I’d like to thank the Academy for a fairly brief spectacle of glamour, bad taste, perverse wealth and alienation. Chris Rock was perhaps the best host to date. Considering the awards had been so thoroughly bleached throughout their history, it was a breath of fresh air to see an African American face on stage (thanks for starting the trend, Whoopi). That is, of course, besides the nominees. Imagine, two black artists winning Oscars on the same night. It was fantastically reminiscent of the Halle Berry and Denzel coup a couple years back, even down to the tear jerker of a speech by Jamie Foxx. I mean, I cried so much my couch was damp.
However much I like the Oscars, the back slapping, incestuous, circle jerk of an awards ceremony that it is, I find myself wondering if it is still valid to American arts and letters.
Granted, the gowns can be lovely (how ’bout that bi-polar Hilary Swank number, trailer park my ass) and those that aren’t are a delight to berate (like that god awful thing that __ was wearing, did she pick it up at Ross Dress for Less?) and the brightness and shimmer of the spectacle is enough to blind us lesser mortals, but I am just asking hypothetically here, what the fuck happened to the artistry, intellect and beauty of film? I mean, ever since the Academy orally serviced that titanic bore fest, "Titanic," it seems as if the quality of the winning films has gone to shit.
Seriously, I don’t understand why you can’t toss a bone to some of the incredible independent films once in awhile. Just because indies can’t sink six gadjillion dollars into CGI effects doesn’t mean that they aren’t worthy of the golden statuette. In fact, one could argue that a tight budget forces an artist to think more creatively and innovate.
Do you think Scorsese or Eastwood could give two flying fucks about visual metaphor or nuance? No. They’d rather pummel the audience with the obvious.
Sure, when Scorsese started out he was an innovator; he had no choice. It was necessary to have an artistic vision, to make a statement. Now it’s, "Look! Look at this big fuckin’ plane! Look how fuckin’ big it is! Look at the crazy that made it! That’s Leonardo DiCaprio!"
Great, thanks Martin.
Sure, the Academy recognizes the little guys every once in awhile. There are certain award categories that are specifically made to give lip service to independents: Best Screenplay, Best Adaptive Screenplay, Best Short, Best Animated Short. Yet, these awards seem oddly patronizing, as if to say, "Look, that was a lovely little trifle you made, but call us back when you have enough money to make a real movie."
At the same time, there are quite a lot of actors turning toward the independent market, a market where they are actually challenged for once in their careers. What a joy it must be, working with people passionate enough to give up a great deal of their lives and money for a real, expressive, emotional work of art.
Perhaps I’m being too hard on the Academy. I mean, it has come a long way, albeit slowly. The fact that artists from diverse ethnicities are being nominated and winning awards speaks a great deal to the progress of Hollywood. Still, there is a long way to go. I look forward to the day that the line-up of the Portland International Film Festival reflects the nominees and winners of the Academy Awards. Until then, I will continue to watch the Oscars, not because I believe they highlight the best films of the year, but because they are enjoyable for what they are: a ceremony on which to dream, an escape, a glimpse into modern American royalty, a wonderful contest to bet on, and finally a shimmering, grotesquely beautiful lie. The kind of lie you can’t help but believe.