What Shoulda Won? 2000 Best Picture Academy Award

The year 2000 was my first living full-time in Los Angeles, having arrived from Atlanta on December 30, 1999, Y2K hysteria be damned. I got a job working as a projectionist at a theatre while also working as a reader for a small production company, and I immediately noticed something about a large number of people in Hollywood: they hate movies.

I have varied tastes, having argued the merits of gross-out comedy vs. Oscar bait type of movies. Everyone I met in the movie business claimed “Election” was their favorite movie of 1999, and the only person I met who had actually seen “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” was Rob Schneider’s agent. And he was lukewarm about it.

Total worldwide box office take for “Election” = $16M ($14.8M Domestic).

Total worldwide box office take for “Deuce Bigalow” = $92M ($65M Domestic).

Not bashing either movie; I love them both. But you can see a discrepancy.

Anyway, the nominees for Best Picture:

“Gladiator” – Saw this at the pre-ArcLight Cinerama Dome and was blown away. Still have to watch it on TNT at least one of the thirty-eight times a month they play it.

“Erin Brockovich” – One of my favorite genres: Movies that suck on paper but are actually really good. I never expected the movie to be as funny as it is. Albert Finney wuz robbed.

“Traffic” – The crowd where I saw it at the General Cinema AVCO Center in West L.A. booed Orrin Hatch’s cameo. Childish? Yes. Hilarious? Hells yes. Really like the movie a lot.

“Chocolat” – Wait, what?

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” – Ang Lee brings high wire kung fu to the masses.

WHAT SHOULDA BEEN NOMINATED?

“Erin Brockovich” – You know why everyone thinks that all lawyers are backstabbing bloodsucking scumbags? Because they are!

“Memento” – I told my boss about your condition and stuff, and he said try and rent him another room.

“Almost Famous” – They want you to get drunk on feeling like you belong.

“Traffic” – Is this like freebasing? No, not like. It is.

“Gladiator” – It vexes me. I’m terribly vexed.

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WHAT SHOULDA WON

“Erin Brockovich” wins by a nose for me. The truth behind the movie doesn’t bother me so much because unlike in the case of, say, “Fair Game” (this one, not this one), the filmmakers sought to make an entertaining movie. The liberal agenda was not the focus of the movie. Furthermore, an argument could be made that it’s not a liberal movie at all.

Soderbergh finally took a stab at a mainstream Hollywood movie with 1998’s “Out of Sight,” which didn’t find the audience it deserved. 1999 saw him return to edgier fair with “The Limey,” a fractured crime drama with a great performance by Terrence Stamp. Was he as good in “The Limey” as he was in “The Phantom Menace?” I’m not sure. Chancellor Valorum is a character that will be remembered for-never.

“Erin Brockovich” has no business being as good as it is. The key to me is the humor. It’s a really funny movie with a great central character. Julia Roberts tears into the title role, and she has the perfect foil in Albert Finney, who plays a rumpled, somewhat frazzled attorney who’s just never met anyone like the snarky, bitchy Erin.

I worked in a movie theatre in Austell, Georgia in 1999. It was the type of theatre where “Election” bombed and “Deuce Bigalow” made bank. At least half of the people who bought tickets for “Notting Hill” did so as follows: “Two for the Julia Roberts movie.”

If you question Julia Roberts’ talent, fine, we can disagree. But she was, at the time, a pure movie star. Consider the poster: her. Sneering. In sunglasses. With a baby slung on her hip.

Movie. Star. She is such a big star that when “Duplicity” bombed, no one thought to ask if it was because Clive Owen isn’t a movie star. Sexist Fair or not, the movie’s failure was placed entirely on her shoulders. Audiences were rejecting her, not Clive Owen. I guess that makes sense.

She’s never been better than in “Erin Brockovich,” stepping just outside her comfort zone to play a woman who’s sometimes tough to like. But we like her anyway because (a) Julia Roberts plays her and (b) she says things many of us wish we had the nerve to say. And she’s funny.

It’s not a perfect movie. This wasn’t a great year for movies. But Soderbergh, screenwriter Susannah Grant, and Julia take a very standard story that could have been a preachy, weepy, Lifetime movie and make it a funny crowd pleaser by turning the template for this type of movie on its ear. Time after time, this is what Soderbergh excels at doing, from “Traffic” to “Oceans Eleven,” he defies and winks at genre conventions, which – when he’s on — sets his movies apart from others in their respective genres.


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