THE VERDICT – Best Motion Picture: 2002

So, here are the results (AT LAST!).

I kept switching #5 and #4, but I’m already comfortable with their placements here. Deciding for the best movie was the hardest thing I did for this project yet. All of them were worthy to win, but it all boiled down to my most favored ones, which happens to be the top 3. Basically, this has been the best year I have reviewed so far, having all of these movies as certified classics.

You can just click on the titles for their profiles.

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5. Gangs of New York

It actually makes me sad that I need to rank this one as the lowest. Nevertheless, the film is one of those true epics that transports you to another time and place and makes each scene engaging by giving outstanding performances. The ending – definitely one of the best ever.

 
Best Performance: Daniel Day-Lewis as William “The Butcher” Cutting
Best Scene: Just like what I said, the ending scene

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4. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Another epic here, the film’s journey towards the end is a thrilling ride that delivers lots of human emotions in the same way that the first film did. It is a dark movie compared to its predecessor, but it never becomes a hindrance for it to be fully enjoyable. The war scene in the climax must be witnessed to be believed.

Best Performance: Andy Serkis as Gollum
Best Scene: Battle at Helm’s Deep

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3. The Hours

Very artsy in storytelling, the film is daring for putting all the stakes on the emotions of the characters. The emotional roller-coaster ride may seem to always be downwards, but it effectively delivers that. The performances and the direction raise this film to a point that it becomes uplifting.

Best Performance: Julianne Moore as Laura Brown
Best Scene: The intense opening credits

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2. The Pianist

If being artsy is The Hours’ way of delivering the drama, The Pianist goes to the painfully raw way. The film is beautiful, but it does not glamorize the situation, bringing a very visceral feeling of despair that is anchored to Adrien Brody’s powerful performance.

Best Performance: Adrien Brody as Wladyslaw Szpilman
Best Scene: The family watching from the window the murder from the other building

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1. Chicago

With two epics and two heavy dramas in the bag, I decided to go with the musical extravaganza. Its lasting freshness and reverberating energy, biting screenplay, clever direction, strong performances, and mindblowing musical numbers, this movie gets my vote as the best of the year. This was not an easy choice for the win, but I’m happy with this.

Best Performance: Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma Kelly
Best Scene: The ‘Cell Block Tango’ musical sequence

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Maybe it took some of you as a surprise that I picked Chicago for the win. As I have said a while ago, it could have been any of these five films, so my denominator became the attachment factor, and Chicago gets that for me.

Nobody was able to guess it right (nice try, DerekB 🙂  ), so the next year is already set. Clues for the next year:

  • Suppressed love
  • Murder story in paper
  • Los Angeles and its people

What’s you pick? Do you agree with the Academy, or with me, or you have a different choice?

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Best Picture Profile: Chicago

Directed by: Rob Marshall

Written by: Bill Condon

Produced by: Martin Richards

Runtime: 113 minutes

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Was it an easy win?

Maybe, and add to the fact that Moulin Rouge!, a Best Picture nominee of the previous year, propelled the renewed fascination of Hollywood to musicals. With that man named Harvey Weinstein who secures his films a nomination if not clearly a win, this became the clear frontrunner even if it feels more like a dark horse (delightful films always need the right timing to be a favourite for the awards). It also has the nostalgia factor that works quite well to the members of the Academy (old Caucasian male rule the population of the members, so that helped also).

The review:

The film is about Roxie Hart, a housewife that dreams in becoming a vaudevillean. She idolizes famous performer Velma Kelly, who eventually was arrested for killing her sister and husband. The same fate also gets Roxie when she shot the man he was fooling around with for lying to him of giving her a career on stage.

This leads her to the County Jail where she meets four other women in the Murderers’ Row. In the process, she also meets the approachable but money-loving warden Matron Mama Morton. Befriending her, she is led by Mama to the lawyer who has never lost a case – Billy Flynn. They use Roxie’s charm and media manipulation to prove that she is innocent, furthering the anger and envy Velma experiences as Roxie becomes the sweetest girl ever accused of murder in Chicago.

The film is all about manipulation and deception, and the thing is, the film was able to find the morality to the story for the characters to effectively convey the enjoyment that they have despite these certain things. We enjoy the film, especially the biting humor, thanks to the very well-written and witty screenplay, but the film never forgets that behind all the fun that we have is a dark story, a story about people who succumb to the loss of morality in return of fun, and with the case of the two lead characters, stardom.

