Sunday, March 10, 2013

Battle Of The Oscar Stars: Best Picture 2002

Les Miserables' eight Oscar nominations and box office popularity probably had a little to do with the Academy's choice of making this year's telecast a musical theme.

In doing so, the entire cast of Les Miz burst onto the stage for a full production of its nominated original song, "Suddenly", as well as the Broadway classic, "One Day More".

Not to be outdone, another movie musical was highlighted more than any other - it was the last musical to win Best Picture (unless you count The Artist...) and walked away with six wins after-all.

Over 10 years later, between one eye-ball rolling performance and the main cast reuniting onstage to present a few awards, Chicago practically dominated this years Oscar coverage.

Although, the stars of the film were not exactly as big as they were in their "heyday" of Oscar glory. A favorite moment of mine from this year's awards found Catherine Zeta-Jones actually asking Ryan Seacrest to do their insipid "Mani Cam" (I will not explain what that is, because I fear how stupid it will make me feel) on the red carpet to only be denied and pushed along down the press line. No one actually asks Catherine, they get forced into it. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Being a little hard on Zeta-Jones only comes from a place of love (somewhat), because as hard it as it is to admit, she gives Chicago its edge as she ruthlessly belts out songs and dances tremendously in order to play the murderess Cabaret performer, Velma Kelley.

In every moment she is on that screen, you can tell how hard she worked, and how much she wanted it. This is the role of a lifetime, as her own ambition is perfectly matched by her characters equal need for success and acclaim. Ms. Kelly may have ended up in the clink, but the clout did come for Zeta-Jones as the role got her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

Chicago is all about showing off the foot-tapping music, so even when the plot line gets thin and predictable, the music is so great that it all balances out. When casting the movie version they smartly filled out the rest of the cast with wonderful performers.

Three other actors from the film were justly nominated that year, with my favorite being John C. Reilly. He continues to be the actor that pops up in everything, but this was the year he had small, yet also pivotal roles in three Best Picture nominees (the other two being The Hours and Gangs Of New York). In Chicago, playing Roxie Hart's clueless husband, his spotlight as "Mr. Cellophane" is beautifully filmed and is a show-stopper.

Reilly was the quiet type, but another actor, as the catchy song says, really gave 'em the ole Razzle Dazzle. Richard Gere apparently was panned by many critics and was notably the only actor in a lead role snubbed by the Academy, but to me he solidly exudes the outlandish charm and smarminess intended for his fame-seeking, money obsessed lawyer character. 

For Renee Zellweger, this came out at the height of her career. Playing the lead of Roxie, she confidently takes parts in nearly all of the dazzling performance numbers that have her donning the shiniest flapper dresses and even, in one especially fun bit, playing a ventriloquist dummy. Seeing this again after several years, and being reminded of what she is capable of doing, makes me wish she was still getting these types of fantastic roles.

The movie gets so many things right it's hard to find something wrong. From the gorgeous 1920's era costumes, to the grand performances, the film is splashy, sparkly, and surprisingly lively from start to finish - especially as the prison setting and murder plot lines are played flippantly.

Besides Moulin Rouge!, there are no other modern musicals that match Chicago's fantastical scale. It accomplishes everything that movie musicals are supposed to do, which, most importantly, takes a popular stage production and gives it new life outside of the limitations of a one stage theater.

The story is all about hoping for a better, more exciting life, and this movie completely creates the grandiose and magical way we all imagine life in daydreams.

Next up: It may take awhile to get there, but with 9-hours of film viewing ahead, we have reached Middle Earth.

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