Monday, March 06, 2006

Walk the Line: Enter the Trojan Horse

(coming soon)

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Oscar Night

My Oscar-night predictions ran ten out of fifteen -- a passing grade when I was in school, but just barely. I was right to suspect that Brokeback wouldn't win Best Picture, but wrong to think it would be shut out of the awards in general. Brokeback did as well as any film this year, though no better: Four films, including Ang Lee's gay Western, won three awards this year.

Rob Marshall's postcard-pretty Memoirs of a Geisha grabbed the stereotypically Gay awards -- aesthetic stuff like Art Direction, Costume Design, and Cinematography (all right, the last one isn't "Gay") -- though of course there was no evidence on Oscar night that anyone involved with these awards was actually ... well, you know ... Gay. Meanwhile, Kenji Mizoguchi, who made two films on the sordidness of geisha lives (Sisters of Gion and A Geisha), rolls in his grave.

Peter Jackson's King Kong swept the wonky technical awards, with Best Visual Effects. Best Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing. Shortly after I saw the film, I wrote that it was "a massive cinematic hemhorrage," and I stand by that. I don't know how many people anticipated that Jackson's film would fare as well as the major nominees -- better, in fact, if you consider that it was nominated for only four awards and picked up three of them.

Brokeback received awards for Best Score, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. All of these awards were locks, though I thought director Ang Lee might go home empty-handed. No acting awards, alas, though the film deserved them. It was a deeply disappointing haul for the year's best film. Instead of Oscar glory, Brokeback will have to settle for cinematic immortality: Of all the Academy nominees, this one is most likely to be remembered.

Paul Haggis's facile Crash received awards for Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing and Best Picture. This was less disappointing, because the film was nominated in fewer categories, and because the Best Picture win was a major upset. But the Academy will have to defend itself against accusations that its members refused to view Brokeback because the film had all that icky Gay sex, something they didn't have to worry about with the all-hetero Crash. Perhaps Hollywood's much-vaunted liberal tolerance only runs -- pardon the expression -- skin deep.

Even though several of this year's nominees concerned Gay men (and an MTF transgender!), you weren't going to find much mention of real-live homosexual, bisexual or transgendered people at the awards. Jon Stewart's opening mention of Sodom and Gomorrah and his snarky Mark Rappaport-ish "Gay western" montage might not have been the most promising of omens; Clooney's offhand reference to AIDS can't have helped matters any, either. Steve Miller at has noted that, once again, Philip Seymour Hoffmann refused to tip his hat to Truman Capote:
And whereas Reese Witherspoon appropriately paid homage to Johnny and June Cash in her best actress acceptance speech, Hoffman (as at the Golden Globes) could find not one word to say about the brilliant but tortured gay man whose life he rode to Oscar gold. Really, I'm quite disgusted by him.

But Hoffmann did talk about how he liked to watch basketball with his mother. Not that there's anything wrong with that -- Capote liked his mom a lot, too.

Ang Lee's Oscar speech mentioned Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist from Brokeback Mountain, two fictional Gay men created by a straight author, and brought to the screen by two more straight writers. Queer theorists will have a field day with this moment, since if anything exemplifies the "social construction of sexuality," this does. (One can imagine the inevitable jokes about how Ennis and Jack are two homosexuals designed by a committee.) The awards this year strongly suggest that Hollywood likes its Gay people fictitious, invisible or nonexistent -- which means that the Academy may not be entirely out of touch with red-state America after all.

I was surprised that the Academy chose Tsotsi over Paradise Now as Best Foreign Language Film: Frankly, I thought South Africa was last decade's cause. But Hollywood still expressed solidarity with the hardcore left, albeit more covertly, by honoring George Clooney's performance in the poisonously anti-American Syriana. In the year's most jaw-dropping display of left-wing cluelessness, Clooney invoked Hattie McDaniel as evidence of AMPAS's progressive social attitudes. Perhaps Clooney forgot that McDaniel won her Oscar for one of the most notoriously racist films in Hollywood history, Gone with the Wind, or that her character was a stereotypical, jive-talking Southern mammy (named Mammy, no less). Nor did McDaniel receive deferential treatment offscreen: Her speech for the 1939 Academy Awards was written by the MGM publicity department, and contained the line, "I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry." McDaniel earned her Oscar, to be sure, but the Academy and the motion picture industry wanted to make sure she and other Black Americans didn't get "uppity" about it.

So much, then, for Oscar's progressivism.

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