St. Petersburg Times

Oscar Q&A with Times film critic Steve Persall
Times film critic Steve Persall answered reader questions about the Academy Award nominations and recent Golden Globes winners. Thanks for sending us your questions
Questions and answers:

Question: What other blockbusters have won the Best Picture Oscar without having any nominations in the acting categories? Obviously, I'm wondering about LOTR in that regard.

Steve: Well, Master and Commander also has a chance to do it this year. It really depends upon how you define "blockbuster." If you mean a special effects-driven piece with fantasy, sci-fi or supernatural elements, the answer is zero because that's how many best picture Oscar winners that could fit that description. (Although you could make a case for Titanic with its great special effects but that had a best supporting actress nominee.) If you mean movies that made a lot of money, say over $100-million, then as far as I can figure out, there aren't any. The only best picture winner of the past 30 years since "blockbusters" became a Hollywood trend that didn't have an acting nomination is The Last Emperor, but it didn't make that much money. Good question. LOTR probably will be the first on both counts.

Question: There was so much buzz on Seabiscuit when it was released, but it didn't seem to get mentioned many times today. Is that a surprise to you? Do you think it was released too early to attract Oscar attention? Or was it and its performances just overrated when compared to later films?

Steve: It doesn't surprise me because Oscar voters historically have short memories. That's why studios hold their best contenders (at least the ones they anticipate) until later in the year. I'm pleased that it got the best picture nom since Seabiscuit was No. 1 on my top 10 list this year. So I certainly don't think it was overrated.

Question: Why no Oscar love for William Macy?

Steve: Hard to say. He had the early rail, so to speak, with Seabiscuit. Then a lot of good performances (including nominee Alec Baldwin opposite Macy in The Cooler) kind of nudged him aside. Djimon Hounsou from In America probably took his spot but I can't complain. That film was No. 3 on my list. Macy will get his due someday, though. Bet on it like a race horse.

Question: What do you think about the nomination of the young girl who starred in Whale Rider, a film I loved that only got very narrow distribution here. And why do you think none of the pictures up for best foreign film have played here? Do you think there is an audience for independent and foreign films in Pinellas County? My comment is that since the same films appear in all the theaters in this county except Baywalk and the Beach Theater, surely one screen in each theater could be set aside to show these independent films. Do you agree?

Steve: I'm thrilled for her, if only because it shows the Academy is paying serious attention to such small films (Dirty Pretty Things is another, in the original screenplay race). To be honest, I need to catch up with her performance because, as you noted, it didn't stick around here long. As far as foreign films, The Barbarian Invasions was slated to open last week and was pushed back, probably to see if it would get Oscar nominations for better sales appeal. I'd say it will be here soon. The others, like U.S. independent films, are at the mercy of their distributors who don't have the capital to finance wide releases. I'm sure a couple will sneak in around Oscar time. We're doing much better at supporting such offbeat cinema than, say, 10 years ago. We have as many consistant venues for such films around Tampa Bay as many cities.

Question: I was a big fan of Ken Watanabe in the Last Samurai. Does he stand a chance at winning? And any thought on why Tom Cruise didn't get a nod for his role in the movie? Do you think the voters have seen enough of Tom and Nicole Kidman for now?

Steve: You may be right. Maybe that's why Ben and J-Lo weren't nominated, either. (I'm kidding, of course.) I liked Watanabe's performance but that's a case where voters will figure the nomination is enough. Oscar voters like to spread the wealth among the leading nominated films, so I'll guess that's where Mystic River gets some love through Tim Robbins. Cruise wasn't as good in TLS as any of those five who made the list, simple enough. I'm not sure he would have even made a 10-slot list. Russell Crowe is the adventure star this year who should be miffed. Maybe voters are tired of him, too.

Does Andy Serkis from LOTR deserve consideration for a supporting actor award? I have read about how he really was Gollum and the filmmakers used CGI to create the characters around his actual movements.

Steve: I thought he deserved it, and said so very clearly in my review for LOTR: TROK. Knowing what we know now, that his physical and vocal behaviors in the film are real, not just motion-capture magic, made me a believer. But they skipped him. I'm not sure who I'd knock out of that list to put him there.

Question: Are you personally pulling for any actors to win the Oscar this year -- perhaps one or two that haven't historically gotten the recognition they deserve?

Steve: Well, Johnny Depp has always been a favorite of mine. He was great in Pirates, but he's great in everything I've seen. He has a way of elevating junk, which he did in Pirates. I'm also pleased with the nomination for Shohreh Aghdashloo from House of Sand and Fog, a marvelous performance from an Iranian actor I've never seen before. She was perfection in a tricky role. And I have to say I'm pulling for Bill Murray just because he's one of the funniest guys alive.

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