Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

In a Wilde pre-party mood

The other day I considerately informed the Missus that she might have to bring the Munchkin to school on Monday morning, as at that point I will have just completed an all-nighter, watching the Academy Awards ceremony live. She then asked me an entirely reasonable question. Who is hosting it this year, she wanted to know. I honestly couldn’t tell her.

I have since recovered and realize that it is Jon Stewart, who will be having a second go at the hosting honors. The fact that the question hadn’t even occurred to me was a sign that this is one of those low-expectations years for the ceremony. Maybe it was the writers strike. Maybe it is once again the lack of a The Lord of the Rings level of excitement and interest in any one film this year. Or maybe I’m just getting old and jaded.

When I want to gin up my interest in these goings-on, I just starting consuming my local news. One thing most Americans may not normally realize is that the Oscars are followed worldwide with intense national interest and pride. The emphasis of nomination coverage is always how many nominations citizens or subjects of the local country managed to get. And the local commentary on Oscar night, during those breaks when the Yanks have to watch commercials, always amounts to a tally of how many statuettes the home team has racked up, if any. This national competitiveness at the Oscars is a strange concept to us Americans. It doesn’t occur to us to tally up how many Americans have won awards. We just assume that they are all Americans. And, when somebody gets up to make an acceptance speech and they talk with a strange accent, we just assume that they are from New York or somewhere. Or, if we do happen to think they are foreign, we just hope they are in the country legally.

The Brits invariably do well in this scorecard obsession. For example, last year Helen Mirren brought home the goods with the Best Actress prize for The Queen. This year they have high hopes with nominations for such British productions (or co-productions) like Atonement and Sweeney Todd, actors like Daniel Day-Lewis, Julie Christie, Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton. And let’s not forget a screenwriting nomination for Ronald Harwood for the great French film (directed by American Julian Schnabel, also nominated) The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Unjustifiably, Diving Bell did not get nominated for Best Motion Picture and, even more unjustifiably, it didn’t even get submitted by the French for Best Foreign Language Film because, well, apparently because it was directed by an American.

Being a very cohesive society, the Irish in particular obsess on how well they have done in these international competitions. Their self-image is so healthy that it seems to make up for the fact that they are an extremely small country. The total population of Ireland is something less than that of greater Los Angeles. But their numbers are much larger when you take into account all the people all over the world who consider themselves Irish, even if they have never actually set foot on the island, i.e. the diaspora of descendents of emigrants who, generations later, still hyphenate their citizenship with “Irish-” as a prefix. For example, every four years this country convinces itself that it is going to win soccer’s World Cup. They celebrate, as only the Irish can, with every victory along the way. And then they drown their profound sorrows, as only the Irish can, when they inevitably fall short in the face of powerhouses like Brazil and France.

The same enthusiasm infects the Irish media as they cover the Oscar race. There is great pride in each nominee that hails from Eire. The main hope this year rests with a 13-year-old girl from County Carlow named Saoirse Ronan. She is nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Atonement. Also nominated, for the same movie, is cinematographer Séamus McGarvey, who hails from Armagh. There has also been a fair amount of pride in the nomination of “Falling Slowly” from the film Once for Original Song—one of only two nominees in that category not from the movie Enchanted. It was written and performed by Irishman Glen Hansard and his Czech collaborator, Markéta Irglová. There were anxious moments when it appeared that the song might be disqualified because it had appeared in other media before the movie was released in the U.S. Happily, the song is still in contention, and I will be even happier when the Oscars are over because maybe they will stop playing it on the radio in every supermarket I go into.

Unfortunately, Ireland’s submission for the Foreign Language Film category (its first ever) did not get nominated. It was Tom Collins’s Kings, which stars Colm Meaney (Chief O’Brien of Star Trek fame) and is predominately in the Irish (Gaelic) language. As a consolation, Meaney did get an award, along with Fiona Shaw, on Tuesday from the U.S.-Irish Alliance Oscar Wilde pre-Oscar party in Hollywood. Another honoree was producer James L. Brooks, who is not, strictly speaking, Irish. But they made an exception for him because he is the producer of The Simpsons, and the Irish are absolutely mad for that TV show. (“An unhealthy obsession,” as Brooks told Variety.) The Simpsons Movie had the biggest opening of any movie in Ireland in the past five years.

Interestingly, the Irish media’s roundups of Irish Oscar nominees invariably includes Daniel Day-Lewis, something that gives me hope that, if I am ever nominated for an Oscar (yes, it’s okay to laugh), they might champion my cause as well. You see, Day-Lewis, as noted above, is also claimed by the British, as he is an Englishman by birth. And, in most countries in the world (i.e. as opposed to such immigrant nations like the U.S., Canada and Australia) what you are depends entirely on what your parents were and/or where you were born, rather than which passport you carry. But Day-Lewis has lived for years in County Wicklow and apparently has obtained Irish citizenship. Presumably, this is to avail of the very generous provision in the Irish tax law that exempts income from the arts. This provision has doubtless benefited countless struggling artists, but it has also provided huge windfalls for such mega-earners as Enya and members of the band U2. But it does my heart good to see Day-Lewis embraced by the Irish as (nearly) one of their own. He certainly has long had an artistic connection to the country, having starred in three major films directed by premier Irish director Jim Sheridan—My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father and The Boxer, providing two of Day-Lewis’s lifetime-total-to-date four Oscar nominations, as well as winning him the statuette for My Left Foot. For his part, Sheridan racked up five nominations, in directing and writing categories, for his collaborations with the actor. Day-Lewis was also nominated for his role in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, which dealt with Irish immigrants in America.

I have never run into Day-Lewis in Ireland, but I did see him in person once in Seattle. When he was still pretty much an unknown, he attended a screening of Stephen Frears’s My Beautiful Laundrette at the 11th Seattle International Film Festival in June 1986. At that point, his onscreen c.v. consisted mainly of UK TV appearances, an uncredited bit in John Schlesinger’s Sunday Bloody Sunday, a bit part in Ghandi and a role in the Mel Gibson/Anthony Hopkins remake The Bounty. He also had a minor role in A Room with a View, which had recently been released in the U.S. The Unbearable Lightness of Being was still two years away, and The Last of the Mohicans was six years away.

Day-Lewis took questions from the audience after the screening of My Beautiful Laundrette. As I recall, there was really only one question, although it got posed multiple times with varying phrasing each time. In the film, Day-Lewis’s character, a street punk named Johnny, has a passionate and physical affair with his former classmate Omar, played by Gordon Warnecke. During the Q&A, one man after another (who all seemed to be admiring the comely young actor with great relish) wanted to know if there was anything in his personal life that he had drawn on to so convincingly play a gay man. Consistently (and to the evident frustration of his questioners), Day-Lewis responded each time with a technical discussion of acting method. After the tenth questioner found yet another way to re-word the same exact question, I wanted to yell out, “Would you just ask him outright if he’s gay and be done with it!” But I didn’t. And the actor never took the bait.

Time and fame, of course, ultimately revealed the talented actor’s romantic tastes to those who were interested. In the early 1990s he lived with the French actor Isabelle Adjani and had a son with her. While working on the 1996 movie version of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, he met the playwright’s daughter Rebecca, an actor and filmmaker in her own right (she would direct her husband in The Ballad of Jack and Rose), and soon married her. They have three children. Presumably, some or all will \be watching on Sunday a night to see if daddy picks up another Oscar. And, presumably, he won’t be driving any of his children to school on Monday morning either.

-S.L., 21 February 2008

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