A year full of surprises and some quality movies, the first year of this century had a lot to live up to after 1999 was one of the best years in movie history. While there were plenty of movies to get Oscar nods, a select few garnered more than their fair share of hardware. From famous directors to moving biopics, the year 2000 was another banner year for great movies. Let’s dive in with the Top 5 Oscar Winners that ends with three movies that won at least four that year.
5) Erin Brockovich
I saw this movie a long time ago, probably in my later high school years, but I remember being incredibly skeptical of Julia Roberts carrying a dramatic performance. Putting aside my decidedly much too mature attitude about a dramatic film in my teenage years, I was pleasantly surprised by Roberts performance. While it can definitely be chalked up to being partially an Oscar-like role and performance, Roberts inhabits the Brockovich character with a passion and gravity that was unlike anything she had done previously. She became a strong female figure through this role and her character was the perfect mixing of strong femininity and ambition.
What I love more than anything in this movie is the story of a legal clerk taking down a big, California power company and exposing corruption. It’s a delightful and mostly truthful twist on the common movie formula of a person from humble circumstances over-coming “the man” against all odds and expectations through sheer force of will and God-given smarts. It’s an “Oscar-movie” that doesn’t beat you over the head with a performance but remains fun, inspirational, and well-paced while tackling very serious subject matters. A very surprising movie that got Julia Roberts a well deserved Oscar win.
The story of Jackson Pollock, the famous American abstract expressionist painter, was the pet project of actor Ed Harris. He produced, directed, and starred in the movie and based the movie off of his love of Pollock and the book Jackson Pollock: An American Saga. The story opens with Pollock, who Ed Harris is said to have a striking resemblance to, signing for being on the cover of Time. The movie flashes back to the begging of the decade when he is a poor, drunk, unfocused painter living with his mother and brother. At an art showing he meets painter Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden), who is taken by Jackson and puts her career on hold to be Pollock’s champion, agent, caretaker, and wife. Krasner is instrumental in Pollock’s ability to sober up, focus his artistic genius, and become the most recognizable painter in the US and arguably the world.
Harris performance is at its best during the breathtaking and mesmerizing painting scenes. Harris spent over a year researching and practicing to paint like Pollock painted, and the authenticity is remarkable. While the other aspects of Pollock’s personality and life can sometimes be paint by numbers tortured artist fare, Harris is up to the role quite well and is serviceable. Maybe not worthy of an Academy Award nomination, but the accomplishment of the movie makes almost automatic for him to receive a nomination.
The real emotional and narrative backbone of the movie is Marcia Gay Harden as Lee Krasner. She won the Best Actress in a Leading role Oscar and she fully deserved it for her performance. Aside from one obvious shouting match scene with Harris towards the end of the movie, she is calm, collected, brace, yet assured. Her belief and love for Jackson remains forever true, even as he drinks away his fame and confidently shouts, “I love all women,” during a holiday get together with their group of art gallery friends. In a performance that easily could have gone, “crazy, jealous wife,” Harden plays it cool and always in control, but with a loving tenderness for a troubled husband. Pollock was a wildcard, but Krasner was his anchor. Harden is also the anchor and true greatness of this film.
For those of you who have seen Sicario and have seen Traffic, you are already well familiar with Benicio Del Toro’s great performances in drug war thrillers. Del Toro is already receiving hype to be nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Sicario, and he has already received the same award for his role as DEA agent Javier Rodriguez. Of course, they are both different performances and Del Toro’s rises to them both; a testament to his acting ability.
Amazingly, director Steven Soderbergh also directed Erin Brockovich, and received multiple nominations for both movies at the Oscars. Quite the feat to pull off in one year, but Traffic is the better film of the two. Like Villeneuve’s Sicario, it pulsates with energy and intensity that continues from beginning to end. And also like it, it is a very dark film with an honest, intense look at different facets of the illicit drug trade. However, while Sicario unfolds as Emily Blunt’s character finds out more about her mission, Soderbergh and screenwriter Stephen Gaghan jump between three different stories and deftly navigate this kaleidoscopic story to a satisfying and intense end. It’s so very good and well-deserving of its Best Director, Best Writing, and Editing Oscars, as well as Del Toro’s win.
2) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
If this list was not based on who took home the most Oscars, Ang Lee’s film would be #1. However, it did take home four Oscars, tied with Traffic, and deservedly snubbed Amores Perros from winning the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Sorry Alejandro.
Lee’s artful and exciting film set in Qing dynasty China is a Chinese martial arts action movie with added Shakespearean romance, family, and honor dynamics that make this tale not only kinetic, but charged with electric performances and chemistry. Action sets and sequences are surrounded by a fascinating story of Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat), a famous warrior, his sword the Green Destiny, and his fellow warrior and love interest Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh). They are set to put aside their swords and take up their long delayed romance when they are roped into tracking down Jade Fox (Pei-pei Cheng), the murderer of Li Mu Bai’s master, and her mysterious disciple (Ziyi Zhang).
Few movies made before it boasted the scale and intensity of its fight scenes, and few Americans had seen choreography this fluid and majestic. However, the real key to Lee’s brilliance in this movie, awesome choreography and fight scenes aside, is the emotional depth of and empathy you develop for 6 to 7 characters that play a major part in the narrative. Lee sets stakes and character dynamics for when the movie goes full Shakespearean. The full emotional weight of the movie hits you and you’re left to ponder lost loves and the characters final, fateful choices. Masterfully and beautifully done and, by far, my favorite Ang Lee movie.
What could you possibly say about Ridely Scott’s classic that hasn’t already been said? It’s epic before people said epic all the time, it’s thrilling, romantic, heart-breaking, and life-affirming. It also boasts tremendous performances from Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Richard Harris, and Oliver Reed; Crowe and Phoenix both receiving nominations for awards and Crowe winning Best Actor in a Leading Role.
As a History and Social Science major, this movie is right in my sweet spot. In college, I took a Roman History course and a good portion of the class was spent on Roman Military tactics. Lo and behold, our History Professor, who also taught a class I took on Western Warfare and Military History, loved Gladiator for its very accurate portrayal of Roman martial infrastructure, tactics, and strategy, as well as their foes. He late came to detest 300 for its terrible recreation of Greek Warfare and their Persian foes. The movie’s opening sequence came alive in that class and I developed a new appreciation for Scott’s attention to detail and historical accuracy.
All of the personal history and countless smart words spilled about this movie from other smart people aside, this movie rules. There’s my smart, sophisticated opinion.