Velma and Roxie, excellently played by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger, respectively, manipulate the people around them to get what they want, but in the end, they suffer from each other’s actions. It is this turn of events that make the film both an exciting movie and an effective display of the irony of life they were led to.

But aside from that, the movie being a musical based on a Broadway play, the film also showcases musical numbers that range from heartbreaking (“Mr. Cellophane”, achingly rendered by John C. Reilly in an appropriately modest performance) to playful (“When You’re Good to Mama”, sung by the ever-talented Queen Latifah) simply breathtaking (“Cell Block Tango” first comes to mind). Each of these musical numbers is executed in a stylish and innovative fashion that none of them seemed repetitive. It is very much surprising that a musical that gets the traditional treatment of filmmaking, unlike previous year’s Moulin Rouge!, be as enthralling and exciting as this one. The key to that is the apt direction of Rob Marshall, whose handle to each scene exemplifies sheer craftsmanship and control.

Also in display is the dazzling cinematography which captures each scene with glamour and darkness. To go with that is the editing that makes the film, especially the musical scenes, the breathtaking splendour that they are. Nothing much can be said about the music, except that it is very good, with a lot of catchy tunes around. The costume design puts each character into a sense of the beautiful past with restraint and bedazzlement. Also, the production design is indeed worth mentioning for recreating the setting with attention to detail and aesthetics.

Chicago is a film that I have seen a lot of times, and I would not mind if I will see it again for a lot of times. It is not only an extremely engaging musical experience that never dragged, but also a movie that never neglects to treat its subject matter with sensibility and dark but appropriate comedy. It is an energetic ride that I will never become used to. It is a movie that deserves to be called an experience.

For this, the movie gets:


So, agree or disagree?

Best Picture Profile: Gangs of New York

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Written by: Jay Cocks (story and screenplay), Steven Zaillian (screenplay), Kenneth Lonergan (screenplay)

Produced by: Alberto Grimaldi, Harvey Weinstein

Runtime: 167 minutes

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Chances of winning?

In the end, I think it edged out The Hours and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in the voting for the top award, proven by the wide amount of support spread in the Academy proven by the number of nominations it received, albeit none of them were converted to an actual Oscar. So with that, I guess this was third in the number of votes.

The review:

There is nothing that readies us for the tension that the film carries throughout its whole running time. Right from the first scene with the Priest Vallon shaving to the main event which is the war in New York between the natives led by the infamous Bill “The Butcher” Cutting against the foreigners led by the Priest Vallon, powerful filmmaking is immediately pushed into us, making the experience more visceral and the ambitious scope is immediately justified by meticulous craftsmanship in these scenes.

After the opening sequence, the film leaves a quiet space with scenes of the Priest’s son Amsterdam growing up inside the church. It effectively draws an impactful shift of character when the boy throws the Bible in the water. It’s a shocking image, but it is very much in line with what the film is really about – loss of civilized communication in exchange of violent exchange.

The succeeding scenes are anchored into these scenes, no matter how tough or romantic those scenes are, thanks to the one-track minded screenplay and the compelling storytelling by the director. It is admittedly uneven at points, but it is all for the benefit of serving the whole film because those specific points give the film the life that it needs outside the physical carnage that we see in the film. This is even intensified with the sweeping cinematography and innovative editing.

The character development of Amsterdam is well-handled by the screenplay, but a lot is also to be thanked to Leonardo DiCaprio for making his character someone who is imperfect yet kind-hearted. His chemistry with Cameron Diaz, unbelievably good here, is very much effective in setting up the story’s more romantic side. They act in full grace and intensity. Particularly interesting is Diaz, whose toughness feels very authentic, but the scenes showing her fears are acted with impassioned ingénue.

Bracing the film with a higher level of power is Daniel Day-Lewis’ larger-than-life yet surprisingly subdued rendition of The Butcher. He’s showing it all, almost in an over-the top manner, but somehow, he does not overdo it. He lets the character’s already scene-stealing characteristics and just plays it with enough conviction and visible intelligence. The result is a terrifying performance that can only be delivered by a true professional. Terrifying not in the sense that the character’s motivations are almost associated with evil, but because his portrayal of The Butcher is so lifelike and so realistic.

But most of all, this is Scorsese’s film. He has crafted a film that he adds into his filmography that demonstrate knowledge of the craft that only a man like him could do. The scope of the film is felt in every scene of the movie, but it also does not forget that it is not just about the scope – he has a personal story to tell. It is a story of the people who had fought for and built the civilization. The film is undeniably epic, but there is intimacy in it. And as we all know, it takes a filmmaker like Scorsese for the film to work, and it did.

