Best Picture Movie Marathon, Part 4
Updated: Aug 16
I’ve embarked on an EPIC challenge to watch every movie ever nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. To do so, I’ve put all the years from 1929 to 2019 into a bucket and I’m pulling out years one by one to determine what movies to watch.
PART 4: 2004
Lost in Translation
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (winner)
Seabiscuit: Seabiscuit was a lazy horse who loved eating and sleeping – and honestly, SAME. His handlers struggled to control his rambunctious nature and bad temper and his future as a racehorse was looking pretty slim…that is until the lives of three men intertwined to turn this zero into a hero.
This movie was set up like your average sports movie – a troublesome athlete with potential suffers a setback right before the big race, overcomes it, then inevitably wins. But a lot of this movie is spent introducing horse owner, Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), horse trainer Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) and main jockey Red Pollard (Toby McGuire). The three story lines don’t even converge until about an hour or so into the film, making this one a bit of a slow starter (however, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy watching Jeff Bridges mold from a young car salesman into a dapper sugar daddy!).
Once these three men come together, it’s off to the races, so to speak. Even though I have seen this movie before and I knew what was going to happen, my anxiety was at PEAK LEVELS during these horse races in the second half of the film. The only comic relief came from William H. Macy’s portrayal of radio announcer, Tick Tock McGlaughlin. Macy did an amazing job of throwing in corny jokes and sound effects into his broadcast and, as Roger Ebert said in his review of the film, “If Tick Tock McGlaughlin did not exist in real life, I don’t want to know it.”
Coming fresh from the films of 1938, this was an interesting movie to kick off round four. Seabiscuit takes place during the Great Depression, with the final race of the film taking place in…wait for it…1938. INCEPTION. As mentioned in the last batch of reviews, the Great Depression brought America to its knees. The nation needed hope, joy, something to believe in – and I gotta say, I wish I cared about anything as much as these people cared about the success of Seabiscuit. This horse stood for something. He was the ultimate underdog (and I’m a huge sucker for a good underdog story!). If a lazy, bad-tempered horse from the streets could beat a thoroughbred Triple-Crown winner, maybe – just maybe – anything was possible.
Seabiscuit was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing and Best Sound Mixing; however, it lost in every category. I don’t think it lost because it was a bad film, I think it was just up against something bigger than it could handle. In any other race, this movie may just have stood a chance – but just like Seabiscuit himself, it got beat by a nose.
Lost in Translation: I’m going to say something that might be controversial but I feel like it has to be said. OK, here we go:
Bill Murray is one of the greatest actors of our generation.
OK – there it is. I said it. If you need more proof of this man’s acting abilities, I urge you to watch Lost in Translation.
Famous actor Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is stuck. While he should be in New York acting in plays and movies, he’s spending time in Tokyo filming a whiskey commercial. His time away is clearly putting a strain on his marriage and family life as Bob continuously struggles to communicate with his wife and kids back home.
Young college graduate Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is stuck, too. Her husband of two years is in Tokyo for work and, since she wasn’t doing anything, she decided to tag along. However, while her husband flutters about with his camera in hand, Charlotte is just left to entertain herself in the hotel room. She’s visibly pained that he never offers to bring her along and even when she straight up offers to join him for a drink with a client, he seems genuinely surprised she would want to come.
Both lost in their own lives, Bob and Charlotte somehow find each other in one of the most populated cities in the world…offering each other something that seems to be missing in both of their lives – empathy.
The characters of Bob and Charlotte are really our gateway into the insane city that is Tokyo. We eat and drink with them, we go clubbing with them. We sing karaoke with them. Like the third wheel, we are witness to their budding friendship, never included – always observant.
And even though this movie takes place in Tokyo, there is a quietness about it that adds to the intimacy of this film. The comedy is not said, but implied. It’s in simple looks, slight gestures, a raise of the eyebrow at the right moment. The genius behind this movie is that it feels so real because it is real. Movies have trained us to think that two characters who find comfort in each other like Bob and Charlotte should end up together. They should forget their spouses and just run off and be happy together – but that’s not who these people are. That’s not real life. That’s not the point of their friendship. What Bob and Charlotte share in Lost in Translation is not romantic, though it certainly had the potential to be. As I said before, it’s empathy. They get each other. They can relate to each other. They can communicate in a place that seems to disregard them. In each other, these two lost souls are found again.
