Strong Nominees Prompt a Tight Oscar Race

Eric Adams

“Erin Brockovich” is a true story of empowerment that follows the undervalued, yet resourceful title character (Julia Roberts) as she and the law firm she works for take on a utility company that has contaminated drinking water in a small desert town with chromium 6, which was determined to have led to cases of cancer.

A strong supporting cast includes Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart and Peter Coyote.

Though many feel that director Steven Soderbergh may be handicapped by a split vote (he also directed the nominated “Traffic”), this the kind of socially conscious film the Academy often likes. Still an underdog, the movie has real potential to get the Oscar nod.

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is an instant classic. Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) is an honored warrior who is secretly in love with Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh). In the hands of other directors, the complicated plot would have disintegrated into a tacky kung-fu movie. In the hands of Ang Lee, the film is an intricate gem.

This film is also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, and it will probably take that category instead, since the Best Picture Oscar rarely goes to imported films. But, Lee did recently win the Directors Guild’s top award. Whoever wins that award usually wins again at the Oscars. This one is a toss-up.

When the dying caesar (Richard Harris) in “Gladiator” chooses Maximus (Russell Crowe) to succeed him as leader of Rome, he is imperiled by Commodus, the caesar’s son (Joaquin Phoenix). He is thought to be executed and his wife and son are killed. Through a long chain of events, Maximus becomes a gladiator who fights for his life and seeks revenge for his family.

This film won the Golden Globe for best film, a strategic advantage. The film’s effects are impressive, but its story is nothing new. The Academy may resist voting for this film since it is merely a rehash of old formulas. Director Ridley Scott, was nominated previously for “Thelma & Louise,” and is a strong contender this time out.

“Traffic” is a contemporary thriller whose title refers to the seamy and often hidden world of drug trafficking. The multilayered story follows Judge Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas), Mexican policeman Javier Rodriguez (Benicio Del Toro) and an unknowing drug kingpin’s wife, Helena Ayala (Catherine Zeta-Jones)in what is three movies in one.

The director, again Steven Soderbergh, is known for his mastery at getting under a character’s skin. Competing against his other film, “Erin Brockovich” is a handicap for this film. Though a strong film, it is not likely to win the Oscar.

Vianne Rocher (Juliette Binoche) in “Chocol?t” is a stranger in town, and a single mother, who opens a “chocolaterie” in a provincial French village just as Lent begins. The Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina), the town’s moral leader, prompts the town to shun the confectionary temptress, branding chocolate sinful.

The film is very picturesque and technically well made. The characters are complex, yet the story is simple and classic.

Director Lasse Halstrîm was nominated last year for “The Cider House Rules” but lost to “American Beauty” This is also a very strong contender.