Monday, March 06, 2006

Seriously, Academy: what the deuce?!?

I'm sitting here in the befuddled, head-scratching afterglow of the 78th Academy Awards trying to figure this out: Crash is the Best Picture of the year. That was a surprise, more surprising than it might have been because Crash didn't win most of the minor awards it was up for. When the night began, I felt that the race between Brokeback and Crash was a dead heat. But with Matt Dillon losing the first award of the night to George Clooney, I figured Brokeback was safe. When Crash lost Best Song to Hustle & Flow, it seemed to confirm things: surely if the film was riding such a genuine wave of buzz, it would be picking up these smaller awards as well, right?


In his acceptance speech for Best Original Screenplay, writer Paul Haggis said, "Art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it." Say what you will about his movie (and believe me, I'm about to), but Haggis certainly lives by his Brechtian credo: his well-intentioned but overly melodramatic, impossibly coincidental, dramatically overwrought film in no way reflects the real world we live in, and delivers its message with all the subtlety of a wet fart. He's hammering his points home by beating us over the head with them with all the artistry of blunt force trauma. While I admire the film's willingness to explore an important issue, I still can't see the execution as anything other than one big jamboree of shrill, paper-thin, illogical stereotypes. In other words, it is exactly the sort of movie about race you would expect from the creator of Walker, Texas Ranger.

If Crash had been nominated amongst a field of fluff I could at least conceptualize the choice in the context of a vote for a Hollywood cinema that deals with issues. But all the other nominees were just as socially conscious: from Brokeback to Good Night, and Good Luck to Munich (even Capote, though less so than the other four). I guess Brokeback was simply the favorite for too long, but mark my words, the backlash against Crash will commence any day now. The movie is just too crazy for it not too. This may go down as one of the biggest cock-ups in Academy history.

Jon Stewart was as funny, relaxed, and quick-witted as you expected, which was good because the show around him was amongst the most pretentious in memory. Early on, with amusing skits from presenters Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, and Steve Carell (and brilliant fake negative ads for Best Actress and Best Sound, with voiceover provided by Stephen Colbert), the show seemed to be cruising. But as the night wore on, more and more winners got on their high horse to declare the importance of their movies, the greatness of Hollywood, the wonder of it all. Talk about buying your own hype. By the end of the night I was burying my head in my hands and covering my ears just to get through the self-congradulatory egomania. None of the speeches stood out and there were no powerful moments akin to those from Halle Berry and Jamie Foxx in recent years. The one acceptance highlight was Robert Altman, who was heartfelt and genuine, and gracious when he didn't need to be. In the montage of his films, they played the audio from Academy Awards past where he was nominated as Best Director, but they glossed over the fact that he never actually won anything, because they never voted for him.

But the worst moments were the impossibly bad interpretative dance numbers for the Best Original Song nominees, particularly for Crash, where Katherine "Bird" York sang at the front of the stage, while a group of dancers acted out classic moments from the film while backlit by a burning car. If you watched closely, you could even see them doing the scene where Matt Dillon's character sexually assaults Thandie Newton's, complete with slo-mo groping, dress lifting and crotch grabbing. Frankly, calling it interpretive dance might be too generous; there was no level of abstraction, just simple, hilarious reptition — rabid racial hate with jazz hands. Actually, now that I think about it, it was kind of fitting.

Who's idea was this? I kept scratching my eyes, imagining I had somehow stumbled into the Academy Awards featured in Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (the presence of Leslie Nielsen stumbling through the smoky, flaming, race-hatin' wreckage was the only way to make that dreck any funnier than it already was). The version of Three 6 Mafia's "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp" with flashdancing ho's was relatively classy in comparison. Pimping ain't easy, but it can't be as tough as watching the Oscars nowadays.


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