IS THAT AN OSCAR IN YOUR CLUTCHES, OR ARE YOU JUST WAY TOO HAPPY TO SEE ME? A Lazy Sunday Afternoon Anticipating the 2010 Academy Awards
With just a few hours left before Oscar time, the sun, responding to an official dictum issued by Adam Shankman and Bill Mechanic, has come out and is shining, so the final preparations have begun—all I have left to do is go buy some Hamms and at least plug in the vacuum cleaner. And so I thought I should do a little prep here as well. I should have done this yesterday, but I was occupied with one of the most delightful days I’ve ever spent as a dad (I’ll tell you about it later, I promise) so I had to put off Oscar stuff—considerably less important—for the morning of. It’s time for just a few notes and thoughts that have been running through my head and links I wanted to pass along before the pre-game show begins around 3:00 PST. No real structure here, just little post-its that hopefully will constitute a post in the end.
First off, if watching the Oscars on TV alone just isn’t something you want to do, yet you haven’t been able to talk anyone into coming over to join you, a couple of Live Oscar Blogs may be just the ticket for you. Glenn Kenny is gonna get started around 4:30, and there out to be some great material there for Glenn’s wicked wit as the stars travel up the red carpet.
You can also find lots of great comments courtesy of the stellar cast of on-liners lined up for Craig Philip’s Live Oscar Blog at Green Cine Daily. (Craig asked me to join in again this year, and I am completely honored, even though I have decided to restrict my MST3K wise-assery to the folks gathered in my living room, who will keep me on my toes, for sure.)
And good friend Ali Arikan is going to be live-blogging the Oscars all the way from Turkey at his blog Cerebral Mastication. Staying up all night for the Oscars-- they begin over there at 3:00 a.m.-- now, that's dedication! Join him, won't you?
A note from a very smart friend of mine received earlier in the week had the following subject header: “Why the Oscars Might Blow.” The entirety of the e-mail consisted of this announcement:
“(Adam) Shankman, who is also the show's choreographer, has cast about a dozen dancers (69 total will appear on the telecast) from So You Think You Can Dance, which he feels will broaden the program's audience.” For God’s sake, I hope I’m not actually missing Debbie Allen by the end of the night.
I’m one of those folks who finds Up in the Air entirely watchable and entertaining, and also about as superficial as a Healthy Choices Salisbury Steak dinner. The introduction of those real voices of the people who have actually lost their jobs throws the whole movie out of whack and lends a distasteful self-congratulatory tone to the whole affair. Clooney may have lost his soul by the end of the movie, but he’s still the avenging angel of the depressed economy—he’s still got a job informing people that they no longer do. (The movie lets the Anna Kendrick character off the hook far too easily with a very tidy and contrived set of circumstances.) And although the kinds of things about family being like a warm blanket of comfort when times are hard, and that being more important than money, may be fundamentally true, and it may be exactly the sort of sentiment the recently laid-off might say to themselves, and actually believe, in these circumstances, placed as the last sentiments the movie leaves us with, they are shockingly short-sighted and embarrassing, especially coming from a director who has never had to worry about the origin point of his next meal. The last time I checked, you still need money to buy the blankets and feed the people underneath them. More families and relationships have been rent asunder over financial horrors than have frozen to death in their apartments for lack of body heat. And as I was checked on all these bitter leaves, I was in no mood to hear the homemade cassette of the guy who wrote a theme song for the picture (“Here’s my song, Jason—hope you like it.”) Hollywood royalty Jason Reitman recasting himself as the Man of the People is the ultimate condescension to the working-class stiffs his movie leaves us flying over on our way to understanding how much better those who have next to nothing have it over the Ryan Binghams of the world.
