The 75th Academy Awards Review
posted by Jon and Paul on 3/25/03
Hollywood was upstaged...
It was never going to be the spectacle we're used to. Hollywood is a plastic town which can make plastic people look good. It's also a place where millions of dollars can gloss over public mistakes and transform ordinary people into gods. It's also a town of artifice, albeit one that has provided excellent escapism and little rays of magic for generations. What Hollywood cannot do, however, is compete with a war.
I have a love-hate relationship with the Oscars. While I do watch it every year, I often find myself cringing at the sheer phoniness of the proceedings. You'd think that Hollywood was a big happpy family, rather than a hybrid of backstabbing, insecurity and broken dreams. Additionally, all the pat "show must go on" and "our prayers are with the troops in Iraq... how's my dress?" mantras rung false, for the most part. This year didn't carry much heat and most of the world's attention had shifted to a very grievous war. With people losing their lives by the hour and America engaged in combat, it was always going to be difficult to care about the already trivial accolades of the A List. The world is probably at its lowest ebb, unemployment is high and there is an acute awareness of government ill...crying because you won a gold statue is just rubbing people's faces in it :)
The Academy take themselves incredibly seriously but much of the prestige has been drained from the awards. As such, it's difficult to recall many recent winners of the award. Even as recently as 1994, the Oscar hype thrust John Travolta back into public conciousness and A List roles. In the past, it's been a launching pad for dormant talent or forgotten stars. However, it hasn't really done too much for Cuba Gooding Jr., Halle Berry or Mira Sorvino. Sure, they were offered juicier roles, but they weren't really propelled to the zenith a la Hanks and Spacey.
A banner year for cinema, it certainly was not. And the movies that were heavily nominated, good enough movies in their own right, all came with Harvey Weinstein's backing. In many ways, the Oscars have turned into a Miramax circle jerk and reek of politics. Granted, Miramax is a good studio with an impressive track record of producing fine movies, but it's debatable whether those movies are necessarily best picture caliber. Certainly, it would be inconceivable to put Shakespeare in Love or Chicago on the same stratosphere as past winners like The Godfather and On the Waterfront. Has the standard dropped so significantly or do awards only go to the politikers?
It's probably a mixture of the two.
At the very least, I'd say that the best movies don't necessarily walk away with the best picture award. Negativity surrounds cinema these days and that might have been compounded just by reading this year's nominations. Everyone seems to think that cinema is in a precarious position, that there are too many bad/mediocre movies and no benchmarks. This doesn't help when you look at the last ten years of Best Picture winners, where in about 70% of the cases, the Best Picture went to a movie that was obviously inferior. As much as I love Forrest Gump, you'd have to say that Pulp Fiction was a sure-fire best picture. Similarly, there was nothing especially superlative about A Beautiful Mind.
However, Hollywood continues to make some astounding movies. That 80% of the output is shallow, derivative and silly shouldn't detract from the fact that there are some gems out there. I see a lot of brilliance in guys like David Fincher and PT Anderson. Moreover, epics like Lord of The Rings scream excellence and are unlike anything that have come before them. And if there was a meritocracy, LOTR would probably have walked off with the Best Picture. Like most generations, we look back fondly with nostalgia. We look back to the seventies and worship the output. Yet in the seventies, which had it's share of dreadful movies, they were looking back on the 1950s as the golden age. In twenty years, nostalgia will have banished the likes of Like Mike and Stealing Harvard and we'll remember an era that unearthed some damn great movies.
Look what my husband got me!
With this in mind, I didn't really expect much from this year's awards. I was frankly tired of Chicago and all the shameless media whoring by Douglas-Zeta Jones. Anything other than a Chicago sweep would have been a bonus. It was nice to see The Pianist win some big awards. Brody's win was a genuine surprise, even though Michael Caine looked like he was going to burst into tears by losing out. Still, I was very pleased that Roman Polanski won. To begrudge him a win just because of the statutory rape case from years ago is churlish. If you're going to let the guy work, don't be shocked when he makes good movies. He's one of the best directors in the history of American cinema and has directed some of my favorite movies of all time. And although I haven't yet seen it, I am glad that the Academy honored a pertinent movie such as The Pianist: it definitely has more substance than Chicago and is less pretentious than The Hours. To be honest, I thought Adaptation deserved more honors. The script was probably one of the most unique and witty I've encountered in a while. Undoubtedly, it was too clever and self-parodying to please the Academy. Still, it was nice to see Chris Cooper win the award for a superb performance. He did deserve it on his body of work, but I felt Ed Harris should have won the Oscar based on his performance.
