The Second Annual Ethel Awards

ethelLast year I introduced the Ethel Awards (so called because “Oscar” sounds like a grumpy old man and “Ethel” a grumpy old lady), in which we revisit Oscars past to correct the Academy’s many errors in giving out the little gold man. There are only two rules: 1) At least five years must have lapsed before the ceremony is eligible for revision, and 2) as much as possible, I try to make the corrections from the available pool of nominees, but if the oversight was so egregious that the deserving film wasn’t even nominated, I reserve the right to award non-nominated films. Last year, I revisited the 1999 Academy Awards and this year we’re taking a look at the 73rd Academy Awards, honoring movies released in 2000, or, The Year of Gladiator. As before, we’re redoing all the categories except the shorts, song and documentary. Please note that 2000 was before Best Animated Feature was introduced as a category. That happened one year later for 2001 films.

Best Visual Effects

Oscar: Gladiator

Ethel: The Perfect Storm

I’m going to say this right off the top—I really, really like Gladiator. I really super liked it in 2000, and I still super like it today. Do I think it was the best movie made that year? No. But I still pull it out and watch it, because it’s really fucking cool. That said, the VFX Oscar should have gone to Wolfgang Peterson’s The Perfect Storm. Why? Because even though the CGI is over a decade old, and thus, totally out of date, it’s still some of the best-looking fake water on film. If you’re a regular reader, you should know that my least favorite VFX are CG water and fire. Water always looks heavy and oily, yet in The Perfect Storm it blends quite seamlessly with the real water footage. This is in large part to the pioneering use of digital processing and projection techniques Peterson and his VFX team used. Also, Gladiator’s main use of VFX came in the early battle scenes, which only one year later would be put to shame by Lord of the Rings and the introduction of Weta’s Massive program, which forever changed how crowd shots are staged. In hindsight, Gladiator is not as impressive.

Best Art Direction

Oscar: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Ethel: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

This award stands. Have you seen Crouching Tiger lately? Somehow, it looks better now than it did in 2000. The art direction is gorgeous.

Best Costume Design

Oscar: Gladiator

Ethel: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Gladiator’s costumes were solid, but I don’t really remember them. Like, I couldn’t describe one beyond “leather skirts”. Meanwhile, the un-nominated O Brother flawlessly recreated 1930’s fashion. But the real reason it deserves this award is for including sartorial references to classic films like Cool Hand Luke, which is from a different era, and still looking 1930’s authentic.

Best Makeup

Oscar: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Ethel: Shadow of the Vampire

Jim Carrey in a lime green fur suit was nice, sure. But the prosthetics on his face limited his range of expressions and he never looked wholly comfortable in the body suit. Meanwhile, Ann Buchanan and Amber Sibley transformed Willem Dafoe into Max Schreck, the creepy star of FW Murnau’s silent classic, Nosferatu. It’s a major makeup job that is still subtle and organic. Way more deserving than the knee-jerk pick of “guy in fur suit with prosthetic face”. Let’s put it this way: The Cat in the Hat movie used the same makeup process on Mike Meyers and won no Oscars.

Best Film Editing

Oscar: Traffic

Ethel: Traffic

The editing in Traffic was so good that people actually noticed Steven Soderbergh’s use of a multi-color palette. Also, that was a long, complicated story that got told in a facile way without having to keep reiterating where we were and who was doing was what. Ace editing from Stephen Mirrione.

Best Cinematography

Oscar: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Ethel: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

I don’t know how O Brother, Where Are Thou? got so overlooked come Oscar time in 2001, but it did. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is always good, and in O Brother he brought a fantastical element to his usual lyrical style. It’s a really lovely movie to look at, and there are a handful of images that have stuck with me for over a decade. Crouching Tiger is beautiful, too, but it’s more the sum total of all its parts than the cinematography at work, where for O Brother, cinematography is one of the selling points.

Best Sound Editing and Sound Mixing

Oscar: U-571 (Editing), Gladiator (Mixing)

Ethel: Gladiator (both)

These categories really need to be combined into one and called Sound Design. I’ll just keep repeating that until it happens. Somehow, Gladiator didn’t even get an Editing nod, which is bullshit, since the sound was—and is—awesome.

Best Score

Oscar: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Ethel: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

This one stands. Tan Dun’s score is lovely.

Best Foreign Language Film

Oscar: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Ethel: Amores Perros

Here’s my central problem with the Foreign Language Oscar: It’s kind of a cop out. It gives the Academy a place to drop those pesky sub-titled movies instead of dealing with them as equal to English-language films. I mean, explain to me how something can win Best Foreign Language Film and yet be nominated for, and lose, Best Picture? Besides the language barrier, WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE? Ditto all of this for Best Animated Feature.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Oscar: Traffic

Ethel: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Joel & Ethan Coen adapted Homer’s Odyssey into a Depression-era prison break buddy comedy. AND IT WORKED ON EVERY LEVEL.

