Posted: 02/16/2000


The 72nd Annual “Huh?”

by Jon Bastian

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The following is only a bunch of opinions, which is all the Oscars are anyway — hype, hoopla and morning after B.O. of both kinds aside…

Okay, I’m finally convinced. If they made the big screen version of Bosom Buddies and put Tom Hanks in it, the thing would get a best picture nomination. How else to explain The Green Mile copping a nom in that category this year? More importantly, how can you explain the most glaring omission of all, the almost total absence of The Talented Mr. Ripley from the list? Not only did it not snag a best picture nod, but Anthony Minghella was screwed out of a director nomination and Matt Damon, who should have been Kevin Spacey’s competition this year, was ignored. The problem is sort of moot only because I think American Beauty deserves to sweep everything, but it’s still annoying to see a great film like Ripley ignored while some real pedestrian crap sneaks through.

Sometimes, you just gotta wonder what the voters are thinking when they make their nominations. Or maybe that’s the point — they’re not thinking. This year’s actornominations follow a formula we’ve seen before. There’s the “been around forever actor who was nominated but didn’t win” slot taken by Sean Penn, probably more in honor of his talent than out of the Academy’s feelings about Sweet and Lowdown. There’s the “lead actor in the front-running film” slot, given to Kevin Spacey (who does deserve to win). We also have the “longshot in a film we weren’t really crazy about but that we’ll nominate to show how PC we are:” Russell Crowe for The Insider. That leaves us with the obligatory “minority we have to nominate to not be snow white even though the film wasn’t that good,” Denzel Washington for The Hurricane; and the “oops, he’s going to be dead soon” nomination, the only way to explain a character actor no one knows (Richard Farnsworth) getting a nomination for a movie no one saw (The Straight Story.)

It works for actress, too. Annette Bening gets in on the same logic as Kevin Spacey (and also deserves the award), while Hilary Swank gets nominated in the “change your gender and win” category (q.v. Jaye Davidson, Linda Hunt). To be fair, this is one year I’d love to see a tie, between Swank and Bening. While I really like Julianne Moore, her nomination this year for The End of the Affair feels like a make-good for her failure to win for Boogie Nights.

The rest of the nominations in this category are fluff. As usual, we have an actress (Janet McTeer) nominated for a film that was barely even released, Tumbleweeds. (Did any of you reading this see that movie?) The fifth slot is occupied by Meryl Streep, permanent filler, which is pretty much what she’s been doing in all of her films since Death Becomes Her. Personally, I think Ms. Streep should be banned from Oscar nominations for life, or until such time as she stops with the fucking acting already and gets interesting on screen again.

At least supporting actor is interesting this year, which is more than is usually true. Michael Caine (The Cider House Rules) was nominated four times in twenty years, won once and hasn’t been a nominee since. He’s up against Tom Cruise (Magnolia), who would normally be a best actor or nothing person, but who took on a smaller part out of love for the script. On the other end of it, we have relative newcomers Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile) and Jude Law (The Talented Mr. Ripley), the former as mutant freak and the latter as hunk who can act. Note to the Academy: you somehow managed to nominate Janet McTeer for a film no one saw; how did you miss nominating Harry J. Lennix in this category for Titus, which I know some of you must have seen? If he’d been in the running, there might be some question about the winner. As it is, Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense) could walk away with it — or not. While it’s true that Cruise won the Golden Globe this year for Magnolia, he also won that award for Jerry Maguire three years ago and did not get the Oscar. Add in the raving misogyny of his role, which is sure to lose him votes, and Cruise is a longshot. Michael Caine might have a chance for two reasons: 1) John Irving fans, and 2) He’s been around so goddamned long since his only Oscar win, thirteen years ago. On the other hand, the Academy loves to toss supporting awards out to newcomers (Haing S. Ngor, Marisa Tomei), and everyone seems to have fallen in love with Haley, who probably only missed out on being a best actor nominee because of his age.

Supporting Actress: excuse me, but where are Thora Birch and Mena Suvari for their work in American Beauty? (For that matter, why didn’t Wes Bently or Chris Cooper get supporting actor nominations?) Do Academy members actually watch the movies they pick for best picture to see why they’re best picture contenders? How otherwise to explain a very light and fluffy crop of nominees this year. The ones to watch are Angelina Jolie (Girl, Interrupted, insane) and Samantha Morton (Sweet and Lowdown, mute), ‘cause Oscar loves actors who play disabilities. Personally, I’d vote for Morton. Although I hated Sweet and Lowdown, she gave a hell of a performance without saying a word.

Director: should be Sam Mendes (American Beauty), period. Spike Jonze did an incredible job with Being John Malkovich, but that film is his first, and it’s probably too weird for the senior members of the Academy anyway. M. Night Shyamalan (Sixth Sense) might pull an upset, but probably will be considered too green for the award. Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules) snagged what should have been Anthony Minghella’s Ripley spot. Finally, Michael Mann (The Insider) may have done a fantastic job, but he’s stuck in that category of directors who, though they may be nominated, won’t win unless they keep working until ninety, because they’re just not considered of that caliber. Mann’s nomination is clearly a “what the hell, his movie is up for best picture” tag-along nod.

Foreign Film: the Academy is playing it safe, avoiding nominating flamboyant director-stars — but, c’mon, Roberto Benigni was one of the few fun parts at last year’s awards. (That, and seeing Shakespeare in Love whomp all over Saving Private Ryan’s ass.) This is always the category where the general public has heard of exactly one film, or none. This year, it’s between the heard-of film, Pedro Almodóvar’s Todo Sobre mi Madre, and the unheard of Caravan, from Nepal. The former might win by virtue of the Fellini rule: “foreign directors we’ve heard of win.” The latter might win by virtue of China being run by assholes.

