misery loves company

Nathaniel R. of The Film Experience liked Brokeback a lot more than I did, but I think his explanation of the greater sociological significance behind the loss is a good one (and right in line with my own analogy:

In the context of the Academy Awards it feels like a gilded knife in the back. After all, who loves the Oscars more than gay people? That may read as a joke. But it's also a truth. Last year's Oscar host even made a joke about this. In my thirty+ years on this planet I have met hundreds of people who are obsessed with the Oscar race and Oscar night itself. Most of those people were gay. So for those readers who've bravely made it this far but are still scratching their heads wondering why all the drama? hair-pulling? tears? Picture this: The man/woman who you love. They don't love you back. In fact you've just discovered that they'll bend over backwards to avoid acknowledging your existence; the bending over backwards being the breaking with 77 years of past voting habits.

heartbreak mountain

Well, how did you think it was going to end?

As we all know by now, Brokeback Mountain lost to Crash in the final award of the evening. I guess what made it so shocking was that there was no buildup. Matt Dillon didn't win or anything like that. Brokeback won all the awards that I expected it to win and then, just when everyone was getting sick and tired of the whole ceremony and was glad that everything was over, Jack Nicholson said the word "crash." And that's what it felt like, a car wreck. I never expected to care this much.

I had my reservations about Brokeback; as a film, I think it went off course towards the end and failed to sustain the really very powerful emotional impact of the movie's first two-thirds. It is not quite, in other words, one of the great Hollywood weepies. But it is in many, many respects a very fine piece of filmmaking. Crash, however, in my humble estimation, doesn't have an ounce of art in it.

It deals self-righteously with Issues of Race with about the same level of depth as a Lifetime TV-movie. I fail to see a single insight that it offers the viewer beyond banalities along the lines of "Not all racists are bad people. Some good people are racist" etc. When one thinks back to an impassioned, inflammatory and yet deeply humane movie like Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing (which was made seventeen years ago!!), you have to ask yourself has the national conversation on race advanced at all if Crash is the kind of thing that people say pushes boundaries? We ought to remember, though, that the same Academy which honored that film last night also saw fit to include the 2004 Diane Keaton vehicle Something's Gotta Give in a montage (along with Do the Right Thing!!) commemorating films that addressed "controversial issues." I'm sorry? What "issue" does Something's Gotta Give address? Menopause? The dilemma of Botoxing???

Normally, I am neither surprised nor upset by the Academy's obtuseness (A Beautiful Mind's victory taught me, in fact, to expect it), but this turn of events caught me off guard. Perhaps it was because Brokeback had not only won every single critics award and every single industry precursor from the Golden Globe to the Directors' and Producers' Guild Prizes but was also the highest grossing of all five Best Picture nominees. In addition, it was not an "issue film," as I wrote before, but a sentimental tear-jerker that seemed, to me at least, emotionally accessible to a wide audience. All of these reasons seemed to indicate not only to me but to virtually every Oscar prognosticator (except Roger Ebert) that Brokeback was golden.

The shock of the loss was not dissimilar to the feeling that grew upon us slowly over that long night of Nov. 2, 2004 as we all owned up to the fact that John Kerry never had a chance at being elected President. And just as pundits then chalked up that loss to the "values vote," to the idea that Red Staters could never accept gay marriage, the immediate response to this Oscar selection was that it was inherently homophobic (a smattering of responses can be found here). I don't think that homophobia explains why Bush won (Kerry was a crappy candidate with no interesting message, we just all pretended he wasn't), but I am inclined to say that there is some kind of internalized homophobia at play.

Objective as I try to be, I find it hard to believe that a significant majority of Academy voters actually felt Crash was all that good. In other words, I think they voted for it because it wasn't Brokeback. But why? Do Academy voters have trouble with gay people? Probably not in their real lives, I suspect. But I think they think their audience might. In other words, they're worried about being as "out of touch" as George Clooney praised them for being last night. They were worried that the choice of Brokeback wouldn't play in the heartland; they were afraid to blaze a trail where they felt the mainstream audience was not going to follow.