The actress awards, I felt, were more involved with politics. Try as I might, I just cannot think of Catherine Zeta Jones as a great actress. I admit that this is a terrible prejudice, but I do base it on previous form. She's always been a decent actress, but I would never position her alongside the likes of Julianne Moore or Meryl Streep. Hard worker, good looker but not awe-inspiring. She also has that grating Gwyneth Paltrow quality of intense smugness. You sense her air of superiority and that she's probably stabbed six million people in the back just to climb that career ladder. Of course, I'm being slightly unfair, since I've never met the woman. She might be the most genuine lady in the world, the most earnest actress and a great wife who just happened to fall in love with one of Hollywood's major power players. But you get the impression her image is as cultivated as her accent.
I would liked to have seen Julianne Moore win an Oscar. When I've watched her interviews, she is a gracious and down-to-earth lady. And, let's be honest, she's a hell of an actress who's shone in a variety of great movies. Alas, it wasn't to be and I wasn't at allsurprised that Nicole Kidman won Best Actress. To be fair, I thought Nicole delivered a very good and praiseworthy performance in The Hours. However, it wasn't the best performance in the movie, let alone the category. I'd bet that, even though this wasn't a career best, she got the award because she's a Hollywood veteran who has a solid body of work. Sort of like Denzel last year. I'm always suprised by how grounded Kidman seems. She's been doing the whole Hollywood diva thing for over a decade, yet she still seems like the girl next door (not next door to peons like us, granted). Her split from Tom Cruise has also made her look at ease as an actress. That said, when she talks I can't escape the impression that she's heavily medicated on Prozac: nervous, giddy and slightly unbalanced. To that end, I guess it's appropriate she won an Oscar for playing a manic depressive.
Speaking of manic depressives, I really don't think Ed Norton was too enthralled about attending the Oscars. Every time the camera panned to him and Salma Hayek, he looked like he was going to do his whole "Fuck You" routine from The 25th Hour. Of course, if there was any justice, he would have been nominated for his stunning performance in that movie. It amazes me that Norton still hasn't won an Oscar. I think it kind of stunned Renee Zellweger that she didn't win one. At least, methinks she was rather less than delirious about Catherine Zeta Jones' win. Judging from the images, she wanted to be anywhere but the Kodak theatre. I actually think she should be in a restaurant dieting on cheesburgers. People don't say she looked great in Bridget Jones' Diary to sound politically correct. They say it because now she looks like Gilbert Gottfried. And hey, wouldn't you bulk up to not look like a squinty hamster?
We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elects a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. Whether it's the fictition of duct tape or fictition of orange alerts we are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you. And any time you got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up. Thank you very much.
Michael Moore's weight has come under a lot of criticism since his Oscar speech. Of course, since America has the highest incidence of obesity in the world, it's somewhat redundant to rag on an American for being overweight. Instead, people should be worrying about the weight of Moore's arguments. And what did he say that wasn't entirely fair? Sure, Adrien Brody's acceptance speech contained more pathos and had more grace, but Moore was there to stir things up. He needed to give the Hollywood phonies something real, rather than the cut and dried bullshit they'd been spouting unconvincingly all night. We are living in fictitious times and, dare I say it, George Bush has sent troops to war to fight his own cause. It does disappoint me how people can misinterpret a condemnation of war as an admission of cowardice. Or disdain for inept leadership as being a traitor.
