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Behind the Screen Special Edition: Academy Award Nominations

Desson Thomson
Washington Post Film Critic
Tuesday, January 25, 2005; 12:00 PM

Today the Oscar awards were announced in an early morning ceremony.

Complete Oscar Nomination Coverage 'Aviator' Leads Oscar Nominations

Desson Thomson (washingtonpost.com)

Who deserves their nominations? Who doesn't? Who was robbed?

Washington Post film critic Desson Thomson will be online Tuesday, Jan. 25, at Noon ET to field questions and comment on the nominated and the un-nominated.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Desson Thomson: Hello Oscar watchers. You heard the announcements. You saw Adrien Brody pretend to kiss Frank Pierson. You saw the nominations. What are your thoughts on this much anticipated annual show? Shoot baby.


Desson Thomson: Crystal City, Va. asked me: No 911 at the Oscars - who said that the Republican's had no influence in Hollywood?

( I did something spazzy with my back button so excuse the paraphrasing)

Well that's the big surprise of the Oscars, in a sense. That Moore got less. He withdrew his doc from the doc category in an effort to secure a best picture nom. Not this time. A bird in the hand would have been better than two more shots at Bush.


Fairfax, Va.: Where are the nods for Eternal Sunshine, like Best Picture, Jim Carrey, etc.?

Desson Thomson: Good question. Kate Winslet will have to be the picture's flag bearer. And she has little chance of winning IMHO


Ballston, Va.: Hilary Swank for "Million Dollar Baby"? Isn't this a clerical error? Should the nod have gone to Meg Ryan for "Against the Ropes"?

Desson Thomson: You jest SURELY. Hilary Swank's performance in MDB is pretty terrific.


Washington, D.C.: No Farenheit 9/11? No Moolade? No Paul Giamatti? No Streep? No Hotel Rwanda?

It's insanity, I tell you! Insanity!

We must send international election monitors into the Academy -- immediately! These people probably would have nominated Elektra if they could have gotten away with it!

Desson Thomson: Hahaha


Washington, D.C.: Hi Desson,
Do you think Leo DiCaprio is a good actor? I guess it's hard for me to take such a pretty boy seriously ...

Desson Thomson: He is good in a limited impish way. And he was v good in Catch Me If You Can. He can carry a picture if he can play a boy-man. But he can't play a grownup.


Washington, D.C.: Perhaps it is a sad commentary on the state of cinema today, but I'm fairly certain not one of the films nominated in the main categories could be called a box office success. This year, there seemed to be a huge disconnect between critical acclaim and the public viewing interest.

Desson Thomson: I think that means the public should buck up, not the critics. I often hear this philosophy from the other perspective, i.e. that critics need to reflect the opinions of real people and box office success. But box office success reflects 2 parts advertising and only one part personal choice. If everyone went to see more movies that weren't pushed down their throats by studio marketing departments, they would vote closer to the critics.


Outside the Beltway: As a big Scorsese fan, I'm pleased to see The Aviator draw so many nominations. He is long overdue for a Best Director statue. Though I believe the AP erred in reporting he has never won a Best Picture award (Raging Bull). I figure its Eastwood vs. Scorsese. Your pick?

Desson Thomson: He hasn't. Raging Bull won 2: for de Niro's acting and Thelma Schoonmaker's editing. I was a Scorsese fan up through GoodFellas and then it seems he has gone bland and mediocre. Still mulling over what the Acad will do with him this year. Maybe give him best dir instead of best pic? And could this be Clint's year? Too beloved veterans might just cancel each other out. Who knows.


Seward, Neb.: It truly escapes me how a movie like The Aviator can get nominated for anything but "worst picture of the century". Goodness knows, I love aviation. I am a flight instructor and an airline transport pilot, but this was the longest, most boring movie since Heaven's Gate. I don't have time to go to many movies, so perhaps my basis for comparison is skewed, but is the core of 2004 movies so weak that Aviator IS amongst the least worst?

Desson Thomson: Too bad you went to see it, then! See? That's advertising power for you. Every single pic nominated for best pic is better than Aviator. I understand your sentiments!


Rockville, Md.: Hi. Could you explain why critics believe Sideways is such a great movie? I didn't see anything innovative or otherwise worth praising, but then, I'm not a critic.

Desson Thomson: Oh yeah, critics aren't human, right? :) I think you can ask all kinds of "normal" moviegoers and they can explain how great that movie is, as much as any critic. Sorry you didn't enjoy it as much as me and many thousands of others.


Detroit, Mich.: I was thrilled to see Alan Alda get a nomination. He seemed like a long shot, but he deserves the recognition.

Desson Thomson: Yes. And he was the best thing in the movie I feel. I think he has a great shot at winning precisely because he's so unexpected. And it would be a nice consolation prize if Aviator doesn't win anything else. Or.... he could win if Aviator coatail its way to success for every nomination. Either way, I like his chances. (Big asterisk though, does Foxx win for supporting or actor or , gulp, both?)


