Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The 78th Annual Academy Awards – (A very brief history of the Oscars and a look at this years nominees for Best Picture.)

We’ve been thinking about the Oscar nominations . . . color us obsessed. We’re fine with that. We treasure the Oscars for many reasons. Eons ago, prior to starting up The Bloody Red Carpet, when we were barely old enough to be considered a blood stained throw rug – we became enraptured by movies and the Oscars. Now we know that many people pooh pooh Hollywood’s Big Night – Marisa Tomei, anyone? But we have dedicated our lives to the art of the movies and the hundred plus year history of this glorious medium which transports us to magical worlds.

This year’s Oscar nominees are a quirky bunch to say the least. Much has been written about their “Independent” low-budget status, and how all of their combined box-office fails to come even remotely close to the really popular films this year. And we suppose if they had nominated “Wedding Crashers” and “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” then everybody would be smiling and applauding the Academy. We won’t even dignify that supposition with a snarky remark. (Stupid, fucking, ignorant assholes.) This year marks the first time since 1981 that the Best Picture nominees have corresponding Best Director nods. It has actually been the clear exception, occurring only three times in seventy eight years. (Also in 1957 and 1964.) But how can that be, you ask? Well, we actually agree with the notion that some films are brilliantly produced, and some are brilliantly directed – and if the final nominees don’t always line up exactly, we can respect that.

The Oscar night hullabaloo began officially on May 16, 1929 with the Academy’s first Awards presentation held in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. There was little or no press, or in ye olden days prior to television, not even a radio broadcast rendition available to movie obsessed little boys and pimple faced girls in the heartland; there were twelve categories, all eligible films were Silent Films, and there were two Best Director winners and two Best Picture winners. Skreeeeeeeeeeeeccchh!!!! TWO BEST PICTURE WINNERS?? Well, yes and no. Patience, dear ones. Let’s take a step back to the Academy’s founding.

In 1927, when we were freshly off the bus from Walla Walla, Washington with our bestest gal pal, Lottie Hinkelgruber – we ran to the corner of Hollywood & Vine and declared to the film world at large – we’ve arrived! Unfortunately, Lottie that cow was dying for a root beer fizz and forced us to walk up Hollywood Boulevard until we found an open soda fountain. There we were sipping our drinks, eyes cast to the heavens looking for stars, when Lottie, the clumsy oaf spilled her drink all over our wonderful handkerchief-hem-sapphire-blue-chiffon-skirt-with-pearl-cloisonné-number causing us to shriek like a defrocked nun and step backwards right into a block of wet cement in front of the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. The owner, Sid Grauman saw us and yelled – Eureka! And the rest is history. But we digress.

At the same time across town in Culver City, the head of the most powerful movie studio - Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer - Louis B. Mayer was dealing with his own problems. The labor unions were protesting their long work hours and underpaid status and threatening the comfortable existence of the high paid Hollywood Royalty, the movies in general were under attack by right wing conservative groups who thought they were becoming increasingly immoral and detrimental to the good moral fabric of society.

Louis B. Mayer had what he thought was a brilliant plan, form a non-profit organization that would celebrate the best qualities of film production and lead the way for technical advances. This “Academy” of industry insiders would help legitimize the booming movie industry, lending it an air of respectability that it so far had been lacking. After all with major stars dropping dead from drug overdoses, getting themselves involved in sex scandals or famed directors getting shot to death – the movie industry was in a panic to clear up their soiled name. Mayer would of course hand pick all the members himself, and rule it with a fat iron thumb. Seriously, the man had fingers that resembles knishes. And Ker-rist, was he hard to look at! He made Harvey Weinstein look like a catch.

On January 11, 1927 thirty-six industry head honchos converged on the Ambassador Hotel to hear Mr. Mayer inform them of his idea, an organization he wanted to call The International Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The guests sat enthralled and thrilled with the possibilities and jumped right into the fray. Over the next two years, they would finalize their charter, vote on membership, organize their new pet project, ditch the “International” from their official name and decide that part of the process should include their bestowing an Award of Merit on an annual basis. After much bickering and haggling, they finalized the voting process, effectively giving their final say to their Central Board of Judges to be presided over by . . . Louis B. Mayer!

And so, the long and equally grand and scandalous history of the premiere Award in movies began. When they came to finalizing their twelve original categories, the Academy decided that there should be two separate slots for Best Director – one for Comedy and one for Drama. They also decided that their goal to support the film community and enhance the artistic quality of movies in general should result in two different awards for “Best Picture.” They came up with the awards for “Outstanding Picture” and “Unique and Artistic Picture.” Basically the “Outstanding Picture” celebrated the motion picture that best exemplified their output. And the “Unique and Artistic Picture” celebrated the skill and daring, and supposedly the most inspiring artistic contribution of the year. If we had to award these two categories this year, let’s just say that “King Kong” would be the Academy’s pick for “Outstanding Picture” and “Brokeback Mountain” would be the winner of “Unique and Artistic Picture.”

Back then, the incredibly evocative and fluid “Sunrise” directed by the very great F.W. Murnau copped the “Unique and Artistic Picture” award, and the World War I era escapades of fighter pilots, “Wings” flew away with their award for “Outstanding Picture”. Over the years, the Academy has cleaned up some of its records, whittling away non official nominees and quietly sweeping some discrepancies under their gilded rug – but we feel that this is their greatest cover up. They are perfectly willing to recognize that in the first year, they honored two directors: Frank Borzage as Best Director - Drama for his work on the lovely “Seventh Heaven”, and Lewis Milestone for “Two Arabian Knights” as Best Director - Comedy. Now, listen up you Oscar voters – there is no shame in admitting that you were still working out some kinks in your freshman outing, why do you continue to deny that “Sunrise” won its own little gold man, thereby making your first year a record year of two best picture winners? Bitches. We’ll make you relent yet, just mark our words. Back to the future.