Gangs of New York is a sweeping saga of bloodshed, romance, and history told in a vibrant manner and handled with care by one of cinema’s best filmmakers around. It is unashamedly epic, gargantuan, and colossal, and it shows. Every single part of the film delivers excellence in their field, and the result is a film that feels so passionately made.

For this, the movie gets:

So, agree or disagree?

Best Picture Profile: The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers

Directed by: Peter Jackson

Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, Peter Jackson

Produced by: Peter Jackson, Barrie M. Os.borne, Fran Walsh

Runtime: 179 minutes

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Chances of winning?

I’m sure the first installment of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, earned the film fans. It’s really a technically superior film, so the members of the Academy in the technical branches may have also backed the film with # 1 votes. But considering the fact that it still has the last installment next year to reward the whole franchise as a whole, and that seems to be the perfect time to honor these films, I don’t think a lot of people thought that the film urgently needs the award. With that, I guess it was the fifth in the voting.

The review:

The film continues what Fellowship of the Ring has left. Now, it already tells three intertwining stories. It basically details the journey of the members of the Fellowship as they find their way to Mordor to destroy the One Ring.

I don’t want to write much about the poem since the film is so eventful, yet I don’t want to fill this review with only the summary. Anyway, the thing is, you should watch the film.

The direction is as good as you can get. It cohesively puts these events together with complete ease, and yet, it does make it feel that we are in for something distinctly epic. Each scene feels complete and carefully guided, and this is really something great for a film with this massive scope.

Also, I also appreciate the change of atmosphere in this film in comparison to the previous installment. This movie is noticeably much darker than the first LOTR film, but it does not even become bothersome because it picks up what the last film had left and plays with it to make the graceful continuation of the story.

The screenplay strongly puts these stories together and weaves them together in a very natural fashion that you just get carried away by the flow of the story. Each character registers a certain amount of importance that the material reaches its maximum potential of achieving a grandiose tale and at the same time a sturdily-constructed character study for these characters.

The cinematography is very effective in showing the difference of the mood of this film compared to the last one, but the thing that has not changed is on how it captured the fantasy the film hinges on. At the same time, the visual effects aid the storytelling process into a total maximum. The whole view of the film makes the film more of a visceral experience because it all looks complete. What we see here is a 360-degree world, and that is a plus for a film like this. The production also adds up to the film’s effectivity in its visual aspect.

The editing also deserves equal praise for putting the entire the film into a compelling feeling of being in clockwork – there is always something next, and it is always a thrill to watch what’s actually next.

The music effectively gets the aura of the film. Some scenes are just totally chilling to see, and most of the time, it is because of the music’s impact to them. The sound design is great in feeding our aural senses with completeness of the work, making the craftsmanship that went in the production more evident.

The actors do justice in their characters, though none of them are actual stand-outs. But just like what most people have noticed, Andy Serkis provides a blast in his computer-generated performance as Gollum. He provides remarkable mystery in his character, and his scene where his two personalities seem to fight with each other, and we see it, and you know what you are watching is really acting greatness.

As a fantasy epic, the film does not fail. This is great cinema. I still prefer the first installment, but the film is as good as it can get.This film is fully satisfying and overwhelming. The craftsmanship is very visible. The final fight scene is probably one of the best scenes ever filmed.

For this, the film gets:

So, agree or disagree?

Best Picture Profile: The Pianist

Directed by: Roman Polanski

Written by: Ronald Harwood

Produced by: Robert Benmussa, Roman Polanski, Alain Sarde

Runtime: 150 minutes

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Chances of winning?

With the critical reception it received, and the key nominations that it surprisingly won (Director, Actor, Adapted Screenplay), I’m pretty sure it got the second highest number of votes for Best Picture. I guess the only reason it did not actually win is because there wasn’t much eager campaigning, and the Academy wanted to reward a movie that made them feel good, which happens to be Chicago, albeit it is also very dark yet entertaining. Four serious movies and one  dazzling musical? Maybe that did the deal.

The review:

The film is about Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Jew pianist who does radio broadcasts of his performances. His regular gig gets interrupted when the war erupts in their country. As he and his family keep abreast of the situation of the war, he still performs on a restaurant, but as the prejudice towards the Jewish community rises, their lives are put into danger. As they are about to be sent to the concentration camp, a concerned soldier forces him to go away and hide. In his struggle to survive, he finds himself helped by different people that he unexpectedly found to be friends.