It's no wonder that Brokeback broke, what with all the pressure that was heaped upon it by the media, pressure for it to be a crossover movie that proved our tolerance for gay relationships, pressure to be the movie that embodied our cultural zeitgeist. It's no wonder voters got sick of that -- the movie wasn't just a movie anymore.

Unfortunately, the result follows the familiar outlines of so many painful gay relationships themselves, outlines that Brokeback Mountain itself illuminates. The Academy flirted with Brokeback, flirted with the idea of acknowledging their unspoken belief in the dignity of people to choose whom to love. But they couldn't make that final definitive profession; like Ennis himself, they couldn't come to terms with their desires. How else could this picture possibly have ended?

Brokeback Mountain is an austere and painful film, a movie about love that is repressed, hidden, truncated, never allowed a chance to flower. It comes to us from Ang Lee, a noted poet of self-abnegation and it seems fitting that, even after he was finally rewarded individually, his work was dismissed. If Mr. Lee in real life is anything like the directorial persona that comes across in his films, I doubt that he was that surprised by the outcome. He's told us before that life is pain and self-sacrifice, with very little reward. He doesn't expect happy endings (Sense and Sensibility is a notable exception; one senses that Lee himself would have jumped off the waterfall with Ziyi Zhang in Crouching Tiger).

Which leads me to think that maybe it's OK that Brokeback was denied; so was Jack Twist after all, denied by the one he loved. There's something fitting about it, something right in line with the movie's own wallowing in bathos. The real question is when we'll see a movie about two gay men who can speak to one another about their love and share it with the world. I think that day is a long way off...

That should be the end, but I can't be too downbeat. Cate Blanchett never showed, but something even better happened. If you look at my predictions in the previous post you'll see that I got 18 out of 24 -- certainly respectable, but not as well as I'd have hoped. BUT.... it's exactly the same score that my boyfriend got! Yes, S and I were spared the painful predicament of one of us beating out the other. It was a beautiful, mutually supportive tie.

Maybe there is hope for same-sex couples after all.


uneasy lies the head that wears the crown

I get competitive about some things more than others. (Just play against me in Taboo or Trivial Pursuit!) Strangely enough, though, until the past couple of years Oscar betting was not one of them. I usually take pride in the fact that I can predict many of the winners (it all started in high school when my prognosticating powers won my aunt a free year of video rentals from our local video store), but I don't usually feel that bloodthirst to beat everyone else.

As some of you may remember, I got all the big ones right last year. This puts me in the unenviable position of defending champ. There are quite a few locks in the top categories this year, but also some notable toss-ups. Love is also in the mix, too, as I am in unofficial competition with my boyfriend. As Terence Howard would say, it's hard out here for a pimp...

But, it must be done. These picks will be posted very soon before the broadcast on March 5. (I don't want to give any advantages to a certain Colombian competitor.) Also, at the behest of my bf, I'm going to go for the whole enchilada this time, not just the top 8 as I did last year. Wish me luck!

BEST PICTURE: Brokeback Mountain
BEST ACTOR: Phillip Seymour Hoffman
BEST ACTRESS: Reese Witherspoon
BEST SUPP. ACTOR: George Clooney
BEST ADAPT. SCREENPLAY: Brokeback Mountain
BEST MUSICAL SCORE: Memoirs of a Geisha
BEST ART DIRECTION: Memoirs of a Geisha
BEST COSTUME DESIGN: Memoirs of a Geisha
BEST MAKEUP: Chronicles of Narnia
BEST SOUND: Walk the Line
BEST DOCUMENTARY: March of the Penguins
BEST DOC. SHORT SUBJECT: God Sleeps in Rwanda
BEST ANIMATED SHORT SUBJECT: The Moon and the Sun: An Imagined Conversation

p. s. No word yet from Cate. I'm sure she's planning a surprise entrance!


special invitation

This isn't news exactly, but Emma Thompson has been de-throned. Not perhaps as brutally as Mary Tudor was superseded by Elizabeth I, but there is (and has been for quite a while now), a new queen of the film acting universe.

