The Oscar Cometh. Who Cares?


oscar_statue"Despite what the Wall Street Journal says, our awards are the best-kept secret in America, with the possible exception of what George W. Bush did in the '70s." -- Billy Crystal

February 24 is just around the corner. Yes, Oscar night, but does anyone really care?

Not playwright Larry Kramer, who noted in a rather friendly manner, "I don't want to be part of this article."

Prize-winning novelist Linsey Abrams's (Our History in New York) thoughts were along the same pathway: "I am not the right person to ask this year. But I will say I will never get over Crash beating out the beautiful, revolutionary, brilliant (might I say perfect) Brokeback Mountain."

Morris Dickstein, author of the acclaimed A Mirror in the Roadway: Literature and the Real World,made up in spades for the above duo's paucity of critical cerebration: "I've just been through this with the National Society of Film Critics, so I have some well-formed opinions.

"The Oscar nominees are remarkably close to those that were in contention for our and other critics' group awards, which is unusual. Virtually the only films that figured strongly in the Oscar nominations that didn't also figure in our own discussions were Michael Clayton and Sweeney Todd. The former had some superb performances but didn't quite click as a movie. But then again, nothing else did fully this year.

"I disliked No Country for Old Men, especially Bardem's relentless one-note performance, but then again I've never been a big Coen Brothers fan. Atonement unfortunately invited comparison to the novel, much to its disfavor.

"And even There Will Be Blood (and Day-Lewis's performance) , while overpowering, was also to my mind too grimly relentless; it was a trial to spend a couple of hours in his company. And the final descent into grisly farce was a real misstep. But I voted for it and for Day-Lewis as simply the best there was this year."

Dickstein, who also scribed Gates of Eden: American Culture in the Sixties, continued ebulliently without urging, "Other films this year I especially liked were Juno, Ratatouille, and 4 Months, Three Weeks, and 2 Days. I was particularly pleased that Juno got a surprise nod for best picture. Some of the performances in Zodiac should have been honored, too."

Equally forthright was Newsday book reviewer/editor-for-hire Helen Eisenbach: "It's my fervent hope that this Oscar boycott finally gets the writers taken seriously. The fact that writers are treated like the least significant part of the whole process would be laughable if it weren't so brutally discriminatory."

As for the films: "I think Atonement is an overrated reflection of our culture's swooning over faux art with a British accent. I wish that Frank Langella and everyone connected with Starting Out in the Evening were nominated, as that picture was a triumph covering a topic that film rarely if ever realizes accurately well.

"Johnny Depp," Eisenbach added, "is an actor who deserves an Oscar, but not for his one-note outing in Sweeney Todd. A true musician casts a spell when he sings; something more than merely getting the notes in the right key is required, and the magic Depp usually creates is absent here."

And Juno?

"Ellen Page is just the latest skinny, unthreatening female to be lauded over genuine (dare I say "mature"?) talent. I think the dearth of female roles this year is reflected in the choice of Page and Cate Blanchett (a one-note performance in both of her nominated roles)."

Concluding, Eisenbach summed it all quite well, "I appreciate the Oscars chiefly for their ability to highlight performances and pictures the public wouldn't otherwise see, but this happens, sadly, too rarely. For example, Juliet Taymor should have been recognized in some way as well."

Marla Halperin of Magic Lamp Releasing just had one film on her mind: There Will Be Blood. "It is like modern-day Shakespeare, from one of the greatest American novelists, Upton Sinclair. It is sublime and shows the growth of the artist Paul Thomas Anderson. All the performances are excellent, and Daniel Day Lewis should indeed get the crown."

Less euphoric about the broadcast and the awards was Salar Abdoh, wine connoisseur and author of the forthcoming book Urban Iran (available June 30th): "I have never watched it in my life. I have caught bits and pieces because everyone around me seems to love watching it. From what I've seen, it appears as a colossal waste of time, and who the hell is Oscar anyway?"

Playwright/actor John Augustine knows, but he wouldn't tell. Instead, he grumbled, "I wish Project Runway and Make Me a Supermodel were nominated. They're what I watch (with dog and domestic partner). We DVR them and then watch them at 6 AM with coffee -- after the dog has pooped and eaten breakfast.

"As for the actual nominated films," he proceeded, "as a member of SAG and WGA, I am grateful to receive many of the films for home-viewing. Because I am a good student, I sat down one afternoon to watch . . . Oh! What IS it called? . . . Mud Will Be Flung or Cookies Will Be Tossed? What is it? Oil Will Be Spilt?

"You know the film I mean. The first 15 minutes were so dark and murky, I had to turn it off. I mean I can get those images by closing my eyes and thinking about my recent past . . . or my childhood. I hear (from the ads on TV) that people like it so I'll have to try again with wrinkle tape to hold my eyes open."

Still not through, Augustine, whose work has been performed at The Zipper and HERE, noted, "I'd like Viggo Mortensen to win just so I can see him talk and walk and talk and walk. I looked like him once for 7 minutes 15 years ago, but then I got fat and he got fab. And I always love Laura Linney. She rocks it OUT, honey."

"And what do you think of the Oscars?" I asked the School of Visual Arts' film historian and legendary collector of 16mm movies Eugene Stavis.

"Who gives a shit?" he yelled just before he brusquely hung up.

Well, producers do. As Frank Capra noted back in 1936, "The Oscar is the most valuable, but least expensive, item of world-wide public relations ever invented by any industry." Of course, that was before multi-million-dollar Oscar campaigns the studios started waging became the norm.

And America does, too. According to Variety's Rick Kissell, last year, with 39.9 million viewers, the Awards broadcast was "the television's season's biggest draw (excluding sports), [and] Oscar's showing in adults 18-49 (14.0 rating, grabbing 18.3 million viewers in the age bracket) ranked fourth – behind three episodes of Fox's American Idol."

Well, as you know, real talent always wins out. – Brandon Judell

brandon.jpgMr. Judell, who's currently teaching "Contemporary Israeli/Palestinian Cinema" at City College, has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and dozens of other publications.