Saturday, March 11, 2006

Film - Oscar 2006 - wherein matthew tells you everything you needed to know - and whinges a lot

This week was Oscar time again.
The Oscars were a fine affair this year - all until the final 5 freakin' minutes. But I'll leave that bit till last. (actually, if you're a Crash fan you might not want to read the end - I was not a happy chappy)
* During the red carpet arrivals, Richard Wilkinsssssss wasn't too hard to take this year. Of course we had the sound turned off, which always helps when Dickie is around.
* Nobody looked very interesting. The women's clothes were classy but dull, even by oscar standards. There were exceptions - Salma Hayek look impressively sizzly.
* Lots of Aussies were packed in there. Nicole, Russell, Naomi & Eric were all presenters. Nobody makes talented, thin, blonde & pale-white actresses, and tough & unshaven actors like little Australia.
* Keira Knightley needs to do something to make herself look less like another well-known actress. At first I was confused - why was Winona Ryder sitting next to Jack Nicholson? Don't tell me Jack is dating Winona!!!!! Those freaky kids! But no, it was just Keira.
* Dolly Parton sang a song from Transamerica. Her lips and chest seem to be even bigger than before (if that's possible), but who wouldn't enjoy having a granny who looked like that? People at oscar ceremonies have such polite smiles, yet during Dolly's five minutes the audience appeared to be having genuine fun.
* For the Best Soundtrack award, they got Itzak Perlman to play selections from each film. Each year now they either drag him or Yo-Yo Ma out to play tedious music that nobody can whinge about without seeming low-class.
* Someone had the awful idea of playing music during the acceptance speeches. I have no idea what this was meant to do. It was very distracting, and added an unnecessary sentimentality to everything. Do we really need syrupy orchestral music when someone is thanking their agent?
* March of the Penguins won Best Documentary, which was a depressing result. The film is basically a kids movie, as the french producers intentionally left out any details of the penguins' lives which didn't fit the 'family values' theme which they hoped would make it more loveable than your usual animal doco. Documentarians are always selective. They sometimes choose material to present a full picture, sometimes simply to make a point. But when the facts are tailored to suit the fantasies of the audience, it's not much of a 'documentary'.
* An Oscar went to Australian cinematography Dion Beebe. In his speech he said "Mum, I know you're up there somewhere", which was reported in the press as being a moving reference to his dear departed mother. But it turned out that Dulcie, his perfectly healthy mother, was watching the whole thing, sitting 'up there somewhere' in the upper tiers of the auditorium.
* George Clooney won his supporting actor award early on, and made a speech about how much he enjoyed being part of a progressive industry. He's been able to work on some politically-minded films lately, and many of the films nominated for oscars this year had political or social issue themes. Hollywood has been unusually keen this year to release 'issue' films. But he spoke too soon (ie. he didn't know what would happen in the last 5 minutes).
* Reese Witherspoon and Philip Seymour Hoffman gave good simple speeches. Both were emotional without going over the top. Reese's might have been part performance, but Philip's was entirely genuine. When he held his hand up to shade his eyes, his hand was shaking terribly. He looked like he could do with a hug and then maybe a good sit down.
* Ang Lee became the first asian to win Best Director! Hardly any oscars have gone to asian people in the past. I can think of James Wong Howe (the cinematographer), and an honorary one for Akira Kurosawa, but no others. And Ang Lee is both talented and loveable, so it was a pleasure to see.
* The awards kept going to different films. Part of me would have liked the three nominated actors from Brokeback Mountain to have won. They would have looked so great together with their little trophies. But the people they lost out to were great actors too, so all was good. (I don't think I've mentioned yet that Jakey Gyllenhaal looked cute in his tux, even when stumbling over the awful lines he was forced to utter when introducing a dull montage of 'big screen' movie moments).
During the build up to the awards all the signs suggested Brokeback had to win (it won best pictures awards from the BAFTAs, the Venice Film Festival, the New York Film Critics Awards, the Golden Globes, and a dozen others). It won 3 out of the 4 'guild' awards in the USA (the writer's, director's and producer's guild awards - it only lost the actor's guild award). It was almost universally praised by reviewers (in Australia Margaret Pomeranz & David Stratton both gave it 5 stars). Out of the 5 films nominated for Best Picture Oscars, it had done best at the box-office, despite it's difficult theme. Approx 54% of the 19451 people who have given the film a rating on have given the film a 10 out of 10. It was beautifully crafted, dealt with complex issues with great thoughtfulness, and had a strong emotional power. The film's website has a multitude of very personal stories from people who have found part of their own lives reflected in the film. And when an american film does well with critics and the general public, then that's oscar gold. Still, nothing's ever guaranteed. I tried VERY hard not to get complacent, and to remind myself that the other 4 films weren't bad either, and that there are perfectly sensible people out there who happen to disagree with me and think Brokeback isn't as great as it's reputation makes it out to be. But once it won Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director I finally relaxed. My god, they were going to give Best Picture to a film about two gay cowboys in love. Who would have thought! I'll never be so happy about a Best Picture winner again!
Obviously Jack Nicholson thought the same as I, because when he opened the envelope there was a shocked sudden pause followed by a slow intake of breath, before announcing that it was 'Crash', with raised eyebrows and a fake 'happy hands' gesture (he admitted afterwards for voting for Brokeback). Of course the Crash people fell over themselves with glee and surprise. They would have felt ecstatic (and though I haven't seen Crash I've been told by numerous people that it's a good film), but I hardly heard what they said I was in such disbelief. But I did hear the second producer thank both her 'wife' and her 'husband' before the orchestra (presumably led by a Brokeback fan) struck up and cut her off so the credits could roll.