The film does not hold anything bac in showing the realities of the war in the eyes of the main character. The deaths and the events are not stylized, but instead, it uses a very natural way of showing it. In that way, the violence, both emotional and physical, is not exploitative in any way. All of the scenes are shown with the attitude like “what you see is what you get”, and because of that, the film feels dramatically raw. That was achieved by the carefully handled direction by Roman Polanski.

The screenplay flavours the scenes with more dimensions to each character. The character of Wladys is a very discreet one, and we only get to understand his emotions not really by his words but mostly through the effort of the actor, but it is also the direction that makes the characters rich in texture.

The cinematography is very much helpful in creating the aura of rawness in the film, as the editing is also the one responsible for the visceral punch of the scenes. The music is sparsely used, but it effectively used, especially in key scenes where Wladys is playing the piano.

The production is very impressive, with the beautifully designed costumes to the haunting production design and even to the masterful make-up that was applied to Adrien Brody, successfully and realistically putting the transformation in his face.

The supporting actors are very good, but they all blur when you think of Adrien Brody’s towering performance. Surprisingly, his performance is very subtle and is almost too natural at the start of the film. But as the unrest intensifies, the gradual effect on the character is realistic, and the horror that he witnesses that he cannot put into outburst is greatly evident in his slow manipulation of his facial expression, his emphasis on the eyes as his vessel of connecting to the audience, his strong representation of his despair with his complete body language – it’s a haunting performance of superlative effect. Brody has not done many remarkable roles after this movie, but this film is the proof that he can actually deliver. Just get him some great material to work on.

What we have here is a devastatingly powerful film that took me by surprise on how it was able to blend beauty that feels so natural and violence that does not feel exploitative in nature. The director is definitely in his best, the screenplay plays vital help, the lead actor brings one of cinema’s best male performances – it’s heart-wrenching cinema. Definitely a must see.

For this, the movie gets:

So, agree or disagree?

Best Picture Profile: The Hours

Directed by: Stephen Daldry

Written by: David Hare

Produced by: Robert Fox, Scott Rudin

 Runtime: 114 minutes

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Chances of winning?

It’s interesting to think of how much chance this film had in winning the top prize. I’m sure it had its share of fans, but given that Miramax headed by the notorious producer-heavy campaigner Harvey Weinstein, I don’t think they have campaigned much for this film to win given that it also had Chicago (favorite/dark horse) and Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese still have that overdue label) which I think had better chances of winning. I guess it was fourth, considering the fact that they have the option of rewarding The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by awarding the top prize to the last part of the trilogy, which actually became next year’s winner.

The review:

The film is set in one day in the lives of three characters in three separate times.

The first story is about Virginia Woolf, the famed writer. She writes Mrs. Dalloway. She lives with her husband Leonard, a book publisher, in Richmond. That day, she starts to write the first pages of her new novel. Coinciding with that is the arrival of her sister Nessa together with her kids, discussing with her sister her fear of their servants.

The second story is about Laura Brown, a pregnant housewife of a war veteran. She reads Mrs. Dalloway. As her husband leaves for work, she and her son bakes a cake for her husband’s birthday, failing on their first attempt. Laura’s friend Kitty also stops by, informing her that she is going to have an operation in her uterus. As the unhappiness becomes unbearable, she checks in to a hotel, planning to commit suicide by drug overdose.

The third story is about Clarissa Vaughn, an editor-in-chief residing in New York. She is Mrs. Dalloway. She lives with another woman. That day, she prepares for a party as a celebration of her friend and former boyfriend Richard as he receives a literary award. She visits him in his apartment, and there, his outburst of dissatisfaction in his life affects her so much, it stays with her the whole day.

These stories are told in a criss-crossing manner, one story alternately following the other.

Surprisingly, the direction is subtle but very much in control of the film. The direction made the film credible. There are scenes that may have been delivered as heavy-handed or simply too silly to be believed, but I bought this whole thing of one day, separate time, separate lives story. It was able to reach the maximum potential power that the story has and pushes it more to add more insight to it. The screenplay may have some tendencies to throw some gimmicks here and there, but it still comes as natural, and that’s because of the skillful direction.

Like I have said, the screenplay has some occasional gimmicks, but whatever. It worked. It also tries to always add something new and artful to how the story was told, and it turned out to be what the film is most accomplished in – poetic, tragic, artistic, but natural story flow.

