Oscar alternative gives better idea of lasting success

Andrew Gumbel
Monday 25 March 2002 19:00

The film thriller Memento, Christopher Nolan's beguiling existential story of a man with no short-term memory, looked almost certain to come away empty-handed from last night's Oscars ceremony.

So did Ghost World, the much-lauded film adaptation of Daniel Clowes' graphic novel about two girls at odds with the corporate anonymity of suburban America.

Both films, however, were big winners at this weekend's Independent Spirit Awards, a low-key affair that traditionally takes place in a tent on Santa Monica beach, and, to believe the assessments of the big-league film critics, much more likely to stand the test of time than the frontrunners for the Academy Awards.

Memento won best feature, best director and best screenplay, a triumph for Nolan, the film's British writer-director. Ghost World's awards included best first screenplay and best supporting actor for Steve Buscemi.

The third film to win multiple honours, In The Bedroom, was also in the running for the Oscars but looked unlikely to reap the same rewards. Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek won Spirit awards as best actor and actress and the film was also named best first feature.

The Spirit awards have frequently shown up the bombast of the Oscars.

Last year's big winner, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, is considered to be several orders of artistic magnitude above Gladiator, which took the Oscar for best picture. That may be particularly true this year, when the Academy Award nominee list has been at its least inspiring. Whatever their merits, there is no sense that A Beautiful Mind or The Lord of the Rings have broken any cinematic boundaries. They have none of the subversive sense of, say, American Beauty, Being John Malkovich or The Talented Mr Ripley, all nominees in the much richer field of two years ago.

In this year of wounded national pride and resurgent US patriotism, the Oscar line-up was all about feel-good emotions, noble quests and fantasy. Robert Altman's Gosford Park was an exception, but it was also the rank outsider for best picture. Memento and Ghost World struck Academy voters as being too far outside the mainstream, and their only notable nominations were for their screenplays.

This weekend saw another artistic challenge to the Oscars, albeit a more lighthearted one. The Razzies, the ceremony that honours the worst in American film, had a robust line-up of nominees, including Pearl Harbor (worst film), Planet of the Apes (worst remake) and even Mariah Carey's breasts (worst screen couple), in Glitter. But the runaway winner was the orgy of bad taste Freddy Got Fingered.

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