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An Annual Dose of Oscar Smack

I will admit it: I am hooked on the Oscars. Next to cigarettes, booze, boys, and coffee the Academy Awards are my most gripping addiction.

For me the end of March does not herald a fresh new spring. It is not concerned with a tantalizing round of mid-season TV premiers. It is about back biting, smear campaigning, brown nosing and looking fabulous in the latest Armani. All this so that someone can get their rich, fame-grubbing hands on a little, naked, golden man. I've been living with this addiction for almost a decade. Ever since the Forrest Gump fiasco I have calculated odds, named favorites and tallied my pathetic Oscar pool winnings (negative 20 dollars so far), searching for some signs of Tinsel Town's ultimate redemption. Will this be the year?

Hardly.

The 74th Academy Awards opened in the brand new, un-picturesque Kodak theater with Whoppie descending from the rafters in a gold sequined canary swimsuit. She was decked out in patented curls and Harry Potter glasses and looked exactly like a washed up Hollywood Square. From that moment forward she methodically killed every funny, poignant or remotely cool moment the ceremony had to offer. She called us 'child' and 'girl' more times than I could count (and I was counting, trust me). The show could have run hostless and been shorter, at least, if not more entertaining.

The ceremony was a feast of montages. From visual effects spanning the decades to Errol Morris asking us why we like movies to a tribute to filmmaking in New York (and I thought Woody Allen hated the Oscars, what gives?) it was Montage! Montage! Montage! Every presentation was a torrent of idiotic non-sequitur comments by all our favorite stars. Even Britney Spears got a spot in one. After all what award show or super bowl is complete without a cameo by the Crossroads queen?

Ultimately the show was like any other drug. A captivating roller coaster producing dizzying highs and burrowing lows and finally dumping me out at one in the morning wondering what exactly I've done with my life.

While Memento (winner of as many Independent Spirit Awards as it could hold) was flatly ignored, along with The Royal Tenenbaums and In The Bedroom, at least Jim Broadbent took home a well deserved statue for his amazing performance in Iris. Although it would have been really cool to see it become the first trilogy to nab three best picture Oscars, The Lord Of The Rings scored only a handful of technical awards, but there are still two more years to go, anything can happen. Moulin Rouge was favored with costume and art direction statues which it well deserved. And It's really nice to see Animated Feature finally have its own category. At least, if nothing else, Gosford Park grabbed best original screenplay.

However none of these can alleviate the bile churning experience of waking up on a gray and rainy Monday morning to the news that indeed A Beautiful Mind is the Best Picture of The Year. It's going to be a bleak and depressing struggle to make it through to next March. Russell Crowe may have been, thankfully, trumped by Denzel, but… Jennifer Connoly!? Last year I was outraged that she hadn't been nominated for Requiem of a Dream, and now I find myself nauseous at the idea that she's got an Oscar. What a difference a year makes.

The only thing less heartfelt than her performance, was her acceptance speech. What you really look for in one of these is some true excitement, like Roberto Benigni climbing over the people seated in front of him to get to the Award for Life Is Beautiful. But no, it was not to be tonight. While Halle Berry couldn't talk for almost a whole ten minutes, as soon as she found the breath and wiped away the Visine tears, out came an utterly planned rift. Sure, it was moving and heartfelt, but she was not shocked or amazed, she was the golden girl who had just been on the Barbara Walters special telling us how she almost asphyxiated herself and her dogs in a fit of depression.

No, there was no awe striking this night. I miss the days when I beamed, shocked over Frances McDormand winning best actress, or bounced up and down when The Usual Suspects stole away with best screen play. I miss the thrill of the Oscars. These awards want to go to someone, anyone deserving of them, but in the end they all go to the Ron Howards who, as Frank DeCaro put it, has simply made far too much money for Hollywood, there's no way he was going to lose that statue.

Sean Penn didn't even show up for the awards. Even Will Smith was curiously absent from the Best Actor presentation. I guess they both realized they were doomed. Playing the retarded or the famous just doesn't win you Oscars the way it used to. These days you have to be evil and rebellious. Another sign of the times, I suppose.

For yet another year the Academy has failed to give out what I consider to be the best award of them all. I refer to The Best Performance by an Ensemble Cast. Presented to a movie in which there was no leading man or woman, but rather just a well-rounded troupe, each player perfectly assigned to his role. Looking back over the years I've given my imaginary Oscar to Requiem For a Dream, Magnolia, The Usual Suspects, Pulp Fiction and Glen Gary Glen Ross to name just a few.

