Friday, March 03, 2006

oscar retribution for all the wrong reasons

As far as film acting goes, I think it might be too much to ask that the Academy Awards actually award the best performances of the year. It's hard enough justifying the quality of all five nominees in comparison with those one or two who were snubbed. The sad reality is that the awards circuit is blighted with campaigns and advertising, thus obscuring great performances in favor of popular performances. The Oscars have certainly gotten better at this in recent years, but still nominees pop up and they stink of for-your-consideration campaign afterbirth.

I too get caught up in the awards-season furor, partially because I'm a movie junkie and because I just can't deny the starstruck appeal of the whole thing. I don't think that there is any real way to quantify what makes the best five performances of the year, and then from that selecting the best performance of the year. This doesn't stop me from getting fired up when a very deserving actor gets snubbed of a nomination in favor of a dismal or overhyped performance by another; same goes for an actor winning the award in favor of the truly deserving.

This year has been relatively lackluster as far the awards circuit, for two reasons, simple and complicated. 1) simple: competition has been light because the films this year have been slightly underwhelming. 2) complicated: the disturbing mass exodus of countless awards shows bestowing the same categorical awards on the same people. It seems with each new year comes a new awards show designed to further litter the mantles of it-actors, so it's no wonder that the Oscar goes to the same actor that's picked up fifteen other awards for the same performance. Last year's Academy Awards were no surprise: all four acting prizes went to the four expected actors. The last three or four years have been relatively the same. This year is shaping up to be even more unsurprising. What's the point of watching an awards ceremony with the grandiose "and the winner is" envelope-opening when you already know who is going to win? The Oscars have lost their punch.

I haven't been amazed by any of the films I saw this year. I' did see a lot of good films, many of which were nominated for Oscars, but none of them were show-stopping for me. Apparently I was only one of ten people who saw Stay (2005), which I thought was beautifully filmed and was quite intriguing and artful (and worthy of some Best Editing awards attention).... and apparently I was one of six who probably thought of it that way. Out of the five Best Picture nominees for 2005, the one I enjoyed most was probably Good Night, and Good Luck, mostly because it had all the right pieces of a quality film (solid screenplay, strong performances, beautiful direction, art direction, cinematography, etc), and it gained my complete trust. The other four are all good movies (and I would recommend them), but they definitely creak under their own weight.... in some ways, they're too big for their own good, and not as tight and complete as they could have been. The fact that this year's films have been so underwhelming is probably why a movie like Brokeback Mountain is masquerading like it's an unsurpassable achievement in filmmaking, which it isn't. Brokeback Mountain is flashy only because of its subject matter, thus camouflaging notable strikes against it; the screenplay oozing with sentimentality, for instance. Ultimately, it feels like the kind of movie that was made to win awards.... and folks, this isn't why movies should be made. But, because of it's unstoppable amount of press, it will walk away with the Best Picture trophy on Sunday night.

As far as winning Oscars seem to go, the Academy tends to like to make up for its mistakes. This furthers the culture of not awarding the best performance of the year, but rather making up for the lack of an award or nomination in a previous year. Usually in cases like this, they honor the lesser performance with a nomination or an award because the more deserving performance was overlooked. Case in point:

* Russell Crowe, nominated for Best Actor for The Insider (1999), picks up a pity win for the far less-superior (and downright overhyped) Gladiator (2000).
* Nicole Kidman, nominated for Best Actress for Moulin Rouge (2001) lost to Halle Berry (why?!).... so they made up for it by awarding her for The Hours (2002). This had an unfortunate domino effect, though: Kidman's performance was great (category fraud alert: it's probably closer to a supporting role), but all the attention of that damn prosthetic nose eeked out Meryl Streep of a rightful nomination for the same movie, and robbed the actual Oscar out of the hands Diane Lane for Unfaithful (2002) or perennial "I can't believe she didn't win!" favorite Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven (2002).
* Paul Giamatti, mysteriously not nominated due to gross oversight as Best Actor for Sideways (2004), picks up his requisite pity nomination as Best Supporting Actor in the throwaway Ron-Howard-awards-baiter Cinderella Man (2005).
* Naomi Watts (those of you who know me already know where this is going) picked up a Best Actress nomination for 21 Grams (2003) because the Academy realized too late that they overlooked perhaps one of the greatest performances of hers, let alone of film history, in Mulholland Drive (2001).

And then, sometimes popularity and hype of an actor or performance is so strong that there's no stopping the award from coming.... they just steamroll their way to the podium on recognition alone. See Jamie Foxx's continuously-replicating and thereby nauseating acceptance speech as Best Actor for Ray (2004). See Julia Roberts winning Best Actress for Erin Brockovich (2000) (a performance that I liked and was certainly deserving of the nomination, but ROBBED Ellen Burstyn of her rightful Oscar for Requiem for a Dream (2000)). And, see this year, when Reese Witherspoon will pick up her Best Actress Oscar for Walk the Line on charm alone.

There are so many others. Can you name a few?

In the end though, like so many things, I gripe because I like it all too much. Past indiginities will not stop be from holing up in my apartment with frito pie and seven layer dip and a bottle of wine to watch the Oscars on Sunday night. Anybody wanna join me?


Josh Kellogg said...

Please, please, please let's not forget how that whiny bitch Sean Penn (Best Actor, Mystic River( stole the Oscar from Bill Murray (Lost in Translation) last year.

is that so wrong? said...

I thought Sean Penn was much better in 21 Grams than in Mystic River, but people just got too caught up in the ACTING! Still, Bill Murray was better.