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I'd Like to Spank the Academy

2004-01-27 - 9:03 a.m.

I am in a fabulous mood.

"Why, Notorious RRZ?" ask the staff at the #1 real estate office in San Antonio, who are currently more informed about my life than my best friend, which, let's face it, is kinda sad, only not so much kinda sad as REALLY sad, but not sad enough to spoil my mood.

Because the Oscar nominees were announced this morning, and for the first time in a long time I had a number of pleasant surprises.

My jumping up and down happiest surprise is the fact that Keisha Castle-Hughes was nominated for Best Actress. Now, the fact that she's turning 14 this year does make me feel old and unfulfilled, but her performance in Whale Rider was wonderful and brilliant, so she more than deserves this.

In addition, Samantha Morton and Djimon Honsou got nominations for In America, a movie shamelessly snubbed by the Golden Globes. In America narrowly beat out Whale Rider for my favorite movie of the year, so I'm glad that the Oscars are giving them recognition over crap like Cold Mountain, which was not nominated for Best Picture.

These nominations, along with a lot of high profile nominations for movies that had little or no viewers (a directing nom for City of God, writing noms for Dirty Pretty Things, The Barbarian Invasions, and American Splendor), and for actors that are outside the mainstream (Patricia Clarkson for Pieces of April, Shohreh Aghdashloo for House of Sand and Fog) serve, I'm pretty sure, as the Academy's statement on screeners. By nominating a lot of indies, particularly in a year so heavy on epics, they remind everyone that the Oscars are often the only chance that small but brilliant films have to make money. I might never have seen City of God or Thirteen, but now that they have significant Oscar noms, they are on my to-watch list, and they'll be on a lot of people's to-watch lists. It's one of the few ways, I think, in which the Oscars serve a good purpose.

Of course, I doubt that any of the nominees that I'm excited about will win.

I said I was pleasantly surprised earlier because it is a rare occassion when the Oscars make me happy. Inevitably, there is a film that astonished and moved me that gets diddly shit in terms of nominations, much less awards. In 2001, it was Dancer in the Dark. The phrase "tug at your heartstrings" never had meaning at me until I saw that movie, in which I felt like my heart really was being pulled out of my chest as I watched Bjork, one of my favorite artists, give a performance as raw, complex, gentle, and honest as . . . well, as her music. It's a hard movie to watch--things start out bad for her character, Selma, and only get worse as the movie goes on--but its power is undeniable.

It got a best song nomination. And lost. Granted, this was a better showing than my second favorite movie of that year, Spike Lee's Bamboozled, which got absolutely no nominations.

The following year, it was Hedwig and the Angry Inch. At the very least, John Cameron Mitchell deserved a best actor nomination. That same year, my second favorite movie, Moulin Rouge, did get a best picture nomination, but not a best director nod. That night, Whoopi Goldberg introduced Moulin Rouge and sang it's praises, and then said, "and it somehow managed to do all this without a director." Now, a lot of people hate Whoopi Goldberg, and I'm not too pleased that she's shilling Slimfast right now, but that night I gave that comment a standing ovation.

It would be one thing if these films were losing to pictures that I liked. Last year wasn't so bad, since I thought Chicago was brilliantly crafted and acted, even though Far From Heaven was, to me, the best picture (and before I move on, how in the name of all that is holy can Julianne Moore, an actress who, to quote her Fametracker Fame Auditor, can act the paint of walls, not have an Oscar yet? Did the voters not see Boogie Nights? Or The Hours? Or Far From Heaven?). Unfortunately, my favorite films usually lose out to dreck. If I were a film like, say, Schindler's List, American Beauty, or The English Patient, I would be ashamed to be on the same list as Braveheart and Gladiator, both of which were decent-at-best action movies. Actually, I liked Braveheart more than Gladiator when I initially saw them, but I have since become a lot angrier about Braveheart when I found out from my favorite Mira-Nair-in-training that the original script for Braveheart had complex characters and an intricate plot that Mel Gibson hacked to pieces in order to be the big hero with balls of fire from his eyes and lightning bolts from his arse and they may take our lives but they will never take MY EGO and all that other crap that was in there. I hate A Beautiful Mind for the same reason. In trying to make a "love conquers all" story, Ron Howard decided not to tell the audience that the main character and his wife divorced, or that he was arrested in parks for having sex, in public, with other men. Or that his wife was HISPANIC, YOU BASTARDS!!! Jennifer Connelly is the most stunning woman alive, but she is NOT HISPANIC!!! Anyway, it gets to me that movies that don't tie things up neatly in the end and that don't have simplistic messages get the shaft while the people who sacrifice realism to portray heroism get to take home the prizes.

