"One girl I tutored had the lugubrious task of responding to an essay called "Bring Flogging Back" which, when I googled it later, turned out (as I'd suspected) to be a satire, and a rather notorious one. The girl, however, chose to write in support of the reintroduction of this bygone means of punishment. And to clinch her case, she had baldly declared that, at an earlier age (and presumably in another country) she had experienced flogging for her political activities; and she knew it worked. For she had never done ever that again." --Ostrogoth d* Pulfass*, M*ditations on Oxyg*n
Wake up everybody, it's 4:30 a.m., and I'm ready to hash and rehash last night's Oscar telecast.
Well, I watched this year's Oscar show out of a habit, of course, but I also watched for one thing in particular--and that was to see Reese Witherspoon claim a statuette for Best Actress. With that being the case, I got out of the Oscars exactly what I wanted. Witherspoon's victory was wonderful for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which was how sorely the Academy genuinely needed Witherspoon's star quality to give its award(s) credibility in a time when moviegoing is on a bit of a decline in general and the gap between Oscar nominated films and "mainstream" moviemaking is, arguably, wider than it's ever been. Witherspoon's "Walk the Line" (a cinematic retelling of the decades long love story between driven country singer Johnny Cash and second generation Nashville royalty June Carter) proves that it's possible to make a picture that appeals to both the average moviegoer (witness its long, long box office legs and recent record or near record success in the DVD market), and the film professionals that populate the Academy. There was a time when such success wasn't really considered a fluke. Beyond that, "Walk the Line" is a movie that serves up something palpable....energy, excitement, emotion. I don't know how, exactly, to put into words the effect this movie has had on me, but, for me, its pull is irresistible. Anyway, I think both Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix (as Cash) achieve perfection and I'm thrilled that at least one of them got the industry's highest recognition.
Plus, wasn't Witherspoon the very model of a gracious Oscar winner? She's already lovely, of course, and last night in her silvery-champagne colored lacey ballgown with her hair pulled back in loose waves, she looked just like, oh, say, a china doll, or the heir apparent to Grace Kelly. Whatever. She looked like a movie star, and her speech was sincere and thoughtful. Witherspoon allowed herself to feel the emotion of the moment without becoming gushy or hysterical--and she pretty much avoided the by now tired inclination to prattle off a list of agents, handlers, etc. Instead, Witherspoon made a point of reminding people that June Carter Cash was a real woman, and I think the point of that was not just that Carter had been an actual living breathing human being, but that as a character she was complex and three dimensional, not a cardboard cut-out, or mere extension of a man. Witherspoon then thanked her brilliant co-star, Joaquin Phoenix, her parents, and her husband and kids. Perfect. Her speech was the difference between using the occasion to say something meaningful--without necessarily getting political--and just winging it, or thanking everybody a person has ever known.
The second biggie was that "Crash" (featuring, among others, Ryan Phillippe. Witherspoon's husband--very cool) upset the mountain known as "Brokeback" in the Best Picture race. Of course, "Crash" was one of my two favorite 2005 films (the other being "Walk the Line"), and I never hid the fact that I much preferred it to the presumed frontrunner "Brokeback Mountain." If I'd had a week longer to figure my PREDICTIONS, I might have bumped "Crash" up from the place to win position; that is, based on what I'd begun seeing and hearing. Still, there was every reason in the world to believe "Brokeback" would win. After all, it is/was the year's most nominated film, it had won more "Best Picture" precursors (including the Directors Guild and Producers Guild awards) and it was also the top grossing film in the bunch. So, what happened? Did the Academy back away from "Brokeback" because it was too gay? Not likely. After all, back in 1969 the Academy gave Best Picture to "Midnight Cowboy," an X-rated film, about a male hustler--with homosexual undertones--and that was the same year that longtime screen icon, and standard bearer for traditional American values, John Wayne won Best Actor for "True Grit." Old Hollywood meets New Hollywood and all that.
