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"The Academy breaks away from the long line of Hollywood heroes by selecting Chris Rock as its host."
"For some reason, this year doesn't feel like a sweep."
"Is the Academy exercising an act of nomination discrimination?"
"Is there anyone who can stop Jamie Foxx from attaining Best Actor glory?"
2005 Academy Award Preview  

A MILLION SURPRISES

On February 27th, the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles will play host to the 77th Annual Academy Awards. And what better way to roll out the red carpet than with a whole lot of controversy? In a series of bold moves, famed Academy Awards' producer Gil Cates has shaken the tree profusely. During the annual Nominees luncheon, Cates announced some audacious changes to the awards presentation process. For starters, nominees will be introduced as a group on stage with the winner stepping forward to accept the award. And in other categories, the nominees will remain seated together while the presenter announces the winner from the aisle! Although not completely disbanding the traditional approach, the changes are significant enough to add contention to an already unconventional ceremony.

Tossing more fuel into the fire, the Academy breaks away from a long line of Hollywood heroes in its selection of Chris Rock as its host. Known for edgy humor and a willingness to offend, Rock has made a living telling raunchy and racy jokes to the MTV generation, with such comedy works as "Never Scared" and "Roll with the New." This is not to say that Chris Rock isn't funny or talented, but rather, his brand of humor may not be the most appropriate choice.

Since its inception in 1927, Academy Award hosts have been prominent members of the industry and well respected for their craft and showmanship: Douglas Fairbanks, Will Rogers, Bob Hope, Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, and even Billy Crystal. In a year that saw CBS fined a record $550,000 for Janet Jackson's breast-baring incident, the FCC drive away shock jock Howard Stern, and a pending $1 million fine against Fox for the whipped cream incident on "Married by America," Gil Cates and company may be taking an unnecessary risk.

And speaking of controversy, 2004 began with one of the most controversial films of recent memory, namely "The Passion of the Christ." With a brutal and bloodied approach, Mel Gibson depicted the final hours of Jesus' life with stunning affect. And it helped make "The Passion" one of the most successful independent and foreign language films of all time. But despite its early box office success, 2004 was really the year of the jolly green giant. Raking in over $436 million worldwide, "Shrek 2" dominated a year that surprisingly saw many outstanding sequels. "Spider-Man 2," "Kill Bill, Volume 2," and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" were some of the year's finest films. And despite a blockbuster depressed summer featuring abysmal flicks like "Van Helsing," "The Day After Tomorrow," and "Troy," the year evened out on the low budget, independent scene with some of the most innovative and unconventional stories as in "Shaun of the Dead," "Open Water," "Garden State," and one of the year's underrated gems: "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."

At the top of the Oscar heap, with 11 nominations is "The Aviator," Martin Scorsese's biopic of the life and times of billionaire mogul Howard Hughes. The film is being considered for Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Acting, and Original Screenplay among many others. But is it really the best picture of the year, especially when expert films like "Hotel Rwanda" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" aren't even considered? With its 11 nominations, "The Aviator" ties last year's cinematic triumph, "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." But for some reason, this year doesn't feel like a sweep.

In a broad selection of film critic organizations across the country, inclusive of the National Board of Review and the National Society of Film Critics, only one group named "The Aviator" the best of the year (Las Vegas Film Critics Society). The rest split between "Sideways," "Million Dollar Baby," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," and "Finding Neverland." And even though the Golden Globes selected "The Aviator" for Best Drama, it selected "Sideways" for Best Comedy or Musical. Of course, none of this really matters except to say that there are no guarantees, only plenty of surprises.

SURPRISES

  •   Although its no surprise that Jamie Foxx has been nominated for his out-of-this-world performance in "Ray," it is a surprise that the Academy bestowed a best supporting nod for his excellent 'leading' role in "Collateral." With these two nominations, he becomes only the 10th person to be nominated in both acting categories in the same year. Others include Sigourney Weaver, Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Emma Thompson, and Julianne Moore to name a few. But keep this in mind - no person has ever won both in the same year.
  • Like last year's nomination of 13 year old Keisha Castle-Hughes, this year the Academy nominated another young newcomer, Catalina Sandino Moreno, for her stunning portrayal of a drug mule in "Maria Full of Grace." Performed entirely in Spanish, Moreno's performance, if awarded would represent only the fifth time an acting award has gone to a performance where English was not the primary language. Past recipients include Sophia Loren, Robert De Niro, Benecio Del Toro, and Roberto Benigni.

  •   And finally, it's always nice to see a lot of new faces getting their due. Out of the nineteen nominated performances (Foxx has two), a whopping ten have never been nominated before. In fact, Johnny Depp is the only nominee returning from last year. Of those newcomers - Don Cheadle, Jamie Foxx, Thomas Haden Church, Clive Owen, Alan Alda, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Imelda Staunton, Virginia Madsen, Sophie Okonedo, and Natalie Portman.
  • DISAPPOINTMENTS

  •   I'm annually baffled as to why categories such as Animated Feature, Makeup, and Sound Editing restrict their entries to three as opposed to five like the others. Is the Academy exercising an act of nomination discrimination? Or are they just plain lazy? To say that there are only three contenders for Animation when "The Polar Express" gets snubbed is ignorant. Or to say that only three films used a sound editor when films like "Collateral" and "Harry Potter" get duped is preposterous.
  • The Academy completely fumbled the ball when it came to "Hero," one of the finest films from 2002 that we didn't get to see until last year. The excuse was that because it was released in 2002, it couldn't be nominated for anything this year. But then how do you explain the absence of "House of Flying Daggers," an equally masterful tale of love and beauty released in 2004 that is missing from the Best Foreign Language Film category and despite the most incredible production design, costuming, and art direction, finds itself nominated for only one award: cinematography.

  •   Of course, it wouldn't be the Academy Awards if there weren't a handful of unspeakable absentees. At the top of my list is the universal snubbing of "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," a picture that demands attention as one of the year's best made films and which received a paltry 2 nominations (screenplay and best actress). Certainly Kaufman and Winslet deserve the praise, but how can you not nominate Jim Carrey in one of the best performances of his career? Carrey has inexplicably found himself on the outside looking in. Other monstrous omissions include "Hotel Rwanda" for Best Picture, "Collateral" for Best Direction, Original Screenplay, and Cinematography, and "Old Habits Die Hard" for Best Original Song.
  • SET YOUR CLOCKS

    The Academy Awards will be presented on Sunday, February 27th at the Kodak Theatre and televised live on ABC Television at 5 p.m. PST.

  • Will the sensors, time delay, and nomination changes ruin the show's award winning formula?
  • Will South Africa's first foreign language film nomination, "Yesterday," beat out heavy favorites from Sweden, France, Germany, and Spain?
  • Will "Million Dollar Baby" or "Sideways" spoil "The Aviator's" thunder?
  • And is there anyone who can stop Jamie Foxx from attaining Best Actor glory?
  • These answers and more are waiting for you in my annual Oscar preview!

    2005 Academy Awards Preview (CONTINUED)

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