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In Big Picture, Oscar Nods Still Stoke Passion

By Donna Britt
Friday, January 28, 2005; Page B01

I don't care that Paul Giamatti wasn't nominated for Best Actor. Really, I don't.

Too many weighty things are happening in the world for deep thinkers such as myself to squander a millisecond fretting about what Tuesday's Academy Awards announcements revealed: The guy who made the underachieving wine connoisseur in the terrific "Sideways" irritating, poignant and hilarious somehow didn't receive a nomination.

Big deal. I mean, Condi Rice just got confirmed. Alberto "We have ways to make you talk" Gonzalez could be next. With Armaggedon around the corner, who can worry about the dissing of Giamatti -- and actors Liam Neeson and Peter Sarsgaard from "Kinsey," and "Hotel Rwanda," passed over for Best Picture?

For the record, I'm also way too world situation-minded to care that Halle Berry, Katie Holmes and Jenna Bush recently were sighted in unflattering gowns. And I'm entirely unperturbed that Brad Pitt and Jennifer whatsername have separated. And that the world's most radiant nutcase, Angelina Jolie, might have contributed? Yawn.

One more thing:

I'm lying.

Brad, Jen, and Angelina -- and her necklaces bearing vials of her ex-husband's blood -- really don't interest me. But each year after the Oscar nods, as predictably as the Patriots advancing to the Super Bowl, I write an outraged-thrilled-intrigued column about the Academy's choices.

Most fascinating this year is that I still care.

I felt an actual dart of pain for Giamatti -- whom I've liked since his tiny role in "My Best Friend's Wedding" as a hotel bellman who shares a forbidden smoke with Julia Roberts. He deserved a 2003 nod for the indie gem "American Splendor." His snub for the critical and commercial hit "Sideways" is unforgivable. Lumpy and balding, Giamatti is just the type of actor likely to be overlooked by Oscar, which would rather reward gorgeous stars in frumpy roles -- as in the past three Best Actresses, Charlize Theron ("Monster"), Nicole Kidman ("The Hours") and Berry ("Monster's Ball") -- than honor real-life frumps.

Don't the cutie-pies have enough? Admittedly, male winners can be less attractive -- i.e., Geoffrey Rush. But if Tom Cruise gained 40 pounds, shaved his head and undazzled his grin -- and then played the "Sideways" character exactly as Giamatti did -- he'd be writing his acceptance speech.

Okay, I'm happy that a record number of black actors got nods for their work, including Best Actor/Best Supporting Actor nominee Jamie Foxx, a long under-recognized talent. As glad as I was that Colombian newcomer Catalina Sandino Moreno was nominated for "Maria Full of Grace," I actually whooped upon hearing about Sophie Okonedo's deserved-but-unexpected Best Supporting Actress nomination for "Hotel Rwanda."

That I could whoop, or be saddened, or feel any strong emotion about Oscar's ever-maddening choices felt embarrassing -- until my ultra-cool, indie-loving son, 23, called in a similar, Academy Awards-inspired snit.

"What about 'A Very Long Engagement'?" he bellowed. "Or 'Before Sunset,' which was just one long conversation but which was so deep and amazing? Or Gael Garcia Bernal in 'The Motorcycle Diaries' or 'Bad Education'?"

"How do you even dictate that one movie or performance is better than another?"

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