Have They No Shame?
We've come to expect year-round insane decisions from those studio lunatics, like the fact that sources tell me Warner's at first refused to fund what became its best hope in eons for a Best Picture Oscar. But it's that loathsome time of year again when the inmates take over the asylum, so we're stuck ranting against our own Hollywood lunatics who came out with this week's sanity-defying Oscar nominations. So before we get to my projected winners, I have to ask: What the hell is wrong with you people?
Eleven nominations for a mess of a movie like The Aviator and a monster of a man like Harvey Weinstein is just incomprehensible, as is the snubbing of The Motorcycle Diaries, Fahrenheit 9/11, and even The Passion of the Christ. You hypocrites pretend that the Academy Awards honor motion-picture artistry, while always keeping an eye on popularity to stay in step with Main Street. Yet you overlook the year's three most talked-about movies that had the vision thing. And don't even try to argue that daring subject matter like humanizing commie icon Che Guevara or turning Dubya into a war criminal and Jews into the killers of Christ was too hot to handle, when you were willing to praise films about abortion (Vera Drake), euthanasia (Million Dollar Baby, The Sea Within), genocide (Hotel Rwanda), drug addiction (Ray), paranoia (The Aviator), pedophilia (Finding Neverland) and wild, monkey sex (Sideways).
That said, it's not just that passing on Passion (only three nominations, and only in the non-marquee categories of Art Direction, Makeup and Original Score) flew in the face of everything the Academy is supposed to reward. No other movie this year, rightly or wrongly, was as risky an endeavor, even if it did pay off. (Talk about arty. Much of the movie was made in the Aramaic and Latin languages, with few subtitles. Remember when Dances With Wolves won Best Picture because of its use of Sioux Lakota dialect?) Irony of ironies, because of its prejudice against Passion, Hollywood will have in its arsenal even less ammunition to fend off those anti-Semitic bigots complaining how America's entertainment industry is controlled and contaminated by "The Jews."
As for Weinstein, he appears to have been the beneficiary of an Oscar pity party after getting kicked to the curb by Disney. But I predict Harv's humiliations are only just beginning. (And I'm not only talking about the inevitable lawsuit with Disney over any realistic valuation of Miramax.) Recent history has shown that, while Weinstein can certainly score an Academy nomination, he can't steal the awards anymore. His movies, such as The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Cider House Rules, In the Bedroom and Cold Mountain, have come up virtually empty on Oscar night. I predict that same fate awaits The Aviator this time around. As for Harvey, he may have to rethink his moviemaking formula, which depends heavily on his amply demonstrated ability to sweet-talk talent into working for him for bupkis in exchange for Academy gold. Here's hoping the stupid stars wise up.
Meanwhile, Marty Scorsese deserves this year's Dumb and Dumber award, and I don't mean Best Director. You'd think he would have learned his lesson in 2003 when Gangs of New York was nominated, and he and Harvey were bitch-slapped by the Academy for not only dragging poor old Robert Wise into their over-the-top Oscar politicking, but then deceiving voters by having a Miramax publicist ghost-write a praiseful column on Scorsese that appeared under the beloved wrinkly's byline. (Kudos to John Horn of the Los Angeles Times for busting them on it.) Now, all of a sudden, Robert De Niro is talking publicly that Taxi Driver 2 is in the works with Scorsese. Sources tell me that Raging Bull 2 is also being considered, and that Harvey is going to eventually join Bobby and Marty in this sick joke, along with financier Graham King. (For the record, a Miramax mouthpiece played coy about Weinstein's involvement.)
I'm told this sequel mania is intended to remind Academy voters of all the great movies in Scorsese's body of work. But I think it will have an unintended effect: to remind Academy voters what disgusting moneygrubbers both De Niro and Scorsese have become in recent years, culminating in their even thinking about revisiting two great classic American films just to score a coupla bucks. It's Francis Ford Coppola all over again, and look what happened to him after the critical and commercial failure of Godfather 3. In Scorsese's case, this kind of overreaching is committing Oscar suicide.