Best Original Screenplay

Oscar: Almost Famous

Ethel: You Can Count on Me

Let’s call this for what it is—Cameron Crowe’s make-up Oscar for Say Anything. Compared to that, and his 1996 nomination for Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous is an also-ran. I can hear you yelling at me already, but this movie does not hold up as well as Crowe’s earlier work. Meanwhile, Kenneth Lonergan crafted a deeply moving story about all the ways siblings can hurt and disappoint one another. Lonergan is a desperately under-recognized writer.

Best Supporting Actor

Oscar: Benicio del Toro, Traffic

Ethel: Willem Dafoe, Shadow of the Vampire

This one is mostly just personal preference. I’m perfectly happy to let del Toro keep his Oscar, except in this scenario where I get to go back in time and take it away and give it to someone else. That someone else being Dafoe, who was sublimely creepy as silent film star Max Schreck. But Traffic was a big hit that year and no one saw Dafoe in Shadow, so del Toro got the popular vote.

Best Supporting Actress

Oscar: Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock

Ethel: Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock

Pollock is another one that kind of baffles me—how did it get so overlooked? It’s a great movie. This was the right call—Harden is great as Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock’s wife/manager, and an outstanding artist in her own right who was overshadowed by her dramatic, drunk husband. What I remember most about Harden’s performance was how pinched and worried she looked throughout the film, and then her final scene, after Pollock’s death, how free and beautiful she was as she painted in his studio.

Best Actor

Oscar: Russell Crowe, Gladiator

Ethel: George Clooney, O Brother, Where Art Thou?

I know, I know—you’re sick of Clooney. But remember, we’re talking about the Clooney of 2000, not 2012. He wasn’t even nominated for this—gross oversight—but O Brother remains his best performance to date. The Descendants gets close, but doesn’t quite top this one. Don’t you remember how shocked you were at how good he was? I’d give him this Oscar over giving him one this year for The Descandants.

Best Actress

Oscar: Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich

Ethel: Joan Allen, The Contender

HAHAHAHAHAHA OMG this looks like such a joke, eleven years later. Don’t get me wrong, Roberts is really good—at her best, even—as Brockovich. I’m just saying that Julia Roberts at her best is not better than Joan Allen, Ellen Burstyn, who was up for Requiem for a Dream, Laura Linney, for You Can Count on Me, and Juliette Binoche in Chocolat. You could make a case for Binoche vs. Roberts, but Allen, Burstyn and Linney trounce all over her. My pick for a replacement win is Allen, who balanced a frosty, brittle exterior with a deep well of conviction and strength as a political candidate in The Contender, but I’ll entertain arguments on behalf of Burstyn’s drug-addled mother in Requiem, too. Either way, Roberts didn’t deserve this Oscar.

Best Director


Oscar: Steven Soderbergh, Traffic

Ethel: Ang Lee, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

These Oscars was a year where the Director and Picture awards were split. That doesn’t happen a lot. Traffic was good, but it wasn’t Soderbergh’s best directorial effort (still, to this day, that’s Out of Sight). It’s long and kind of draggy, and I think he was mostly being awarded for widening his scope. Which, recognize it, sure, but Lee created a masterpiece with Crouching Tiger. Is Traffic a masterpiece? No.

Best Picture

Oscar: Gladiator

Ethel: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Did you know that Chocolat was nominated for Best Picture? I liked Chocolat and everything, but really? Over O Brother, Where Art Thou? REALLY? Anyway, this should have gone to Crouching Tiger, which had all the same ferocious action as Gladiator and twice the plot. Also, it was better. Again, I liked Gladiator. But can you look me in the electrical face and tell me that it was THE BEST MOVIE of 2000? I stand by its nomination but the win belongs to Crouching Tiger.

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5 thoughts on “The Second Annual Ethel Awards

  1. marie

    Yes please for Amores Perros.. kinda hated that he repeated the 3 separate stories with 1 connection plot with 21 grams and babel, but inarritu really aced it with this one..and yeah, gael garcia bernal!

  2. Emster

    I’d be interested to see a study on who wins acting Oscars for best campaign rather than best performance. Case 1: Julia Roberts. Case 2: Roberto Benigni?

  3. Nikki

    I love Ellen Burstyn- requiem was so messed up and disturbing, it is the type of movie and performance you don’t forget. As much as I like Roberts, I remember very little of Erin Brockovich save for the fact that Julia played a spunky, compassionate woman who people doubted.

    I totally disagree with you about Almost Famous. To me , it still holds up beautifully. I thought the work of the entire cast was excellent and their is a sweetness to the film that really shows what Crowe does at his best.

    Loved, loved, loved O brother! Thought it was robbed and everything from the soundtrack to the beautiful visuals and the masterful way they modernized a really dense text was amazing. It still stands to me as the best Cohen brothers work(well that and Fargo). And Clooney is so compelling in that movie. I didn’t mind that Crowe won though because it was his, ‘I owe you one Oscar’ because they robbed him for the Insider. That is pretty much how the Oscars role- rarely do you win for the work you did that year.

  4. Sarah

    I love O Brother. It holds up and I still have the soundtrack on pretty regular rotation.

    And I agree with Nikki, Almost Famous still holds up. I’m a huge music fan [especially music from a certain time frame that Crowe also loves] so I wonder if that makes a difference.

  5. Pingback: The Hurt Locker and how movies age « CineSnark

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