March 24, 2003


NOTES ON THE OSCARS: I watched the Oscars from start to finish last night, for no reason other than my love of cinema and fascination with all that is Hollywood. I knew people would say stupid things and most of the wrong movies would be honored, but what the hell- I watch because I love. A few observations:
"Chicago" wins Best Picture. I can't complain; I liked the movie and as far as I know so did most other people. I think the return to prominence in Hollywood of musicals is a good development, and "Chicago" is worlds more worthy, as a Best Picture, than last year's embarassing winner, "A Beautiful Mind." When "The Pianist" pulled off upset wins for Best Actor and Best Director, it created a dramatic scenario that actually made it look like a Best Picture win was possible- since that film was the only of the five Best Picture nominees not at least partially funded by Miramax, a "Pianist" victory would've doubled as a big "fuck you" to Harvey Weinstein. But alas, it wasn't to be.
Moore Stupider. I suppose the biggest Oscar-related topic in the blogosphere last night and today was the outburst by Michael Moore. Now I want to make clear that I'm not so upset about what Moore said- it was Moore being Moore, and loony anti-Bush schtick has been his stock and trade for the past two years. What I AM upset about is that "Bowling For Columbine"- an untruthful, dishonest, insulting, condescending, and self-aggrandizing film, whose conclusion seemed to be that what's wrong with America is all those damn Americans- won for Best Documentary. What's even sadder is that the producers of the other four nominated films, who presumably took great care to make sure their films were truthful and didn't stage entire scenes, agreed to join Moore onstage. That almost the entire audience booed Moore when he began his diatribe shows that Hollywood may be much more sane than we all thought- Denzel Washington, in particular, was caught on camera not applauding.
Sicilian vs. Roman. The other major controversy of the evening was Roman Polanski's upset victory over Martin Scorsese for the Best Director award. Now, I get that the Academy hated "Gangs of New York" (it won zero awards), and didn't wish to honor Scorsese for what was clearly not the best film of his career. So why not give it to "Chicago"'s Rob Marshall? Traditionally when there's a Picture/Director split verdict, it's either because the Best Picture wasn't a "director" movie (like "Gladiator"), or because the Director winner's direction was especially impressive (like "Saving Private Ryan," or "Traffic"). "Chicago" was very much a director movie, and there was nothing at all wrong with Marshall's direction. And if the Academy didn't wish to honor Scorsese for "Gangs of New York" when he didn't win for "Mean Streets," "Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull," or "Goodfellas," then why give it to Polanski when he didn't win for one of the greatest movies of all time, "Chinatown"?
Then there's the issue of Polanski's crime. The fact that Roman Polanski has defenders is just as inexplicable and offensive to me as the fact that Pete Rose has defenders. This is a man who not only committed a sex crime against a child, but has been a fugitive from justice for more than a quarter century. Now he may be a brilliant filmmaker (I have not yet seen "The Pianist," but everything I've heard is that it's great), but excusing his crime just because many in showbiz have snorted mountains of coke and cheated on each of their four wives (both of which Scorsese has done) is the sort of moral vapidity that can only come from Hollywood. Polanski's behavior should NOT be forgiven just because he's a Holocaust survivor, just because the Manson Family killed his wife, or just because he made a great film. The man could make a masterpiece a year for the next decade- and he would still belong behind bars.
And one more thing: had Roman Polanski molested a male child and not a female, would he have won Best Director last night? Were R. Kelly in the habit of videotaping sex with underage boys rather than underage girls, would he have the #1 album in the country right now? I'm guessing the answer to both questions is HELL NO.
Say Goodbye, Say Goodbye Hollywood. Eminem is now an Academy Award winner; Martin Scorsese is not.
Martinized. Steve Martin was uneven as host, often doing the best he could with substandard material. But he made up for every lame joke with that (apparently adlibbed) slam of Michael Moore, and he's not Whoopi Goldberg, which may be his best quality as a comedian. Also, strange that Martin mentioned Steven Spielberg at the end. SS was not on hand, and not nominated for anything, even though he directed two movies this year.
The Prime of Mr. Adrian Brody. Now that Brody has won Best Actor (defeating four former winners in the process), I may now finally know the difference between him, Jim Caviezel, and Ben Chaplin. (Malick's "Thin Red Line" still confuses me, even four years later). Brody's speech was classy, as he's one of the few recent winners who wasn't lying when he said he wasn't expecting it. And while it may have looked bad that he kissed Halle Berry full on the lips after winning, but I know I would've done the same thing, and if you're male, you would've too.
War on War. I didn't find any of the pro-peace/anti-war messages particularly offensive. Moore is Moore, Brody had the grace to mention his buddy from Queens who's a soldier in Kuwait, and several others "hoped for peace in Iraq soon," which applies to everyone on either side of the debate. The grande dames of Hollywood's aloof left, Susan Sarandon and Barbra Streissand, both managed to stay on script, though less impressive was the Spanish-speaking contingent: screenplay winner Pedro Almodovar spoke in favor of "democracy" in denouncing the war in Iraq (huh?), while presenter Gael Garcia Bernal declared that "if Frida Kahlo were alive today, she'd be against the war." Probably, although if Kahlo were still alive she'd probably be too depressed about the fall of communism to care about a mere US intervention in the Middle East. Is Garcia Bernal prepared to endorse Kahlo's politics in full?
But my favorite celeb anti-war story of all was Ben Affleck's: the actor couldn't decide whether or not to wear an anti-war pin, and left the final decision to his stylist. I bet J.Lo's upset she didn't get to choose.
Procedural matters. The ceremony actually ended on time for once, probably because they chose not to show movie clips for each nominated actor. For the second straight year the historical clip selections were lackluster, and the "75 Years of Oscar" ceremony was lacking, especially since several of the actors (especially Karl Malden and Mickey Rooney) apparently had no idea where they were and looked like they were about to keel over. Not to mention that dozens of living former winners were not present. It's always great to see Olivia de Havilland, the last living "Gone With the Wind" cast member and the Curt Flood of Hollywood- it was her lawsuit in the '50s that brought down the classical Hollywood system. And I was all set to object to the trotting out of Kirk Douglas, as the man is clearly not in the best of health, but his final presentation with son Michael was charming.
The Golden 'Road.' My favorite movie of the year, "Road to Perdition," won only one Oscar, but it was the one it deserved most: Best Cinematography, for the late Conrad L. Hall. Not only did it have the most impressive lensing of any film in years, but it was one final tribute to a truly brilliant cinemagraphic technician.
Unpredictable.And in a year in which I saw almost every major movie, I correctly predicted less than half of the Academy Award winners. In a year in which I watched next to no college basketball, I correctly predicted 12 of the Sweet 16. Which goes to show, once again, that predictions mean nothing.

Posted by Stephen Silver at March 24, 2003 03:15 PM
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