There's good news and there's good news. Here are six films that earned nine Oscar nominations. And, though it would be a surprise if any of them took home a statue, the good news is the nominations have convinced the studios to run these films outside the New York-L.A. indy movie ghetto into what Hollywood calls "flyover."
None of them are open in more than a few hundred theaters around the country and they probably won't be, but they are all worth seeing (especially by intelligent, grown-up audiences like the audiences you all are part of). For the record Shadow of the Vampire is just plain fun and Before Night Falls is probably the best of the bunch.
O, Brother, Where Art Thou
The latest from the Coen brothers, Oscar winners with Fargo. George Clooney leads a trio of hysterically intelligence-challenged chain-gang escapees through rural Mississippi.
It's based on Homer's The Odyssey, the title tells us. But the Coen brothers also told us Fargo was a true story and they lied about that. There are some similarities, but the feeling is even closer to Preston Sturges' classic Sullivan's Travels. Nominated for two Academy Awards, best cinematography (so it looks good) and adapted screenplay (maybe it really is based on Homer). It's not in the best of taste, but there is a Ku Klux Klan sequence that is the funniest of its class since Springtime for Hitler. And if Oscar took comedy seriously, which it should, George Clooney would've had a nomination for best actor. B+
You Can Count On Me
You Can Count On Me was one of my 10 best last year. A serious film (which doesn't mean it isn't entertaining, it is, especially the scenes with Matthew Broderick), if Julia Roberts didn't have a lock on the Best Actress Oscar, Laura Linney would be the dead on favorite. Also nominated for Best Original Screenplay, it won the Writers' Guild Award in that category. B+
Before Night Falls
Before Night Falls, one of the best films of 2000, earned an Oscar nomination for its star, Spanish actor Javier Bardem who plays a Cuban poet persecuted by Castro. Directed by artist Julian Schnabel, his Basquiat was a very good film. This one creates a whole new vocabulary, a new way to use film to tell a real life story. The trial sequences are as edgy as Terry Gilliam's in Brazil; the way he shows us a suicidal reaction to a Castro excess is nothing short of brilliant. When I asked Schnabel (who is one of our finest and most successful contemporary artists) if he were surprised at how anti-Castro he turned out to be he admitted that, in the '60s, he never would've thought he'd make this turn but "persecution is persecution and freedom is freedom." A-
Requiem For A Dream
The director's first film was Pi, which really knocked me out. No sophomore jinx here, though Dream isn't a sleeper for best picture, either. Ellen Burstyn gives one of the great performances as a Jewish mother hooked on diet pills. Her hallucinatory sequences show guts on her part (she's close to 70 and the physical work was exhausting and probably dangerous), as well as consummate acting skill. A tough movie about a tough subject, Traffic tackles drug abuse from the social and legal perspective but Requiem for a Dream is very, very personal. A-
I knew Jackson Pollock was important but never really appreciated how great his art was until I saw the pieces in person at the Museum of Modern Art. Art needs that. Remember the first time you saw a Van Gogh for real, or a Raphael? What Pollock, the film, comes closer to doing than any film I've seen is taking us into the artistic process, though mania may be a better word. Ed Harris was as obsessed with Pollock the artist as Pollock the artist was with his art. He spent ten years and a lot of his own money getting this film made. The problem with the film is that the subject isn't cinematic, there's no arc to Jackson Pollock's life, instead it's a spiral; a downward spiral. But Harris and Marcia Gay Harden certainly deserve their nominations. B
Shadow Of The Vampire
Shadow of the Vampire is just plain fun at the movies. Based on a real-life (reel-life?) silent horror film called Nosferatu, the real-life director, F. W. Murneau, couldn't get the rights to Bram Stoker's Dracula, kept the story and changed the name. The premise here is that the film is so scary because Murneau found a real vampire to play the part. Willem Dafoe plays the vampire who plays the part and earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination. A-