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  • Nate Lemann

ALT OSCARS: 2001

Updated: Jul 16

In our second edition of alt oscars of the 21st century, we look at the year in film of 2001, with landmark films being released this year but most notable is the beginning of the Peter Jackson's epic "Lord of the Rings" saga and the announcement of new filmmaker by the name of...Christopher Nolan.


by Nate Lemann

 

AND THE WINNERS ARE...


 

Best Supporting Actor: Sir Ben Kingsley, Sexy Beast


This happens to be one of the most stacked categories of the year. Elliot Gould is an absolute riot and a fully realized personality in "Ocean's Eleven." James Gandolfini is a sniveling and insecure military prison warden in "The Last Castle" (an underrated prison drama from this era). Gary Oldman is utterly unrecognizable in "Hannibal" and haunting to look at. I like to throw a lot of praise right now on Stephen Dillane in "Spy Game", playing a CIA pencil pusher but one Robert Redford cannot afford to underestimate in this tight and twisty spy thriller. All that said, Sir Ben Kingsley created such a unique and entertaining character in Don Logan. He's hilarious and unhinged, but is absolutely terrifying in his unpredictable nature. One of Kingsley's best performances and best since "Gandhi."


 

Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Connelly, A Beautiful Mind


The Academy did not miss on this one. Connelly, who one could argue should've been nominated the year before for "Requiem for a Dream," is the true heart of Ron Howard's powerful biopic. She is the audience's vantage point as she grapples with the deteriorating mental state of her gifted but troubled husband. She plays many colors and not only seduces Crowe's John Nash, but also the audience. Would also like to throw praise on Moss in "Memento", playing Nolan's great inversion of the love interest/femme fatale.



Best Adapted Screenplay: Ted Griffin, Ocean's Eleven


There are some blockbuster adaptations in this category: "Black Hawk Down" and "A Beautiful Mind" were very popular non-fiction books of this time. You don't get much bigger with books than "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings", arguably the two biggest fantasy series of all-time. While all of those adaptations were highly competent and aced the translation from book-to-screen, Griffin is the only one that I feel truly elevated from the source material. The original film was more-or-less just a hangout joint for the Rat Pack in the '60s. The remake was very much driven by star-personas (maybe the best "Movie Star Movie" ever assembled), but the script is pitch perfect and set a template going forward for heist comedies to emulate. The twists and foreshadowing in this film is one of the best puzzle-piece-fitting reveals I've ever seen. I haven't looked at air fresheners the same ever since.


 

Best Original Screenplay: Christopher Nolan & Jonathan Nolan, Memento


It can be argued that no one has announced themselves as a screenwriter more loudly than the Nolan brothers did in 2001 with their temporal remixing thriller "Memento". This is not screenwriting as anyone before had ever approached it: if you have the fortune to watch Christopher Nolan walk through the story structure on a chalk board, you realize this is not an ordinary writer. This is a professor running laps around his audience but never once losing them in the complex machinations. There is a complex machine built underneath it and yet the Nolans are able to translate a through-line so ably that the audience can feel the story so tangibly and on a primal level. It is the first of what will be an illustrious career for both and maybe one of the most consequential films in the history of Hollywood in what would come from these two.



Best Actor: Will Smith, Ali


This may be the most controversial challenge I will make to Oscar history: I love Denzel. I think he is not only one of the biggest movie stars we've ever had but also one of the most talented actors of his or any generation. He's a megawatt personality and while that is on full display in "Training Day," it's a role that doesn't allow for nuance or much interiority. Enter Will Smith as Muhammad Ali, channeling is natural charisma to form it into one that more closely resemble the icon to end all icons. His task was tall and he absolutely nails the charisma and physicality of the famed boxer. Smith also digs deep to display the inner conflict this showboat has when it came to some of his most controversial moments (notably his refusal to join in the Vietnam War draft). We know the legacy well but Smith and Mann truly make you guess if Ali will come out on top (spoiler alert: he does). I also want to shout out Robert Redford this year. He gave two great performances in adult-centric dramas ("Spy Game" and "The Last Castle") and his charisma in both really carry the films, especially in how utilizes said charisma as a spy tool in Tony Scott's really underrated political/spy thriller.


 

Best Actress: Halle Berry, Monster's Ball


Berry really ate this category with a performance that is so complex and heartrending. It is hard to imagine anyone else doing it better. Historical significance aside, this role and performance really announced that Berry is not only a star but a truly accomplished actress, who unfortunately has not been given a role of this caliber since (though gave us one of the premier movie stars of this century). I do want to take this time to heap loads of praise on Reese Witherspoon for her supernova role in "Legally Blonde." We all knew she was great talent coming off of "Election" two years prior, but she elevates a run-of-the-mill rom-com into truly one of the most iconic comedies of the 21st century. That is on her and she deserves more credit than she gets for that.



Best Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring


Nothing gets more epic than "The Lord of the Rings" franchise and Lesnie is one of the key architects that delivered the most sweeping saga ever committed to film. The tracking shot at the end of this first installment alone is something most cinematographers now couldn't pre-vis even with CGI, let alone the commitment to practical effects the first film delivered on. Truly generational work from this under-discussed DP.


 

Best Director: Steven Soderbergh, Ocean's Eleven


Soderbergh really takes the cake in my eyes with this film. He not only sets the absolute perfect breezy and fun tone, but uses the camera so exquisitely to show's what he wants, when he wants. The film feels like a magic trick in how it all came together and remains one of the best heist films ever conceived, not resting on the idea to just make a rehash of a stale Rat Pack movie. Special nods to the saga Peter Jackson launched this year, but his work in the following years will truly showcase his work better. The prolific Scott brothers both delivered amazing entries this year in their illustrious careers. Mann is just always on point in his direction.



Best Picture: Ocean's Eleven


For as good as this year's crop of films are, the one that I feel will stand the test of time will be the heist caper, one of the best collections of talent ever assembled, both in front of and behind the camera. A call out to a film I haven't discussed yet: "Monster's Inc." Pixar's magnificent workplace comedy about Monsters whose job it is to get kids to scream to power their city. Will tug at your heart in all the right ways.


 

NEXT WEEK: 2002 and films from Spielberg, Scorsese, Spike, Nolan, and Mendes. But will an outside film be the one to take home the grand prize? Stay tuned to find out...









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Hi! I'm Nate and I love to talk all things movies. I'll be posting new reviews, recent rewatches, and much more on this site. So come on and let's talk movies! 

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