Oscars 2001 rewind: What won ... and what should have won

Benicio Del Toro, Marcia Gay Harden, Julia Roberts and Russel Crowe hold their Oscars at the 2001 Oscars.
Benicio Del Toro, from left, Marcia Gay Harden, Julia Roberts and Russel Crowe won acting honors at the 73th Academy Awards.
(Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times)

Let’s be honest: Much of the enjoyment we get from the Oscars is looking back — sometimes within minutes after the ceremony ends — and griping about the choices and, maybe, occasionally, reveling in the winners.

How did Oscar voters do 20 years ago? Times film critic Justin Chang and columnist Glenn Whipp relitigate the 73rd Academy Awards, offering laments, endorsements and a few suggestions.

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Best Picture

Russell Crowe dressed as a gladiator is lunging forward with a sword and shield while yelling
The best picture winner at the 73rd Oscars was “Gladiator” starring Russell Crowe.
(Jaap Buitendijk /Universal Studios / AP)

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”
“Erin Brockovich”

Winner: “Gladiator”

Chang: All hail the pulse-pounding action and otherworldly serenity of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” by no small margin the finest of these five nominees. But in the year of Edward Yang’s sublime family drama “Yi Yi,” it also shouldn’t have been the only film from a Taiwanese director up for the big prize.

Whipp: It really could have been a stellar year for Asian cinema at the Oscars if Wong Kar Wai’s ravishing, rapturous “In the Mood for Love,” Hong Kong’s submission for foreign language film, had made the cut. That’s a bit of a cheat, though, as it wouldn’t be eligible for best picture for another year. So I’ll join Justin in endorsing “Crouching Tiger” for the win and “Yi Yi” for the save.

Tony Leung, left, and Maggie Cheung star in Wong Kar-wai's "In The Mood For Love" MOVIE SCHEDULE RELEASE FEB 2, 2001
Oscar overlooked: Wong Kar-wai’s “In The Mood For Love,” starring Tony Leung, left, and Maggie Cheung. Not only did it miss out on a best picture nomination, the Hong Kong submission for the 73rd Oscars wasn’t nominated for foreign language film (now international feature).
(USA Films)

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Steven Soderbergh in his Universal City office on Nov. 15, 2000, with film strips from his movie "Traffic."
Steven Soderbergh in his Universal City office on Nov. 15, 2000, after the blockbuster success of “Erin Brockovich” and before the December release of “Traffic,” which would go on to earn more than $207.5 million worldwide. Soderbergh was nominated for both films in the Oscars’ directing category. He won for “Traffic,” seen in the film strips at left.
(Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times)

Stephen Daldry, “Billy Elliot”
Ang Lee, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”
Ridley Scott, “Gladiator”
Steven Soderbergh, “Erin Brockovich”
Steven Soderbergh, “Traffic”

Winner: Soderbergh, “Traffic”

Chang: I’m partial to Lee, but since he would go on to win two directing Oscars, this one can be Soderbergh’s to keep. I’d like to have seen them square off against the great French filmmaker Claire Denis for her scorchingly beautiful work on “Beau Travail.”

Whipp: Are we getting into the butterfly effect here? If Lee had won for “Crouching Tiger” (as he should have), would he have taken those other Oscars as well? As for who should have joined him, I would have loved to see Yang nominated for his serene swan song.

Oscar overlooked: Director Claire Denis on March 9, 1997 at West Hollywood's Sunset Marquis Hotel.
(Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times)


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Julia Roberts accepting the Oscar for lead actress at the 73rd Academy Awards at L.A.'s Shrine Auditorium March 25, 2001
Julia Roberts accepting the Oscar for lead actress at the 73rd Academy Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on Sunday March 25, 2001.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Joan Allen, “The Contender”
Juliette Binoche, “Chocolat”
Ellen Burstyn, “Requiem for a Dream”
Laura Linney, “You Can Count on Me”
Julia Roberts, “Erin Brockovich”

Winner: Roberts

Chang: I wouldn’t undo Roberts’ victory for the world, even if I do prefer Linney’s stirring, fine-grained work by a hair. As for which performance should have been nominated, admirers of Gillian Anderson’s work as Margaret Thatcher on “The Crown” should go back and see her devastating performance in “The House of Mirth.”