But An Education was the movie nominated this year that really got my goat, especially in terms of its quite apparent (at least to me) and virulent strain of anti-Semitism. A friend wrote me recently to say that she had attended a Q &A with screenwriter Nick Hornby, who addressed the charges of anti-Semitism by saying that the intolerance of the time was something he didn’t feel should be glossed over, and this is why the characters’ nasty feelings toward the Jews are in the script. But the comment seems to fundamentally misunderstand where the troublesome roots of anti-Semitism in An Education really lie. The following is the text of a letter I wrote back to her:
I think that what Hornsby said about the screenplay being based on real events is undeniable, but that's exactly what I would expect him to say. Not having read the script, it's hard to assess any other attitude on his part. The problem is rooted in what that script becomes when it is interpreted as a film, when every excision, every editing decision, every decision period, has implications for the final narrative trajectory. It's hard to say, beyond blind adherence to "the way things happened" or "the way things were" (as if objective truth were even possible in a film, or a book, based on actual events, why it was even important to know that Sarsgaard's character was a Jew. If he were being set up for a more typical racial conflict, say over Mulligan's parental objections, then you have a reason (maybe not a particularly unique or even juicy reason, but a reason). But the Jewishness of the character doesn't affect ANYTHING in the plot and it is not reacted on in any way. The parents mention the "wandering Jew," which the excellent article by Irina Bragin informs us is a myth of racial intolerance based on the Jews subsuming and exploitation of a culture not his own, then moving on to plunder another and another. This slight bigotry on the parents part is never again addressed-- they are impressed with Sarsgaard because he is rich and nothing else, certainly not his age or his religion, matters a damn to them. His Jewish status therefore ends up functioning as context for his greed and immoral behavior, both as an adulterer and as a schemer out to manipulate "the schwarzes" into creating situations where he and his pal can blithely steal from unsuspecting senior citizens, thus fulfilling the stereotype of the Jew as caring only about money. Frankly, I can't believe Lone Scherfig managed to resist the opportunity to reveal Sarsgaard's horns as he sits in his car preparing to leave Mulligan in the lurch.
And as for that claim in the movie's defense that it's merely reflecting the common bigotry of the times, what about the scene where Mulligan confronts the headmistress of the school (Emma Thompson) with her intent to marry Sarsgaard? If the movie weren’t' at least sympathetic to this kind of casual anti-Semitism, I don't think it would have played the way it does. Thompson, in attempting to discourage the girl from getting married, hauls out the old horse about the Jews having killed our Lord. Mulligan counters with a sassy rejoinder about Jesus himself being a Jew, and then Thompson says, “I suppose he told you that. We’re all very sorry about what happened during the war. But that’s absolutely no excuse for that sort of malicious and untruthful propaganda.” And just when you expect this insouciant, articulate young girl to jump to the defense of this guy's dignity or to express her love for him, she instead mouths off that she'd rather "marry my Jew" and have fun spending his money than studying her Latin. This is where the movies lets the argument lie, the implication being that Mulligan is willing to put up with him being a Jew if he can show her a good time. What's more, we're never led to feel, at any time during the film, that Sarsgaard's attentions are anything other than creepy and inappropriate and predatory. Sarsgaard is about as slimy and unattractive in that seduction scene as I've ever seen an actor on film. But shouldn't we as an audience have at least some suggestion that his intentions might be honest, even if they don't turn out to be, for the simple matter of dramatic ambiguity? There's never a doubt that this guy is anything more than a statutory scumbag-- a Jewish scumbag. Critic Joe Baltake, quoted in that article, suggests that the movie seems to go out of its way to justify Thompson's anti-Semitic outburst, and by the way it ignores every opportunity to suggest that anything other than the stereotypes about the Jew apply to this man, who is a Jew only by label here, I would have to agree.
The movie seals its point of view with a directorial choice that is downright shocking. (I would be surprised, and appalled, if Hornsby wrote it this way) Mulligan barely escapes having her life ruined and is seen on the Oxford campus, biking along and extolling her happiness at being able to go to school and create the opportunity for a better life for herself. She also tells us that she's happy to be spending her time with boys now, not men, who presumably have as much growing up t do as she does, and of course we are meant to contrast this new attitude with the experience we've just seen her come through. And the boy we see her riding happily across campus with differs from David not only in age-- he is pointedly blonde and blue-eyed, downright Aryan-looking in his fresh-scrubbed purity, the furthest thing from Semitic. This is exactly the kind of choice that, if avoiding the appearance of anti-Semitism, a sensitive director would be aware of. Why couldn't the boy have looked like Mulligan's earlier, fumbling suitor (the one who buys her a Latin dictionary for her birthday)? Had she been seen riding with a boy who looked like this, images of Rolf in The Sound of Music and the inferiority of her previous man because of his Jewishness, and because of all the specious and disgusting behavior that comes along with that, would have never occurred to me.
I left this movie reeling, and I wasn't sure if I was just being paranoid or what. So I went home and Googled "An Education Anti-Semitism" and I was shocked at how many different hits came up. The article by Irina Bragin rose straight to the top, and it is mightily convincing, confirming as it did many of the things I observed and pointing out several more offensive details that I did not. It blows my mind that charges of anti-Semitism are leveled against Inglourious Basterds and A Serious Man, both films being the furthest thing from hatred directed at Jews, and yet we're supposed to think of An Education as simply a tender, bittersweet coming of age tale "to be cherished forever." (Kenneth Turan). In the parlance of our times, WTFFFFFFF?!
