Midweek Rant #3: The Academy Awards

March 5, 2009

My favorite Theater critic is Charles Isherwood of the New York Times.  It took some time for him to earn my respect, but he got it.  How did it happen?  I started seeing plays based on his reviews, and I couldn’t help but find myself agreeing ninety percent of the time.  Or sometimes I’d see a play before his review came out, and then I’d read it and think “not bad, Charlie, not bad at all.” 

Sure there have been a few times when I have been appalled.  Edge Theater’s “Essential Self Defense” by Adam Rapp was one of the most interesting and thought provoking and entertaining plays I’ve ever seen with to-die-for performances by Paul Sparks and Heather Golenhersh, incredible music by Ray Rizzo and Lucas Papaelias, a breathtaking set by David Korins, and seamless direction by Carolyn Cantor.  Yet Isherwood thrashed it.

Why did I forgive him?  Because it was the exception, not the rule.  Isherwood is my man most of the time, and even when he’s not, I at least respect his poor judgement.

That being said, I’d like to talk about the Academy Awards.  Living in Los Angeles, I could smell the ceremony in the air in the days leading up to February 22nd.  Everyone had a party to go to.  The Oscars!  The Oscars!

But thinking back, what has the Academy done to earn this respect?  Money aside, they don’t have much to tout.  Remember when Gwyneth Paltrow won for “Shakespeare in Love,” beating Cate Blanchett for “Elizabeth”?  Is there any explanation for this in terms of acting merit?

I could go on and on about not only all the bad choices made, but the good choices made for the wrong movie (Scorcese wins for Departed, Denzel Washington for Training Day?).  But all of these lead me to believe that artistic merit is trumped by politics, which is of course controlled by money.

So this year I was feeling a bit angry about the awards before they even happened.  Would Melissa Leo even be considered for Best Actress?  Of course not!  And I was at peace with that.  I love Kate Winslet as much as the next jerk, and no one would argue that the award is overdue.  But was it necessarily the right choice?

But an offense occurred this year that I will never recover from.  I’m not sure why I’ve let the Academy Awards get away with this nonsense for so long.  If Charles Isherwood was this irresponsible, I’d have cancelled my delivery long ago and let them know in writing how come!  But the Academy has a stranglehold on the industry, so it’s been tough for me to let go.  I’m ready now, thanks to a little category called “Best Live Action Short”.

While in New York City I went to the IFC Film Center with my buddy Tim Clancy to watch the five short films nominated.  There was one movie that was obviously going to win, two that could possibly win, and two that there was no way was going to win.  Of the two that didn’t have a chance, my least favorite by far was “Toyland”. 

The Holocaust one.  Problem was, it wasn’t that good of a movie.  Tim argued a few of it’s attributes, of which I will admit it did indeed have.  The Nazis in the film were played with bone-chilling humanity.  It was like they were NYPD cranked up a few notches.  But all in all, it’s not that good of a film.  The ending was so trite I actually laughed, and laughing at a Holocaust film is something I always assumed I would never do.  If I was Isherwood, I would have torn this film apart with a few nice comments somewhere in the middle.

But it won.  And I think it’s because no one saw any of the films, and so they voted for the Holocaust one.  Way to go, Academy!  Imagine if Isherwood went off of the descriptions of the plays without actually seeing them?  I’d be like, “Charlie!  C’mon!  C’mon, Charlie, get your act together!” (you may have noticed by now that I am taking great pleasure in referring to Charles Isherwood as ‘Charlie’).

I don’t know if anyone finds my conclusion offensive or not.  I urge you, however, to watch the film that should have won.  You can buy it for $1.99 on iTunes.  It was the last film that played in the IFC showing, and so Tim and I had to do the “walk of shame” in which two guys in their mid-twenties walk out of a theater, no dates in hand, eyes swollen from crying.

Embarrassing, but worth it:

Manon on the Asphalt

So please please support this film by watching it (click the link above).  You’ll thank me, I promise.  And please please don’t watch Toyland.  The Holocaust deserves a better film than this, and the people today deserve a better Academy than we have.  And I’d also like to remind you that the Academy has always sucked and been dominated by politics.  Citizen Kane?  A whopping ONE win in the 1942 ceremony.  Two awards would have been overboard for a film that influential.  As for Charles Isherwood, I don’t live in New York City anymore, so please please keep doing a good job for me.

I’m sorry, but I’ve got to do it once more: