Monday, February 19, 2007

THE SLIFR-TLRHB OSCAR CLUB: Two Guys, One Week, A Giant Pizza and the 2006 Academy Awards

"TLRHB, your Best Sound prediction is patently absurd!"
"Dennis, you ignorant slut!"

Seven days to go until Oscar Night, and to commemorate the awards, and the anticipation leading up to them, and all the arguing we all do over something as big-picture-insignificant as the Oscars, That Little Round-Headed Boy, one of my favorite bloggers on pop culture, and I decided that we would spend the week shooting missives back and forth and debating all the hot Oscar talk: Who's going to win? Why shouldn't X, Y or Z win? (And if the Elizabeth Taylor-Michael Caine film X, Y and Zee were made today, would everyone still not care?) And what will be the highlight of the evening-- Morricone, Scorsese or Best Live Action Short Film? TLRHB and I will dare to take on all these sizzling topics and much, much more as the week progresses. Look for at least two new posts each day as we joust, parry, pat each other on the backs for our good taste, step on each other's sensitive toes and maybe even call each other vile names! It promises to be a lot of fun, at least for us! And we will work hard to make sure it's fun and worth reading for you too. Stick with us right here at SLIFR and see what develops-- we won't know until you do! And now, without further delay, the opening volley of the SLIFR-TLRHB Oscar Club!


We’re getting down to it, aren’t we? Less than a week to go before Hollywood throws its annual love-a-thon for itself, the Oscars. In an earlier post, I alluded to the fact that my own point of view on the Oscars has gone through a definite push-me-pull-you phase, swinging back and forth between shock—over just how crass the whole enterprise can be, in terms of the show itself, of course, and the incredible shortsightedness of the nomination process, and some of the eventual winners—and inexplicable awe-- the involuntary chills at the thought of how genuinely overwhelming it must be to be among those nominated, and the involuntary tears that well up at the display of anything that even hints at real emotion during the acceptance speeches.

These days, I’m much more sanguine about everything—Oscar is more than ever merely an excuse to take the day off (even on Sunday) and relax in the dumb circus atmosphere of the pre-game carpet walk, and also in the fun and spirit of a bunch of people, some of them sitting in my own living room, who gather around on this one final occasion to talk, however glibly and superficially, about what was good about the movies in 2006. Nobody’s going to agree about just what constituted good, or great, or bad in the rarified realm of the Academy Award voter—hell, no one in my living room can agree on much of anything either. But that doesn’t matter—it’s the company in the room, and it’s the company on TV, radiating live from a spectacular theater in Hollywood about five minutes, as the crow flies, from my house, that keeps the spirit of the movies of 2006 alive (if only until those Price-Waterhouse boys come trotting out). Believe me, nobody’s going to mistake my living room for Elton John’s Vanity Fair party; nobody’s going to be trying to muscle their way past the four-year-old girl standing guard at the front door to make it into my Governor’s Ball. And that’s just another reason why I like it. To the folks who make a pilgrimage to my neighborhood on Oscar Sunday every year, a 28-inch pepperoni-sausage-and-mushroom pizza that’s almost too wide for my front door jamb, copious amounts of Diet Pepsi, a half-case of cheap American beer or some four-star hard cider, a few bags of Frito-Lay’s finest, and we’re good. Why, I might even celebrate and go a little crazy this year by ordering in some hot wings… but only if the buzz for Letters from Iwo Jima starts to build loud enough to be heard over the buzzing engine of a yellow Volkswagen bus, the cacophony of a bunch of tough-talking Bahs-ton cops and killers, or a select group of unfortunate puppets caught in a web of fickle fate and transcontinental babble.

My friend, there’s going to be a lot to talk about this week! We were both so excited when we heard the Academy was going to redress about 50 years of misguided ignorance by presenting a lifetime achievement award to the great Ennio Morricone. And then word came of the participation in said tribute of One Whose Heart Will Go On And On, and the balloon of anticipation deflated slightly. But only slightly. Really, I can’t imagine anyone appearing onstage who would have the power to destroy a moment like that—well, maybe if they’d hired Roseanne Barr or Michael Bolton to yowl to one of Morricone’s tunes.

And of course, much has been made of the rematch between Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood, which is probably of more significant interest to Vegas bookmakers than to movie lovers. But if you’ve had a long career like Scorsese’s, where every other film fanatic proclaims you and your output to be among the greatest ever, and everyone else is willing to at least recognize the greatness of your talent while calling into question the greatness of some of those beloved films, should it matter whether you win an Oscar or not? And if it should, then does it matter if you win just because history must be redressed, or would it matter more if you won for a movie which might draw a stronger consensus as to worthiness of the prize? And what of Eastwood? This man has had one of the most unlikely of career trajectories that I can think of. In the space of just over a decade, beginning with Unforgiven in 1991, he’s gone from rehabilitated Hollywood master of mayhem to Sophisticated Man of the Academy, with four Best Director nominations and two wins during that time. Should he be, as Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Stephen Frears and Paul Greengrass undoubtedly will be, just happy to be there on February 25? Or does Eastwood deserve to take home a third Oscar and leave Scorsese to that Welles-Hitchcock-Altman club of genius directors who were never recognized by the Academy in regular competition? What do you think, TLRHB? Who deserves to win the Best Director prize?