Speaking of foreign, the French nominated two American flicks for their foreign film César — Being John Malkovich and Eyes Wide Shut. Makes me wonder what European films are really like if all we ever see here are our nominees…

Adapted Screenplay: the only surprise here is Election, but it’s no surprise that it doesn’t have a chance. I’d put my money on The Talented Mr. Ripley here, and this award could go either way — the Academy could toss Ripley this bone out of guilt for ignoring it elsewhere. On the other hand, since so many Academy members are westside yuppie poser scum (every city has their equivalent, you know who I’m talking about) expect this award to go to either 1) Cider House Rules, because they all like to pretend they’ve read John Irving, or 2) The Insider because: tobacco, evil.

Original Screenplay: had better be American Beauty, because the depth in this film wasn’t even approached by the other nominees. Close contender is Being John Malkovich, a film to which the word “original” really does apply. The “Huh?” nomination this year: Topsy-Turvy. Screenplay? Hasn’t anyone read about the way Mike Leigh works? A screenplay never got anywhere near that set.

The folks who worked on Topsy-Turvy can console themselves with Art Direction (and Costume Design) — the Academy always falls for theatrically set flicks in this category, thinking heavy make-up and elaborate costumes are art direction. (Hint: it’s really only Oscar quality art direction when you don’t notice it.) Anna and the King would have had a chance if it hadn’t been such a big bomb. The “Huh?” category here: Snow Falling on Cedars. Just because the whole damn film looks like a painting (and moves about as fast) doesn’t mean it qualifies for art direction, gang.

Two notable nominees are missing from these categories. The real winner for art design and costume should be Titus, and the lack of nomination for The Matrix is a little inexplicable, unless the Academy was being Columbine-shy.

Visual effects and the other tech awards: Not much to say here, except it’ll be interesting to see which way the wind blows: Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace because it’s a tradition, or The Matrix because the effects were awesome and they served the story. This set of awards, more than any other, will tell you if the average age of Academy members has dropped below fifty yet.

Original Score: Sorry, but I don’t understand how John Williams can ever get nominated in this category, unless he’s going to share the award with Holst, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. The Talented Mr. Ripley should win here, in lieu of Elliot Goldenthal’s amazing and eclectic work on Titus being ignored.

Original Song: for once, there’s actually a song nominee that was more than a marketing ploy tag-on, which is a huge pet peeve of mine. If a song doesn’t show up until the end credits roll, then it has no business being nominated for an Oscar. Memo to the Academy: fuck the PR people at the studios. Fix the rules, and only let a song be nominated if: a) it’s written for the movie and released on the movie soundtrack first; b) it appears in the movie and is integral to the story; c) it’s not written by Randy Newman or Phil Collins (who belong in the penalty box with Meryl Streep). Of course, this means the only worthy nominee this year is Blame Canada from South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. Not only is it part of the film’s story, but it became the unofficial theme sung by the Hollywood rank and file during recent protests against runaway productions, which tend to go to, well, Canada. Maybe, for that reason, it’ll win.

Make-up: To paraphrase my review, while the movie sucked, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me should win the award for grossest make-up effect of all time. Naked Fat Bastard set new standards in the retch-worthy realism obtainable from the proper manipulation of latex, grease and things I don’t want to know about, though I suspect some of them were cornflakes.

Documentary, Short Subject, etc.: Who knows? Who ever sees these films, except the appropriate nominating committees? And, unfortunately, who ever sees them after they win, unless they’re animated? Maybe, as a public service, after ABC runs the Oscars this year, they can show all the nominated short films and dump the always annoying, always pointless Barbara Walters celebrity journalism blowjob that follows. (By the way, was she drunk off her ass last New Year’s Eve in Paris or what? I swear, if I’d heard her squawk Bon Anné one more time, then follow it with “two thousand” instead of “deux mille,” proving she’s a pretentious bitch who doesn’t speak French, I was gonna hurl.)

Oh. Sorry. Where was I? Hurling, that’s right… no need to hurl with Billy Crystal back as host, which promises to be more amusing than last year — not to mention that they can actually fit his ass on stage. Now, if only they’d take a clue from the Internet and NASA — fast, cheap and fun. Of course, they won’t, and while there’s not a lot controversial about the nominees or their films, we still have the potential for some memorable moments. If The Insider does well, expect at least one soapbox speech about the evils of smoking. There will be at least two winners thanking their partners of the same gender this year, in major categories, and anybody who steps on stage in connection with Boys Don’t Cry will comment on California’s anti-gay marriage initiative, Proposition 22, no matter how it turned out. Whoever wins actress will say something inane about Meryl Streep being her inspiration while the camera cuts to La Meryl looking touched. The opening schtick with Billy Crystal will top what he’s done in previous years because the material is much better — bet we see him lying naked in rose petals. And, finally, the whole thing won’t go a minute under three hours and forty-five because, after all, it’s the year 2000, and there will be plenty of potential for pure bullshit moments of self-congratulation.

But, hey, what else do you expect from the Oscars? It’s the biggest bullshit fest of the year — and I wouldn’t miss a minute of it. Well, maybe most of the song nominee performances, but other than that, I’m glued to the set. Mostly. When I’m not kvetching to friends at the party about what a stupid speech that was, or how the Academy has totally lost it for giving that award to so-and-so, or how moving the latest Chuck Workman montage was… Yeah, it’s that kind of thing, a total love-hate relationship with an evening that is both completely meaningless and monumental. But, given the assortment of nominees this year, there will be plenty to love and hate.

Jon Bastian is a native and resident of Los Angeles, and a playwright and screenwriter who works in the TV trade to keep his dog rolling in kibble.

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