As my friends can attest, I just went all zappy and silly about The Two Towers after reading James Berardinelli's review (in which he gave it four stars out of a possible four). Like last year, I waited impatiently to get my hands on Berardinelli's review, knowing that his taste in movies so closely mirrors mine as to be eerie.
The words that I'm hearing most about the first two installments of the Lord of the Rings trilogy indicate that we may be in the privileged position of watching one of the great events of cinema history as it happens.
But, no matter how good The Two Towers is (and I have not seen it yet, so I cannot speak with firsthand knowledge), I don't believe Peter Jackson will come home from this year's Oscars with anything more than token awards for technical achievement.
Frustrating? Perhaps, but in the doddering, squinting eyes of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, it makes a strange and bizarre sort of sense.
The three Lord of the Rings films were filmed, and intended to be screened, as a trilogy. My expectation is that The Two Towers, as the middle installment, will be on the receiving end of many comments about how "it cannot stand alone as a movie." In many ways, the first film had the same issue, and I think it very likely that the Academy (silly shortsighted wankers, or SSW for short) will use this as the deciding factor in whether or not to give anything above technical and effects awards for The Two Towers.
Think of it this way.
Imagine that Fellowship of the Ring had received Oscars for Best Picture or Best Director. So what happens if, a year later, the next film in the trilogy is a better picture or is better directed than the first? There is an appalling sort of skewed logic at work here: if the first one won for Best Director or Best Picture, and the next ones are still better movies, the voters of the Academy will feel pressured to award those Oscars yet again to Peter Jackson.
The voters of the Academy, SSWs that they are, probably don't take well to this kind of pressure.
Instead, if The Two Towers proves to be of the same caliber of technical, visual, and emotional experience as Fellowship of the Ring was, look for them to nod yet again in the direction of technical Oscars.
Look for the Academy to play the waiting game once again, to wait and see if the third installment of the trilogy, The Return of the King, holds true to the known quality of the first (and the rumored quality of the second). If it is, I think it's safe to expect The Return of the King to have a free-for-all at the following Oscars ceremony. The Academy is likely to treat The Return of the King as a combined entry for all three movies, and give awards more truly based on the accomplishments of the trilogy than for the single movie.
It's probably not fair, but it's realistic.
Meanwhile, tonight we'll screen the super-extendo-cut of Fellowship of the Ring at my house, in preparation for seeing The Two Towers on opening night tomorrow night.
Ahh, the joys of Oscar season. 'Tis the season to prognosticate.
Side note #1: Competition and Academy apologies: Martin Scorsese's new film, Gangs Of New York, is being released in prime-time Oscar season to a lot of industry hype. Bear in mind that Scorsese has never won a director or Best Picture Oscar, despite his nominations for Raging Bull, Last Temptation of Christ, and GoodFellas. While at this point, one might think that all he has to do is turn in a respectable performance to get a directing Oscar, the same did not prove true of Robert Altman in 2001. If GoNY is critically successful, I'll expect Scorsese to finally pick up his Oscar this year, with the justification that Peter Jackson has another movie coming out next year and can wait one more year to be rewarded for the whole trilogy.
Side note #2: I've seen rumors that New Line Cinemas is starting to mount an in-industry promotional campaign to get Andy Serkis an Oscar for his voiceover/body model work as Gollum. This is an uphill battle to say the least, because Serkis himself never appears on-screen, but an interesting tack to take on their part.)