Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Post-Oscar® musings

As I was glancing at the covers of the tawdry Irish and British tabloids (as I sometimes do) before finally buying a nice, respectable broadsheet (as I always do) on Tuesday morning, I was struck by a strange phenomenon. Those covers that weren’t sporting yet more pictures of a hairless David Beckham (the most press-saturated haircut in living memory, on this side of the Atlantic anyway) all featured photos of either Russian president-elect Vladimir Putin or Best Actor Oscar winner Kevin Spacey. And I couldn’t tell which was which!

There is something rather poetic about the fact that these two completely different men should not only look like each other and but also turn up big winners on the very same day. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not accusing Spacey of being some sort of spook-turned-politician. (As for Putin, I’ll leave it to the Russian people to decide if he’s merely a good actor.) It’s just that there was something inevitable and unimaginative about both of these victories. Spacey is a fine actor and he was great in American Beauty. But he’s been even better in other movies, notably The Usual Suspects (for which he also won an Oscar) and Swimming with Sharks (which probably hit a little too close to Hollywood’s home to be honored with a lot of awards). In fact, either Richard Farnsworth or Denzel Washington would have been a better choice for Best Actor on the pure strength of their actual performances. But the Academy Awards tend to work on a winner-take-all principal (not unlike the California presidential primary), which dictates that one movie needs to win all or most of the major awards. And this year that movie was American Beauty.

In a way, it’s amazing that Denzel did not get the Best Actor nod. The Hurricane is just the kind of movie that Hollywood loves to congratulate itself about. The true-life story of a black man victimized by The System—and how some white liberals saved him. But perhaps the film and its Canadian director were hapless victims of the strangely anti-Canadian spirit of the evening. Or it may be a sign of the times that the “token” award this year was instead for the gender-confused, as embodied by Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry. The good news is that she actually deserved the award.

So did Haley Joel Osment for Best Supporting Actor. And in Hollywood’s strange quota system, he might have gotten it since the Academy often loves to honor the extremely young and the extremely old. But, as Farnsworth was trumped by the winner-take-all thing, Osment was outranked by the recognizing-the-veteran-actor-who-has-made-a-million-movies impulse, which this year rewarded Michael Caine.

A Small Question: If the winners of these awards are such carefully guarded secrets, how do they always know who the right people are to present the awards? For instance, how did it happen that the Foreign Film award was announced by two Spanish actors (who just happen to have starred in contender Pedro Almodóvar’s films—and in fact, Penélope Cruz was even in the contending All About My Mother) instead of, say, two Swedish actors or two French actors or, hey, how about Rhys Ifans and Catherine Zeta-Jones? That would have been cool, if the Welsh film had won. Anyway, I’m sure it was just a coincidence. But it was cute the way Almodóvar tried to be the wackily amusing foreigner this year. Too bad that Roberto Benigni was back to remind us how much funnier he was last year.

The Big Question: Do these awards actually mean anything? Artistically, a bit. But just a bit. Financially, a lot. A whole lot. But the best way to look at the Academy Awards is as meta-entertainment. It’s the ultimate reality program. Real life as illusion, or is it illusion as real life? Overly sentimental and over- (and sometimes under-) dressed. As kitschy and compelling as any of the celluloid entertainment that Hollywood churns out on any other day of the year.

-S.L., 30 March 2000

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Note: I am going to start indulging myself with miscellaneous ramblings of a cinematic nature on a more-or-less weekly basis. Not only will this be great therapy for me, but it will give some sign to people who compulsively check the web site (and I have reason to believe that there are one or two besides myself) that there is still some life here during those periods when movie reviews hit a dry patch because, for example, the Missus and myself have sought refuge on the southwest coast of Ireland and the nearest cinema showing a film I haven’t already seen is a good two-hour drive away. As always, feedback is welcome.