Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Parsing the Oscar® Nominations

The 77th annual Academy Award® nominations were announced this morning. While some may gaze into their crystal balls to predict who the eventual winners might be, others try to discern cultural significance from the choices of the Academy. In this, they are akin to kremlinologists assigning great political import to the position of Politburo members in the reviewing-stand photos of May Day parades.

I’m generally not inclined to do that, but what the hell. Let’s give it a try.

To the surprise of many who thought it would be entirely ignored, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ earned three nominations, while its rival in the red-state/blue-state culture wars, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, was shut out completely.

Gibson’s film was nominated for best cinematography (a more important category than people give it credit for, since without cinematography there would be no cinema), make-up, and musical score.

The Passion was as overrated as it was overwrought. I saw it on Ash Wednesday, the day it opened, with a large crowd of faithful. My immediate reaction was that it was "an Opus Dei wet dream." Andrew Sullivan is not alone among Catholic commentators who thought Gibson's Passion was pornography -- pornographic violence, to be exact.

Moreover, in a surprise move, Clint Eastwood was nominated for playing a man who has a longtime habit of going to daily Mass in Million Dollar Baby, for which he also received a nomination for best direction. (Eastwood’s acting nod fills the slot most expected would go to Liam Neeson for the title role in Kinsey.)

Just what can the conservative religious critics of Hollywood say about the film community’s values now?

I was disappointed that in the documentary feature category, neither of the two best documentaries I saw this year – Tarnation or Paper Clips – was nominated. Tarnation may be just a bit too avant garde stylistically for the Academy, though its subject matter – a mentally ill woman’s relationship with her troubled son – is not beyond them. Paper Clips, on the other hand, had all the elements that usually add up to a best documentary nomination: the Holocaust, cute schoolkids, and lessons in tolerance.

The odds-on favorite to win best documentary is Morgan Spurlock’s anti-corporation, anti-personal-responsibility Super Size Me, which uses many of the techniques mastered by Michael Moore. But don’t be surprised if the Oscar® goes to Twist of Faith, the story of the victim of a Catholic priest/pedophile. The voters might go with that latter film just to give the religious right an anti-religious film to whine about.

Other disappointments for me include the actors’ division passing over Kevin Bacon for his tortured, subtle, understated performance in The Woodsman, and the absence of any nominations for David Gordon Green’s Southern Gothic road movie, Undertow.

Conservative critics should also be pleased that family-friendly fare like The Incredibles received multiple nominations. Besides being nominated for best animated feature, The Incredibles also was nominated for sound editing, sound mixing, and -- most importantly -- original screenplay. And why not, given dialogue like this?

Helen Parr: Everybody is special, Dash.
Dashiell 'Dash' Parr: That's just another way of saying nobody is.

Not quite as subversive as South Park, but still a subtle blow to the politically correct pushers of "self-esteem" as a substitute for self-respect.

I won’t make any predictions about winners since, in most cases, I have not seen the performances or productions that have been nominated. In fact, the only Best Picture nominee I have seen so far is Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator – a fine movie and one with a clear anti-government message. (Aside from the OCD, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes could be a hero in an Ayn Rand novel. And Alan Alda’s nominated performance as Senator Ralph Owen Brewster rivals Ellsworth Toohey as a statist villain.)

Perhaps later, after I have had an opportunity to see more of the nominees (and it will be near-impossible to see any of the nominated short subjects or documentaries), I will play the prognostication game.

In the meantime, I’ll just be waiting for Oscar® Sunday, February 27, when the awards are presented on ABC-TV and hosted by Chris Rock (whose own brand of humor, by the way, is subversively conservative even while it is vulgar).

1 comment:

Mac said...

Good post on the Oscar nominations. For the record: I spoke with a good friend, a celibate, gay Jesuit back in August of 2002. He had been contacted and contracted by Mr. Gibson, as an anthropologist and archaeologist, to translate the script and serve as on-set consultant during the filming of "Passion of the Christ" in Southern Italy. We're involved, though I can't find the film pornographic. Any inferred pornography is most probably a mere reflection of the critic's own shadow.