Friday, February 03, 2006
The truth is, I find myself preferring the Golden Globes more and more. There’s something endearing about this utterly self serving, self congratulatory gathering where the participants get to drink and make faces at the winners. In its own way, it is far more honest than the Academy Awards. It reminds me of kindergarten field day, where everyone invited gets to go home with a prize, even if it’s for best penmanship. The qualification for categories seems to be ‘the more, the merrier’. This allows them to give Joaquin Phoenix an award for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy (although Walk the Line was really neither) and Phillip Seymour Hoffman his award for Best Actor in a Drama. Given enough time and publicist energy, I imagine they could have added a Best Actor in a Western category so Heath Ledger could have his award too.
The most amusing example of this “wink wink”, hey we’re all here for the gift basket and the benjamins this year came during the presentation of the Cecil B. DeMille award to Sir Anthony Hopkins, god bless him. Gwyneth was on hand to do the honors, and she began her dutiful reading of the teleprompter as the screen showed the “This is Your Life” clips from Hopkins’ oeuvre. They started with The Lion in Winter, a madly great film where everyone involved got to gorge their way through the scenery like ravenous termites. Hopkins was fine in this film. Face it…do you remember either of his brothers in that film? There were three, but Hopkins is the only one to make any impression in the shadow of Hepburn and O’Toole.
They follow those scenes with a totally bizarre set of clips from a film called Magic which appears to be a C or possibly D film in which Hopkins plays a ventriloquist possessed by a dummy, or a dummy possessed by a ventriloquist. And they don’t just flash a scene, the clips go on and on, torturing us with Hopkins bouncing off the wall like a gibbon while screaming at a evil puppet. There’s a cutaway to Hopkins at some point, and you can even see his eyebrows crease…why the hell are they showing clips from…what the hell is that? Do I remember this film? Was that when I was drinking? Or was that the movie I made so I could finish the pool? Ultimately, they spend as much clip time on Magic as either Silence of the Lambs or Remains of the Day.
This was totally baffling, until I got to work the next morning and found in my inbox a packet of promotional material announcing… Guess what? Yes, the release of Magic on DVD…order now! Order soon! Order many! Before the end of the day, requests had begun rolling in and presto! A D movie about an evil puppet becomes an instant ‘classic’, and somewhere in Hollywood, a marketing flunky gets their wings.
But this is the Globes…no apologies. Crass. Commercial. An evening for Hollywood to get dressed up and say Yay, we’re all great and beautiful and rich, plus we get to go home with gift baskets containing choice swag the value of which is equivalent to the GNP of several third world nations. (Because if anyone needs free stuff, it's the rich and beautiful.)
But the Academy Awards are so freaking serious, and people treat the awards as if they mean something really profound. I know people who are still, still unhappy about the year that Shakespeare in Love got the award over Saving Private Ryan. But how can anyone possibly, realistically judge whether Shakespeare in Love is a ‘finer’ film than Saving Private Ryan, or vice versa. They’re both beautiful movies with strong stories and great acting. They are worlds apart in topic and tone. And they are both classics. I admired both of them. I enjoyed Shakespeare in Love more. The guy I eat lunch with swears the opposite. Who do you love more? Your mother or your father? Which is better? Chocolate or Strawberries? Please, sirs, can’t we have both?
One of the worst effects of this unnatural competition is the inevitable “Oscar Backlash”. The Shakespeare vs Ryan is a prime example, but it happens every year. Two years ago, Lost in Translation was the biggest victim. By the time Oscars rolled around, people were already muttering about how overrated it was. Nothing happens. What’s the big deal? I consider myself lucky to have seen Lost in Translation early, as soon as it was released and before it had been sucked into the shit storm of Oscar publicity. It’s a quiet movie…a true movie. Yes, it has funny moments, but it’s not a comedy. Bill Murray is great in it, but he’s not wacky Bill from yore, or even offbeat Bill from his recent film forays with Wes Anderson. After months of hype a gentle film like this will inevitably wilt underneath the hype.
Brokeback Mountain seems a likely candidate for the backlash this year, it has been so extatically praised, so obessively dissected. Heck, it even got it's own Oprah segment. I expect to start hearing the mutters soon. "What's the big deal about gay cowboys? Even the Village People had one. And these guys don't even dance." It's a fine film about love and marriage and friendship and parenthood. It's about fate knocking you ass over teakettle and never recovering your compass. It's about that life that happens to all of us while we're busy making other plans. But instead it becomes in shorthand "the gay cowboy movie", and by this point, anyone going to see it first time already has an opinion about it.
I will say that this year is unusual in that I think every nominee for Best Picture deserves to be there. Some expressed surprise that Walk the Line did not get an Oscar nod, but my personal feeling is that Walk the Line was a middling vehicle carrying two outstanding performances. I was frankly disappointed by Walk the Line, not by Phoenix or Witherspoon’s performances which were both out of the park homers, but by a story that did not do those performances full justice.
Those are my opinions though, and there are billions of others out there, some of whom can actually vote for winners unlike myself. I’ve given up trying to guess who will win or should win. Sure, I have my personal favorites, but their win or loss means very little. It doesn’t alter the initial impact the film had on me, or the memories of it that I get to keep.