Friday, February 17, 2012

Oscar Night

My problem with the Academy Awards is there are too many losers, not only among the nominated but also the worthy ones which didn’t make the cut. Think of all the acceptances speeches we’ll never hear. Meryl Streep must have a file full of crumpled paper.

The very idea of artists competing for a prize makes no sense to me. Why bestow the honor to one and relegate the others to an inferior position? Artistry can not be quantified. Each script asks for its own stretch and exploration of character, some histrionic, some more inner, relying on facial expression, pauses in delivery and gesture. It’s almost like comparing a cleanup hitter to a power forward, or a poet to a novelist to an essayist. Furthermore, acting is part of an ensemble. The players bounce off each other just as quarterbacks require good linemen and execution by receivers.

How many votes does hype buy? Or is there a Romney effect in which an excess creates a negative vibe? Winners and losers are the result of a balanced campaign with measured amounts of humility and ego, not unlike our presidential election. Except November’s outcome will have real consequences far beyond added revenue for studios.

Based upon the amount of good ink he is receiving it appears that George Clooney and his picture will be the designated winners this year. Clooney is one of my favorite people. I like his politics and the way he puts his money and celebrity where his passions lie. And I like his temperament, how he is contained within himself. However as an actor I think he has a rather limited range; as Dorothy Parker said of Kathryn Hepburn, from A to B. I can imagine that even he knows he does not deserve to win the Oscar this year, nor does his picture, Descendants, but he should get recognition as the Mensch of Hollywood.

Without a doubt, one of the most layered and provocative foreign films of 2011, was the Czech movie, Kawasaki’s Rose. Yet it is not in contention. One wonders what pressures the chosen are under to make their choices. How much weight is assigned to marketplace and how much to the art of cinema? Here is a story of moral ambiguity dealing with the erasure and restoration of collective memory. It warrants a wide distribution. Shame on the Academy for overlooking it.

The expanded list of best picture category is welcomed. In my mind every one should be honored and left at that. We’d at least get to hear all those acceptance speeches. Of course this would ensure a few million fewer viewers and ruin the occasion for Las Vegas which salivates over the betting revenue.

Americans love winners and losers, as befits a nation with the world’s largest economy and military. Might this be a function of our self-declared exceptionalism and arbiter of good taste? Certain countries have called it, cultural imperialism. For almost a century Hollywood has been exporting our values from the dream factory, a beacon to some people and a threat to others.

In ten days I’ll be among the billion viewers, world-wide, enjoying Billy Crystal’s wit, the occasional meaningful reference, amid all the fuss and glam, trying to recall who and what won last year.

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