My special affection for Emma will, of course, never die. There are certain types of roles at which she is unsurpassed: need understatement? need wry wit? need a tactful witholding of emotion that eventually erupts in an impassioned outburst? Then Emma Thompson is the actress for you, as she has proved in dozens of performances. She is witty, humane, sympathetic and subtle. She is also very funny and a truly literate individual. A recent re-viewing of Sense and Sensibility reaffirmed her accomplishments as a screenwriter.

But Emma has been all too inclined lately not to push herself, to play the moments that she's always played, the ones we love her for. Love, Actually demonstrates this most clearly: the role is hand-crafted to provide us with all the moments an Emma-lover covets, up to and including the "I'm-just-going-into-the-bedroom-nothing's-the-matter-but-when-I'm-by-myself-I-will-heave-big-gut-wrenching-tears-and-then-come-into-public-and-compose-myself-as-if-nothing-has-happened" moment. She perfected it to a science but it is in danger of becoming a formula.

I encourage Emma to keep taking risks; Nanny McPhee, which I'm sure few of you saw, was one. In it, she's done up like a crone and the film is truly, uproariously horribly comic -- the opposite of "in good taste." She also wrote the screenplay. It's not entirely successful, but I'm glad to see her keeping loose, playing around. Emma, I will always love you.

For sheer versatility, however, there's a new queen in town (and she is, literally, in town -- more on that below): Cate Blanchett. I saw Elizabeth long after it was released and was hugely impressed. It was not until I saw The Talented Mr. Ripley, however, that I realized Cate's range. She could do this towering lead performance and then also inhabit this hilarious, richly drawn comic supporting part. Blanchett is the only film performer I know of who has literally never received an unfavorable review. Can you ever think of reading one? I can't. She is impeccable, unflappable and unpretentious. She's a brilliant technician, in the manner of Meryl Streep, but she hasn't had to wait until she was 40 to find the humanity that it took Streep decades to unlock. Cate will be better than Meryl. She was crowned with an Oscar last year and I know there will be another one, for Best Actress this time -- if Sally Field and Hilary Swank can both get two leading actress statuettes, then Cate deserves at least one!

Which brings us to this weekend. Cate Blanchett is, as we speak, living in my neighborhood(!). I actually have no idea where she's living but she's appearing in Ibsen's Hedda Gabler two blocks from my house at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theater. I'd gotten wind of this and, of course, bought tickets. I also noticed, though, that she was performing a matinee on Sunday, Mar. 5 -- Oscar Day!! Could this possibly mean that Cate Blanchett would be in Brooklyn on the night of my biggest party of the year????? The answer is: yes.

So, I sent her a note. I debated the best way to do it. Just mailing it to the theater seemed like a bad idea, since it might not ever get to her. Waiting by the stage door seemed too creepy. So, at my stepmother's suggestion, I sent her flowers, with a note attached. The note went through about four different drafts. The first was way too effusive. I also decided to drop some info that would reveal my affection for her was not sexual in nature ("My boyfriend and I are coming to see Hedda on the 23rd..."). In general, I tried to adopt an attitude of cool collegiality: Hey, welcome to Brooklyn, yeah I work in the theater, too. You're awesome. Wanna swing by my party if you're in the neighborhood? Cool.

I sent the flowers today. We'll see what happens. I doubt that she's going to actually come but maybe a note in response? a phone call?? an invite to visit her in her dressing room???? Unlikely. But a boy can dream, can't he?

I do have this thing for cool, intelligent women from the British Commonwealth. Maybe I wish I were one... Nah

Anyway, this is the big weekend. I will keep you updated on Operation:RSVP and I will also post my complete list of Oscar picks on Sunday night. Keep your fingers crossed, folks!