If “Brokeback Mountain” wins the top prize, it would surprise few people since it has literally swept the pre-Oscar Awards from Venice to New York to Los Angeles. And with its tragic romance which is GASP a “Gay” love story – it straddles the traditions of the grand cinematic romance with the social issue pic so beloved by Academy voters. It's "Gone With the Wind" meets "The Defiant Ones." But even a cursory glance at the other four nominees will tell you that this year the Academy is keen on recognizing films with a more intellectual bent. Are the “Forrest Gump”, “Gladiator” and “Chicago” Oscar winning days over with? Lord, we pray it is so. But whatever film wins the top prize this year, we'll no doubt suffer the backlash next year when the Academy returns to their wicked, wicked popcorn movie loving ways. I suppose that means only good things to Bryan Singer and Gore Verbinski - only time will tell. Now, let's take another gander at the nominees for this year's Best Picture Oscar.

Capote” is a wonderful film, perfectly balancing the Midwest macabre nightmare of the famed Clutter family murders and the glitterati milieu of Truman Capote’s lifestyle. We applauded the performances and restrained direction of Bennett Miller. It even made our Top Ten List of the year, which we assume of course you’ve read. (We’re waiting . . . .) Okay. Now that you have, you understand that we have nothing but respect for this lovely little film. And certainly, Oscar loves a good biopic, even ones dealing with egghead writers. If “Capote” wins the top prize, it would continue in the long line of literary themed Oscar winners from “The Life of Emile Zola” to "Out of Africa". And in any other year, we would applaud that. But not that much. And not this year. Moving on.

Good Night, and Good Luck.” is of course the brainchild of our pal, George Clooney. The sexy little prankster has really made 2005 his year at the movies. His multiple nominations in the directing, screenwriting and acting categories has earned him applause throughout the industry. And our undying love. His interpretation of the famed Edward R. Murrow / Sen. Joseph McCarthy bitch slap of 1954 is lovingly directed and stylishly filmed. Since George is the frontrunner (although, not our first choice) to cop the Best Supporting Actor gold for his turn in “Syriana”, we think our beloved Georgey should simply be glad to be nominated.

Munich” shows the strengths and weaknesses of the famed Steven Spielberg. By now, he is king of the Hollywood landscape. After twenty some feature films, various television projects, six Best Director Oscar nominations and two wins – he can pretty much write his own ticket and direct a four hour dolly shot of Kate Capshaw taking a dump, and people would still turn out in droves. “Munich” offers the best and the worst of Spielbergian cinema. Rich production values, top notch casting, visually stunning set-ups and an overly long final cut that makes you want to stand up and scream – “Cut. Cut! CUT!!!!!! For the love of God, CUUUTTTTTTT!!!!!!” So, no. We respected the overall punch of the film, but did not fall over ourselves in praise. And what about the alleged usurper to “Brokeback Mountain”’s Best Picture lock?

Crash” is everything that we hate in film making. Plot contrivances aside, and there’s a mother fucking “Grand Canyon” full, at it’s best it is a Robert Altman knockoff, sifted through a Paul Thomas Anderson landscape that purports to discuss the issues of race in this country by assuring us that we are all really okay underneath the emotional scars. Blacks, Hispanics, Arabs and Honkies exhibit their “true colors” about their individual bigotry and hatred of each other, only to find themselves desperately clutching at common bonds of humanity when they find themselves “crashing”. If you’re an uptight white bitch, there is good news – this film will make your heart soar when Sandra Bullock slips on her staircase and is forced to realize it is alright to hug her Mexican housekeeper. Lightly. If you are slightly darker than Nicole Kidman, there is not much to praise. This film, and we use the term lightly wants so desperately to say something that it manages to say nothing at all. A complete waste of time in our book, and therefore the latest frontrunner for the Best Picture prize. Just when you thought it was safe to applaud the Academy for its newfound backbone in honoring heartfelt and artistic triumphs, they slyly sneak in one of the phoniest and most contrived films in Oscar history. It’s like Rocky” meets “Free to Be . . . You & Me”. And not in a good way.

Brokeback Mountain” works so well on so many levels that it would indeed be a shame for it to lose the Best Picture Oscar. Ang Lee has delivered the goods for years, and it is high time the Academy recognizes his immeasurable talents by honoring this “modern” tragic love story. Although, not all is sunshine, roses and saddle soap for our doomed cowpokes. For our gay fans, there is bad news. If this film wins, be prepared to see an onslaught of “A” list actors portraying closeted gays, whose love scenes are tame compared with daytime television. But, alas such is the case with our society. And film being a reflection of such is no exception. We wish the boys well this Sunday night, and leave it to the Film Gods to set the matter straight. So to speak. Oh, yes. We almost forgot. If “Brokeback Mountain” wins, it will not be the first film with two male leads in love to cop the top prize. Forgetting the obvious man-love and homoeroticism of such past winners as: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”, “The Deer Hunter”, “The Sting”, “Midnight Cowboy”, “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Ben-Hur”, and All Quiet on the Western Front”. If you have never seen the very "first" (cough, cough) - Best Picture winner, “Wings” – then you have not seen the first cinematic depiction of the love that dare not speak its name to win the Oscar. I mean just look at this still from this WWI flying ace drama.

Clara Bow was one hot ticket back in her day, and the boys just couldn’t care less about her sinfully cherubic charms. They only have eyes for each other. Bless them. And bless you all!

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