I've reported in the past about people on the Miramax payroll launching verbal salvos against Saving Private Ryan and A Beautiful Mind. This year's badmouthing war is targeting Million Dollar Baby, which is up for Best Picture against Miramax's The Aviator. Granted you gotta have steel balls to take on Clint over anything, much less his movie and its euthanasia subplot, especially if you're a dickwad like Michael Medved and the rest of those right-wing wackos. Far more interesting than the usual mudslinging is that word from inside Eastwood's production company is that Warner's did not want to underwrite Million Dollar Baby. (But watch the studio gang preen come Oscar night.) That, more than any heavily financed campaign, should help the movie clinch Best Picture, since it makes Clint's project seem almost indie.
Now, for my peek inside the twisted mind of the Academy.
This ain't Johnny Depp's year, no matter how much we love him. That Leo scored a nomination, undeserved, since it robbed Liam Neeson of a spot for Kinsey, is reward enough for the Miramax machine. In a perfect world, Don Cheadle would win. But he ain't as cool as Clint or fine like Foxx. Now, about that upset. Foxx is expected to win. But who in hell really thought Eastwood could chew up the scenery when most of his contemporaries are gumming their food? Talk that it's the performance of a lifetime is Hollywood code for We'd better give it to the guy now, before he croaks. Foxx has struck just that right ass-kissing "I'm not worthy" chord wooing Oscar voters. I still think Jamie will win in this category, but if he doesn't, he won't come away empty-handed. Keep reading.
Spoiler Alert! In that same perfect world, the dumpy English broad from Vera Drake would be the winner, just like Judi Dench before her. But it's not Dame Imelda Staunton – yet – so forget her. No one on the planet saw Maria Full of Grace. Kate Winslet would have been a shoo-in for supporting, but not in this category. So the contest is between Annette Bening and Hilary Swank. Bening has the sympathy vote down cold. After all, she plays house with a has-been. But hers is a good performance in a lousy movie vs. Swank's good performance in a great movie. Besides, Hilary dies.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Paul Giamatti deserves this hands down, but he wasn't even nominated, because the category isn't called Best Annoying Actor, now is it? Alan Alda is best known as the new Huell Howser of PBS, not as a movie actor these days. With so many good American performances this year, no one's gonna give Oscar to Clive Owen, a Brit. It's between Thomas Haden Church, best known as a dreadful TV actor, and Morgan Freeman, who's played God, the U.S. president and Nelson Mandela. Only idiots would deny him the Oscar. But if that big upset we spoke of earlier happens, Foxx wins for his work in the wrong film, Collateral.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
No one plays blind or deaf, although there is a lot of hair dyeing. If the Academy decides to pull a Marisa Tomei, it's Natalie Portman. But I doubt they can overlook her near-career-ending woodenness in Star Wars. This isn't Cate Blanchett's year. And Sophie Okonedo doesn't stand a chance. Laura Linney is Meryl Streep with a nicer nose. But Virginia Madsen will win, because Hollywood loves ex-sex-symbol survivors who, when their careers grew cold, had the good taste to avoid suicide.
There's a reason "hack" is part of his name, so don't consider Taylor Hackford for Ray. Alexander Payne is on the way up and Mike Leigh on the way down. What's needed is middle ground. The East Coast is pulling for Marty. The West Coast is clamoring for Clint. If the Academy trends to Eastwood for Best Actor, they may give Best Director to Scorsese as a sop. If not, Clint wins.
Not in my lifetime will a movie about wine win the Oscar. Finding Neverland should never have been nominated. We'll never know when the Academy will be ready to vote for a black film like Ray, or a blacker film like Hotel Rwanda, for Best Picture. (That's right; I'm saying racism is rampant in Hollywood.) C'mon, this town hated Howard Hughes – there are still actresses who won't admit they slept with him – plus, his Nixon slush-fund contributions make him non-P.C. The voters will cry Million Dollar Baby.