Why Halle Berry deserved her Oscar win — and who didn’t — 20 years ago

Halle Berry rejoices after winning Best Actress at the Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre on March 24, 2002.
Halle Berry rejoices after winning Best Actress at the 74th Annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre on March 24, 2002.
(Los Angeles Times)

The worst Oscar wins don’t age well after 30 seconds; the best endure for decades. On the 20th anniversary of the 2002 Oscars, Times film critic Justin Chang and columnist Glenn Whipp put their heads together to relitigate the winners in eight major categories — and to offer their alternatives for what should have been nominated or won.


Best Picture

Winner: “A Beautiful Mind”
“Gosford Park”
“In the Bedroom”
“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”
“Moulin Rouge”

A scene from 'In The Mood For Love'
Maggie Cheung stars as Mrs Chan and Tony Leung stars as Mr. Chow in the Wong Kar-wai film “In The Mood For Love.”
(USA Films)

Justin Chang: I know “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy got its due two years later, and I don’t care: “The Fellowship of the Ring” remains a thrilling stand-alone achievement and the best of these five nominees, and it deserved to win. That said, to my mind the two greatest films of 2001 were Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love” and David Lynch’s “Mulholland Dr.,” and I’d like to think the more global, more discerning academy of today would have recognized them as such (especially with 10 best picture slots rather than five).


Glenn Whipp: At the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. vote that year, moments after we gave Lynch the director honors, there was some grumbling that the “Lynch Mob” must be stopped. And it was: “In the Bedroom” won best picture. A terrible call, which was sort of rectified years later when we voted “Mulholland Dr.” the film of the decade. Lynch’s surreal, suspenseful take on Hollywood’s dream factory may wind up being the film of the century.


Best Director

Winner: Ron Howard, “A Beautiful Mind”
Robert Altman, “Gosford Park”
Peter Jackson, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”
Ridley Scott, “Black Hawk Down”
David Lynch, “Mulholland Dr.”

Naomi Watts, left, and Laura Harring are shown in a scene from "Mulholland Drive."
Naomi Watts and Laura Harring in “Mulholland Dr.”
(Universal Pictures)

Whipp: Lynch Mob! (Side note: This is a pretty terrific set of nominees. For all the grief Howard endured during the Oscar campaign, it must have felt incredible to be included in this company and prevail.)

Chang: Can I shout out the Lynch Mob and the Altman Mob? Especially since Altman never won a competitive Oscar and “Gosford Park” would have been the perfect late-career triumph for which to honor him. But as strong as this lineup is, it would be stronger still if it included Wong for his swoon-worthy, endlessly influential work on “In the Mood for Love.”

Twenty years ago, Halle Berry and Denzel Washington became the first and only Black actors to win both lead acting Oscars in the same night. It’s a milestone the film academy hasn’t lived up to.

March 23, 2022


Best Actress

Winner: Halle Berry, “Monster’s Ball”
Judi Dench, “Iris”
Nicole Kidman, “Moulin Rouge!”
Sissy Spacek, “In the Bedroom”
Renée Zellweger, “Bridget Jones’s Diary”

Actress Halle Berry
Actress Halle Berry in a scene from the movie “Monster’s Ball.”
(Lions Gate)

Chang: I recall liking Spacek the best of these five at the time, but Berry’s groundbreaking win belongs to the ages and that’s history I have no interest in rewriting. That said: The fact that Naomi Watts wasn’t even nominated for her staggering, shape-shifting work in “Mulholland Dr.” — the greatest performance of her career and still one of the greatest performances of this young century — is one boneheaded omission the academy will never live down.


Whipp: I’m delighted and surprised that Zellweger earned a nomination for a ... comedy. It would have been lovely if this was the movie for which she won her lead actress Oscar. Also: Kidman would win the next year for “The Hours,” but between “Moulin Rouge!” and “The Others,” she had a remarkable 2002. But I agree, Justin. Watching Berry’s speech again, I wouldn’t recast. Her passion in “Monster’s Ball” stands up.


Best Actor

Winner: Denzel Washington, “Training Day”
Russell Crowe, “A Beautiful Mind”
Sean Penn, “I Am Sam”
Will Smith, “Ali”
Tom Wilkinson, “In the Bedroom”

Guy Pearce in 'Memento'
Guy Pearce is Leonard in the Newmarket Film movie “Memento.”
(Danny Rothenberg)

Whipp: If you asked people what movie gave Washington his lead actor Oscar, they’d likely say “Malcolm X” or maybe “The Hurricane.” I love that he won for the way he reveled in the villainy he brought to “Training Day.” Absolutely deserved ... much like Gene Hackman’s Oscar-winning turn in “The French Connection.” I mention Hackman because he should have been nominated in 2002 for Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums.” I miss seeing him in movies.

Chang: I recall some tedious complaints that Washington won for such an irredeemably villainous role, when it’s precisely his ferocious subversion of his own role-model image that makes his “Training Day” performance so magnificent. Hackman absolutely should have made the cut; I’d also have nominated Guy Pearce for his sardonic, tragic, through-a-Polaroid-lens-darkly turn as the amnesiac antihero of “Memento.”


