The year was 2002. The host was Steve Martin. The most nominated film (13 times) was Rob Marshall’s big-screen musical adaptation of Chicago, including a nod for Best Picture. Its competition? Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, Polanski’s The Pianist, Jackson’s LOTR: The Two Towers, and Stephen Daldry’s The Hours. The problem? Chicago won Best Picture.
Now before I start ranting, let me admit Chicago was an enjoyable movie. I mean you had a ton of actors/actresses who weren’t trained musicians/dancers absolutely lighting up the stage with brilliant musical numbers, a pretty enjoyable story, and a fun energy. As far a musical films go, Chicago deserves some credit. But Best Picture credit? I’m sorry, I can’t justify that honor.
I’ll start by taking The Hours out of this argument because I’ll admit, while undoubtedly emotional and finely acted, it just wasn’t my mug of beer (sorry, don’t drink tea.) So there you go Chicago, you at least didn’t deserve last place, and of course by last place I mean still one of the top five films of 2002.
Next up is The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, that hobbit filled epic adventure which is easily one of the greatest trilogy continuers of all time. Not only did director Peter Jackson outdo himself by capturing even more breathtaking landscapes, but he brought us our first taste of large-scale orc battling, and set audiences up perfectly for Return Of The King, doing so through engagingly gripping storytelling which transcends that of typically muddled fantasy-action stories. Peter Jackson dove head-first into this incredibly creative task, and surpassed expectations book fans thought unachievable. I would have loved to see this win over Chicago.
Now we look at The Pianist, a depressing yet moving story about an accomplished musician fleeing for his life in Nazi-occupied Poland. Wladyslaw Szpilman’s true story was acted beautifully by Adrien Brody, which won him a Best Actor Oscar, directed magnificently, which won Polanski the Best Director Oscar, and was a brilliant adaptation of the similarly titled source material, which won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. Three Oscars isn’t bad, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a little disheartening when the movie which actually did win Best Picture (Chicago) couldn’t exactly match The Pianist‘s cinematic quality.
But the most deserving film passed over for Chicago‘s song and dance? Martin Scorsese’s Gangs Of New York – hands down. I know if you look at Rotten Tomatoes you’ll argue it’s got the lowest rating out of all the nominees, pointing at the “messy” nature of this enormous film, but for my money there wasn’t a better movie in 2002. From Daniel Day-Lewis’ energetic and mesmerizing performance as gang-leader Bill The Butcher to Scorsese’s jaw-droppingly realistic set recreation of the Five Points, Gang Of New York wasn’t just a film – it was a beautiful glimpse back to a time when organized crime ran rampant and immigrants did what they had to for survival. Did Scorsese Hollywood-ize it with violent battles and entertaining factors films need in order to win over mass audiences? Of courses, he had to, but that still doesn’t take away from the fact that excellent casting (Leo DiCaprio, John C. Reilly, Cameron Diaz, Daniel Day-Lewis, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson), inspired directing, and marvelous execution made more than a strong enough case for Gangs of New York winning best picture.
So congratulations Chicago, you can always claim 2002 was your year, and you sure did a number at the Oscars – but did you really deserve that Best Picture statue sitting on your mantel? This writer doesn’t think so.