Good Night, and Good Luck
This is that rare year in which there's not a clinker among the choices for Best Picture. All the nominees are substantive films made with care and craft, and the fact is I'm fine with any one of them winning—loved 'em all. But if pressed, I loved Crash best and am pulling for its title to be announced on Oscar night.
Brokeback Mountain is a heart-rending, boundary-breaking romance that moves a viewer to tears. Capote is a brilliant examination of a writer's betrayal of both his subject and himself. Good Night, and Good Luck is an eloquent historical drama that speaks to current issues. And Munich is a thoughtful political thriller unafraid to confront moral ambiguities.
But Crash has impact. A beautifully acted ensemble drama (including Thandie Newton and Matt Dillon, above) set in contemporary Los Angeles, it focuses on racial and ethnic divides and the need to bridge them—now. Sure, its plot depends on coincidence, but Crash felt more disturbingly real than any other movie last year. And for that I hope it wins.
Pride & Prejudice
Walk the Line
comes from Nashville—and it showed in her glowing performance as June Carter Cash in Walk the Line. She seemed intuitively to understand Carter Cash, who, going against everything she believed in, found herself falling in love with a married man given to drinking hard and popping pills. In 1999's Election, Witherspoon first showed she was far more than just a romantic comedy cutie, but it wasn't until Walk that she got a chance to demonstrate that there's industrial-strength steel behind that lovely smile.
The Constant Gardener
Just about every one of these actresses is deserving, but if the prize has to go to only one—and it does—let it be Catherine Keener, who brings a quirky humor and verisimilitude to every character she plays. She does exactly that in Capote, portraying Harper Lee (who would soon write To Kill a Mockingbird), the childhood pal who served as Truman Capote's research aide on In Cold Blood. Keener's genial Lee is the audience's conduit into the movie. When she likes Capote, we do; when she finally gives up on him, we know that all is lost.
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN
Hustle & Flow
Walk the Line
Good Night, and Good Luck
In life, writer Truman Capote was nicknamed the "Tiny Terror," and in Capote that's exactly how Philip Seymour Hoffman portrays him, to devastating effect. Actually a rather shambling fellow, Hoffman morphed himself into the petite, persnickety author—neatly nailing both Capote's high-pitched Southern drawl and flamboyant mannerisms. But Hoffman's performance goes far deeper than simple impersonation. He captures Capote's tortured soul, showing how conceit and ambition had corroded the writer before cocktails and prescription drugs finished the job.
A History of Violence
It seemed like a gimmick. First there was the salt-and-pepper beard. Add to that the 35 extra pounds, which formed a chubby tire encircling his middle. But usually suave leading man George Clooney
used the hair and the heft in Syriana as starting points for a fully weighted performance as a weary government operative who learns too late how little he knows about the harm he's actually done. The movie may have been confusing at times, but the anguish that Clooney's character was experiencing came through loud and clear.
AND IN OTHER CATEGORIES, OSCARS SHOULD GO TO ...
For all those awards handed out in between the ones you really care about (unless you're a nominee's mother), here's a wish list:
Hands down, this one belongs to Ang Lee for his sensitive shaping of Brokeback Mountain.
Again, this one should go to Brokeback. Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana based their terrific script on a short story by acclaimed novelist Annie Proulx.
Noah Baumbach's autobiographical screenplay for The Squid and the Whale, which he also directed, was wonderfully bittersweet.
It's tough deciding between Howl's Moving Castle, Tim Burton's Corpse Bride and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, but Wallace and Gromit win by a hare.
The South African drama Tsotsi, which movingly shows how a young street criminal discovers his own humanity through caring for a kidnapped infant, should take Oscar home.
As a cautionary tale for our times, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is hard to beat.
Always the most deliciously cheesy category, it's especially amusing this year given that Hustle & Flow's indelicately titled "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" was nominated. Dance number, anyone? But look for Dolly Parton's "Travelin' Thru," from Transamerica, to win.
What's it like to play Keira Knightley
's sister? Nevada native Jena Malone, 21, found out in Pride & Prejudice, out on DVD Feb. 28.
WHY DO WOMEN ALWAYS FALL FOR THE DARCYS OF THE WORLD? It's that interest in the unknown. If you look at someone and you completely understand them from one look, it's not very exciting. There's a bit of danger knowing someone might have a dark side.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE BEING THE ONLY AMERICAN IN THE CAST? It wasn't isolating or alienating, because everyone made me feel part of the family. And it helped that I kept my English accent up the whole time.
THAT SOUNDS TOUGH It was sort of like cracking a code. They have a whole different vocabulary, like "rubbish" is trash, the "bonnet" is the car hood. We speak the same language, but we're divided by our vocabulary.
NOW YOU'VE MASTERED A BRONX ACCENT AS A NUN IN THE BROADWAY PLAY DOUBT I'm amazed I'm a part of it. The accent takes time. I find it sort of freeing. I'm constantly changing it and really trying to do it better every day.
WE HEAR YOU HAD A NASTY EXPERIENCE OPENING NIGHT All three leads got the flu that evening— so our understudies ended up going on instead. So my first real performance wasn't until the next day, because I wanted to say, "I can do it!"
>Walk the Line ($39.98) In the wrong hands, a biopic chronicling Johnny Cash's alternately soaring and spiraling career would have withered as standard Behind the Music fare. But transcendent turns from Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon
—who eschew mere impersonation to actually inhabit the tortured souls of Cash and June Carter—led Walk to five deserved Oscar nods. Extras: The two-disc collector's edition, rushed out in time for Oscars, includes extended sequences of Phoenix and Witherspoon's crackling musical performances and three limp documentaries about Cash, none of which comes close to illuminating the Man in Black the way Phoenix does. (PG-13) Movie: [
] Extras: [