That's the end, unless you want to hear me complaining about Brokeback Mountain losing. In which case read on a little longer.... I have never been so disappointed by an oscar ceremony in my life. Why would they NOT choose one of the most obvious Best Picture choices ever? The academy is usually very conservative and gives awards to the obvious choices, as happened this year when they gave EVERY other award to the predicted winner.
There was a recent campaign in Hollywood against the film (Tony Curtis said he wasn't even going to watch it) as well as a small group of influential people promoting Crash (Oprah Winfrey and the film reviewer Roger Ebert). Some of them just didn't like the subject matter. There's actually no rule saying that the voters have to watch all the films. Did Mickey Rooney, Charlton Heston and Mel Gibson actually watch it? AND keep watching past the tent scene? And even if they liked the film, the academy knows that giving their Best Picture award to a film which takes a stand on any particular issue is too risky. They don't want to encourage the ever-threatened boycotts from certain sections of the american public. Annie Proulx has written of seeing protesters against the film even as she was making her way to the award ceremony.
They've often given awards to films with gay characters, but those films usually look at the gay characters as individuals without spending a lot of time exploring their relationships. Gay people are fine. Gay love is icky.
The Best Picture award has to go to something safe. It's okay if it's got a bit of sex or violence, or deals with touchy issues, it just can't take sides. Schindler's List was perfect (who's going to object to a film which says the Nazis were horrible), and the basic message of Crash also suited fine (racism is bad, and we're all capable of it, but redemption is possible). The Oscar has often gone to films which could fit into a little subgroup called 'Racism Sux - Why Can't We Just All Get Along?' (West Side Story, In The Heat of the Night, Gandhi, Driving Miss Daisy, Dances With Wolves, Schindler's List). Oscar has a history of bias towards films dealing with issues of various forms of prejudice, but some forms of prejudice are more equal than others. The subject of homophobia is not loved by Oscar (feminism was never Oscar's favourite issue either). No serious commentators in america currently claim racism is okay, but it's perfectly acceptable for the straight community to keep the decision of whether gays should be allowed to marry to itself.
And even if only 5% of voters were swayed by concerns about the controversy, rather than just judging the individual quality of the films, then that probably would have been enough to turn the result against Brokeback. So raspberries to them.
Another problem for Brokeback is that it was never going to be publicly supported by any big name gay members of Hollywood. For some of them, supporting the film would threaten the secrecy surrounding their carefully hidden sexuality, and for others they'd fear getting blasted for pushing a 'gay agenda' on the poor defenceless american public. Gore Vidal is the only openly gay member of the Academy I know of who has gone on record saying something nice about the film. I doubt this would happen with a break-through film dealing with say Hispanic characters - I'm sure the better known Hispanic actors in Hollywood would be there for a film like that. And if gay people aren't there to remind people in Hollywood that homophobia is still an issue, then it's easier for them to see Brokeback as a sob-story over a problem that has been banished to the history books.
On the plus side, Brokeback Mountain can now have the reputation of being one of those films that was too good for the Oscars. I guess I'll just have to suppress my anger (unless I bump into Tony Bleedin' Curtis).
Good night! :-)

PS. Some websites have encouraged folks to write to the Academy to express their displeasure
Or fans can write to Jake and Heath thanking them for a job well done.

Taking a positive route are the folks who have collected money from Brokeback fans to run an ad in Variety thanking the makers of the film.

PPS. And look! Roger Ebert's website says they have received lots of responses regarding Brokeback Mountain and the Oscars, and that they didn't previously understand how important the film was to some people or why. Apparently the film made it too easy for people to relate to the gay relationship, so poor Roger didn't stop to think how amazing it was that ordinary movie-goers WERE relating to a gay relationship in the first place!

And here's Gore Vidal on Brokeback Mountain, Capote, and Crash

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