward Norton for Fight Club, George Clooney for Three Kings, Jim Broadbent for Topsy-Turvy and, because no one else could have done what he did, Jim Carrey for Man on the Moon, an otherwise forgettable film.
Best picture nods should have gone to Paul Thomas-Anderson's Magnolia, Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy, Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Spike Jonze's subversive Being John Malkovich. (The Green Mile should never have been nominated, though Michael Clarke Duncan deserves recognition for his supporting role in the film.)
Ditto directing. This category, more than any other, reflects the new upper echelon of Hollywood talent with nominations for Sam Mendes (American Beauty), Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich), Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules), Michael Mann (The Insider) and M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense). Anthony Minghella and Paul Thomas-Anderson should have been nominated alongside their impressive group of contemporaries, and Mike Leigh belongs here for his best work to date. And why not David Lynch for The Straight Story?
Nominations for best art direction should have gone to Three Kings and to Fight Club which offered unexpected visual shockers and treats at every turn. And though critics didn't like the story or the movie as a whole, who would deny recognition to Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut for lighting, art direction and cinematography?
The entire cast of Magnolia should have gotten supporting actor and actress nominations, especially Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Philip Baker Hall and William H. Macy. I hope Tom Cruise wins the award for his work in that movie, even though I loved Michael Caine in The Cider House Rules and Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley equally as much. And where is the fine young actor Wes Bentley's nomination for American Beauty?
In the best actress category, the true 21st-century nominee, Hilary Swank, will likely prevail for her remarkable work in Boys Don't Cry, if Annette Bening doesn't go into labor right there on the ballroom floor and thereby win an honorary Oscar for most realistic performance by an actress. But where was Reece Witherspoon's nomination for her brilliant comic turn as the unforgettable Tracy Flick in Election?
Some things I'd like to see happen at the Oscars: A win for Best Song to South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut for "Blame Canada," though "That's What Brian Boitano'd Do" was my personal favorite. Additionally, all Phil Collins songs from Disney films should henceforth be banned from competition.
A best adapted screenplay award will hopefully go to John Irving for his obvious labor of love with The Cider House Rules, and special attention should be paid to the fact that two of last year's best films, The Cider House Rules and Boys Don't Cry, dealt with two of the culture's most taboo subjects -- abortion and homosexuality -- courageously and lovingly.
Will American Beauty sweep the Oscars? Maybe, and maybe not. It's a fine, deserving film, but I'd prefer to see the awards scattered about, honoring more the variety of good work last year than a single effort.
And finally, when Warren Beatty steps up to the mike to accept his Irving T. Thalberg honorary award, will he accept in rap? One can only hope so.