The fact is, America and the rest of the world is on the brink. Domestically, American confidence is at an all time low. There is little belief in their President, the national mood is depleted, and apathy reigns. 70% of Americans supported the war? Which 70%? Everyone I have spoken to, while fully behind the war effort and supportive of their troops, were vehemently opposed to a war from the get-go. Is it not entirely possible that those figures were spiked? Sure, if you're going to interview middle class people from Washington, the majority are pro-government and will inevitably support Bush (it's not their sons who are going to die). Yet, if you're going to interview even 4 million Americans and allow your sample to delve into the working class and ghetto areas, I'd be astonished if more than 30% supported the war. It's selective reasoning.
Moore thoroughly deserved the Oscar for Bowling for Columbine, a fantastic documentary which held up a mirror to American society and revealed some very disturbing truths. You'd have to think there were some in the audience who "got" it. The cheers mixed with the jeers and, since Moore was collecting an Oscar, he was obviously well supported by Oscar voters. Naturally, the patriots are going to deride him as an idiot who only has a self-serving agenda. He does have an agenda and, if you're prepared to keep an open mind, it's actually to show America where it's going wrong and try to steer Americans in the right direction. Pretty noble, if you ask me.
America is such a divisive place, a land of great opportunity but a melting point of tensions and prejudices. People are being murdered and lives are being ruined on a daily basis. Now, more so than ever, sentiments of fear and distrust pervade society. As Moore's documentary shows, the media help perpetuate this. They want you to feel bad about yourself. Buy this to be cool! Buy that to be hip! Black people are dangerous! Mexican people are lazy! Video games are bad! Watch a violent movie and become a violent killer! These mistruths coupled with advertising persuasion make news, make money and make people feel justified for holding their stereotypes in the first place. That's a reality and it's lining a lot of pockets. Now, Moore may have embellished a few points in his documentary, may have used hyperbole but his central point is incredibly valid and inescapable. Chiding him for bumping up a few figures (if he even did) is just a case of nitpicking and missing the point.
I was sickened during the Michael Moore speech. Sickened because the majority of that Hollywood crowd, who pretend to be so liberal in their soundbites that don't matter (and all the petty causes they through their weight behind), were blasting a guy who dared to use his platform NOT to cry and turn into a big cliched baby. Hell, of course they'll boo. The war doesn't really hit them too hard and they're tremendously privileged. I would suspect that those who cheered Moore are those who have an awareness of society. These are the people who found Moore's documentary thought-provoking and relevant. Again, it is totally redundant and immature to take personal potshots at Moore and his own lifestyle. If he carries a gun and drives a Lamborghini, it doesn't make his commentary any less valid. The figures speak for themselves and Moore just interprets them.
Michael Moore dared to stand up for his own beliefs. Was it a little robust? Sure. Was it uncomfortable? In an environment like the Oscars where the acceptance speeches are as preened as the performers, of course. But you know what? Michael Moore looks like a regular guy, talks like a regular guy and stuck out like a sore thumb at the Oscars in the midst of all the airs, graces and perfect grooming. It was refreshing to see a speech of real controversy, but worrying to think that people aren't considering what Moore actually said amidst deriding him for saying it. I may be in the minority and we've already had one anti-Michael Moore article at the site (to which I wholeheartedly disagree), but I applaud Michael Moore for his courage. His accessibility forms his appeal and he doesn't need to over-intellectualize to drive home a point. Fact: Michael Moore isn't America's problem, yet he still scares those Americans who blindly follow the decay of the nation. And why are they scared? Because Hollywood, for one, has made more than enough money practicing all that manipulation Moore abhors.
Overall, the night was very subdued. Steve Martin was a very sharp host and his wit helped ease the tension considerably. The action was nice and brisk, but I thought it was downright rude the way the music was cutting off the speeches. Since the acceptance speeches are generally the only reason I tune in, there were a lot of other ways they could have scrimped on time. The fifty-three Oscar winner line-up, for instance, left me uninspired. And they could have cut another twenty minutes of the show time had Spartacus not gone up to present an award. Brody's speech was one of the more eloquent I've heard in a while, wasn't one of those hysterical embarrassments and yet they still tried to cut it short. It was this lack of courtesy which rendered a lot of the speeches meaningless and low-key. There was not much anyone could have done to effectively lift the gloom, because the Oscars came at a bad time this year. They were well produced, contained some nice moments, one major talking point but they just didn't seem relevant at all. At the end of the day, we all know it's a sham and real people matter more to us.