So, how to explain the "Crash" win? Call it the L.A. connection. Over the past two weeks reports began surfacing that "Crash" was definitely capturing the imagination of the Academy's west coast membership. Makes sense to me. After all, "Crash" is about life in L.A. It's a west coast phenomenon, as opposed to "Brokeback," which was ardently supported by much of the east coast based media. Important distinction. (By the way, did you ever think you'd ever see the day in which Tony Danza, of all people, could boast of having a role in a Best Picture winner???) Also, "Crash" was a real actor's picture (witness its SAG award for Best Ensemble). "Brokeback" really only had a handful of characters, or speaking parts...the 2 men, their wives, and a few characters that float in and out of their lives (foreman, father-in-law, bar maid, etc.). "Crash," on the other hand had dozens of speaking roles; moreover, it had a surprisingly large number of memorable characters (surprising because there were so many characters in the first place...yet they were so vividly drawn in spite of their limited screentime). A lesser clue to Crash 's success has to do with the trophy it won for Best Editing. It's not that movies that win Best Editing also win Best Picture, not at all; however, it is rare that a movie that isn't at least nominated for Best Editing wins Best Picture. You have to go all the way back to 1980's "Ordinary People" to find a movie that won the top prize without being on the final ballot for editing. And this year, "Brokeback" wasn't nominated, but "Crash" was--and, as noted, it won.
Plus, as I wrote in my "PREDICTIONS," "Crash" was the more artistically daring movie. How so? How is it possible to be more artistically daring than gay cowboys? To me, only the "idea" of "Brokeback" was daring. In reality, the movie was squarely conventional. Oh sure, the movie confounds audience expectations by presenting gay men that don't fit the stereotype of nellie queens who work as hairdressers or interior decorators...but so what? I think audiences would be more challenged by a movie that asks audiences to care for totally flaming queers madly in love with each other and the idea of doin' the nasty all over the place. You know, happy queers determined to live life on their own terms. Maybe the movie could then end with a brutal Matthew Shephard (sp?) slaughter, so as to incense the audience, make them feel angry at the injustice (not that I advocate violence against any particular group of people), or maybe the characters could just flaunt their homosexuality, ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after. Now, that would be a real eye opener. But "Brokeback" is a joyless affair. These men are drawn to each other, but for what? Their coupling doesn't seem to bring either of them happiness, and they spend a lot of time discussing their feelings about "this thing" (as Heath Ledger's Ennis calls it). The movie never answers the question as to why audiences should care about these characters in the first place. Movies are a visual medium, they can express worlds of things without getting into words. "Walk the Line" is a movie that shows two people, with lots of emotional baggage, who are so passionately in love they melt just looking at each other. And think back a couple years ago when Diane Lane was nominated for Best Actress for "Unfaithful." She was an adulteress who found enormous pleasure being naughty while at the same time being enormously conflicted because she was actually happily married. Lane could register all these emotions across her face without a lick of dialogue. "Brokeback" is missing that kind of magic. The movie has good intentions, but, ulimately, it's safe: "Gee, look at the poor pitiful homosexuals." What's so big about that? (Even "Capote," a movie I had structural problems with, didn't back away from testing the audience's patience with an unflattering portrait of effeminate writer Truman Capote, played by Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman). "Crash," on the other hand, constantly defies its audiences to continue watching as its characters deal with the whole ugly spectrum of racism. Characters that seem bad are seen in another light, while characters that seem good turn out to be guilty of horrible acts. Always gripping, always surprising. Talk about the human condition. Yikes! Entertaining? Maybe not so much. But the movie has a lasting quality. How else to explain that it should win an Oscar almost ten month since it was first released. I've loved "Crash" since I first saw it last spring, and I'm thrilled it won Best Picture. Maybe I'll buy the DVD next weekend. Btw, this is only third Best Picture winner, after "Silence of the Lambs" (1991), and "Gladiator" (2000), to be available for home viewing at Oscar time. Also, I'm 99.9% certain it's the first Best Picture to win as few as three awards (Picture, Original Screenplay, Editing) since "The Godfather" (which took home Picture, Actor [Marlon Brando who infamously declined] and Adapted Screenplay.)
"Crash" was independently made, but like "Memoirs of a Geisha," which was from a big studio, it shows that quality, far reaching movies can still be made in Hollywood. I think it's totally cool that a movie like "Geisha," set in Japan, but filmed mostly in and around the LA area, won Oscars for for Costumes, Art Direction and Cinematography. There was a time when nothing seemed beyond the reach of Hollwyood designers and technicians. Nowadays, a lot of movies are being made in New Zealand, Budapest, Romania, and Canada--and Hollywood, save for tv production, is mostly a ghost of its former self (though glitzed up for tourists). Welcome back. (Though "Good Night and Good Luck" was shut-out, it was also filmed entirely in Hollywood.)
Okay, four movies won three Oscars each: "Crash," "Brokeback" (Director, Adapted Screenplay, Score), "Geisha," and "King Kong" (Visual Effects, Sound Mix, and Sound Effects Editing); "Capote" and "Walk the Line" were singles, as were "The Constant Gardener," "Syriana," "The Chronicles of Narnia," "March of the Penguins," "Tsotsi" and, oh yes, "Hustle and Flow."
