The Great Performances: 2001

Posted by · 6:23 pm · November 20th, 2009

Gene Hackman in The Royal TenenbaumsIn one of the weakest years in memory, not just for performances but for great films, 2001 saw Denzel Washington and Halle Berry knock “two birds out with one stone,” as the former declared on Oscar night, as two African Americans won the top acting prizes for the first time ever.  And it was difficult to argue with either.

Washington was superb in “Training Day,” clearly loving his role as crooked cop Alonzo, walking the line without ever going over the top, blowing everyone off the screen. In many ways it was a make-up award for his having lost for “Malcolm X” in 1992 to Al Pacino’s ranting work in “Scent of a Woman” and perhaps, though lesser so, for his loss for “The Hurricane.”

Berry gave a raw, sexually charged performance in “Monster’s Ball,” one of such searing truth and rage you could never look away from the screen. Robert Duvall called her performance the finest by an American actress he had ever seen and was not the least bit surprised when she won the Oscar for Best Actress.

My question remains: Should Denzel Washington have won over the non-nominated performances of Gene Hackman in “The Royal Tanebaums” or the vastly under-appreciated Jack Nicholson in “The Pledge,” one of his finest recent performances? Don’t think so.

There was a lot of love shown to Tom Wilkinson for his heartbreaking work in “In the Bedroom” as well as Russell Crowe (again) for his performance in “A Beautiful Mind,” which eventually won the Best Picture Oscar. I was very surprised that Sean Penn was nominated for his performance in “I Am Sam” because though I consider Penn one of the greatest actors in the history of the cinema, his work in that film represents one of the very few times I could “see” him acting.

Will Smith got nominated for a muted though fine performance in Michael Mann’s “Ali,” but you have to wonder why so many other great performances were forgotten altogether. Beyond Hackman and Nicholson, where was Guy Pearce in “Memento” or Ryan Gosling in “The Believer?”

Billy Bob Thornton gave a pair of fine performances in the Coen brothers’ “The Man Who Wasn’t There” and opposite Berry in “Monster’s Ball,” yet no nomination. I personally felt that Haley Joel Osment deserved a nomination for his haunting work in “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence,” one of Steven Spielberg’s most undervalued works, destined to be appreciated in the future, I suspect.

The Best Actress category was marred by the absence of Audrey Tatou in “Amelie,” a marvelous French film that took the cinema world by storm.  What happened?

Nicole Kidman was nominated for “Moulin Rouge!” but could also have just as easily made it in for “The Others,” a spooky, inventive ghost story. But how could they not nominate Thora Birch for “Ghost World,” one of the greatest teen angst films ever made?

I understand the nominations for Renee Zellweger in “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and the wonderful Sissy Spacek in “In the Bedroom,” but I struggle with Judi Dench in “Iris” over some of the women I have just mentioned.

Gwyneth Paltrow was sadly absent again for her fine work in “The Royal Tanenbaums,” one of the actress’s best performances. From the same film Anjelica Huston could also have been nominated. Scarlett Johansson was wonderful in “Ghost World” and again in “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” while Carrie Ann Moss deserved some attention for her performance in “Memento” just as Cate Blanchett should have for her terrifying abusive mother in “The Shipping News.”

Cameron Diaz was deserving for her nutty work in “Vanilla Sky,” leaving me wondering again how Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren were continually noticed for performances we have seen before (in Robert Altman’s “Gosford Park”).

Long before he was winning award after award for “The Wrestler,” Mickey Rourke reminded us what a fine actor he could be in “The Pledge” in a single scene that was absolutely powerful. That said there is little doubt that Ben Kingsley deserved to win Best Supporting Actor for his mobster-from-hell Don Logan in “Sexy Beast,” simply one of the most frightening characters ever put on film.

I was sad to see the critics’ darling Steve Buscemi in “Ghost World” snubbed by the Academy for weak work from, say, Jon Voight in “Ali” or Ethan Hawke in “Training Day.” I have no argument with the nomination for Ian McKellan in “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” nor Jim Broadbent in “Iris,” but there are so many others more than deserving.

Finally, Jude Law brought some of Malcolm MacDowell merged with Gene Kelly to his Gigolo Joe in “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence,” while the great Peter Boyle was a vicious racist in “Monster’s Ball” and deserved attention.

That’s my perspective on the performances of 2001.  What about you?  Have your say in the comments section below!

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58 responses so far

  • 1 11-23-2009 at 12:06 am

    Marshall1 said...

    no one saw Wit? what do you guys and gals think?

  • 2 11-23-2009 at 4:44 am

    Matt said...

    Surprised that no one mentioned more of the Rings cast besides Blanchett. McKellan was the obvious choice, but Sean Bean was his equal imo.

  • 3 11-23-2009 at 6:32 am

    John H. Foote said...

    Saw Wit — loved it but was HBO film and not able to be nominated for Oscars — she won the Emmy though as did the film I believe.

  • 4 11-23-2009 at 8:51 am

    Ivan said...

