Joel Siegel Looks at Best Picture Nominees

The nominees for the Academy Award for best picture: Chicago, The Hours The Pianist, Gangs of New York and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

Good Morning America's entertainment editor Joel Siegel weighs in on the Oscar nominees for best picture. Here are his reviews as they originally appeared on earlier this year.


— I love movie musicals. The problem is, today's films have become so realistic we in the audience just don't believe someone in the real world bursting into song in the middle of the street with a 100-piece orchestra behind them.

First time director Rob Marshall comes up with two solutions in Chicago — a movie so exciting, next they ought to let him manage the Cubs.

First off, Marshall sets the musical numbers in places where people really perform, like the speakeasy where Renée Zellweger comes to watch Catherine Zeta-Jones. Second, he takes us inside the characters' fantasies, the Singing Detective solution. And both work. Like gangbusters.

Both women end up in prison. They both end up with the same lawyer, a perfectly slimy Richard Gere, the physical embodiment of that old saying, "It's 99 percent of the lawyers who give the other 1 percent a bad name."

The story is better told in the movie than it is in the play. It's also the best movie choreography I've seen since Bob Fosse. I'm ready to say Chicago is the only movie of a Broadway musical I've seen that's better than the show it's based on. It's going to razzle-dazzle you. It's going to razzle-dazzle Oscar voters, too. Grade: A- (Reviewed Dec. 27)

The Hours —

Chicago's biggest competition for Oscar nominations is going to come from The Hours — three stories told simultaneously about three women living out Matrix-like versions of the same life:

Nicole Kidman plays Virginia Woolf in the 1920s writing her great novel, Mrs. Dalloway.

In the 1950s, Julianne Moore is a California housewife who is reading Mrs. Dalloway. In the present, Meryl Streep is becoming Mrs. Dalloway. The segues between the stories border on art. The score, from Philip Glass, crosses the line into art, and carries us inside the lives of these women.

Moore is battling depression. Streep is comforting her dearest friend and first love (Ed Harris), who is dying of AIDS. And Kidman manages to transform herself into an awkward, shy, doomed genius, Virginia Woolf.

The script, the score, the sets, the costumes, and the direction are all Oscar quality, and incredible performances from Kidman, Moore, Streep and Harris make The Hours seem like minutes. Grade: A- (Reviewed Dec. 27) The Pianist —

Another true story: Adrien Brody plays Wladyslaw Szpilman, Poland's foremost young pianist. The film opens with him playing Chopin, live on Polish radio. Then we hear the explosion of Nazi bombs. The invasion has begun.

Directed for the ages by Roman Polanski — a Holocaust survivor — The Pianist follows Szpilman as he escapes a concentration camp, survives the Warsaw ghetto, and is rescued is saved a day before the war ends by a German officer.

Brody, in a remarkable performance (for which he earned a Golden Globe nomination and may well be nominated for an Oscar) actually learned to play piano and lost 30 pounds from his already slight frame. He told me he did it, in part, for realism, but even more out of respect for the real pianist, who did survive.Grade: A (Reviewed Dec. 24)

Gangs of New York —

Martin Scorsese has brought back the kind of epic filmmaking that puts the awe back in audience.

Daniel Day-Lewis is Bill the Butcher, a gang leader who runs a section of lower Manhattan known as Five Points. Liam Neeson leads the immigrant Irish. They square off and the snow-covered streets of New York are soon red with blood.

Sixteen years later, Bill the Butcher has taken young Leonardo DiCaprio under his cleaver. What he doesn't know is that DiCaprio is his fallen enemy's son, who bides his time and seeks revenge. The two men even love the same girl, a pickpocket queen played by a feisty Cameron Diaz.

The artistry is breathtaking. From the costumes, to the script, to the direction that never gets in the way of truly great performances, Scorsese proves he's the master. The set pieces are truly spectacular.

What the film doesn't do is give us some kind of context — connective tissue to hold it all together. I kept saying to myself, "Wow, that's great! But why did he spend so much money? Why is he telling me this story?"

Think of watching a car race: You don't know when it started. You don't know where the finish line is. It's exciting, and there's a lot of action, but you have no idea who's ahead.

In the end, here's what we have: A series of triumphant, gorgeous, huge and expensive set pieces; one of film's best performances from Daniel Day-Lewis; and a whole that is always less than the sum of its parts.

It's beautiful. It's awesome. It's also a mess. Grade: B (Reviewed Dec. 19)

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers — The Lord of the Rings

trilogy was one of the biggest gambles in film history.

New Line Cinema probably risked $200 million to film all three parts in New Zealand at once. After the first film, we knew the gamble had paid off. The Fellowship of the Ring won four Oscars and sold $861 million in tickets around the world.

Part two, The Two Towers, picks up right where the first one ends, and the special effects are even more spectacular. But the middle part of a trilogy is always the toughest to tell. And it's even tougher in this case, because of our expectations. This movie simply doesn't match up to the first.

In the middle book, on Middle Earth, the fellowship is divided. The film intercuts three separate stories — tough to do under the best of circumstances — but impossible here because two of the three are better read than seen.

Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee (Elijah Wood and Sean Astin) are lost through most of the movie — trying to find their way to Mordor, to destroy the ring. In this part of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic, he took time to discuss philosophy, not exactly a visual treat. In the movie it's time to go get popcorn.

Meanwhile, other members of the fellowship are in danger. Giant walking, talking trees have captured two other hobbits. This passage is a great read — especially by flashlight when your folks think you're asleep — but on film it looks silly.

In the film's towering visual story, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) battles Wormtongue, who has turned the addled King Theoden into a pawn of the evil wizard Saruman.

But even the battle scenes are better in the book. There are simply too many computer-generated images for us to have any idea who is fighting whom.

In my favorite scene, Liv Tyler is speaking with other elves in their native tongue. When she walks out of the room, I get to nudge the person next to me and say, "The Elvish has left the building." Fans will like this, but fans only. Grade: B (Reviewed Dec. 17)