Rachel Weisz of "The Constant Gardener" was a perfectly gracious winner. Hers was not my absolute favorite supporting actress performance--that would have been Amy Adams, of "Junebug"--but I loved "The Constant Gardener," and Weisz was my PREDICTION, so I'm happy. I like George Clooney (loved, loved, loved him in 2000's "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"), but I wasn't crazy about "Syriana," and while I personally don't mind political speeches--from winners, not presenters--I'm afraid some people were probably turned off by his and turned off their sets. Oh, and it was fun that one of the winners gave a shout-out to the folks at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU since I have a friend whose daughter is currently enrolled at Tisch. Hey, Auburn!
Okay, I wasn't thrilled that Philip Seymour Hoffman won, but it was hardly a surprise. Still, he'd been the frontrunner since December, he'd already won just about every prize on the planet, so why wasn't he more prepared? He looked sloppy, and practically all he could do was say how "overwhelmed" he was. That noted, I will applaud him for thanking his mom, a single mother of four. Nice touch. Oh, and I absolutely hate that "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," a song that glorifies misogyny, won an Oscar. THis actually makes me so mad, I don't think I can even tap into my feelings to express it objectively.
Best Dressed? For me, it was Ziyi Zhang, who wowed in a beaded number with a black bustier top and a full skirt with black and silver sparkles. I loved Witherspoon, of course, and Uma Thurman, in floaty, creme colored chiffon (sporting a hairdo nearly like Witherspoon's. Ditto Weisz.) Salma Hayek was a knockout in a form fitting peacock blue number, and Veronica Lake hair. And, okay, I'll go with Jessica Alba and her slinky gold gown that made her look like Ms. Oscar. The worst dressed wasn't a woman, though Charlize Theron came close, what with that ridiculous oversized bow, but instead a man: Best Adapted Screenplay winner Larry McMurtry wearing jeans and a tux. I also wasn't crazy about the kimono inspired get-up worn by Best Costume winner Colleen Atwood. Why is that costume designers are usually among the worst dressed? I thought Nicole Kidman looked washed-out in ivory, and Jennifer Lopez looked a little overdone with all that bronzer.
The tribute to film noir was badly planned. Why begin with the familiar strains of the theme from "Laura," and a larger than life image of Lauren Bacall? Bacall wasn't in "Laura." That was Gene Tierney. Bacall was clearly having a hard time with the teleprompter, and it was embarrassing. Not crazy either about the male makeup artist from "Narnia" who spoke so long he stepped on the chance for his co-winner to speak. How thoughtless. Again, people should be better prepared. Also, it was rude the way the orchestra played during speeches--clearly a move to keep winners from becoming comfortable in order to intimidate them into shorter speeches so the show could keep moving, which it did? But for what? a TV size tribute to widescreen movies? I say less "theme" clips and more time for speeches. I thought last year's approach of presenting some awards from the floor of the auditorium was neat because it reduced all that walking to the stage, thus allowing more time for acceptances.
I'm not a regular viewer of Jon Stewart's "Daily Show," but I think he's funny most of the time. Last night I thought he was a little too dry for the occasion. Some of his monolgue bits fell flat or barely rated more than a chuckle, though he got better as the night progressed. I did like the intro, with all the most recent Oscar hots, the bit with Tom Hanks being crowded on the stage by the orchestra, the out of context clips from vintage westerns, and Stewart's joke about Bjork, she of the infamous swan dress, being accidentally shot by Vice President Dick Cheney. The rest of the funny bits were the appearance of Dallas's Wilson brothers (Luke and Owen), Will Ferrell and Steve Carell haming it up when presenting Best Makeup, and Ben Stiller's uproarious bit with the green unitard and the non-existent special effects green screen. Oh yeah, loved the spot-on parodies of political campaign ads.
Last year, the Academy finally honored Sidney Lumet; this year it was Robert Altman's turn--and cleverly introduced by Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep in Altman's signature style of overlapping dialogue. Now, as Jon Stewart put it, it's zero Oscars for Martin Scorsese, while the members of 3-6 Mafia can boast of being Academy Award winning singer-songwriters. Suddenly, life no longer seems so hard for a pimp.
Any questions, comments, good natured differences of opinions???
Thanks for your consideration. Mp" (M*lani* Pruit)