If you’ve heard anything about this movie before, it probably has to do with the controversial ending, when Bob whispers something into Charlotte’s ear. We can’t hear what he says, all we see is Charlotte’s reaction. This exchange was not scripted. Director Sophia Coppola did not write dialog, nor did she record what he said. Those words were not meant for us. The entire time we’ve just been observing, watching, outsiders. This was never OUR moment to get closure, it was theirs. UGH I LOVE THIS MOVIE SO MUCH.
Mystic River: In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous. In Boston, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad known as the Kevin Bacon Unit. This is his story.
Directed by Clint Eastwood, Mystic River is a heartbreaking crime story about three childhood friends who were forever changed when one of them was captured and abused by a child molester. Now in adulthood, Sean, Jimmy and Dave are dealing with a new tragedy: the brutal murder of Jimmy’s daughter, Katie.
Though adulthood has forced these three friends apart, this tragedy brings them all together again. Sean (Kevin Bacon) is the lead detective on Katie’s murder and Jimmy (Sean Penn) finds himself turning to Dave (Tim Robbins) for emotional support – that is until Dave becomes suspect #1.
I really don’t want to say too much about this movie because it boasts a GREAT twist at the end…so be careful what you Google before you watch it! But I will say this: In a town where everyone knows your name, you like to think you can trust your family, your friends, your spouse. But that’s not always the case.
Mystic River was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay. Sean Penn took home a well-deserved Oscar for Best Actor, as did Tim Robbins for Best Supporting Actor. This film also earned several accolades outside of the Academy Awards, including Golden Globe awards, Critics’ Choice awards and won in a variety of film festivals.
As is the case with most police dramas, we want a character to hate here. We want to know who we can trust and who we can’t – but that resolution is not offered in Mystic River. There’s no one to hate. Whether or not director Clint Eastwood intended for us to sympathize with all the characters, he achieved it. We feel for them. We grieve with them. In the quiet, unspoken moments between these three boys, we not only understand their anger, we can even relate to it. Which can only beg the question – does that make US the bad guys?
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World: Nothing builds character like fighting a war at sea. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World tells the story of the British ship, Surprise, tasked with taking down the French ship, Acheron. Based on two novels by author Patrick O’Brian (Master and Commander and The Far Side of the World), this film combines elements of both story lines to create an epic movie set in the open waters.
The heart of this film is the friendship of two men, Captain Jack Aubrey and the ship’s surgeon, Stephen Maturin. Opposites in many ways, these two men are still close friends who spend downtime playing music together (how sweet is that!). Their friendship actually is quite representative of human nature – where Captain Aubrey is a man of action and skill, Maturin is more intellectual and thoughtful. This is further highlighted in a scene where Maturin’s hopes of collecting a few specimens upon arrival at the Galapagos Islands are crushed by Aubrey’s determination to pursue the French warship, Acheron.
Their dichotomy is further enhanced by their interactions with other members of the crew, specifically the young Lord Blakeney (played by Max Pirkis in his film debut), who is taking on leadership roles at the tender age of 13. Under the command of Captain Aubrey, Blakeney becomes a courageous and impactful leader, actually commanding the deck during one intense battle. However, Blakeney shares Maturin’s passion for biology, even going so far as to fill a journal with sketches of birds and beetles. Both men try to shape this young lord in their image – and it is through this that we learn about the character of Aubrey and Maturin.
With 90% of this film taking place at sea, most of our time as viewers is spent aboard Captain Aubrey’s ship, The Surprise. Filmed on an actual boat in a large California tank (this is also where many shots from Titanic were filmed), director Peter Weir takes us deep into Navy life on a ship – large, vast waters, grim living conditions and poor rations of food and drink. With a soundtrack of crashing waves and sea shanties, Master and Commander brings the fear and the comradery of being in the Queen’s Navy to life in amazing detail and style.
Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, Master and Commander only took home two: Best Cinematography and Best Sound Editing. Though it opened to great reviews, it ultimately lost out to another Captain Jack who took to the high seas in his Black Pearl the same year.
With great attention to detail and character, Master and Commander deserves a spot on any list of great maritime films. This movie showcases humanity in a way that’s hard to do in most war films and features the one thing that makes every good war story worth seeing: the element of surprise.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: DISCLAIMER: Okay my adoring LOTR lovers, I have a confession. I admittedly have never read any of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books and I’ve only seen this movie trilogy once in totality. As a lover of literature and the daughter of a well-read Tolkien fan, I have often thought about giving this book series a try, despite the fact that it does intimidate me a bit. In expressing concern about starting to read LOTR, I was told, “If you love Game of Thrones (and I do), you’ll love Lord of the Rings.”
As I was watching Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, I jokingly made some comments about how certain characters and plot points reminded me of Game of Thrones. How they both have an army of the dead, destructive flying dragons, how the romance between Aragorn and Eowyn reminded me of the love between Jamie and Brianne of Tarth, how similar Gimli and Tormund were, not to mention they both killed off SEAN BEAN…at first it was funny, but then it became obnoxious.
Again, I can’t quite make this argument fully as I’ve never read LOTR, but I kind of have to side with you Hobbitses here because after watching this movie, it’s so incredibly obvious that George R.R. Martin was not “inspired” by LOTR, he freaking stole it. This had me in tizzy the entire time I watched this movie, so I’m apologizing now if I bust out in another rant later on down the line!
OK, ON TO THE REVIEW!
Man, they really don’t make movies like this anymore, do they? Though Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is the third installment of the LOTR series, this movie really can stand on its own without any problem. Will those unfamiliar with The Ring trilogy be lost? Most likely. But aren’t we all kinda lost in this magical Middle Earth? Even those who have seen these movies can’t admit fully that they understand EVERYTHING. But even if you don’t, there’s plenty of action and visual stimulation to keep you entertained for the 200 minutes you’ll spend watching this film.
Continuing the plot of the second installment, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, this final film has Frodo, Sam and Gollum making their way toward Mordor to destroy The Ring while Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and our other favorites join forces against Sauron in Minas Tirith. With freaking amazing set design, cinematography and special effects, the world created by director Peter Jackson is nothing if not breathtaking. Even if you don’t care about Frodo’s mission, there’s plenty to enjoy in the vast New Zealand landscape where this story comes to life.
I really had trouble finding anything to dislike about this movie. Granted it’s been years since I’ve seen the other two films, so much of this story-line was slightly confusing, but I found I was able to follow the general gist of the movie. My only criticism about this film is that the female characters kinda fall flat. They don’t have as much growth as the main male characters and are often portrayed as soft, wispy fairy-like creatures, which I suppose is fine for a fantasy film – but they just seem to be begging for more development.
Though The Return of the King is the third installment in this series, it’s still thought to be a landmark in filmmaking and is wildly regarded as one of the greatest and most influential fantasy films ever made. It was nominated for 11 Academy Awards in 2004 and won EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. It holds the record for the highest clean sweep at the Oscars, as well as the record for the most Academy Awards won by a single film.
In short, there may come a day when another film beats out The Return of the King as the pinnacle of fantasy fiction but, it is not this day.
Man, this was a good year for film. Each one of these movies packed a powerful story with real and raw human emotion.
Seabiscuit was such a joy to re-watch and really is one of the greatest underdog movies I’ve ever seen. Mystic River was like one long and crazy Law and Order episode in the best possible way, complete with a twist that would make Dick Wolf proud.
Lost in Translation has to be my hidden gem this year. It’s just so sweet and honest and I really cannot recommend it enough. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World was also a bit of a surprise. Had Pirates of the Caribbean not come out that same year, I think Master and Commander may have stood a better chance of winning.
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was this year’s winner and I’m torn in my agreement. Based on pure audience interest, there’s no question that LOTR was the crowning achievement in this batch – but really any of these movies could have won Best Picture. They all had heart and compassion…they all had real and relatable characters…and they all told a story of bravery and redemption.
On to the next pull!