Dusseldorf, Germany: Somehow I'm a bit disappointed: why not Javier Bardem as best actor? I think his performance in The Saa Inside is brilliant, superb. What do you think about it?

Desson Thomson: Welcome Dusseldorf. You know, I have seen Javier Bardem do even better in his other films, so I have to say he did a good job in this movie but he has done better.


Hanover, Md.: I think Don Cheadle is one fo the best actors out there. Do you think Don Cheadle have a good chance of winning the Oscar?

Desson Thomson: I think this Cheadle-Foxx matchup is the Oscar's biggest moment to savor.


Washington, D.C.: Love Cate Blanchett's acting. What do you think of her chances of coming away with a statue? Also, does Natalie Portman's performance deserve a nomination?

Desson Thomson: Well, Natalie won the Globe so, suddenly, she gets more cred than one would have thought. And Cate B. does such a shtick-y Kate Hepburn she might get the nod, since the voters of the Acad are easily swayed by the obvious and the over the top, not to mention anyone in a wheelchair. Both have good chances.


Washington, D.C.: I think one other thing missing from your equation for box office success is cost of going to see a movie. If a couple is going to shell out $30 bucks for a trip to the movies, they likely will choose something safe and mindless than something that has gotten great reviews but is quirky.

I've found it's much easier to wait for DVD for the more obscure films because I won't feel bad about turning it off.

Desson Thomson: I understand what you are saying. Depressing for good artists and great news for the corporate bean counters of Hollywood but you have a point.


St. Louis, Mo.: Wow. Don Cheadle and Jamie Foxx nominated in the same category. Is this a first for actors of color? What are the chances that there will be a split in the voting between and the Oscar will end up going to, say, DiCaprio?

Desson Thomson: You raise an interesting point. That does seem to be a possible scenario. But I also see people voting against Foxx (purely because he is a front runner) and choosing Cheadle no matter what their color. They will figure this is the way out of voting against a black actor; vote for the other one.

Another issue beyond race is age. It takes a young voter to prefer Closer and Aviator over Sideways because Sideways is about middle aged characters and the aftermath of young love. It takes an older voter to think of Sideways as the best. I think it comes down to the median age of the voters on many matters.


Vienna, Va.: "He can carry a picture if he can play a boy-man. But he can't play a grownup."

Interesting. I'm also wondering if the same can be said for Johnny Depp.

Desson Thomson: Johnny is getting longer in the tooth. He's getting better at being a grownup. He has evolved. He can do it. he's got that ravaged look.


Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: OK, remind me again, I can't recall. Is Fahrenheit 9/11: a movie, a documentary, a docudrama, a docucomedy, a ... ?

I ask in the spirit of trying to determine what honors it could conceivable win at GlitterFest -- "the Academy" awards presentation.

And why the distinctions between flix and docs anyway? Isn't it all just moving pictures -- lights, camera, action!

Thanks much.

Desson Thomson: Questions from the Mount! In strict philosophical terms, there is no difference between doc and fiction since it's supposed to galvanize the viewer in whatever way, just as we have comedy and musical, thriller and drama. But obviously there IS a category designation to consider. But best picture is open to any kind of movie, which would have allowed 9/11 to get in.
Is it a documentary? Yes. Documentaries are not necessarily about the truth (whatever that is), but they use nonfictional situations and people and they present an argument/point of view. 9/11 may be a poetic documentary or a documentary that takes disingenuous license, but it's a documentary nonetheless. Documentaries are not term papers or news articles.


Lviv, Ukraine: Hi Desson,

I am wondering where the homosexual/bisexual characters are --esp. the Liam Neeson and Peter Saarsgard performances from Kinsey and the phenomenal "Bad Education", which was a great Almodovar film --great screenplay too. Is the Academy suddenly bucking to moral pressure as well?

Desson Thomson: There's no reason voters at the Academy shouldn't reflect the realities of everyone else. And you could argue that, right now, George Bush's election has shaken up any liberal and far-leftist sensibility (just as Reagan's victory did) or impulse around the country--either making libs feel stronger and even more determined or feeling demarginalized and hence rethinking their attitude since the public seems to have swung rightward. The answer is, you can't really measure such things.


Atlanta, Ga.: Is Thomas Haden Church's nomination enough to force "Ned & Stacey" reruns back on cable, or will it take a win for that to happen?

Desson Thomson: Haha. We'll see!


Washington, D.C.: Hi Desson, If you were the Academy, who would you have nominated for best picture?

Desson Thomson: How about if I were me? I would have voted Sideways, Million Dollar Baby in that group but not the other 3. Maybe I would have put in Ray, but its real value is the actor's performance. Vera Drake and Hotel Rwanda and The Incredibles would have been the other 3.


Manassas, Va.: With few exceptions, I must finally give a thumbs up to the academy. Although "The Passion" and "F-9/11" both had merit, it can't be a surprise to anyone that they were not nominated. And for those who were, I'd like to know how? I've seen all of the movies (nominated and not) and the ones picked were Oscar worthy to a T!

Desson Thomson: Okay, thanks for that.


Poolesville, Md.: Catalina Sandino Moreno in "Maria Full of Grace" for best female actor. Now that's a great pick and one I'm cheering for, but I bet she won't win just because ...

Desson Thomson: Yes, it's a bold nomination. She is great in that role. ANd no she won't win. That would be asking a lot.


Washington, D.C.: Why was Before Sunset nominated for Adapted Screenplay? From what was it adapted? I was under the impression that the movie had been largely improvised by the actors.

Desson Thomson: I suppose it was adapted from the situation and the characters of the original movie "Before Sunrise."


Re: Ned & Stacey: Don't forget that Charlie Kaufman was a writer on that show. Perhaps this is the year that Ned & Stacey gets the belated recognition they so richly deserved. Scorsese isn't the only one who's going to cash in on voters' guilt this year!

Desson Thomson: We'll see. Kaufman is one of the smartest writers out there. And he's a lonely man.


Bethesda, Md.: I think Annette Bening was just fabulous in Being Julia, but no one says much about either the movie or her role. She got the nomination, yes, but there's hardly any hype about it. I think her performance was magic.

Desson Thomson: I agree. She was very good.


Arlington, Va.: I'm not surprised that Napoleon Dynamite didn't get recognized, but do you think that there's a chance that Napoleon could be a presenter at the awards show? Could we start the campaign right now?

Desson Thomson: Ooooh yes. He could do his dance, too. I love it.


Baton Rouge, La.: I am not surprised that The Passion and Jim Caveziel's magnificent performance were omitted from Oscar contention. My question is how can the Academy defend, HONESTLY, such blatant disregard for this outstanding film and its star? Doesn't this justify the right's view of the Hollywood and the Motion Picture industry as leftist and anti-religious?

Desson Thomson: It's hard for many people of faith to separate the religious context from the acting in this movie. They are so deeply moved because of the movie's religiousness, they won't even countenance any one taking issue with the movie as a drama. So it's going to feel like a "snub" to many people if they don't see Hollywood giving this movie the nod.
Yes, there have been strong cultural/religious divisions between the Christian right and Hollywood since movies began, which means Passion would have to be transcendentally good beyond its Catholic/religious agenda to impress the academy.


Montreal, Quebec: Hi Desson,

Having seen most of the nominated films this year, I must say I'm really impressed by the quality of the actors' performances pretty much across the board. I'd like your thoughts on supporting actor category. Thomas Haden Church had been a real front runner in this category until Clive Owen stole his thunder at the Golden Globes. While I liked those two performances, I was completely floored by Morgan Freeman in MDB (if only there could by a best dynamic duo award for Freeman and Eastwood). What do you think? Does Freeman have a chance against these two?

Desson Thomson: I think his performance (Freeman) was great. But I wonder if he'll be overlooked because he does this kind of archetypal stuff in his sleep. I think the vote will be split many ways. But I suspect Alda emerges. At least today I am thinking that way.


Washington, D.C.: I was really surprised to see that The Incredibles is nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Has an animated movie ever been nominated for this award? Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed this movie. It just surprised me to see it nominated outside of the animated and technical categories.

Desson Thomson: I don't remember offhand an animated film getting a screenplay nod. (If I'm wrong I will be corrected soon enough.) I really wish Increds had been nomm'd for best picture. But now it's in the animation category and should win easily.


Waynesboro, Va.: Was Virginia Madsen nominated for best supporting actress in "Sideways"? And if so, what are her chances of winning?

Desson Thomson: Yes she was nominated. She has a good shot at winning, I feel. I hope she does win. As a veteran she should get a big empathy vote too. It's just that Portman won in the Golden Globes for this category; and people seem to feel that Blanchett did a great job imitating Hepburn.


San Diego, Calif.: I'm extremely pleased with the very strong South African showing this year. South Africa had at least five Oscar-quality films last year including the nominated Hotel Rwanda and Yesterday, but also the likes of Drum, Zulu Love Letter or Forgiveness. Yesterday is also the only non-European film nominated for best foreign language film. Despite this do you believe that any of the South African nominees (also best supporting actress and best script) have the quality to follow in the footsteps of Charlize Theron? Could this be the heralding of a new era in South African cinematography?

Desson Thomson: It is good news for South Africa but I don't see Yesterday winning against the likes of Les Choristes and The Sea Inside.

You don't have to be from anywhere to be good. You just have to be good. And very lucky. So there's a great chance that South Africans sooner or later will follow in Theron's footsteps.


Los Angeles, Calif.: Not a single nomination for "The Passion of the Christ." Sad.

I'm not saying there were not other great movies this year but for this film to be totally ignored is pretty preposterous.

Okay Christians, time to boycott Hollywood.

Desson Thomson: Is it a snub? You can never know. You can only assume. Maybe you're right. But also: maybe you're not. Assumptions are only that.


Herndon, Va.: Mr. Kaufman is "lonely" or "lovely"?

Desson Thomson: I have seen and met him. He's definitely the former and , in terms of writing, he's also quite lovely.


Washington, D.C.: I was disappointed but not surprised to see the Academy omit Kevin Bacon's performance in The Woodsman. Do you think the character he played, rather than how he played it, was the reason?

Desson Thomson: Maybe. I think the movie didn't get enough press. It never quite got out of the gate.


Napa, Calif.: Academy Awards or not, I am just happy to see that Sideways is getting some recognition. Finally, a movie with a good story, a good script, and not necessarily huge stars gets some props. Do you think this will help Hollywood deviate from their formula and get more quality scripts produced?

Desson Thomson: Hahahaha. yeah, this will make them suddenly avoid predictability, mediocrity and "safe and mindless" .



Gene Shalit: I have to say that I am disappointed that "Team America" did not get nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor.

Desson Thomson: Well, Gene. You're going to have to live with it.


San Bruno, Calif.: Don't you think Million Dollar Baby has a good chance for an almost clean sweep -- Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Director?

The Aviator got the most nominations but was extremely conventional; it was not as disappointing as Gangs of New York, but it surely does not come close to Scorsese's best.

Desson Thomson: I agree with you on Aviator. It's all CGI effects and stars but a mediocre story with a well-known imp playing a grownup. It would make sense for Clint to sweep everything. It would make a nice news story. And people seem to like a people sweeping. This is Clint's big opportunity.


Re: Polar Express: Why do you think "Polar Express" was not nominated for Animated Feature?

Desson Thomson: Don't know. don't know.


Dumfries, Va.: Why doesn't the Academy do something like People Magazine does and give an award for "Sexiest Man Alive." I mean, who really wants to be recognized for their acting ability anyway?

The nominees are:

1. Brad Pitt

and the rest of the mortals

2. Leonardo Di Caprio
3. Matt Damon
4. Orlando Bloom
5. George Clooney

Apologies to Colin Farrell who will just have to deal with this year's snub.

Desson Thomson: I nominate ... Napoleon!!!


To L.A.: Passion did get two nominations: Cinematography and Makeup ... so it wasn't a total snub.

Desson Thomson: There you go. It won't stop people thinking there's a conspiracy.


Washington, D.C.: I think it is abominable that Clint Eastwood was selected over Paul Giamatti for Best Actor. That's really the case, not merely that Giamatti was overlooked. It truly speaks to the fact how Eastwood is still much loved by Hollywood, and, of course, that he'll be dead soon. And this from the guy who just a few years ago said he'd no longer act in his own movies!

Giamatti will get an Oscar, someday, but how this has turned out, the only one "Sideways" is taking home is Adapted Screenplay.

Desson Thomson: Well I hope Sideways wins more than that!


Arlington, Va.: Have you seen the movie Vera Drake and can you comment on it? It seems that other news sources are finding this movie to be somewhat of a surprise pic for its nominations. Any thoughts?

Desson Thomson: Vera Drake was on my best 10 list of the year. It's a great film.


St. Louis, Mo.: Jim Caviezel should have at least been nominated for The Passion of the Christ. Do you agree?

Desson Thomson: No. I don't mean to sound like I'm being anti-religious or disrespectful but he spends most of the movie being ill-treated and victimized. His ascension is at the last possible moment. I am just trying to look at this from an acting viewpoint, not a religious one. So don't kill me everyone.


Moore pulled 9/11: from the Documentary category because even 'he' realized it was propaganda, not documentary ...

Desson Thomson: Propaganda and documentary are not opposites. Every doc is a certain propaganda. Both are about having a point of view.


Adrien Brody: I didn't see the announcement this morning, but if, like you said, Brody did the kiss thing again, isn't he just becoming a parody of himself a la DeNiro? Does he do anything without doing that?

Desson Thomson: Good point. It WAS funny actually. He squirted his mouth with mouth spray and pretended he was going to kiss Pierson and then said, I'm just kidding. He was making fun of himself. But you're right: any more of these and he will become a self parody.


Alexandria, Va.: I agree with Rockville ... Sideways is a pleasant enough movie, but I'm not sure what all the buzz has been about, or why it should get a Best Pic nom. Virginia Madsen is deserving of her nom, but it's really just based on that one scene where she talks about wine.

Desson Thomson: I don't agree with you in the least, but thanks for the observation.


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