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Movies for Grownups Awards 2003

Honoring filmmakers and performers who dare to create pictures for people over 17

Best Movie for Grownups from 2002
About Schmidt

Directed by Alexander Payne

Best Actor (50 and Over)
Jack Nicholson, About Schmidt

Nicholson didn't have to make About Schmidt. But luckily for us, the actor often associated with such scenery-chewing roles as Batman's Joker and The Shining's axe murderer fell in love with the charming subtleties of the book and put all his power into ensuring that Schmidt reached the screen. Thanks in large part to Nicholson, Schmidt is one of the most perceptive, honest comedies ever made about life beyond 50.

"I'm really alerted to the very limited nature of the stories about people who are towards, let's call them, autumnal years of life," Nicholson said at the time of the film's release. In youth-obsessed Hollywood, he noted, most older actors find themselves cast in supporting roles—the types of parts Nicholson refers to as "Judge Hardy and Uncle Bim."

About Schmidt takes what could have been a background character and wraps an entire movie around him. And with Nicholson's name above the title, the film has attracted audiences young and old who might have skipped the story of a newly retired, just-widowed insurance executive who leaves his home in Omaha, Nebraska, in search of himself. In a Winnebago. During his "adventures" he visits his childhood home, chats with a guy in a tire store, then heads to Denver to talk his daughter out of marrying a loser waterbed salesman.

Not the kind of low-key role you'd expect from Nicholson. But he was so struck by the part that he took a small percentage of his usual $15 million fee, came up with the character's ghastly comb-over, and eschewed his trademark smirks and raised eyebrows (well, most of the time) to portray a truly ordinary, smaller-than-life man.

For an actor of Nicholson's recognition level, it's a feat of fearlessness. "He continues not to make any safe choices," James L. Brooks, who directed him to two Oscars, has said. "He just does the job like a guy hungry out of acting school."

Nicholson's uncharacteristic subtlety is a must this time. Despite his simple exterior, Schmidt carries a truckload of emotional baggage. "He has a sense of irretrievable loss," says Louis Begley, who wrote the book. "He faces the loss of his wife, the loss of the sense that his life had a purpose and a meaning, the loss of friends, bitter loneliness, and the sense that he has botched the relationship with his daughter."

We did mention this is a comedy, right? And not even a black comedy. The script is so wise and Nicholson's performance so knowing that Schmidt's story becomes our story, and we can laugh at his trials and fitful, slow long as we can laugh at ourselves.

"A retired gent like Schmidt as the overwhelmingly most important character in a film is a rarity," says 69-year-old Begley. "But I think this will change. There are more and more of us. Why shouldn't there be movies about us?"

Runners-up, Best Movie: Far From Heaven for exposing the hidden '50s (in glorious Technicolor); The Hours for revealing the deep emotional costs of conformity; The Quiet American for exploring the bonds and tensions between generations.

Runners-up, Best Actor: Michael Caine as a weary, wary expat in The Quiet American; Dustin Hoffman as a neurotic husband in Moonlight Mile; Samuel L. Jackson as an infuriating, inspiring dad in Changing Lanes.

Best Actress (50 and Over)
Meryl Streep, Adaptation

We were bowled over by her portrayal of New Yorker writer Susan Orlean—starting out as an all-business feature reporter and winding up a murderous drug fiend. But who better to critique Meryl Streep than the real-life Orlean, whose nonfiction book The Orchid Thief inspired the film—and who, we hasten to add, is absolutely innocent of the film's highly fictionalized hijinks. "There are scenes that seem so familiar to me—this mixture of bravado and insecurity that I have," says Orlean. "It's the ultimate out-of-body experience."

Runners-up: Judi Dench as a domineering mother in The Importance of Being Earnest; Susan Sarandon as two moms: mordant in Igby Goes Down and mourning in Moonlight Mile; Sigourney Weaver as a patiently probing journalist in The Guys.

Best Director (50 and Over)
Roman Polanski, The Pianist

In one of The Pianist's most horrifying scenes, a Jewish boy is killed while trying to escape the Warsaw ghetto. The chilling truth: At age seven, Roman Polanski barely escaped the Nazis in Poland. Sixty years later, he's drawn on that experience for perhaps his most moving film.

"Holocaust survivors need a long time to authentically express their experiences," says Raye Farr, director of the film and video archive at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Polanski's take, she says, is both authentic and powerful. His tears stain every frame.