Whipp: Roberts was the right call. And I don’t know how Kirsten Dunst has never received an Oscar nomination, but between her luminous turn in Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides” and her terrific comic tour de force in “Bring It On,” she had me cheering for her.

Gillian Anderson as Lily Bart in "The House of Mirth" the tale of a New York socialite.
Oscar overlooked: Gillian Anderson in Terence Davies’ “The House of Mirth,” the tale of a New York socialite based on the Edith Wharton novel.
(Jaap Buitendijk / Sony Pictures Classics)


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Russell Crowe accepts the lead actor Oscar for his "Gladiator" performance at the 73rd Academy Awards on March 25, 2001.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Javier Bardem, “Before Night Falls”
Russell Crowe, “Gladiator”
Tom Hanks, “Cast Away”
Ed Harris, “Pollock”
Geoffrey Rush, “Quills”

Winner: Crowe

Chang: I recall rooting for Bardem back in 2001, but Crowe’s “Gladiator” performance has rightly become the stuff of movie myth: He is Maximus, damn it, and he will have his Oscar in this life or the next. He should have been joined in this category by Mark Ruffalo’s bruising, career-making turn in “You Can Count on Me.”

Whipp: Crowe had a remarkable run and probably should have won a year earlier for “The Insider.” I can’t begrudge his glowering presence (at the movies or the Oscars). And again, I’ll nominate another chronically underappreciated actor: John Cusack, leaning into the male entitlement of the wry, despondent, sometimes sociopathic record store owner in “High Fidelity.”

Mark Ruffalo, left, and Rory Culkin in "You Can Count On Me."
Oscar overlooked: Mark Ruffalo’s breakthrough performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s “You Can Count On Me.” He’s seen here at right in a scene from the film with Rory Culkin.
(Paramount Classics)

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Supporting Actress

Marcia Gay Harden accepts the supporting actress Oscar at the 73rd Academy Awards for her role in "Pollock."
Marcia Gay Harden accepts the supporting actress Oscar at the 73rd Academy Awards for her role in “Pollock.”
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)


Judi Dench, “Chocolat”
Marcia Gay Harden, “Pollock”
Kate Hudson, “Almost Famous”
Frances McDormand, “Almost Famous”
Julie Walters, “Billy Elliot”

Winner: Harden

Chang: The reason Harden’s win was so thrilling was that it was so clearly achieved on the strength of her performance in the category’s most under-seen movie. More widely seen, and no less revelatory, was Zhang Ziyi’s dazzling display of martial-arts prowess and emotional ferocity in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

Whipp: When we began researching and writing this piece, I remembered Zhang as a nominee. How does “Crouching Tiger” earn 10 nominations and none for its spectacular cast? (Don’t answer. I’ll just go on believing she was nominated.) And, yes, all power to “Pollock” and the chemistry between Harden and Harris.

Oscar overlooked: Zhang Ziyi in "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon."
(Sony Pictures Classics)

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Supporting Actor

Benicio Del Toro accepts the supporting actor Oscar for his role in "Traffic" during the 73rd annual Academy Awards.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Jeff Bridges, “The Contender”
Benicio Del Toro, “Traffic”
Willem Dafoe, “Shadow of a Vampire”
Albert Finney, “Erin Brockovich”
Joaquin Phoenix, “Gladiator”

Winner: Del Toro

Chang: A close call, but I’d say the perpetually underappreciated Dafoe deserved to win this one by a Nosferatu. And speaking of perpetually underappreciated: I’d have cleared a slot in this category for Bruce Greenwood’s marvelous performance as President Kennedy in the Cuban missile crisis drama “Thirteen Days.”


