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  • Nate Lemann

ALT OSCARS: 2002

Updated: Jul 16

This week we look back at 2002, a year with not only one but two Steven Spielberg films and new movies from Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Christopher Nolan, Sam Mendes, among other notable directing giants...but a small and wildly inventive inside-Hollywood film may be the one to take home the big honors.


by Nate Lemann

 

AND THE WINNERS ARE....


 

Best Supporting Actor: Chris Cooper, Adaptation.


Another stacked year for supporting actor: Daniel Day-Lewis transformed into the notorious real-life figure Bill the Butcher, maybe his most outright seductive and villainous performance. Singer Dwight Yoakam is utterly chilling in the very underrated "Panic Room". Newman would've maybe gotten the award here if he only had more screen time in "Road to Perdition"; truly haunted work. Walken may have never been better than he was in Spielberg's "Catch Me If You Can", charting the tragic downward trajectory of a hustler. Chris Cooper, however, rightfully deserved his award for his turn as a Floridian orchard thief in the magnificent "Adaptation." His performance feels the most real and human of all the nominees this year: a self-deluded, oddball who possesses the one thing all his other co-stars are lacking: passion. Cooper really is perfect and rightfully won the real award.


 

Best Supporting Actress: Cathrine Zeta-Jones, Chicago


It bears repeating how hot of a movie "Chicago" was in 2002 and Zeta-Jones is a large reason for that film's success. She is an absolute dynamo and smoke show, quite possibly one of the most seductive characters to ever grace the silver screen. There were other great performances this year but I'd like to shine a light on Streep in "Adaptation.": she by no means needs my help highlighting her greatness but this may be her best quiet performance. It doesn’t need to go big or to chew scenery. She lives in the quiet moments so tenderly. Morton is also very underrated in the Tom Cruise/Steven Spielberg sci-fi spectacular "Minority Report", stealing every scene she is in.



Best Adapted Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman, Adaptation.


With all due respect to some wonderful adaptations this year (with a special shoutout to Scott Frank and Joe Cohen’s work on “Minority Report", one of the best adaptations of Phillip K. Dick’s totemic source material), Charlie Kaufman’s screenplay adaptation of “The Orchid Thief” is the most widely inventive pieces of work ever created. It may just be the best screenplay ever written. Kaufman was able to channel writer’s block into something so pure and essential in understanding the creative process. It is also the bravest depictions of one’s self anyone has ever ventured to create. While the adaptation is not the most faithful to the source material, Kaufman imbues it with a voice so singular and imaginative that it still baffles the mind as to how he stumbled upon such a narrative conceit that completely shatters the realm of reality and yet, is still an accessible vehicle for audiences to connect to. I’m in awe every time I read this script.


 

Best Original Screenplay: Joe Carnahan, Narc


People may forget this but Joe Carnahan’s debut film “Narc” was such a shot of adrenaline and pure cinematic marvel that took many by surprise. His debut feature opens with maybe the most harrowing and horrific chase scenes ever commited to film. After such an opening, some films may trend downward from there but Carnahan is able to transition seamlessly into a taut and tense mystery thriller that will keep you guessing until the final haunting moments. It is an underrated film but one that showed so much promise for a young and up-and-coming filmmaker. Koepp’s “Panic Room” script is also quite marvoulous in its tautness but feels more indebted to Fincher’s otherworldly direction.



Best Actor: Nicholas Cage, Adaptation.


What a stacked and star studded category: you first start with the incomparable giant Jack Nicholson, giving a very funny and subdued performance in “About Schmidt”. Cruise is truly haunted and put through the ringer in “Minority Report”. DiCaprio is so full of charm and vulnerability in “Catch Me If You Can”. Adrian Brody became a star in “The Pianist”, one of the most devastating roles you’ve ever seen. Cage, though, is just a cut above the rest: he’s neurotic and pathetic as Kaufman but can also be a riot as his “twin”, sellout brother. Cage not only is the perfect physical embodiment of pathetic, but his voiceover work here is hilarious and is almost like its own separate performance. He doesn’t go big as he so often tends to, and the role is all the better served by this restraint. To transform from the ultra-naturally charismatic movie star he is into this nebbish loser of a writer is one of the more amazing acting performances you will ever see.


 

Best Actress: Nicole Kidman, The Hours


It is kind of sad that “The Hours” feels like a movie lost to time because it contains quite possibly the best performance of Nicole Kidman’s career. Playing famed and doomed author Virginia Woolf, Kidman gives a truly nuanced and powerful performance as woman grappling with heavy internal demons. It’s not just a performance bolstered by her famous prosthetic nose, as some would want you to believe. Kidman brings the internal life to the surface in such a magically captivating way. A special shout-out to Zellweger putting a dynamo performance in “Chicago”.



Best Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers


Lesnie easily takes the award again this year: with each installment of Jackson’s trilogy, Lesnie evolved and iterated on what came before, creating spectacle that may never be matched again in film history. “The Two Towers” contains what will likely go down as the most cinematic battle in film history with Helm’s Deep, with its closing charging shot to be the most epic shot that just the thought of it sends chills down my spine. “Panic Room” does feel like a Hitchcock film in its design and shot selection. Beebe brings the world of “Chicago” alive with such inspired and kinetic direction. Janusz work on “Minority Report” built a truly haunting view of the future to life, with beautiful use of natural lighting. The late Conrad L. Hall’s final film, “Road to Perdition”, helped the famed camera man go out with a truly beautiful and exceptional piece of cinematography: from the hotel oner to the “I’m glad it was you” scene, he went out with a literal bang of cinematic beauty.


 

Best Director: Steven Spielberg, Catch Me If You Can


It was an absolutely stacked year for direction but Spielberg kind of deserves this award for the mere fact he directed two absolute masterpieces in one year (again!). While “Minority Report” is a wonderfully dread-filled sci-if masterwork, “Catch Me If You Can” is just an undeniable good time and has the most impeccable vibe you can hope to achieve with a film. It's wonderfully fun but also terribly tragic, too. Light on its feet but packs a hell of a punch. He really is the master and most natural director to have ever lived.


Best Picture: Adaptation.


“Adaptation.” is the perfect mix of writing, direction, acting, and cinematography. It’s a miracle of a film and still relevant and funny as hell. I’d like to take a moment to touch upon a few other notable films from this year: “25th Hour” is one of Spike Lee’s most underrated pieces of work and is meditative reflection of New York following the 9/11 attacks and a life of unfulfilled promise. Nolan’s “Insomnia” is one of the most taut thrillers and features Pacino’s last great performance. Nolan could’ve still had a great career if he stuck to smaller, mid-budget thrillers (though, glad we got the version of his career we got). Finally, Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York” may be flawed picture but even his most flawed films are more interesting than most others we find today. A truly unique historical epic.


 

NEXT WEEK: We reckon with the monolith that was “The Return of the King” and the beginning of Tarantino’s era defining action epic…

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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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