The interesting thing about 2004 is that two things happened that year. The first, the Academy had changed the date for the Oscars to being one month earlier. Ten years later we see that no film can really win Best Picture as a late game entry. The last one to do this was Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, trouncing the two frontrunners – The Aviator and Sideways, which were dominating. But Clint took the DGA and Million Dollar Baby took Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor.
The early awards were divided that year. The PGA went to the Aviator, the SAG went to Sideways and of course, the DGA went to Eastwood. Sideways had almost unanimous support from the critics. But it wasn’t “important” enough and didn’t have admirable enough characters to beat the one that really did strum the heartbeats of SAG members, not to mention having Eastwood and Freeman together again. Million Dollar Baby was the kind of film that people reacted to emotionally. The Aviator was deemed too complex and problematic. To that end, this year is a precursor to Slumdog Millionaire vs. Benjamin Button. High ambition without easy emotional payoff is a tough sell for Oscar voters. They far prefer the easy payoff.
Back then, I had the luxury of complaining about Million Dollar Baby and Hilary Swank’s second Best Actress win. Little did I know that it would be the last time a film starring a central strong female character would win Best Picture, unless you count The Artist (which you could). So I won’t complain about Million Dollar Baby now. I will instead wish there were more movies like it.
For me personally, the only film I watch from the 2004 Oscar race repeatedly is Sideways. That is the one film that continues to age well, to grow and resonate with the changing times. The second choice would be Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, for its brilliant collaboration between Scorsese and DiCaprio, and its portrait of the life of Howard Hughes.
Other than that, 2004 wasn’t the best year for film overall, I wouldn’t say. But what do you think? We’ll be recording tonight.