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March 08, 2006

Final words on Oscar 2006

The Jack Reacts

Jack Nicholson has gone and proved just why he's my favourite actor of all-time. Aside from being just a hilarious guy, a charismatic personality and a brilliant thespian, he also has wonderful taste. Mr. Nicholson cast a deserved vote for Brokeback Mountain as Best Picture. He, like the rest of us, thought it was sewn up. His reaction in the above screencap tells you all you need to know about this year's Academy Awards.

I feel the need to reiterate just why I'm harping on about it, AGAIN. I have a ridiculous passion for cinema, and that (unfortunately) extends to cinema's highest prize. For the first time in years, I was genuinely passionate about the Oscar frontrunner. I loved Brokeback Mountain. I also passionately loathed Crash.

With all that passion involved, you can't blame me for being so obsessive right? :p I'm sure others have their obsessive quirks.

Anyway, having somewhat slightly calmed down after the snub to end all snubs, I've gotta find an outlet for my feelings. I'll keep it short – like so many movies, Brokeback doesn't need the Oscar to validate its greatness. Anyone who's seen it knows that already, and it's a film as ageless as its central love story. However, for so many people, it's clear that the film DID need the Oscar…

After trawling through a number of accounts, I've found that many homosexuals understandably find this a huge slap in the face. Other fans of the movie like myself can only stand back and sympathise. Just how far has the Academy REALLY progressed in its history? It's strange how this loss just makes Brokeback's themes all the more resonant.

All I can say is – it's a film that will be remembered. As will Crash, but for all the wrong reasons. Never fear, for time will reveal the travesty that is AMPAS' decision soon enough.

I'm done for this year's Oscars, apologies for rambling so much. I'll leave you – those that are still here and interested that is – with a few of the many articles that have already appeared on the Net deploring the disaster:

The Times summarise the Oscar ceremony

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian, fast-becoming my fave British film critic, also offers a few quick insights

Gene Stone from Yahoo! writes a critical commentary -

Emanuel Levy on Oscar's taste for mediocrity

Stephen King - yes, THAT Stephen King - on this year's outcome

MSNBC come down particularly hard on Crash

And finally, 2 lengthy but brilliant articles that are definitely worth reading:

A recounting of this year's Oscar race, and how it all went so horribly wrong

An elaboration on how Brokeback was more than just a movie to some people


March 06, 2006

A slight rant.

Ok, I know I stated that I'd refrain from commenting on the Oscars until I'd caught up with a couple of films, but umm, f*ck that?!

The choice that the Academy made last night might well go down as the most horrific one that they've EVER made. Yeah, even worse than Ordinary People over Raging Bull, Dances with Wolves over Goodfellas, How Green Was My Valley over Citizen Kane, Braveheart over anything.

Let me articulate – the reason WHY this decision is causing shockwaves through the cinema-loving community is because AMPAS were effectively handed this year's Best Picture winner on a plate. Brokeback Mountain is not only the finest film of the year IMO, but it is also a critical and cultural juggernaut. It infiltrated the mainstream consciousness in a way that NO other film this year did – albeit often in a negative way (that "gay cowboy" film).

I'm not sure if there are any people who follow the Oscar season closely like myself round these parts, so for those who don't I'll explain just why this is such a colossal slap in the face.

There are certain 'rules' to the art (obsession?) of Oscarwatching as such. Basically, you need precursor support + box office. Brokeback had both. It entered Oscar night bestowed with 22 accolades from other awards bodies - compared to 3 for Crash. Yeah, that's TWENTY-TWO. Moreover, it's been breaking box-office records since its release. To date, it's made almost $79 million in the USA, a ridiculous number for a gay indie flick. One of the Oscar 'rules' is that your film has to make the Top 25 highest-grossing movies of the year to win the big one. Currently, Brokeback is #26, and is poised to enter the top 25 (had it won the Oscar, it might well have entered the top 20). Crash, with a gross of $53.4 million, sits at #49.

The industry success enjoyed by Brokeback was so great that I read discussions about whether it was THE biggest frontrunner and/or "lock" for the Oscar ever. At the end of the day, when it came to casting their ballots, what it came down to for Academy members was this: you either vote FOR Brokeback or you vote AGAINST it.

Now I'm not saying that all the votes casted within AMPAS for Crash were by people who don't care for the film. And I'm certainly not saying that everyone should share my own mindset and appreciate Brokeback Mountain. However, statistically, Brokeback has won EVERY single big award this Oscar season (Golden Globe and BAFTA most notable among them). When a situation like this occurs, you've got to ask yourself – why did it win everything except the big one?

