The Complainer

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"I'm mad as hell! And I'm not going to take it anymore!"

That's right, it's Oscar nomination week, and all over the country curmudgeons like me are sitting around grousing about what could have and should have made that gilded list.

As an aside, I lifted that "mad as hell" line from "Network," a so-called classic that was recommended to me by just about everyone I know and respect: My parents, my co-workers, my friends, the guy at my local video store (obviously not a Blockbuster). So I took the movie home and curled up with some popcorn and the remote. Two hours later, I had a headache from all the yelling. And I was very confused. What was the big deal about this movie? It was shrill, thin and the characters were incredibly annoying.

Oh, I was grouchy all right. I really should be used to it; this sort of thing happens to me all the time. Innocent bystanders recommend movie, newspapers swoon over movie, Academy nominates movie. I go see movie and spend days fuming. My taste in movies, I've come to understand, is what might politely be called "unorthodox," or, more bluntly, "weird."

And that means that Academy Award season is tough for me. Each year, it's a battle between stubborn optimism and terrible, gnawing reality.

This week, still bruised from last year's criminal neglect of "The Insider," I was skittish. So I didn't so much confront the nominations this year — I sidled up to them. I had my own list of favorites for Best Picture (which is, of course, the granddaddy of sugar-coated American movie awards) and while I was fairly confident the Academy and I would not see eye to eye (we never have in the past, why should we now?) I couldn't quite abandon hope.

Then Tuesday arrived, and I watched bleary-eyed celebrities read the nominations on live television, and my hope crumbled like stale popcorn.

And so, as I may have mentioned before, I'm mad as hell. And I'm not going to take it anymore. Instead, I'm going to rant. Herewith, the Academy's list of Best Picture Nominees, as well as my list of Movies that Should Have Been Nominated:

Gladiator I hated this movie. The plot was ridiculous, the acting leaden, the screenplay (which also received a nomination, a final and irrefutable indication that the vast majority of Academy voters are on crack, most likely picked up on the set of "Traffic") asinine. Give this bloated monster a nod for costumes, or set design or lighting, and I won't complain. But when you open up the Best Picture field to dreck like this, you're just steps away from including Tom Greenís next movie. And that, by the way, is not a good thing.

Replace with: Almost Famous Cameron Crowe's boys-in-the-band tale is sweet, sad and heartfelt. There are characters here you want to know, talk to and understand. There is dialogue that makes writing dialogue sound easy. There is a wonderful ensemble cast. And there's even great music.

Chocolat A sweet, if slightly fluffy fairy tale. Give Johnny Depp a good haircut and you've got a great-looking cast and a delightful way to spend a weekend afternoon. What you don't have, however, is the Best Picture of the Year.

Replace with: Wonder Boys This movie has everything: Laugh-out-loud humor, snappy repartee and moments of devastating tenderness. Michael Douglas turns in what would have been, if anyone had seen it, a career-altering tour de force as a lovably unkempt English professor struggling to finish his second book. Tobey Maguire and Frances MacDormand also shine.

Erin Brockovich OK, fine. Everybody loves this story about the plucky legal secretary who shimmied her way through one of history's most lucrative class action suits. And Julia Roberts turned in a solid performance in the title role. But compared to the subtleties of "You Can Count on Me," or the elegant understatement of "Wonder Boys," this Hollywood blockbuster seems a bit, well, obvious.

Replace with: You Can Count on Me You want strong female characters? A stand-up-and-cheer story? You've got it. Laura Linney gives hands-down the best performance of the year in this searing drama about an abbreviated family. The brother-sister relationship here is the most realistic ever portrayed on celluloid. My pick for Best Picture.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon This is where things get a little bit ugly. I went to this movie expecting "one of the greatest movies of all time," which is, after all, what the nation's critics told me to expect. And what I got instead was a lesson in managing expectations. Go into a movie expecting it to change your view of the universe, life and the great beyond and you're bound to be disappointed. Go in looking for a few good fight scenes and some lovely special effects and you're golden. I came away from this movie feeling cheated. Where was my life-altering experience? Did I miss something? At work the next day, I was shouted down when I ventured to voice my less-than-glowing opinion. I was devoid of romance, spiritually dead — basically, a philistine. And that may well be the case. But I want a little depth from my movies, intelligent dialogue, believable characters. And I didn't get any of these things from Ang Lee's much-lauded tale.

Replace with: The Virgin Suicides Sofia Coppola's underrated directorial debut is a gleaming golden fairy tale of its own, complete with sleeping beauties, prince charming and indefatigable optimism. Kirsten Dunst is lovely as a rebellious daughter in a suffocatingly close-knit suburban family.

Traffic The only solid nomination in this category. Not to say it's a perfect movie; while I loved a lot of things about this movie — particularly every scene with Benicio del Toro — there were moments of doubt, like when Michael Douglas' drug czar slipped so easily from his professional perch in order to address (cue very serious voice) the crisis in his own family. Overall, though, a brilliantly conceived epic.

There you have it. I'd tell you to take it to the bank, but I don't know a single bank that would take my picks. If you find one, let me know.