Yesterday, a day which ended with the President delivering the State of the Union address began with the Academy of Motor Picture Arts and Sciences delivering a kind of report on the State of the Entertainment Industry when it released the nominees for the 78th Academy Awards. In a year which saw a huge slump in ticket sales, the Academy has chosen to honor a number of flicks which have not done particularly well at the box office, some with a political message at odds with that of the incumbent administration. While a majority of the individuals nominated in a variety of categories are well-deserving of their nominations, it seems that in many cases, the Academy preferred political leftism to artistic excellence.
None of the five movies nominated for Best Picture did particularly well at the Box Office, with Brokeback Mountain being the only one of the five likely to earn a domestic gross of over $100 million (more on that prediction anon). And while I’m delighted that Crash, one of my favorite movies of the year, was nominated, none of the other nominees impressed me as a “best picture” while each (that is, of the four that I saw) had qualities (e.g., acting, directing, cinematography, etc.) that deserver recognition.
The Academy snubbed The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in the main categories (it did get nods for visual effects, sound mixing and makeup) despite a first-rate screenplay, excellent direction and a brilliant performance by Tilda Swinton (as the White Witch). (The Academy also snubbed this great actress five years ago for her excellent work in The Deep End.) And while the Academy recognized Paul Haggis for his work in Crash, both as writer and director, it failed to recognize the acting accomplishments of Don Cheadle, Thandie Newton, Sandra Bullock and Michael Pena in Haggis’ LA masterpiece.
Despite these snubs, the Academy did recognize some truly powerful performances. I was delighted to see that both Resse Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix were nominated for Walk the Line, Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams for Brokeback, Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote and especially my fellow Ephman, the gifted actor David Strathairn for his subtle and intense performance in Good Night, and Good Luck. Ang Lee will finally (and deservedly) take home a statue for Brokeback while the fantastic Japanese flick Howl’s Moving Castle should earn Miyazaki another Oscar for best animated feature. He’ll have competition from the delightful Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit. While I preferred Howl, I won’t be disappointed if Wallace wins.
That said, it seems that the choices of George Clooney for acting (Syriana), directing and writing (Good Night, and Good Luck) were based more on his politics than his talent. And while many reviewers (and most who watched the film–at least those who spoke to me about it) who saw Syriana found the plot muddled, the Academy nominated writer/director Stephen Gaghan for Best Original Screenplay. Perhaps they were really nominating him for this piece he wrote on movies and war. And then, of course, there’s the nomination (for best adapted screenplay) of America-hating playwright Tony Kushner (together with Eric Roth) for Munich.
While Oscar did honor a number of great performances as well as some very talented craftsmen (and women) and technicians, some of the Oscar nods this year seem based more on politics than cinematic excellence. With Jon Stewart hosting the awards, this promises to a more political ceremony than ever before. That may please some of the movers and shakers in Hollywood but won’t get much attention in the Heartland. Just as fewer Americans bought movie tickets last year, expect fewer Americans to tune in to the Oscars next month.
For those who love movies, many of the Oscar nominations recognizing the “outstanding film achievements of 2005” are as disappointing as the films offered last year. But, just as there were a number of good films last year, there were a number of worthy nominations yesterday. Next month, I’ll be pulling for Crash, Howl, Ang Lee, David Strathairn, Reese Witherspoon and Michelle Williams and hoping that both Hollywood and the Academy recognize where moviemakers went wrong last year and return to the business of entertaining and inspiring us rather than politicizing and posturing. Because if they don’t start making movies like they used to, movie lovers have TCM, DVD Players and Netflix.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com