Speaking of the Basterds, I happen to be one of those who thinks there’s a distinct possibility that it could be at the center of an upset tonight in the Best Picture category. My theory, expressed convincingly by those folks at The Envelope who follow these things a lot closer than I do, runs like this: Kathryn Bigelow is a sure thing— the coronation of a woman as best Director may be something the Academy (there’s that mysterious monolithic “Academy” again) may want to do even more than they wanted to have African-Americans win Best Actor and Actress in the same year with Sidney Poitier blowing kisses from the opera box. But Avatar, while earning googillions at the box office, isn’t as universally loved as Titanic-- it’s being embraced largely as a technical marvel, with even its fans conceding that the story isn’t exactly fresh. (Let’s not even mention the degree to which Cameron misses the Eugene O’Neill mark—he misses the John Carpenter mark, for Christ’s sake—with his lead-balloon dialogue.) Is it the stuff of Best Picture? The theory, and I’m buying it, is that the Academy will say no. And the alternative, The Hurt Locker, a movie that is generally very well appreciated within the voting bloc, may be too small in its box-office to be crowned champeen in a year when the Academy went out of its way to broaden the viewership appeal of the Oscar telecast by expanding the number of Best Picture nominees from five to 10. (Let’s not even mention the fact that the expansion from five to 10 never changed the fact that only five of those movies would be serious contenders and that the additional five would be seen, and rightly so, in terms of their likelihood to win, as mere window dressing.) So in steps Inglourious Basterds—big, controversial, a movie that most people seem to love, and it’s a big international hit too—no skyrocket like Avatar, but far less earthbound than The Hurt Locker.
But did Inglourious Basterds jump the shark in the last week or so before the deadline for submitting ballots passed. S.T. Van Airsdale at Movieline makes a strong case that the campaigning on behalf of Basterds reached an alarming and embarrassing new low for Harvey Weinstein, based on the outrageous excess of this full-page ad published in several major publications (including the Los Angeles Times) on March 2nd, the final day of balloting:
Read Van Airsdale’s detailed analysis of all the elements of the ad and consider whether Weinstein may have had a diamond in his hand before the heavy grip of this ad and and others like it may have pulverized the chances for Tarantino’s movie to reign supreme on Oscar night into a lump of coal.
Charles Taylor makes an excellent case of The Blind Side over Precious in a take-no-prisoners piece at IFC.com. After the drama queen display put on by Lee Daniels at the generally embarrassing Independent Spirit Awards on Friday night, I’m more glad than ever he has no chance to step on stage tonight (unless Mo’Nique drags his ass up there on the flowing tails of her Oscar dress).
And finally, by evidence of this interview, filmed (I’m guessing) around the time of the release Practical Magic back in 1998, Sandra Bullock proves herself one of the most down-to-earth and spontaneous movie star personalities in the business. She rolls with every good-natured punch when she sits down in a diner with genial loose-cannon comedienne Ruby Wax-- the two of them never hold their tongues, and they even end up getting in uniform and working the counter of the diner. It’s this kind of spirited, sense of being able to roll with just about anything that gets me on Bullock’s side every time, the latest example being her in-person acceptance of the Razzie for Worst Actress in All About Steve the night before she is likely to get crowned as Best Actress at the Oscars. (Yeah, that’s another one of my theories.) Anyone this sharp and with this level of self-deprecating is an automatic treasure, and I might be tempted to give her the Oscar for this interview even I didn’t already enjoy her performance in The Blind Side so much. Good luck, Sandy, and I changed my mind—I will have fries with that.
And Now, My Fearless OSCAR PREDICTIONS
(And if you bet these in your office pool, I will take NO responsibility, positive or negative, for the outcome. If you’re foolish enough to let me make these kinds of decisions for you, you’ll get no sympathy from me.)
Picture: INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
Actor: JEFF BRIDGES
Actress: SANDRA BULLOCK
Supporting Actress: MO’NIQUE
Supporting Actor: CHRISTOPH WALTZ
Director: KATHRYN BIGELOW
Screenplay (Original): INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
Screenplay (Adapted): UP IN THE AIR
Animated Film: UP
Art Direction: AVATAR
Cinematography: INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
Costume Design: BRIGHT STAR
Documentary (Feature): THE COVE
Documentary (Short): THE LAST TRUCK: CLOSING OF A GM PLANT
Film Editing: THE HURT LOCKER
Foreign Film: THE WHITE RIBBON
Make-up: STAR TREK
Music (Score): UP
Music (Song): “The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy heart)” CRAZY HEART
Short Film (Animated): A MATTER OF LOAF AND DEATH
Short Film (Live Action): KAVI
Sound Editing: THE HURT LOCKER
Sound Mixing: AVATAR
Visual Effects: AVATAR
All right, just about time to crack open the bean dip. I’ll try not to get any on the red carpet!