There aren’t as much fanciness in the cinematography compared to, let’s say, the editing, but it effectively divided, and yet, connects the different settings of the story. To make the comparison clearer: the Virginia section is flavored with earthy colors, the Laura section has the warmness of orange, and industrial colors like bluish grey are dominant in the Clarissa section of the film. The differences in shades are distinct yet it doesn’t come as very obvious, which impressed me even more.

Juicing out the most powerful ways to connect the three parallel stories is the editing. Sure, some scenes may have seemed too obviously connected, but I get past that, and I think it is just simply breathtaking. The opening credits, to be exact, is where the editing is showiest. It cuts quickly to different scenes featuring the different characters, and the story’s foundation is made in this part. If these scenes have failed, so will the rest of the movie. Luckily, those complicated scenes had the editing’s ingenuity of composing the scenes with visible craftsmanship that simply wows me. Of course, the work of the editing serves the film for the whole time with the same amount of tension, giving the film the specific kind of urgency that somewhat borders on the artistic side.

The music is simply one of the best ever. It boasts epic dramatic strength that really carries the scenes to a higher level of emotional effect. It is a dynamic illustration of the flow of the story – relaxed, yet amplified, almost art in itself. It’s one of those scores that you can listen outside the film, and while you listen to it, you also get carried away by your emotions. Magnificent. Simply magnificent.

The production design and the costume design are also noteworthy and useful in authenticating each era the characters are in.

Julianne Moore is mindblowing and devastating as Laura Brown. Out of the three stories, she carries the biggest amount of emotions because she is the one most torn and she has enough to work in. She paints a canvas of three-dimensional feminine melancholy that makes her somewhat pathetic character someone to actually care about.

Meryl Streep is also great as Clarissa Vaughn. She’s the least problematic of the three, and that’s simply because she can handle things, or can she? Streep raises those questions and doesn’t give us easy answers when she gets cornered by other characters in her scenes. In her more complicated scenes, she doesn’t really make an effort on trying to make us care for her, but she tries as hard as possible to show us her side – what’s happening to her, and how does her ex-boyfriend affect her so much. In these scenes she show how she has already mastered the craft of not just bringing characters to life, but bringing real human beings to us.

Nicole Kidman is haunting as Virginia Woolf. I actually want to recognize her more simply because she actually doesn’t have much to do. Yeah, she has the voice that always seem to struggle, the body language of immediate discomfort and loneliness, the infamous nose that she wears comfortably, some red eyes induced by suppressed dissatisfaction, suicidal tendencies, but beneath all of this, she still remains a ghostly character even in her segment. She vividly makes Virginia Woolf a shattered artist, and I believed in her. She may not have the most to do, but with this performance, I appreciated even more how generous, selfless, and chameleonic this great actress Nicole Kidman is.

The rest of the cast put forward strong performances to cap the list of the cast in the film – Stephen Dillane and Miranda Richardson as Virginia’s husband and sister, respectively, John C. Reilly as Laura’s husband, Allison Janney as Clarissa’s partner, and Ed Harris as the passionate, but dying writer who is Clarissa’s special friend.

The movie is not for anyone. Some may find it to be an artsy-fartsy sappy actress fest, and some may find it to be simply extremely beautiful film. I understand if you may hate it, but I don’t. It’s a fascinating study of three women who are trying to search for happiness. It’s an emotional roller-coaster ride, and I couldn’t get enough of this film. Give me this film anytime, and I will surely watch it.

For this, the movie gets:

So, agree or disagree?

INTRODUCTION – Best Motion Picture: 2002

So, this is the next year.

Well, some really love this year., and it really seems like a strong year. Before I decided for this year, I have only seen two of the nominees. I have seen one nominee when I was like seven years old, but barely remember anything about it, and it was incomplete viewing so that doesn’t count.

Without further ado, here are the nominees:

Chicago

Gangs of New York

The Hours

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The Pianist

What film would win this race?

Would it be the courtroom musical? Or the period gangster? Or the multi-linear drama? Or the epic fantasy sequel? Or the Holocaust drama?

The arrangement of the profiles will be by lottery, then the last profile would be the Best Picture winner Chicago. 🙂

By the way, two thing to tell you.

First, you all know I’m using Meryls as my way of rating. However, since Meryl already won her 3rd Oscar for her performance in The Iron Lady, I feel compelled to update the rating system. So, still Meryl, but new ones!

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Second one, if you put your list of predictions ranked, and you got it right, you will have the privilege of choosing the next year (but I’ll still give you the choices). 🙂 So, if you’re interested to be able to choose the next year, you may predict below. Just drop your comments.

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So there you go.

Would I go with the Academy? Or would I go with an another nominee? 🙂