[Paleopsych] Star-Telegram (Dallas-Fort Worth): (Oscars) Insipid and out of Touch

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Wed Jan 26 15:59:27 UTC 2005

Insipid and out of Touch
Posted on Wed, Jan. 26, 2005

[Thanks to Sarah for this and a related article beneath by Michael 

    Nominations push the Oscars toward irrelevancy
    By Christopher Kelly
    Star-Telegram Film Critic

    Oscar voters played it safe Tuesday -- extremely safe -- with an
    almost entirely predictable slate of nominations for the 77th annual
    Academy Awards. Those of us who crawled out of bed early hoping for a
    wake-up jolt had to settle for the sight of Adrian Brody threatening
    to plant a wet one on Academy President Frank Pierson. And even that
    wasn't surprising.

    Martin Scorsese's handsomely mounted, well-acted, but ultimately bland
    Howard Hughes biopic led the nominations with 11, including Best
    Picture and Best Actor, for Leonardo DiCaprio. The Aviator nods were
    both expected and a little puzzling: It's hard to think of another
    Oscar front-runner in recent memory that has been greeted with such
    polite indifference by critics and audiences. (After a month in
    theaters, it has grossed a modest $58 million.)

    Clint Eastwood's boxing drama Million Dollar Baby came up a winner
    with seven nominations. Any doubts that this grim, gorgeously made
    movie can overcome The Aviator on Oscar night should be quelled by a
    closer look at the Best Actor category. A directing nomination for
    Eastwood's work on Million Dollar Baby was a gimme. His surprise
    acting nod suggests that Academy voters, like many critics, regard the
    film as a career high point for Eastwood, both in front of and behind
    the camera. Still in limited release, Million Dollar Baby remains
    untested. But if it connects with audiences when it opens wide Friday
    and if Eastwood campaigns with his characteristic grace and ease, we
    could be looking at a sweep on Feb. 27.

    To score that Best Actor nomination, Eastwood had to knock the superb
    Paul Giamatti (Sideways) out of the race. It is Giamatti's second
    consecutive Academy snub (he was just as terrific last year in
    American Splendor), and it hints that support for Sideways, the
    critics' darling, might not be quite so widespread among Oscar voters.

    Some people will try to convince you that the nominations for Hotel
    Rwanda's Don Cheadle (Best Actor) and Sophie Okonedo (Best Supporting
    Actress) come out of left field -- but don't believe that bluster. The
    real surprise is that this well-liked, very earnest drama about the
    1994 Rwandan genocide didn't make its way into the Best Picture or
    Best Director categories. Cheadle's presence will liven up the Best
    Actor race considerably. He's a beloved journeyman actor and could
    prove a viable alternative if voters decide they've had enough of the
    overwhelming favorite, Ray's ubiquitous Jamie Foxx.

    Foxx also scored a supporting-actor nod for his role as the
    beleaguered cabbie in Michael Mann's Collateral, though he has no
    chance of winning. Morgan Freeman's aging boxing in Million Dollar
    Baby will square off against Thomas Haden Church, Sideway's
    incorrigibly randy groom-to-be, with four-time nominee Freeman the
    sentimental favorite.

    The nominations in the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress
    categories were especially predictable, with Maria Full of Grace's
    Catalina Moreno Sandido the only mild eyebrow raiser (though some of
    us were making that call as early as last January, when the film
    premiered at Sundance).

    More than just being predictable, this year's Oscar nominations seemed
    out of touch with the movies that touched us most in 2004. Mel
    Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11
    turned the mass culture on its ear and changed the way we talk and
    think about movies. But Gibson's passion play had to settle for three
    entirely deserved technical nominations -- for cinematography, score
    and makeup -- while Fahrenheit 9/11 came up blank. (Moore took himself
    out of the running for Best Documentary in hopes of competing in the
    Best Picture category.) Even Kinsey, a sure-footed portrait of the
    famed sex researcher that dove headlong into our ongoing culture wars,
    was almost completely ignored. (Laura Linney landed that film's only
    nomination, for Best Supporting Actress.) In a year where the movies
    seemed to matter more than ever, the Academy gave us a slate of
    coddling and unimaginative choices that has pushed Oscar dangerously
    close to irrelevancy.

    77th annual Academy Awards

    The nominations in major categories:

    Picture The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby, Ray,

    Director Martin Scorsese, The Aviator; Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar
    Baby; Taylor Hackford, Ray; Alexander Payne, Sideways; Mike Leigh,
    Vera Drake.

    Actor Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda; Johnny Depp, Finding Neverland;
    Leonardo DiCaprio, The Aviator; Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby;
    Jamie Foxx, Ray.

    Actress Annette Bening, Being Julia; Catalina Sandino Moreno, Maria
    Full of Grace; Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake; Hilary Swank, Million
    Dollar Baby; Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

    Supporting actor Alan Alda, The Aviator; Thomas Haden Church,
    Sideways; Jamie Foxx, Collateral; Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby;
    Clive Owen, Closer.