So, in an effort to shed some ray of hope onto a bleak glacier of Hollywood pack ice. I declare my own Nominees for Best Performance By an Ensemble Cast:

Series 7- Hysterically funny and immaculately made. This is a triumph of low budget filmmaking. That it didn't win any Independent Spirit Awards, and probably wasn't even nominated, is a shame. The cast of contestants is perfect, they play themselves as completely true to life; and that is probably the hardest of roles to master.

The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - Face facts: this was, truly, a very good movie. And behind all the amazing visuals, makeup and cinematographic feats is a cast of characters that bears honoring.

Sexy Beast - Sexy beast asks the question 'What if Snatch had depth?' And the cast delivers an answer deftly. While Kingsley's performance was awesome, it was only notable because he was so damned loud. The entire cast, including the pool boy, who had maybe 4 lines total, was brilliant.

The Royal Tenenbaums - This was probably my favorite film of the year. Everyone ranks Rushmore or Bottle Rocket above this, but I think it is by far Wes Anderson's best. And that is due, at least in part, to its cast. One that truly acted as an ensemble where no one member tried to out play the others, but all simply glided along on their own unique talents.

Gosford Park - I was totally flabbergasted at the size and depth of the cast assembled for this picture. Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren don't really lead the cast despite their nominations, it's one huge group effort that is absolutely delightful. In a cast of so many there is a feeling that Gosford Park is almost too shallow a movie, but that is only a credit to the actors. And they were superb. Even Ryan Phillipe was totally believable as a bad American actor trying to pull off a Scottish accent.
I haven't picked the winner yet. If anyone's got a particular urge to vote on these let me know, I'll start tallying votes.

I may gripe and whine, but the year wasn't really all that bad for movies. Moulin Rouge made a good show of reinventing the cinematic musical, The Lord of the Rings showed us how epic a true epic was, and Harry Potter made a lot of people rich. There were, also fabulous underground and independent showings; Donnie Darko totally creeped me out and In The Bedroom reminded me that true drama is still a very good thing. So here, to close out another season of Oscar fever, are my thoughts on a couple of the movies that were snubbed, praised, or simply ignored by the Academy.

In The Bedroom (snubbed)
The acting is superb. I am hard pressed to think of a movie that had better performances that Wilkinson's and Spacek's. Todd Field made some very daring choices with this movie. For example there is virtually no score or music to any of the movie. That's why everyone thinks it is slow and plodding. There's no swell of violins to accompany Wilkinson as he wanders around his son's room, tears streaming off his nose-there didn't need to be any. And while the movie is not exactly dull, it definitely remind us all that Maine is without a doubt the most boring place on earth. - Rating: Three and a half Stars (out of 4)

Memento (snubbed)
A simply amazing movie. It loses very little the second or third time you see it, which lets you know it's not just a clever gimmick. It is an excellent film wrapped around a clever gimmick. Guy pierce and the cast-offs from the Matrix perform well beyond their assumed ability, and deliver a mystery that is completely unlike anything I've ever seen before.
Rating: Three Stars

Amores Perros (ignored)
I have been trying to figure out what they were thinking not nominating this for best foreign language film. This was one of the coolest movies I saw last year. Sure it wasn't going to win, but it at least deserved some recognition. This is another bought in innovative movie making the three segments while obviously tied together display life in their own style and format. Even from 14th street I felt like I knew a little something about Mexico City. And you never have to see dogs tearing each other part… they just suggest it graphically.
Rating: Three and a half Stars

A Beautiful Mind (praised)
I feel no shame in saying this was a ridiculous flick. It wasn't interesting, it wasn't heart breaking, it wasn't even very tension oriented. Any movie whose dramatic culmination involves a bunch of gray-hairs passing out pens is, by definition, absurd. And then there's the fact that John Nash's real life was far more interesting than the fictional one portrayed on screen. He may have been an absolute asshole, and even an anti-Semite, but that's at least got some flavor to it. Watching Russell Crowe Hallucinate is not my idea of a good trip. Still, this movie isn't awful, I'll give it that. But there is nothing special about it whatsoever.
Rating: Two Stars.

---B.C. Edwards


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