Fact of the matter is, the Academy's penchant for mediocrity (or in this case, flat-out SHIT) is showing itself once again. Take a look at the most recent winners of Oscar's Best Picture:

2004 – Million Dollar Baby (horrific Oscar-bait crap) beats out The Aviator (not superb, but certainly more deserving)
2003 – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (overblown shit) beats out Mystic River (again, not amazing, but more deserving) [btw, I realise that my opinion on this one is in the minority, so ignore it if you so wish]
2002 – Chicago (lightweight fluff) beats out The Hours and The Pianist
2001 – A Beautiful Mind (speaks for itself) over Moulin Rouge! (the ACTUAL musical that should've won) and Gosford Park
2000 – Gladitaor (mediocre 'epic') over Crouching Tiger, Hidcden Dragon (elegiac epic)

Seriously, considering their history I should have anticipated this. But how could I when Brokeback was steamrolling everything else into oblivion? Of course, it's clear now that it wasn't. So what the Hell was going on?!

First of all, it's important to acknowledge (and deride) the influence of the media in all of this. With Brokeback so far out in the lead, there was very little excitement in this year's race. Consequently, they latched onto the safest bet they could find - and that was Crash, a film that appeals to the lowest common denominator. Suddenly, stories started appearing about how Crash had the potential to upset (despite having won NOTHING). Originally, I dismissed these reports as ridiculous media hype, but it's now become evident that they sadly played a part in the mess that was the 2005 Oscars.

What part did the film's studio have to play in all of this? Oscar season is notorious for the lavish campaigns spent upon making a studio's Oscar-baby a viable contender, and Lion's Gate certainly did that for Crash. Sending out 120,000 screener DVDs to every single member of the American cinema guilds ensured that their film would remain fresh in voter's minds whilst others grappled with the notion of whether or not to see a gay cowboy movie.

One of the most distressing reasons for Brokeback's loss (and let's make this clear, last night was about Brokeback LOSING, not Crash winning) that I've read about is the accusations of homophobia within the Academy. I don't want to believe it in this day and age, but the argument has been put across so well. The issue of homophobia is more overtly rife within America than that of racism, and you can't help but wonder how big a part this played with the Academy members. How many, do you think, were so worried about their own masculinity that they couldn't handle 10 seconds of gay sex on-screen? The film's box-office would indicate otherwise, but then these seem to have been countered by reports of a BrokeBacklash in Academy circles, who aren't willing to alienate the mainstream Right.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't give this argument any credence, but the stature of Brokeback's loss is so unprecedented that such ideas seem increasingly plausible. Hollywood isn't ready for the gays. Yes, the film won 3 other awards - but they went to Ang Lee (a heavily overdue director), Larry McMurtry (a heavily overdue writer) and the movie's undeniably gorgeous score. The only way to acknowledge Brokeback's thematic content would have been to vote the film as Best Picture. You could argue that Philip Seymour Hoffman won for Capote, but he was playing an outrageous de-sexualised gay intellectual - and outrageous and de-sexualised seems to be exactly how Hollywood likes its gays. I won't even bother going into Tom Hanks' win for Philadelphia in the early 90s.

You're wondering why I give so much of a damn aren't you? Well, aside from considering Brokeback the finest film of the year, I should make it clear that I consider Crash to be one of the most offensive pieces of trash ever to have found its way onto cinema screens, and I hope, and know, other film literates that feel the same.

It is a poorly executed white-liberal fantasy, constructed solely as a bad form of escapism – and, frankly, when you're dealing with an issue as complex and sensitive as racism, I don't think escapism is the right treatment for it. Paul Haggis (now my least favourite person on the planet) seems to think that showing us a bunch of decent actors on autopilot performing a series of blatantly artificial scenarios works on film. It doesn't. Watching Crash you'd think the entire population of Los Angeles spend night and day engaging in not-so-intellectual confrontations about racism. The amount of racial slurs used to illustrate this belief is laughable, as is the compulsive need for each character to utter the word "fuck" every other minute.
Haggis takes a heavy-handed approach to his subject and literally wallops his audience with a sledgehammer, ramming these issues down our throats. For what purpose? At the end, he pats us on the back and tells us not to worry, because everyone is racist anyway – just to varying degrees. How does he arrive at such a conclusion? By presenting his characters in their best and their worst lights – with NO grey area inbetween. What he ends up doing is playing with stereotypes that are unnecessarily offensive, particularly with regards to the Asian characters. He shows us the type, then half an hour later subverts it, but leaves no room for character development inbetween. Sandra Bullock falls down the stairs and suddenly her Hispanic maid is her best friend? Good Lord.
Crash is like Magnolia in its undeniably contrived set-up, but worse. The criss-crossing of the characters verges on the unbelievable, but unlike that latter film, Crash lacks the heart to make itself remotely commendable.
It's a credit to the abilities of Terrence Howard and Don Cheadle that they manage to rise above all this commotion and manage to inject some humility into their characterisations. Unfortunately, it's not enough to save this disastrous exercise from the realm of utter crap.