Runners-up: Phillip Noyce, bemoaning cruel "progress" in Rabbit-Proof Fence and The Quiet American; Manoel de Oliveira, bringing 94 years of life to I'm Going Home; Martin Scorsese, giving a gritty history lesson in Gangs of New York; Steven Spielberg, thrilling with Minority Report and delighting with Catch Me If You Can.

Best Screenwriter (50 and Over)
David Hare, The Hours

They said it couldn't be done, but David Hare's script from Michael Cunningham's novel manages to capture the book's complex structure and simultaneously track three women in three eras. Says Cunningham, "David sat me down and wanted to know everything about the characters: their school, their first kiss. He knew that to understand a brief section of someone's life, and so they seem fully alive to you, you need a sense of their whole life."

Runners-up: Jay Cocks, capturing a not-so-Fun City in Gangs of New York; Christopher Hampton, channeling Graham Greene in The Quiet American; Ronald Harwood, casting the Holocaust as an intimate evil in The Pianist.

Breakaway Performance (50 and Over)
Richard Gere, Chicago

Who'd have thought that behind those American Gigolo eyes and that Officer and a Gentleman chin hid the soul of a song-and-dance man? He'll never make us forget Astaire—but we'll never think of Gere in the same way, either.

Runners-up: Maggie Smith goes Southern in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood; Christopher Walken sheds his psycho trademark in Catch Me If You Can; Robin Williams turns creepy in One Hour Photo.

Best Foreign Film
Monsoon Wedding

Directed by Mira Nair

The guests wear saris, but despite its Indian setting we've all been to this wedding, complete with family traditions and intrigues. The bride's father reflects on its universal themes: "If only their lives are happy...for that I am willing to take on every trouble, every sorrow in the world."

Runners-up: The Fast Runner (Canada), a hot-blooded Inuit family feud on ice; I'm Going Home (Portugal/France), an unblinking look at aging; Rabbit-Proof Fence (Australia), ancestry and its inevitable connection to the present.

Best Intergenerational Movie
Road to Perdition

Directed by Sam Mendes

Okay, so Perdition is the dark saga of a hitman (Tom Hanks) on the lam with his young son and marked for death by his virtual adoptive father (Paul Newman). But it's also a portrait of a dad trying to salvage his relationship with his son after his ugliest secrets have been revealed.

Runners-up: Antwone Fisher, the right mentor can change your life; The Hours, the ripples of our actions outlive us; My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the crazy/happy family syndrome.

Best Documentary
Standing in the Shadows of Motown

Directed by Paul Justman

Quick: Who made more number-one records than Elvis, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones combined? Meet the Funk Brothers, Motown Records' unsung studio musicians of the 1960s.

Runners-up: Bowling for Columbine, guns 'n' Bozos in America; Carnauba: A Son's Memoir, a septuagenarian tries to understand his dad; Rivers and Tides, fleeting time and mortality in the ice and sand sculptures of Andy Goldsworthy.

Best Grownup Love Story
The Gathering Storm
Albert Finney and Vanessa Redgrave

He barks, she bristles. Playing Winston and Clementine Churchill, Finney and Redgrave portray the stresses of longtime love—and the gravity that can seal it.

Runners-up: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, fragile Ellen Burstyn and firm James Garner; Moonlight Mile, grieving parents Susan Sarandon and Dustin Hoffman; Never Again, hot-blooded Jill Clayburgh and Jeffrey Tambor.

Best Movie Time Capsule
Catch Me If You Can

Directed by Steven Spielberg

More than 1960s cars and hairdos, Catch Me If You Can captures the exotic aura of early jet travel. Kids clamor for a pilot's autograph. Passengers stride excitedly through sleek, wing-inspired terminals. These really were the friendly skies.

Runners-up: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, a '70s game-show tack fest; Far From Heaven, the cars...the houses...the shoulder pads; Road to Perdition, the Depression, only more depressing.

Best TV Movie
Hell on Heels: The Battle of Mary Kay

Directed by Ed Gernon

Even if it didn't star Shirley MacLaine, this CBS bioflick about cosmetics queen Mary Kay Ash would triumph as a portrait of a rebel who gives ageism and sexism the brush-off.

Runners-up: Martin and Lewis, one sang, one schticked, we were in stitches; The Path to War, before our eyes, LBJ sinks into Vietnam.

Best Movie for Grownups Who Refuse to Grow Up
Spirited Away

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

A girl rescues her parents (turned into pigs by evil spirits) in this hauntingly beautiful cartoon.

Runners-up: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, just the perfect popcorn flick; Ice Age, extinct mammals on the march; Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, Monty Python meets Toy Story by way of Davey and Goliath.