    Supporting actress Cate Blanchett, The Aviator; Laura Linney, Kinsey;
    Virginia Madsen, Sideways; Sophie Okonedo, Hotel Rwanda; Natalie
    Portman, Closer.

    Writing (adapted screenplay) Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan
    Hawke and Kim Krizan, Before Sunset; David Magee, Finding Neverland;
    Paul Haggis, Million Dollar Baby; Jose Rivera, The Motorcycle Diaries;
    Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Sideways.

    Writing (original screenplay) John Logan, The Aviator; Charlie
    Kaufman, Michel Gondry and Pierre Bismuth, Eternal Sunshine of the
    Spotless Mind; Brad Bird, The Incredibles; Mike Leigh, Vera Drake;
    Keir Pearson and Terry George, Hotel Rwanda.

    Foreign film As It Is in Heaven (Sweden), The Chorus (Les Choristes)
    (France), Downfall (Germany), The Sea Inside (Spain), Yesterday (South

    Animated feature film The Incredibles, Shark Tale, Shrek 2.

    Documentary Born Into Brothels, The Story of the Weeping Camel, Super
    Size Me, Tupac: Resurrection, Twist of Faith.

    -- The Associated Press

Oscar bids reflect industry's discomfort with religion
By Michael Medved

    The Oscar nominations announced Tuesday illustrate Hollywood's
    profound, almost pathological discomfort with the traditional
    religiosity embraced by most of its mass audience. At the same time,
    the odd choices for major awards suggest the enormous distance the
    entertainment industry has traveled from its own populist past.

    By excluding Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ from all
    high-profile nominations, the Academy Awards voters shut out one of
    the year's biggest box-office hits that also won its share of
    enthusiastic critical praise -- and even swept to victory as "Favorite
    Drama" in the public voting for the People's Choice Awards. Industry
    apologists might explain the failure to acknowledge The Passion in any
    significant way (it did win well-deserved technical nominations for
    makeup, cinematography and musical score) as the result of the
    controversy the film provoked when some Jewish leaders denounced its
    allegedly anti-Semitic elements.

    But far greater religious controversy didn't scare away the Academy 16
    years ago, when its members honored Martin Scorsese with a surprise
    best-director nomination for The Last Temptation of Christ, despite
    impassioned condemnation of the film by many of the same mainstream
    Catholic and Protestant groups that enthusiastically supported The
    Passion. Moreover, The Last Temptation made no impact on the
    moviegoing public to compel Oscar attention -- earning a paltry $8
    million domestic gross compared with the staggering $370 million for
    The Passion.

    The popular success of Gibson's movie actually echoed an older
    tradition of biblical blockbusters: Between 1949 and 1959, six
    religious-themed pictures (Samson and Delilah, David and Bathsheba,
    Quo Vadis, The Robe, The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur) each became the
    nation's top box-office hit in the year of its release, while drawing
    significant Oscar attention. Ben Hur, in fact, set a record that
    lasted for nearly 40 years with its 11 Academy Awards.

    In other words, Hollywood once chose to praise movies that eloquently
    affirmed the religious convictions of the mass audience. But in 2005,
    top nominations went to films that went out of their way to assault or
    insult the sensibilities of most believers. Both Million Dollar Baby
    (nominated for seven awards, including best picture, best director,
    best actor and best actress) and The Sea Inside (nominated for best
    foreign-language film) portray assisted suicide as an explicitly and
    unequivocally "heroic" choice. Their success suggests that if
    Hollywood ever gets around to making "The Jack Kevorkian Story," it,
    too, would become an automatic candidate for major awards.

    Meanwhile, Vera Drake (nominated for best actress, best director and
    best original screenplay) portrays abortion in a positive, almost
    sacramental light, while Kinsey (nominated for best supporting
    actress) ridicules the religious orthodoxy of the main character's
    father and portrays all conventional inhibitions about sexuality as
    outmoded, ignorant and destructive.

    At the same time, the Spanish-language film The Motorcycle Diaries
    earned significant recognition for best adapted screenplay with its
    nostalgic, deeply affectionate portrayal of the idealistic young man
    who became the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara. For Hollywood, it
    seems, a murderous, anti-American Marxist guerrilla counts as less
    controversial than Jesus Christ.

    Most of the public debate about this batch of Oscar nominations will
    naturally center on the complete shutout of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit
    9/11 -- with the entertainment elite declining an obvious opportunity
    to assert their identification with the left side of the political

    And this reluctance to celebrate the most unapologetically liberal
    film of the year may help the Academy avoid offending the majority who
    voted for President Bush, even while other Oscar nominations risk
    alienating that even larger segment of the public committed to
    faith-based values that have been needlessly ignored or assaulted by
    the most praised products of show business.

    Film critic and syndicated radio host Michael Medved is author of the
    newly published book Right Turns. He also is a member of USA TODAY's
    board of contributors.

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