I've never really watched the Oscars before this year, and I'm pretty sure I'm the only person that doesn't do so. I'll let you in on a little secret: Ever see the movie "Omega Man" starring Charlton Heston? The one where the world's population dies of a rapidly-spreading plague, and Heston is the only survivor because he's able to develop a vaccine just in time? He has this entire big city to himself, and he spends his time watching movies at the theatre and shopping for clothes. That's what the world is like on Oscar night. It's become an annual tradition of mine to take to the streets while everyone else is in their homes and glued to ABC. I drive on the wrong side of the road, go to the Dillard's and make out with the mannequins, and have a good time all the while.
Sadly, though, tonight I stayed in like everyone else. Paul requested that I see what all this Oscars jazz is all about, and said that just like our armed forces are selflessly giving up their bombs over in Iraq, I must also learn the pains and joys of sacrifice. So it is with a heavy heart, yet a clear conscience, that I offer you, the loyal readers of W-D, my impressions of the 75th Academy Awards.
I'll be truthful -- I skipped out on the first half. The two hours I did endure, however, were enough reason to vow that I would never again forego mannequin sex for this.
There are a few things that HAVE to stop on Oscar night:
Sappy sentimentality. At one point in the show, a curtain was lifted, revealing 59 beaming actors and actresses who had won Best Actor or Actress awards throughout the years. I sat for at least fifteen minutes as the camera panned to every single person on the stage, and their Oscar credentials were announced. Meanwhile, I was busy trying to figure out whether or not I should care, then concluding that I shouldn't care, than wondering what sort of person would care. I couldn't believe that they were spending this much national airtime on this. I was hoping that one of the old people would have a stroke or go into seizures or something, just to spice things up, but alas, no violent thrashings were to be had.
And I know I'm spitting on the face of tradition here, but can't we get rid of the acceptance speech? Everyone says the same things and thanks the same people. I voiced this concern to someone today, and she told me that acceptance speeches are what make Oscar speeches so magical. I don't know. Maybe the Oscars just aren't my thing.
Michael Moore. I'm sure Paul has plenty to say about the "Moore incident", so I won't rain on his parade. Just to throw my two cents in, I'd like to say that I am glad that Michael Moore has his own opinions. Really, I'm proud of him. But when he used his opportunity to thank the Academy for his award to venture off into some rhetoric-riddled banter about our President, he lost a lot of respect from me. And believe me, it wasn't because of his political standing; I'm not exactly what you'd call a staunch Bush supporter. What really annoys me, though, is his determination to use every single opportunity to forward his political agenda and raise a fuss. Is the guy really that shallow? Doesn't he have another side to him? I mean, I wouldn't be surprised if, while he's fucking, he screams "I HATE BUSH!!!" at the moment of climax. Whoever or whatever would have low enough self-esteem to fuck him, I'm not really sure.
Also, he's fat. Thinking burns calories, and if he did more of this he wouldn't be fat.
Mispresented awards. Whoever the show director is should be run out of the shitty awards show directing business forever. They mistakenly gave the Best Actor award to Adrian Brody, even though Daniel Day-Lewis gave one of the best acting performances ever caught on film. "Chicago" won several awards including Best Picture, but lost out on the "Music (Song)" category. Now, I've never really watched a musical before that wasn't a Disney flick, but I'm fairly confident that they're not too strong on plotlines, character development, and other things that make a film great. One Oscar they should have sewn up, however, is a music award. "Chicago" doesn't get that, but it does get Best Picture. I do not understand.
Me watching the Oscars on Oscar night. When it wasn't boring, it was stupid, and when it wasn't stupid, it was maddening. I can honestly say watching the Oscars was not worth my time, and it's pretty bad when you can't make something worth my time. I mean, I fuck mannequins to pass the time, for Godsakes. I planned to elaborate a little more on the Academy Awards, but that waste of time and space has already sucked away over 2 hours of my life, and I refuse to concede any more.
Now, the MTV Movie Awards. I can't wait for the MTV Movie Awards.
Oh shit, Michael Moore's eyeing the popcorn. Run!