And you're telling me this shit wins Oscars?! That this "little film that could" beat out one of the most devastating cinematic love stories, well, ever, smacks of hypocrisy from a Hollywood that likes to call itself liberal. As a straight liberal (presumably one who should think like the Academy, then?) I'll say that they had the opportunity to acknowledge a truly great cinematic achievement. And they wasted it. Big time.

Funny how Academy's refusal to acknowledge Ennis and Jack's love parallels Ennis' own in the film, doesn't it?

I'm gobsmacked. This year's awards were meant to reaffirm my faith in the Oscars, to show that they can, in fact, be a barometer of artistic excellence every now and again. What a cop-out on their behalf…

Anyway, I've been ranting stupidly for ages now so I'll stop. What I've said is probably nonsensical bollocks to many, and that's fine. I just can't help but feel that this is a terrible day for cinephiles, considering the Oscars hold so much clout and significance (although hopefully, following this stunt, that will begin to recede). If you want to read an article that articulates everything FAR better than I possibly could then go here:

An article by Kenneth Turan


March 05, 2006

Oscar Predix

Pfft, so it's that time of the year again. Academy Awards night is upon us. My levels of obsession with this peaked around late December/early January in the midst of predicting nominations. By this point in the Oscar race, the winners seem all too obvious and all the fun has gone. :sigh: Why do I care about these awards so much, seeing as they suck so bad? Because the industry seems to care, and when you've got the likes of Federico Fellini claiming that it's the film industry's highest honour, then a film freak like myself can't help but care. Plus this year it looks as if Oscar will have it's first truly great winner since 5 years ago. And IMO, "American Beauty" was the first great winner for almost a quarter of a century. It's amazing how wrong they can get it sometimes…

So anyway, predictions minus comments:

BEST PICTURE

"Brokeback Mountain" [Focus Features] (Alternate: "Crash")

BEST DIRECTOR

Ang Lee; "Brokeback Mountain" (Alt. George Clooney)

BEST ACTOR

Philip Seymour Hoffman; "Capote" (Alt. Heath Ledger)

BEST ACTRESS

Reese Witherspoon; "Walk the Line" (Alt. Felicity Huffman)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

George Clooney; "Syriana" (Alt. Paul Giamatti)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Rachel Weisz; "The Constant Gardener" (Alt. Amy Adams)

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Paul Haggis & Bobby Moresco; "Crash" (Alt. George Clooney & Grant Heslov)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana; "Brokeback Mountain" (Alt. Dan Futterman)

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

"Brokeback Mountain" — Rodrigo Prieto (Alt. "Memoirs of a Geisha")

BEST ART DIRECTION

"Memoirs of a Geisha" — John Myhre & Gretchen Rau (Alt. "Good Night, and Good Luck.")

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

"Memoirs of a Geisha" — Colleen Atwood (Alt. "Pride & Prejudice")

BEST SOUND MIXING

"Walk the Line" — Paul Massey, D.M. Hemphill & Peter F. Kurland (Alt. "King Kong")

BEST FILM EDITING

"Crash" — Hughes Winborne (Alt. "The Constant Gardener")

BEST SOUND EDITING

"King Kong" — Mike Hopkins & Ethan Van der Ryn (Alt. "War of the Worlds")

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

"King Kong" — Joe Letteri, Brian Van't Hul, Christian Rivers & Richard Taylor (Alt. "War of the Worlds")

BEST MAKEUP

"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (Alt. "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith")

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Gustavo Santaolalla; "Brokeback Mountain" (Alt. John Williams; "Memoirs of a Geisha")

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

"Travelin' Thru" from "Transamerica" (Alt. "In the Deep" from "Crash")

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

"March of the Penguins" (Alt. "Darwin's Nightmare")

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

"Paradise Now" — Palestine (Alt. "Tsotsi")

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

"Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" (Alt. "Corpse Bride")

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT

"God Sleeps in Rwanda" (Alt. "A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin")

BEST ANIMATED SHORT

"One Man Band" (Alt. "The Moon and the Son")

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT

"The Runaway" (Alt. "Six Shooter")

Unfortunately most of the major winners seem fairly obvious this year. Would love to be proved wrong though, surprises are a great thing. Anyway, I'm sure I'll have more thoughts in a few days after the ceremony and when I've caught up with a couple of films (e.g. "Good Night, and Good Luck.").


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