    Moulin Rouge
    Mulholland Drive
    The Princess and the Warrior

    Wes Anderson/The Royal Tenenbaums
    Baz Luhrmann/Moulin Rouge
    David Lynch/Mulholland Drive*
    Christopher Nolan/Memento
    Tom Twyker/The Princess and the Warrior

    Lior Ashkenazi/Late Marriage
    John Cameron Mitchell/Hedwig and the Angry Inch
    Guy Pearce/Memento
    Billy Bob Thornton/The Man Who Wasn´t There*
    Tom Wilkinson/In the Bedroom

    Halle Berry/Monster´s Ball
    Isabelle Huppert/The Piano Teacher
    Nicole Kidman/The Others
    Naomi Watts/Mulholland Drive*
    Renee Zellweger/Bridget Jones´ Diary

    Jim Broadbent/Iris
    Steve Buscemi/Ghost World
    Brian Cox/L.I.E.
    Gene Hackman/The Royal Tenenbaums*
    Ben Kingsley/Sexy Beast

    Anjelica Huston/The Royal Tenenbaums
    Helen Mirren/Gosford Park
    Gwyneth Paltrow/The Royal Tenenbaums*
    Marisa Tomei/In the Bedroom
    Kate Winslet/Iris

    Gosford Park
    The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
    The Royal Tenenbaums

    Donnie Darko
    The Princess and the Warrior
    The Royal Tenenbaums

    Bridget Jones´ Diary*
    Ghost World
    Hedwig and the Angry Inch
    The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

    No Man´s Land/Bosnia and Hersegovina
    The Princess and the Warrior/Germany*
    Sex and Lucia/Spain
    Y Tu Mama Tambien/Mexico

    The Man Who Wasn´t There*
    Moulin Rouge
    The Princess and the Warrior

    Moulin Rouge
    The Princess and the Warrior
    The Royal Tenenbaums

    A.I. Artificial Intelligence
    Hedwig and the Angry Inch
    Moulin Rouge*
    The Royal Tenenbaums

    Gosford Park
    Hedwig and the Angry Inch
    Legally Blonde
    Moulin Rouge*
    The Royal Tenenbaums

    A.I. Artificial Intelligence
    Hedwig and the Angry Inch*
    The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
    Moulin Rouge
    The Pledge

    Black Hawk Down
    The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
    Moulin Rouge
    Mulholland Drive
    The Princess and the Warrior*

    A.I. Artificial Intelligence
    Harry Potter and the Sorcerer Stone
    The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring*
    Pearl Harbor

    The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring*
    Mulholland Drive
    The Others

    “Come What May”/Moulin Rouge
    “May It Be”/The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring*
    “Si No Te Hubieras Ido”/Y Tu Mama Tambien
    “Sugar Daddy”/Hedwig and the Angry Inch
    “Vanilla Sky”/Vanilla Sky

    Hedwig and the Angry Inch
    Moulin Rouge
    The Royal Tenenbaums*
    Y Tu Mama Tambien

  • 5 11-23-2009 at 10:04 am

    Marshall1 said...

    Hey John,

    Wit didn’t win best movie or actress in the Emmy:(
    Judy Davis won (I would’ve give them a tie), don’t remember best movie

  • 6 11-23-2009 at 12:21 pm

    AdamL said...

    Kristen Scott Thomas in Gosford Park was the best female performance of the year.

    And clearly the film was not to everyone’s liking but for me Hannibal features two stunning performances: Gary Oldman and, particularly, Giancarlo Giannini.

    I’d have also definitely nominated Ray Winstone for lead actor for Sexy Beast as well as Kinglsey in supporting.

    And as for Washington and Berry – worst Oscar wins of the century. Such a ridiculous 2 for 1 deal where they clearly tried to atone for past errors but did so in the most obvious, pathetic, let’s reward some really average performances kind of way.

  • 7 11-27-2009 at 4:04 pm

    Xavi Rodriguez said...

    Lead Actor:
    1. Billy Bob Thornton, The Man Who Wasn’t There & Monster’s Ball -WINNER-
    2. Tom Wilkinson, In the Bedroom -Runner-up-
    3. Ewan McGregor, Moulin Rouge!
    4. Ryan Gosling, The Believer
    5. Russell Crowe, A Beautiful Mind
    Alt: Tony Leung, In the Mood of Love & Will Smith, Ali

    Lead Actress:
    1. Naomi Watts, Mulholland Dr. -WINNER-
    2. Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge! & The Others -Runner up-
    3. Sissy Spacey, In the Bedroom
    4. Audrey Tautou, Amelie
    5. Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball
    Alt: Maggie Cheung, In the Mood of Love & Thora Birch, Ghost World

    Supporting Actor:
    1. Ben Kingsley, Sexy Beast -WINNER-
    2. Steve Buscemi, Ghost World -Runner up-
    3. Tony Shalhoub, The Man Who Wasn’t There
    4. Jim Broadbent, Moulin Rouge!
    5. Heath Ledger, Monster’s Ball
    Alt: Ethan Hawke, Training Day

    Supporting Actress:
    1. Helen Mirren, Gosford Park -WINNER-
    2. Marisa Tomei, In the Bedroom -Runner-up-
    3. Laura Harring, Mulholand Dr.
    4. Frances McDormand, The Man Who Wasn’t There
    5. Cate Blanchett, Bandits & The Lord of the Rings.
    Alt: Cameron Diaz, Vanilla Sky

  • 8 11-27-2009 at 5:54 pm

    Zodiac said...

    Very good performances NOT NOMINATED THAT YEAR:

    Naomi Watts – Mulholland Drive
    Charlotte Rampling – Under The Sand
    Maggie Cheung – In the mood for Love
    Tony Lieung – In the mood for Love
    Heath Ledger – Monsters Ball
    Cate Blanchett – Bandits or The Shipping News
    Cameron Diaz – Vanilla Sky
    Audrey Tautou – Amelie
    Ryan Gosling – The Believer
    Nicole Kidman – The Others
    Reese Witherspoon – Legally Blonde
    Guy Pearce – Memento