Finally, before I turn it over to you and get this party started (uh-huh, uh-huh), some questions, prejudices and observations.

I’ve perhaps been least enthused about the prospects for the Best Actor category, having only seen one of the nominees, Forest Whitaker. Worthy candidate though he is (although nothing beats seeing the real Idi Amin in Barbet Schroeder’s chilling 1974 documentary), I still haven’t seen Ryan Gosling (the DVD is in the mail), Leonardo Di Caprio or Will Smith, so I cannot compare. But I did see Peter O’Toole in Venus on Saturday, and all of the sudden the Best Actor race means something to me.

Can Jackie Earle Haley nail down a second win for the Bad News Bears? And if so, is Chris Barnes next?

We’ve been witness to year after year when the Academy has had to scrape for enough worthy performances (and roles) to make up five Best Actress nominees. And now this year, there are five worthy performances and one lock. Meryl Streep was terrific. Judi Dench was so goddamn scary I had to turn away several times, and this all without the benefit of melodrama and histrionics. My wife swears that Kate Winslet was great, and we all know that she’s going to win one day. And though her Jay Leno talk show version does nothing for me, the incarnation of Penelope Cruz that Almodovar has conjured for Volver is spellbinding. Yet will anyone dare mark anything other than Helen Mirren on their Oscar pool ballot for the win?

Monster House! Monster House! Monster House! Monster House!

And now is as good a time as any to admit to my unwavering, perhaps unreasonable, insufficiently critical, all-out love for Jennifer Hudson. She’s riding a wave of hype that is borderline nails-on-a-chalkboard, it’s true, but I think that’s only because Dreamgirls itself went from self-ordained front-runner to never-ran in the time it took Salma Hayek to blearily announce the Best Picture nominees that fateful morning a few weeks ago. So of course Dreamworks is going to pour everything they’ve got into her and that Norbit guy. Okay, so her singing voice, as spectacular as it is, could use a little modulation. The same might be said of her performance. But all I remember is watching Dreamgirls, sadly aware of how sub par it was in almost every way (consider the source material, for crying out loud), and every time Hudson came on screen, even in the corner of the frame, my eyes drifted away from the vacuum where Jamie Foxx and Beyonce Knowles were supposedly occupying space and glommed hungrily onto her. It didn’t matter what she was doing, whether it was playing nice as one of the three up-and-coming Dreamettes, using her uncomfortable instability in those platform heels to add vulnerability to her big “I Am Not Going” showstopper, or refusing to scale it down for her tryout at that small club where she would reestablish her talent and mount a comeback—she was dynamically, insistently, naturally watchable. (And I’ve never feared for anyone on screen the way I feared for those in that little 50-seat club who were about to see her audition—could anyone survive that much voice in such a small, contained space? This is a question for NASA.)

All prurience aside, Hudson is a spectacular variety of eye candy as well. Not being acquainted with the trials and tribulations of American Idol, her wondrously zaftig beauty cast a spell on me ever since I stumbled upon her on Letterman a month or so ago. And it may not be but a drop in a very vast ocean, but when I see someone who’s built like Jennifer (instead of Kate) Hudson on the cover of Vogue magazine, I can allow myself to think that, for even a brief moment, there might be hope for a standard of beauty in this country that isn’t dependent on anorexia, crash dieting or heroin chic for its hush-hush methodology. (Apparently, though, there are those who disagree.) Here’s to the storybook tale of a heavy-set young woman cast as the talented singer, shuffled aside in favor of a more conventionally pretty, shallower-voiced lead, who would not only get her big comeback/reunion moment in the film (quite unconvincingly), but who also in reality would steal the spotlight back from Beyonce the actress and Beyonce the superstar singer and stake her own claim, on her own terms, to stardom. There’s nobody in the Best Supporting Actress category whose win would sadden me in the slightest. That said, Jennifer, you go, girlfriend.

And finally, before I come to my senses and go to bed, I’m sure there’s ample good works that more than qualify Sherry Lansing to receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. But I would like to place a bet now that the words Fatal and Attraction will go unmentioned while she’s on stage. And if they don’t, who’s more na├»ve, me or the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences?

I await your return volley, TLRHB!


Anonymous said...

Forget about the 'Marty deserves it for his career' argument. By any standard of 'Which is the best work here?' Eastwood's film is so far above Scorsese's it's not even worth arguing about. Eastwood truly deserves to win both Director and Picture this year. He won't of course because the pressure to give Scorsese one 'for his career' is too loud to ignore. Clint still deserves it though. Then again, as a famous cowboy once remarked, 'Deserve's got nothin' to do with it.'

Anonymous said...

That Chris Barnes page is the strangest website I've seen in quit a while.