Whipp: I went with Dafoe that year in the L.A. Film Critics’ vote, but I’m kind of partial to Del Toro now and his magnetic turn as the Mexican border cop in “Traffic.” I don’t know if I could improve this set of five, but I watch “Best in Show” at least once every couple of years just to revel in Fred Willard’s clueless color commentary.

Fred Willard, left, and Jim Piddock in "Best in Show" as Mayflower Kennel Club dog show commentators.
Oscar overlooked: Fred Willard, seen here at left with Jim Piddock in “Best in Show.” The two played Mayflower Kennel Club dog show commentators Beck Laughlin and Trevor Beckwith in the film that has become a comedy classic.
(Doane Gregory / Castle Rock Entertainment)

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Adapted Screenplay

Benicio del Toro stars as Javier Rodriguez
Benicio del Toro stars as Javier Rodriguez in the Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic.”
(Bob Marshak / USA Films)

“Chocolat,” Robert Nelson Jacobs
“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” Wang Hui Ling and James Schamus and Tsai Kuo Jung
“O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
“Traffic,” Stephen Gaghan
“Wonder Boys,” Steve Kloves

Winner: “Traffic”

Chang: This should have been a logical bone to throw to “Wonder Boys,” so lovingly adapted from Michael Chabon’s novel and so grievously under-loved come Oscar time. Even less appreciated: Terence Davies’ brilliant, unerring adaptation of Edith Wharton’s “The House of Mirth,” which fully lives up to its source material’s tragic splendor.

Whipp: Since the Coens have been (somewhat) appreciated through the years, I’d go with “Wonder Boys” as well, a movie that was in theaters when the previous year’s Oscars were held and stood above most of the nominated films. And is there a more imaginative adaptation than Denis’ “Beau Travail,” which turned Herman Melville’s unfinished novella “Billy Budd” into a sweeping ballet?

Michael Douglas, left, as Grady Tripp and Tobey Maguire as James Leer in Paramount Pictures "Wonder Boys."
Oscar denied: “Wonder Boys,” which starred Michael Douglas, left, as Grady Tripp with Tobey Maguire as James Leer.
(Frank Connor / Paramount Pictures)

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Original Screenplay

Patrick Fugit as William Miller, left,  with "band aid" Kate Hudson as Penny Lane in "Almost Famous.
“Almost Famous,” directed and written by Cameron Crowe, tells the semi-autobiographical story of young Rolling Stone writer William Miller played by Patrick Fugit, left, seen here with “band aid” Penny Lane played by Kate Hudson, whose performance earned her a supporting actress nomination. Frances McDormand was also nominated in the category for her role as Miller’s mother. Crowe won the original screenplay Oscar for his script.
(DreamWorks Pictures)

“Almost Famous,” Cameron Crowe
“Billy Elliot,” Lee Hall
“Erin Brockovich,” Susannah Grant
“Gladiator,” David Franzoni and John Logan and William Nicholson; story by David Franzoni
“You Can Count on Me,” Kenneth Lonergan

Winner: “Almost Famous”

Chang: History records this as an exceptionally tight race between “Almost Famous” and “You Can Count on Me”; the former prevailed, but in my heart it’s a tie. The competition would’ve been even fiercer with David Mamet’s whip-smart comedy “State and Main” in the mix.

Whipp: “Almost Famous” is peak period Crowe. “Chicken Run” arrived a year before the academy created its animated feature category — so, sadly, this wickedly clever movie, Aardman’s debut feature, went unloved. Given the bias against animation, it probably would have been a hard shell in this category anyway.

William H. Macy, left, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, in David Mamet's "State and Main."
Oscar overlooked: “State and Main,” written and directed by David Mamet. Among the film’s stars were William H. Macy, left, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, who played a tortured screenwriter.
(J. Bridges / Fine Line Features)

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