Off beat |

Off beat

1999 was a great year for movies. That announcement may sound a little late, coming three months into 2000. However, I thought it was fitting for two reasons: One, the inaugural Lake Tahoe Pioneering in Film Festival is only a few weeks away, and, two, the first Academy Awards of the 21st century is even closer.

South Shore’s film festival, scheduled for April 7, 8 and 9, is a celebration of film creativity and the advancement of movie-making throughout the century. The films of 1999 put a good cap on 100 years of excellent movies. I’ll bet many of the innovative filmmakers that achieved fame and recognition in 1999 likely will be celebrated as pioneers at future festivals.

Much is often made about the decade of the 1970s when directors such as Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese came out of nowhere and redefined how movies are made. 1999 by itself saw unknown directors with only a few, or sometimes no, movies under their belts create works of art that made most filmmakers look like they’ve been asleep.

Movies such as “American Beauty,” “The Sixth Sense,” “Three Kings,” “Being John Malkovich” and even “The Matrix” and “Fight Club” all broke new ground in their own ways. And that’s just a sampling of the good films that came out.

That brings me to the 72nd annual Academy Awards, which will certainly honor some of the above-mentioned films on March 26.

Movies such as “Three Kings,” “Boys Don’t Cry” and even “Toy Story 2” could have filled some of the best picture nomination slots but were ignored. However, the five films contending for the top honor are all very good. I’ve read entertainment writers saying it’s a two-picture race: “The Cider House Rules” vs.”American Beauty.” In my opinion, “The Cider House Rules,” a coming-of-age story about an orphan in the early 1900s, and “The Green Mile,” a supernatural prison drama set in the even earlier 1900s, are the two that don’t deserve the big Oscar. Not that they’re bad films; it’s just that the other three contenders – “American Beauty,” a bizarre look at life in the suburbs, “The Sixth Sense,” a touching and scary tale of a boy who communicates with the dead, and “The Insider,” a moving, based-on-fact story about a tobacco industry whistleblower – were easily the best movies of 1999.

My pick for best picture goes to “American Beauty,” whose tragic-comic vision of the American family is sad and simultaneously hysterical. The artistic direction is breathtaking; the acting is perfect.

I won’t be upset, however, if “The Sixth Sense” or “The Insider” pull out an upset.

My other picks – not who I think will win but who I think should win – include:

n Best actor

In a difficult category, I pick previous winner Kevin Spacey, the leading man of “American Beauty.” You love him; you hate him. He makes you laugh; he gives you chills. Still, Russell Crowe of “The Insider” gave an incredible, Oscar-worthy performance.

n Best actress

I’m going to go with Hillary Swank for her portrayal of a young woman – who dresses like, pretends to be and wants to be a man – who is raped and killed in the true story “Boys Don’t Cry.” Annette Benning was excellent in “American Beauty,” too.

n Supporting actor

In this difficult category, I’m going to go with the kid, 11-year-old Haley Joel Osment from “The Sixth Sense.” However, all of the other contenders – Jude Law of “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” Michael Caine of “The Cider House Rules,” Tom Cruise of “Magnolia” and Michael Clarke Duncan of “The Green Mile” – gave deserving performances.

n Supporting actress

Again I’m going to go with “The Sixth Sense.” Toni Collette, who plays the mother of the ghost-seeing Osment, was amazing.

n Adapted screenplay

How writers Eric Roth and Michael Mann, also the director, put all the information related to “The Insider” into one script is amazing. That’s my pick. Still, the screen writers of “The Cider House Rules” and “The Green Mile” both did a good job of turning lengthy books – written by John Irving and Stephen King respectively – into easily followed, entertaining movies.

n Original screenplay

The plot of “The Sixth Sense,” written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, couldn’t have been better. It should be the obvious winner.

n Director

I’ll go back to “American Beauty” on this. In the hands of a less-capable director, this movie could have been ridiculous. First-time director Sam Mendes, however, handled it brilliantly – and made an unforgettable film.

n Foreign film

I have no idea. I haven’t seen any of the nominees.

– Andy Bourelle, an employee of the Tahoe Daily Tribune, is not a professional entertainment writer but simply has nothing better to do with his dull life than go to the movies all the time.

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