Saturday, March 18, 2006

my take on the oscars

Crashing Into The Oscars
By Molara Wood

Brokeback Mountain was supposed to go for broke at this year’s Oscar ceremony. Perhaps the most talked about film of the year, it broke new ground with two male lead actors in a tale of forbidden gay love. Directed by Ang Lee who gave us cinematic feasts like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain also had perfect timing, coming as it did with the ‘gay marriage’ wave.

Flush with it’s successes at other Award ceremonies, the film arrived at the 78th Academy Awards with six nominations including two for acting in the Leading and Supporting categories, as well as a nod for its director and the most coveted prize of all - Best Picture. Described as "the elephant in the room," the film's expected triumph was not to be. Other films and performances gatecrashed the Oscars and pulled off stunning coups - with plenty of unintended but wonderful puns.

The anchor of the Oscar show was television presenter Jon Stewart who made a joke alluding to the infamous ‘swan’ dress worn by Icelandic singer Bjork at the 2001 ceremony - and the US Vice President’s recent gun accident. "Bjork could not be here tonight - she was trying on her Oscar dress when Dick Cheney shot her."

Talking of dresses, one returns to Brokeback Mountain in which Michelle Williams plays the wife passed over by Heath Ledger’s character for the love of another man. Ms Williams made up for the cinematic upset by winning his love in real life and is now the proud mother of his baby daughter. They came to the Academy Awards as a couple, both nominated for their roles in the film. When asked what he treasured most about making the film, Ledger looked at his lover and said: "The best thing the film gave me is this lady - and the little lady waiting at home." Michelle Williams looked ravishing in a stunning canary yellow couture gown, carried off with fiery red lipstick. There was a wonderful ‘Cinderella’ aspect to Williams’ Oscar night, proving perhaps, that life can sometimes compensate for art, providing the happy ending fiction occasionally denies.

Oscar winner Chalize Theron, nominated again for North Country - was expected to triumph in the fashion stakes. Bows are coming back into style, but the actress overdid hers with a giant bow on one shoulder in a high octane dress that is best described as an architectural disaster. When the ‘Best Actress’ category was about to be announced the camera lingered on Theron’s beautiful face looking like ‘Brokeback Mountain’ above that bow, and this writer suddenly feared she might win. "Oh God, not again!" Reese Witherspoon’s Oscar for her role in Walk The Line was perhaps the only predictable thing about the night. But it was difficult to begrudge the ‘All American Girl’ her triumph. "I’m just trying to matter," she said.

A biopic about country singer Johnny Cash, Walk The Line was an attempt to recreate the success of the film on Ray Charles’ life, for which Jamie Foxx won Best Actor last year. Jon Stewart echoed this when he quipped: "Walk The Line - it’s ‘Ray’ with white people, hey Jamie, I know!" Foxx laughed knowingly from the audience. Nominated for playing Johnny Cash, Joaquin Phoenix could only manage a discomfited smile. In the end, the Best Actor winner (for Capote) was the excellent character actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman who in the International Women’s Month honoured his mother for raising four children all by herself. "She’s here tonight and if you see her I’d like you to congratulate her… she did a good job."

In the early 90’s, films like John Singleton’s profound Boyz N The Hood raised the bar of black cinema in America. But the sub-genre is now mainly drivel populated by ‘rogue models’ instead of ‘role models’. Hustle & Flow, a film about a pimp and Hip-Hop, could have gone the same way. But it did the opposite and grabbed attention largely because of the riveting Terrence Howard who played his part in the film like his life depended on it. Coming right after his noted appearance in Crash (and we will come to Crash yet!), Howard’s nomination for Best Actor proved that he had finally arrived, after countless turns playing second fiddle to the likes of Taye Diggs.

Hustle & Flow also had the actress Taraji P Nelson playing the pimp’s wife with an affecting innocence. Whatever one may think of a pimp, no one who saw the film could stop singing its song, ‘It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp.’ Some critics were stubbornly unimpressed, turned off by the inherent misogyny of the film. One UK critic sniffed: "Personally, I don’t’ care if it’s ‘hard out there for a pimp’."

But the Academy nominated Hustle & Flow for Best Song, making it the first Rap track ever performed at the Oscar ceremony. The group Three 6 Mafia performed the song with the B word replaced by ‘witches’ and singing the chorus as she did in the film was Taraji P Nelson herself, dolled up ‘ghetto fabulous’ style. At the end, she was the only one left in the spotlight as she ripped the heart out of the now famous hook: "It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp." It was an Oscar winning performance and when Queen Latifah (a Rap icon before she was a movie star) opened the envelope, the audience erupted in shocked delight that the song from Hustle & Flow had won.

In the audience, John Singleton was so joyous at the win that he took a while to sit back down. Terrence Howard gave a raised fist salute to the Three 6 Mafia as they went onstage to collect the Oscar. Crowding round the microphone, they reminded one of Hip-Hop crews at the Grammy Awards. "Thank you Jesus!" said one, in a distinctly ‘music’ and ‘black’ winning speech; Jesus hardly ever gets a mention at the Oscars. Another thanked the Best Supporting Actor winner: "I’d like to thank George Clooney, he showed me a lot of lurve when I met him!"

Also featuring in the ceremony was the actress, Lauren Bacall who first rose to fame as a beautiful 19-year-old in the 1944 film, To Have And To Have Not, alongside her future husband, Humphrey Bogart. On hearing the press describe Nicole Kidman as ‘a legend’ some years ago, Bacall corrected, rightly, that the Australian actress would have to do more and be older, to be a legend. A class act, Bacall is an undeniable legend and 62 years after her first film, her latest movie has just opened in London. On the Oscar stage, the still impressive looking Bacall walked with a slight limp, shook a little, and struggled with the autocue. And it was sad for the viewer, finally, to acknowledge the march of time on an ageless star.

Maverick director Robert Altman won the honorary Lifetime Achievement Award, having been overlooked at all previous nominations - a burden Martin Scorsese knows only too well. Performers who have passed on in the last year were brought to remembrance, including: Richard Pryor and Noriyuki ‘Pat’ Morita of the Karate Kid movies. Noted too was the passing of Brock Peters who played the wrongly accused black man opposite Gregory Peck in the great humanist film, To Kill A Mockingbird.

Like the Hustle & Flow song, Africa also gatecrashed the Oscars - with a win in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Sadly, the Academy lost its courage, listing nominated film Paradise Now as being from the ‘Palestinian territories’ - instead of Palestine. South Africa won for Tsotsi. "Nkosi Sikelel’i Afrika! Viva Africa, Viva!" director Gavin Hood chimed, punching the air. He asked the cameras to show his two leading performers from the movie - standing up in the audience. The Academy may call films like Tsotsi ‘Foreign Language Films’, but "our stories are the same as your stories," Hood declared.

The final and the most stunning gatecrashing, one that surprised everyone including the winners, was the clincher of Best Picture - the last award of the night. Brokeback Mountain was the expected winner but in an amazing feat, Crash pulled off a major upset and won. Members of the ensemble cast of the film about racial tension in Los Angeles had earlier endured Jon Stewart’s joke: "Raise your hand if you were not in Crash." Now the Crash stars including Terrence Howard and Sandra Bullock had the last laugh, with wild congratulations all round. Best Actress Reese Witherspoon was being interviewed backstage when she heard Crash announced as Best Picture. The moment was captured by photographers, and the open-mouthed astonishment on Witherspoon’s face said it all.

Posting my take on the Oscars as published on March 12 rather late - but it at least allows me to correct some of my typos in the original piece.

Meanwhile, I found Victor Ehikhamenor's irreverent take on the same Oscar ceremony. It's a hoot, read it here.

There's also Ore's blog where Annie Proulx's post-Oscar rant generated a bit of discussion between myself and notable others.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I Found The Following in the Guardian:

Broken by the Oscars

As an Oscar nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay (I wrote A History of Violence), I read Annie Proulx's rant on Saturday with a great deal of surprise and bemusement ("Blood on the red carpet", March 11). Speaking for myself, it was a thrill to be nominated, and even though my film was better reviewed than hers, it never once occurred to me to lash out at my fellow nominees over the fact that I lost, let alone at the entire audience, and other nominees in other categories.

I guess it was somewhat easier on me, because I lost to a movie I respected - Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry's script for Brokeback was brilliant, I thought, and it was an honour to be in their company, as well as Dan Futterman's, Jeffrey Caine's, and Eric Roth and Tony Kushner's. It never once occurred to me either that the Oscars were some kind of final arbiter on anything. They're famous for getting it wrong as often as they get it right. The Greatest Show On Earth, anyone? Around the World in 80 Days? Oliver? Chicago?

If Proulx had won, she might have realised that Three 6 Mafia were the highlight of the show. And did I mention that my movie got better reviews than hers?
Josh Olson
Los Angeles

Bless Annie Proulx. I'm sure I'm not the only reader who, while perfectly willing to "play it as it lays", remains confused as to exactly where her anti-Oscar diatribe was laying. The ceremony, she rightly argues, was awful, and the voters distant from contemporary culture and limited in their vision. Yet Proulx is still deeply aggrieved that Brokeback Mountain did not win Best Picture. In the midst of this tirade against a corrupt institution, Proulx is still offended that Brokeback did win three Oscars, which left me rather bewildered as to what else Proulx could find to get angry about.

One only hopes that after her head cleared of champagne, her arguments followed suit.
Tom Grimwood

8:20 pm, March 26, 2006  

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