Oscar Wrap 2002
by Jon Bastian
In which, for once, your reporter has nothing much to complain about.
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Regular readers of my annual Oscar Rant and Wrap Up know that I usually find plenty to complain about when it comes to the nominees and the ceremony, so it might be a surprise this year that I really have nothing bad to say about the 74th Annual Academy Awards. In fact, I was bowled over and very pleasantly surprised when both Denzel Washington and Halle Berry took Best Actor honors, simultaneously racking up a host of firsts. Ms. Berry is now and forever the first Africa American actress to take the top award (about freakin’ time), Denzel Washington has become the most-winning African American actor ever, and, for the first time in history, both top awards were taken by people of color, leaving the white folks in the dust. Hoo-rah and whoo-hoo, and how appropriate that the show was hosted by Whoopi Goldberg, herself a Best Supporting Actress award winner — only the second African American winner to take such an honor, the previous occurrence fifty-one years earlier, when Hattie McDaniel won for Gone with the Wind. And how much difference a few decades make. When Ms. McDaniel won, her speech at the awards ceremony spoke of how, possibly, this award would open the door for other African American actors to move beyond the role of maid or servant in film. However, she was coerced by the studio to reshoot this acceptance speech for newsreel (and public) consumption. They told her, basically, that if she ever wanted to work again, she’d re-do it their way, and she did, and the speech that survives is an embarrassing “Thanks to the Man” grovel, despite which Ms. McDaniel does manage to show her indignation and humiliation at being stepped on yet again.
In case you’re keeping the box score, Sidney Poitier became the first African American Best Actor Winner, for Lilies of the Field in 1963. Until Denzel, the other African American honorees were Best Supporting: Lou Gossett, Jr. for An Officer and a Gentleman in 1982, Denzel Washington for Glory in 1989, Whoopi Goldberg for Ghost in 1990 and Cuba Gooding, Jr. in 1996 for Jerry Maguire. Hm. Eight actors out of over two hundred and fifty possible awards. You do the math.
There were a few other surprises during the evening, probably the biggest being Jim Broadbent’s Best Supporting Actor win for Iris. He was certainly a dark horse. Ian McKellen seemed the favorite for Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring going in, with Ben Kingsley a strong contender for his turn as the anti-Gandhi in Sexy Beast. Ethan Hawke, while giving a fine performance in Training Day, is too green for Oscar’s taste, and Jon Voight’s role in Ali was too heavily abetted by latex and a toupee. Still, Broadbent had the multiple disadvantages of being a little-known character actor in a little-seen film that had not nabbed too many nominations. He did have the advantage of working opposite the incredible Judi Dench, as well as a prominently featured role in Moulin Rouge. It may well be that the Academy recognized him because he was so different in the fluffy musical and the dark drama. As well, maybe Broadbent’s work in Moulin Rouge was getting a bit of a backhand acknowledgement here. Whatever the reason, it was a well-deserved honor.
The ceremony also presented us with several nice moments. Of particular note was Woody Allen’s rare appearance to introduce a montage honoring filmmakers associated with New York. Given that Allen was notorious for never showing up for the Awards even when one of his films was heavily nominated, his presence said a lot about post-9/11 sentiments. A lot more was said about this when nothing was said as Kevin Spacey led the audience in a moment of silence for the victims. Not only the Kodak Theatre crowd, but our rowdy Filmmonthly Oscar party crew, fell silent, a silence no doubt repeated in millions of places, hammering home the true unifying power of television.
Overall, there was no clear winner of the evening. Lord of the Rings led the pack in nominations, but only snagged four awards, for Score, Visual Effects, Cinematography and Makeup. This tied it in quantity, though not prestige, with octo-nom A Beautiful Mind, which took Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress along with Director and Best Picture. While Moulin Rouge tied A Beautiful Mind for nominations, it only snagged two awards, for Costume Design and Art/Set Direction. The only other film to get that many awards was Black Hawk Down, which took Sound and Film Editing. Everything else won once.
Yes, I would have preferred certain other winners — who doesn’t every year? But the difference this year is that I had no strong pro- or anti- feelings toward anything. I would have liked to have seen Moulin Rouge win Best Picture, but I’m not unhappy that A Beautiful Mind did. I would have liked to have seen Lord of the Rings rake in some more awards but, like the Academy, I know that they’re going to get two more chances, next year and in 2004. I was upset that Randy Newman won for rewriting the same song for the umpteenth time, until I was reminded that he’s the Susan Lucci of the Oscars, with sixteen nominations but no wins. My annoyance turned to glee. Now that they’ve given him the damn statue, maybe they’ll stop nominating him forever. Musically, Paul McCartney’s eponymous tune for Vanilla Sky was the most interesting song, followed closely by Sting’s “Until” from Kate & Leopold. While I like Enya, her contribution to Lord of the Rings, “May It Be,” was not her best work. Diane Warren’s “There You’ll Be” from Pearl Harbor was the blandest sort of commercial, empty, 80s power-ballad that isn’t even worthy of backing up an AT&T commercial.
I was surprised that Amélie did not win Best Foreign Film, and found it very ironic that No Man’s Land did, especially considering the things its rather peevish director, Danis Tanovic, said about Hollywood, the Industry and the like in an interview he did with Paul Fischer for this very publication. My, how quickly a little gold man can turn one into a hypocrite and a sell-out.
While she’s no Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg was enjoyable as host this year, and some of her zingers (most likely penned by über-scribe Bruce Villanch) were hilarious, particularly her comment about thinking Monsters, Inc. referred to the Brothers Weinstein, and her CAA slam. Her entrance was memorable, as she descended from the sky in a Moulin Rouge-inspired outfit and golden swing. I do miss Crystal’s “Put Me in the Picture” opening montage and could have done without Tom Cruise’s introductory speech, which was far too muddled. And, yes, the pacing of the show was glacial, with this ceremony racking up the dubious honor of being the longest ever. How they can manage to make the show run more than an hour longer than the longest nominated film I’ll never figure out, but maybe they’ll fix it one of these days. Or not.
On the couture side of things, everyone was for the most part dignified, the notable exception and winner of this year’s Fashion Felony Award being Gwyneth Paltrow. Honey, if you’re going to wear a sheer see-through top, then don’t get it made out of crinkly black material that makes your chest look like grandma’s. If you’re going to wear a sheer see-through crinkly black top, then stand up straight. And if you’re going to wear a sheer see-through crinkly black top and slouch, for god’s sake, invest in a little underwiring, m’kay?
On the men’s side, the biggest violation here was Peter Owen, one of the Makeup artists for Lord of the Rings, decked out in a fringed — yes, fringed — tuxedo. I can’t even imagine any tailor in the world making such a thing without being held at gunpoint. It was just so Midnight Cowboy, and not in a good way.
Overall, the fireworks at this year’s ceremony all came beforehand, with alleged smear campaigns against A Beautiful Mind having little effect on the final results. Some people think this is why Russell Crowe lost, but I prefer to think it was because Denzel Washington won. Besides, Crowe took the statue for Gladiator when he didn’t deserve it, so it all balances out. Just like the top Acting honors last night go a long way toward starting to balance out years of inequitable treatment, and just like those same honors balance out any flaws of the ceremony itself. Perhaps this is a trend that will continue as Oscar settles into its new home. Perhaps.
We’ll find out next year…
Jon Bastian is a playwright and screenwriter who has actually held an Oscar in his hot little hands and yes, they are very, very heavy.
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