Monday, March 06, 2006

Oscars 06: We're all just tryin' to matter

This might be Oscar hangover talking. But maybe not.

I consumed the post-show coverage last night and this morning. I have indigestion. The bloggers have blogged. The TV critics have whined. The fashionistas have groveled at the hems of pocket-laden gowns. The press corps has lobbed softball questions at glowing, self-entitled frontrunners who deserve a good loogie in the face. The Oscars and its nominees have been stripped, throttled, pricked with pins of criticism and adulation, sent up, torn down, bushwhacked, massaged and fucked a thousand different ways for the past several months.

And lo, I am sick of it.

The reality settled in my gut like an intestinal canker when Crash won best picture. Unlike many people -- Nathaniel R. at The Film Experience, a blog that nigh ennobles blogging, seems to be on suicide watch -- I am not upset by this outcome. It is what it is. Here's what I get upset about: Crash wins and the cast and crew -- which seemed to comprise half the orchestra section -- erupts in an orgy of exhilirated hugs and oh-my-Gods. There was a particular shot that showed cameramen and their cords leaping over Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal to get to the Crash people, who were uncomfortably close to the Brokeback camp. Heath and Jake were clapping limply, stunned and expressionless, no doubt questioning the meaning of it all, exhausted by a six-month sprint to a photo finish that yielded, after excruciating scrutiny, a resounding outcome: they, and their film, are losers.

Everyone leaps to conclusions. Hollywood is still nervous about gay people. Hollywood is patently patronizing, and therefore goes for the fable of race relations set in good ol' LA. Hollywood is cowardly, solipsistic, incapable of making leaps of the imagination. The horror, the horror. But I think Brokeback's dominance of the awards season alone ruined its chances at the Oscars. Therein lies the problem. "Chances" should have nothing to do with it. And now everyone's talking about two good films like they are antithetical to each other.

I watch the ceremony because I love seeing the people who make the magic that defines my life. I will endure three and a half hours of woeful mediocrity for brief moments with Robert Altman, Meryl and Lily, Lauren Bacall (despite the TelePrompTer awkwardness) and, of course, Jack. They might've been the only real movie stars on stage last night. The attendees agreed with me; you could hear it in their energized, swelling applause, as if the Kodak Theatre awakened from an anesthetized state just for them.

Jon Stewart was a fine host. There were some great bits. They got Mel Gibson to lampoon his neo-weirdness in Mayan, for Pete's sake. There were some impressive speeches. Clooney, like Kathy Griffin and too few others, is a wonderful tonic in the dyspeptic arena of Hollywood gladhanding. There were some moving moments, like Itzhak Perlman's stunning arrangements of the nominated scores or when Altman made himself tear up. And the best picture nominees were all meaningful, "courageous" works.

Then why the post-show malaise, which happens every year to the best of us? Maybe it's because of the music they played under every speech, which compartmentalized and doctored what is supposed to be the most spontaneous part of the show. It made the proceedings feel rehearsed, rushed, formatted to fit your TV screen, polished to placate the censors and their innocent children who should be in bed anyway. Maybe it's because true star quality appears to be extinct. We must settle for the common rubble of celebrity, amongst which we can't tell the difference between the interviewer and the interviewed on the red carpet.

But mostly, it's because the Oscars have become about the bottom line. They are no more than a clever lede in a gasp-ridden news story, the final footnote in the tome-like epic of awards season, a virtual afterthought after so many statues have been flung at filmmakers. What matters is not the quality of film (because how can we really measure the equally qualified against each other?) but the articulation of trends, the invasive analysis of clothing and language, the smartly-timed magazine cover, the sound bite, the video clip, the redundant annual photo gallery of white-toothed smiles clutching gleaming golden boys, the fulfillment or denial of prophecies.

So it is with a light heart that I look forward to at least six months without talk of Oscar, even as we continue to writhe in its titanic wake for weeks to come. To the winners: make good movies. To the losers: make good movies. Golden hardware doesn't last. It flakes and tarnishes, is sometimes stolen or lost, eventually is bought via Sotheby's six months after you're dead. But use the ephemeral, fleeting power that it gives you now to get good movies made. Continue to make good movies. Make them not for the flashbulb or the renown. Make them for me, at least, and then both our survivals through another Oscar season will not have been in vain.

7 comments:

c.k. said...

and might i add that ang lee looked so sad and depressed in the press room, even with an oscar in his hand? this show shouldn't be such a joykiller -- and it wouldn't've been, if there hadn't been the relentless multi-month build up.

Middento said...

This is actually a very well-written, thought-provoking comment on the whole situation. Thank you for staying above the fray...

...except at the end, when you remind me of Titanic. Dammit, now my heart is going on.

J.J. said...

See, I firmly believe that Titanic deserved its Oscars.

NATHANIEL R said...

beautiful post. i agree with much of it.
and now that i'm calmer i can see some other things.

but again i know it's easier to not imagine painful reasons for things but:
" I think Brokeback's dominance of the awards season alone ruined its chances at the Oscars."
...still does not explain why this is the first film in oscar's long long long history to be so damaged by its frontrunner status. it's still completely a rude slap that Crash won. There's no precedent. But people are sick of hearing the laundry list (though they are available to anyone who wants to see them obviously)

J.J. said...

Yeah, the rude slap is why I think this year has been so sour, ultimately. It shouldn't get to that. Brokeback, though deserving, was built up through the season as *the* best picture, so all of its makers were devastated at the loss -- which no doubt was a factor of voters thinking "Oh, since everyone else is voting for Brokeback, I'll go for Crash." Unfortunate that the better strategist can lasso an Oscar, and that momentum is the defining element.

I often wonder how the voting breaks down in very close races. I believe that Crash won by a microscopic margin. I'm talking less than 50 votes, maybe less than 25, which the PwC accountants have admitted happens more often than not. Sometimes it just goes that way, and we're left to ponder such a fraction.

Mr. Mom said...

Did you really need to use the f-word in your opening paragraph? Between the recent nudity and this, I suppose I will no longer consider ALAP a family friendly blog. Too bad.

Alanna said...

AHAHHAHAHA WHAAAAAT???? What is this Mr. Mom shit?