Best Supporting Actress

Winner: Jennifer Connelly, “A Beautiful Mind”
Helen Mirren, “Gosford Park”
Maggie Smith, “Gosford Park”
Marisa Tomei, “In the Bedroom”
Kate Winslet, “Iris”

Helen Mirren in Robert Altman's 'Gosford Park'
Helen Mirren stars in the Robert Altman-directed film “Gosford Park.”
(Mark Tillie / USA Films Release)

Chang: It’s a battle between the upstairs-downstairs dames for me, and as much as I adore Smith’s supremely imperious Lady Trentham (a terrific dry run for her Emmy-winning work in “Downton Abbey”), my vote would go to Mirren for her subtly heartbreaking performance as Gosford Park’s tight-lipped, perspicacious housekeeper — maybe for her devastating final scene alone. But while I’m on a trip down “Memento” lane, I’ll note that Carrie-Anne Moss’ blistering performance as a femme fatale for the ages should’ve easily cracked this lineup.


Whipp: You could fill this category with women from “Gosford Park.” Kelly Macdonald’s beautiful naivete as Smith’s maid was crucial to the film, as was Emily Watson’s feisty spirit playing the head housemaid. Add Eileen Atkins, playing Mirren’s rival in the film, and you’ve got a clear victory for the downstairs staff. How do you choose? Well ... I think the answer is always Mirren, isn’t it?


Best Supporting Actor

Winner: Jim Broadbent, “Iris”
Ethan Hawke, “Training Day”
Ben Kingsley, “Sexy Beast”
Ian McKellen, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”
Jon Voight, “Ali”

Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi star in 'Ghost World'
Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi star in the dark comedy movie “Ghost World.”
(Tracy Bennett / United Artists Films)

Whipp: Broadbent is a treasure and when you combine his turn as Dench’s foil in “Iris” and the impresario crooning “Like a Virgin” in “Moulin Rouge!” he deserved a prize or three. But Kingsley ... maybe I’m just in a mood to honor unsettling sociopaths. Just like Washington in “Training Day,” Kingsley caught audiences by surprise, giving us a volcanic gangster miles removed from Gandhi. I was surprised to see him here in supporting as he so dominates my memory of the movie.

Chang: Kingsley was spellbinding in “Sexy Beast.” But as you mentioned Gandhi, I have to tip my pointy hat to Gandalf; McKellen would’ve gotten my vote for his wizardly work, which he would of course continue superbly in two more “Lord of the Rings” films. It’s ridiculous that he remains the only actor to receive an Oscar nomination across that entire trilogy. Equally ridiculous: How did the academy overlook Steve Buscemi for “Ghost World”? (And how has Buscemi still never been nominated for an Oscar?)


Best Original Screenplay

Winner: Julian Fellowes, “Gosford Park”
Guillaume Laurent and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, “Amélie”
Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, “Memento”
Milo Addica and Will Rokos, “Monster’s Ball”
Wes Anderson, “The Royal Tenenbaums”

Chang: I can’t begrudge Fellowes his win; I also wouldn’t have minded seeing Anderson win his first Oscar here for “The Royal Tenenbaums.” But it should’ve been the Nolan brothers for “Memento,” a delirious brain-scramble of a thriller that assembles its many puzzle pieces into something so much more than a gimmick. And speaking of brain-scrambles: Richard Kelly’s eerily imaginative, justly cult-reclaimed “Donnie Darko” was surely one of the most original stories told by any filmmaker that year.

Whipp: “Memento” remains my favorite Nolan movie, which probably makes me a heretic or dilettante to his core group of believers. But I’m glad “Gosford Park” won something from its seven nominations.


Best Adapted Screenplay

Winner: Akiva Goldsman, “A Beautiful Mind”
Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff, “Ghost World”
Rob Festinger and Todd Field, “In the Bedroom”
Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”
Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Joe Stillman and Roger S.H. Schulman, “Shrek”

Whipp: “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” is a Steven Spielberg film ripe for rediscovery, a fascinating hybrid of Kubrickian chilliness (Stanley Kubrick originally conceived the project) with his own sunny optimism. It’s both creepy and moving, and no one really knew what to make of this fascinating film at the time. (Which remains true.) I’d put it in ahead of a couple of the nominated screenplays, while giving the Oscar to the pitch-perfect “Ghost World.”

Chang: Twenty years later, “Ghost World” remains not just the best of these nominees but, remarkably, one of the finest comic-book adaptations ever written or produced. I’d boot out both “A Beautiful Mind” and “Shrek” so as to make room for not only your excellent suggestion of “A.I.” but also “Werckmeister Harmonies,” brilliantly adapted by director Béla Tarr and László Krasnahorkai from the latter’s 1989 novel “The Melancholy of Resistance.” As with all mind-blowing Hungarian masterworks, don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.