Deflating the Oscars Hot Air Balloon

Spit on the little golden man with Ryland at [email protected]

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This year, the most shocking thing about the 79th Annual Academy Awards was no doubt Jack Nicholson’s fat, pale, bald head. A pageant like this should have some razzle dazzle but it seemed, in an effort to streamline, everything went, well, too smoothly.

Ellen Degeneres was a fine host with good timing and a few great moments like the in-the-seats photo op with Clint Eastwood. But it was just a little too clean. We’ve grown accustomed to hosts with a little bite. Think of the 1990s mainstay, Billy Crystal, or even the godfather, Bob Hope: those guys threw a few jabs into their glad-handing. We all know Chris Rock bombed big and ditto John Stewart—but neither could be blamed, really. They just brought their boxing gloves, plain and simple. For all intents and purposes, instead of purple slacks and a vest, Ellen could have been dressed in a big purple dinosaur costume at the end of the broadcast. I wouldn’t have seen a difference.

There were hardly any upsets, either. One might consider Alan Arkin’s win an upset over Eddie Murphy’s PR-ramp up but even that felt saccharine: give it to the old dude, we don’t care. The only thing that might be considered an upset was “The Lives of Others” edging “Pan’s Labrynth” in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Yet even that was tempered by “Pan’s Labrynth” receiving two awards in the preceding minutes.

If anything, we can thank the Academy for not rewarding the knee-jerk navel gazing of something as ostentatious and empty as “Babel” in a move we all dreaded to echo last year’s surprise “Crash” upset. If anything, Martin Scorsese has his well-earned Oscar after all.

When Martin Scorsese was named Best Director for the first time in his illustrious career, the mood was more sigh of relief. Thank Whomever we don’t have to grin and bear another dispiriting loss for everybody’s buddy, Marty. His anxious rapid-fire speech was hardly celebratory, either, but a resigned and heartfelt “Thank you.”

He clearly enjoyed the moment but, being presented the award by his de facto movie brat brethren seemed a little deflating. Like, you’re a big boy now—now you’re in the club, finally. But it’s funny George Lucas said nothing as he still hasn’t (and probably won’t) win a little gold man. Yet he looks fine with it solely because he’s got more money than, well, Scorsese and Coppola, if not Spielberg. (And, of course, he doesn’t make movies at the same clip, or on the same playing field, as Scorsese or Spielberg.)

Overall, it was a year dominated by bland, middlebrow fare. Even the most exciting movie to garner deserved nominations, Alfonso Cuaron and Emmanuel Lubezki’s “Children of Men,” lost its so-good-it’s-bound-to-win offering in the Best Cinematography category (to “Pan’s Labrynth”).

That’s the kind of thing that typifies the Oscars these days for anybody with more than a passing interest in film. That is, for those who see its art and wish to raise its importance even higher. Proposing alternatives for each nomination would be outright silly and pointless, but, at least for the Best Picture nominees, I’d like to do just that, in alphabetical order.

“Babel” replaced by “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party.” The Academy’s choice is all doom and gloom, reducing the world to ugly incidents. The filmmakers would like you to believe “Babel” is about a failure to communicate, but really it’s about people who just want to impose their will. “Block Party” on the other hand, is all about the simple joys we can glean from building, from celebrating, life.

“The Departed” replaced by “Miami Vice.” The sentimentalist in me would let it stand since I’m happy to see Martin Scorsese holding an Oscar and“The Departed” is great entertainment, a ton of fun. But there’s something hollow about Scorsese winning for a remake so the contrarian in me says, no: “Miami Vice” is one of the best movies about modern (post-9/11) American masculinity to date, and something we need to acknowledge.

“Letters from Iwo Jima” replaced by “Children of Men.” I’m certain Clint’s film is a fine work but I’m doubly glad they didn’t hand over yet another bunch of hardware to him as “Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby” are enough to assure his pantheon status. “Children of Men,” though, while dubious in its own right, had some of the wildest, wily filmmaking in mainstream pictures in 2006 (alongside the preceding and following replacements).

“Little Miss Sunshine” replaced by “INLAND EMPIRE.” Get rid of the safest “quirky” comedy in years with one of the biggest, baddest, scariest, bestest movies ever. (Also, Laura Dern gets the Best Actress award.)

“The Queen” replaced by “Volver.” If you want a real woman to cheer for, this is where you go. Pedro loves his women and you’re bound to fall in love as well. The world of Queen Elizabeth II is defined by its stodgy posture whereas the women of “Volver” are illustrated best in their knee-deep engagement with the world.

A lot of gloomy critics would have you believe 2006 was a weak year for movies but I whole-heartedly disagree. Sure, there was a lot of dreck and a lot of middlebrow brow-beaters. But there were delights, too. They just didn’t get the kind of respect (or the studio backing) they deserved. Any year we get something as monstrous and beautiful as David Lynch’s “INLAND EMPIRE”, whether you like the film or not, is one to relish.

So that’s the mission, as ever. Keep your peepers peeled and spend your money on the smaller films, the one-week runs. They may not always be better, I admit, but often they can show you something like you’ve never seen before. And that discovery is always better than a safe pat on the back.


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