While I'm ranting, I caught the end of the Golden Globes the other night, and all the actresses nominated for Best Actress in a drama were skinny, blond, and under 38 years old. At least two, I believe, were under 20. Now, I'd only seen two of these performances, and neither of them were necessarily worthy of a best actress nomination. It got me thinking about the past few best actress winners. Going backwards, I think of Nicole Kidman, Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, Hilary Swank, Gwyneth Paltrow, Helen Hunt, and Frances McDormand. I have to go back seven years before I find an actress who doesn't look exceedingly thin and young. In the same period, the best actors were Adrien Brody, Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Roberto Benigni, Jack Nicholson, and Geoffrey Rush. Only two huge hearthrobs in there, and a number of guys over 40. Now, I have yet to see Monster's Ball, but of the actresses I would say only Frances McDormand (for Fargo) and Hilary Swank (for Boys Don't Cry) gave unmatched performances their year. Julia was okay, but not as good as fellow nominee Ellen Burstyn, and Gwyneth was just the latest in a long line of people who got Oscars because of their relatives.

I have yet to see Monster, but the buzz this year favors Charlize Theron, a stunning woman who got ugly for a role, which is decidedly what Nicole Kidman did and, from what I hear, kinda what Halle Berry did as well. So, unless Diane Keaton stages an upset, it will be another beautiful woman taking home the statue, while, God willing, another older man takes home the men's version (provided Bill Murray gets his long delayed and much deserved Oscar for Lost in Translation).

It's people like Bill Murray, finally geting recognition after kicking tremendous amounts of ass in Rushmore only to be overlooked, that keep me watching after all these disappointments. I like rooting for the movies that are so obviously brilliant that only get best screenplay (or, as I like to call it, The Jane Campion Consolation Prize). I like jumping out of my chair when people who actually deserve to win get to make their acceptance speech, like last year when people finally got it through their head that Chris Cooper was amazing. I like watching overhyped movies fall on their ass, relishing the schadenfreude as Gangs of New York loses best actor and best director to The Pianist. I even like bitching the next day when the shitty movie wins, when the talentless imbecile (*cough* *Gwyneth**cough*) gets to make an ass of herself accepting an award that clearly should have gone to someone else (like Cate Blanchett, or Fernanda Montenegro, or even Meryl Streep for God's sake). I love the clothes, both the elegant and the surreal, and the speeches, both inane (when should Tom Cruise be shot? Now more than ever) and the eloquent (Gael Garcia Bernal's anti-war message as he introduced the song from Frida, and anything that Meryl Streep says, ever, because girlfriend could read the phonebook and turn it into an intricate landscape of human experience). I love hating Joan and Melissa, the harpies that rose from the dumpster of a plastic surgery clinic, and their duplicitious ass kissing.

It's entertaining. It's frivolous. It's gay Christmas.

So come February 29th, I'll be in front of the big screen with my popcorn, cell phone at ready to make angry or joyous calls during the commercials, rooting for Bill Murray and Samantha Morton and Sofia Coppola, snoring through the "Our Tribute to Gaffers" montage, pouring drinks on the pavement during the "In Memoriam" section, hoping for a moment like the one a few years ago when a young Japanese woman, accepting the award for Best Documentary Short Subject, stole the show with her tearful thank you to her mother, who had done so much so that her daughter could come to this country to pursue her dream of being a filmmaker.

It's a night of ugly realities, but sometimes, Oscar night gets to be a night of dreams come true.

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The End - 2005-02-11
Let's Go on With the Show - 2005-01-30
The Curse, and This Bee's a Keeper - 2005-02-01
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