It feels wrong to care about the Oscars
In 2002, a triumphant Nicole Kidman swooped gawkily onto stage to collect her Best Actress statue for The Hours.
With war raging in Afghanistan and memories of the 9/11 attacks still fresh, many had wondered whether the ceremony should even go ahead .
“Why do we come to the Academy Awards when the world is in such turmoil?” Kidman’s awkward question rang out over the auditorium. “Because Art is Important.”
The declaration was met with dutiful, unconvinced applause. Everyone knew Kidman – who had just received the industry’s highest honour for looking dainty with a prosthetic nose – was talking bollocks.
A similar twinge of absurdity surrounds this year’s ceremony, due to begin Monday lunchtime (AEST).
With Gaddafi’s henchmen launching a terrifying crackdown in Libya and bodies still pinned under the rubble in Christchurch, there are obviously far more pressing concerns than watching some of the planet’s most pampered people give themselves another five-hour standing ovation.
In a world where genuinely terrible things happen, perennial Oscars bridesmaid Annette Bening going home empty handed again in the Best Actress race isn’t exactly a major international tragedy (until one recalls that two of her prior losses were to Hilary Swank).
But perhaps, given the brutality of the annual Oscar campaign, comparisons to Libya aren’t completely out of place.
Among myopic, predatory publicists, film studios desperate to boost their box office and actors who are grossly overpaid yet for some reason feel underappreciated, winning a golden statue really is a case of life and death.
Most backbiting this year has centred on which of two nominated films – The Social Network and The King’s Speech – deserves Best Picture.
The Social Network ran hot with wins at the Golden Globes and every critics group from New York to Kansas City. But then The King’s Speech nabbed the influential actors, producers and directors guilds (whose membership overlaps with the Academy) – propelling it to frontrunner status.
Little love is lost between obsessive supporters of the respective films.
Those who prefer The Social Network (like me) cite Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay and the performances of the Machiavellian child-protagonists as they lacerated each other over an invention that was meant to promote friendship. But the film leaves many stone cold.
Some gripe that it’s unfair to Mark Zuckerberg (which may be why Sorkin has taken to obsequiously praising him on the awards circuit). Or, as a friend described it (ironically on his Facebook wall): “a crass and cynical attempt to cash in on the zeitgeist.”
And The King’s Speech? Well, I know a 60-year-old aunt who was in raptures. But it struck me as a decent, well-acted film that lagged in parts.
In recent weeks, a whispering campaign – crystallized by an anonymous letter to Academy voters – accused the film of soft-pedaling King George VI’s pre-war Nazi sympathies.
Christopher Hitchens, who wrote on the issue for Slate, was even forced to deny claims of being a “prong” in The Social Network’s Oscar campaign.
Battling lung cancer, he can rightly point to having more important things to worry about.
But it remains to be seen whether this last-minute skullduggery, whatever its source, will sway the Academy’s elderly Jewish members for whom The King’s Speech was otherwise irresistible catnip.
Melissa Leo is this year’s other cautionary tale. A Best Supporting Actress nominee for The Fighter, she has inexplicably “gone rogue” and financed her own campaign ads, including one where she is draped in a white faux-fur coat moodily gazing over blue water, emblazoned with the word “Consider”.
Leo later explained that despite her second Oscar nomination, she wasn’t getting enough film offers or magazine covers – which, at 50, she attributed to ageism.
But in the snarky blogosphere, the response has largely been cry me a river.
Unwritten rules dictate that Oscar campaigning stop at least one shy short of desperate. A well-timed nationally televised interview just before the Superbowl – or getting a third party like Julia Roberts to gush all over you (as she did for Javier Bardem’s performance in Biutiful when really, both actors should be in witness protection for the genocidally awful Eat Pray Love) – well, this is permitted.
Even if you secretly wish to stab Amy Adams with your stiletto, you’re meant to pretend that you’re faintly embarrassed by all this attention, darling. Revealing her true colours – and in the process, exposing Hollywood to itself – will probably cost Leo a statue she had all but locked up.
It’s a cold-blooded business, these Oscars. Forget any notion that merit is an overriding factor – not when memories are still fresh from Sandra Bullock’s preposterous recognition last year for The Blind Side or even Kidman’s first win (although she has redeemed herself with this year’s nominated performance in Rabbit Hole).
But perhaps mercifully, Kidman won’t get anywhere near the stage. Because in the scheme of things – when freedom fighters are being butchered from Tehran to Tripoli, Art (whatever its virtues) is not Particularly Important – and the Oscar circus represents our celebrity culture at its most binge-fuelled and needy and crass.
When this year’s ceremony is over, it’s a fair bet everyone involved (even those of us who feed the beast by commentating on it) will feel soiled.
And like the kid in Toy Story 3 – that, for at least another few months, it’s time to stash Brad and Angelina, Sandra, George and Melissa back in the attic where they belong.
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