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Monday, March 24, 2003

Oscar Goes to War
I was a very bad employee this weekend, leaving my colleagues to do the heavy war lifting. I don’t feel so bad about Saturday. I had such a wicked headache I had to cancel a haircut I desperately need, and I didn’t shake it enough to get much of anything done all day. (Well, I did catch up on one of the last Oscar pictures I still hadn’t seen—Road to Perdition, and while it’s not Dame Judi’s fault, her winning Best Supporting Actress for a movie she spent about 10 minutes in has led to some annoying nominations since. In a strong year for acting—though admittedly with most strength on the women’s side—it just seems crazy to nominate Paul Newman for a film which he was absent from the screen for about fifteen-sixteenths of. Who exactly was he supporting?)

Today was the annual clean up for the Oscar party scramble. First I finished an amazing book—More Terrible Than Death: Massacres, Drugs, and America’s War in Colombia, by Robin Kirk. I’ve read several books about Colombia, but this was the first to put the crazy violence there in a really clear context and differentiated between the guilty and the innocent without moralizing or forgiving killers their trespasses. At first I wondered if I could take the author’s occasional forays into a sort of semi-poetic reverie, but after a while I relaxed and went with the flow and loved the little meditative moments. Like all good books it made me want to go through the bibliography to get even further into a topic that it had gotten me all hot about. And talk about anti-drug propaganda: Reading what Yanquis’ love of Andes nose candy has done to Colombia should be enough to put any person of good conscience off the stuff.

And then, and then … the Oscars. Less pomp than usual, and not too badly off for that. The early awards—especially the one with four recipients, Visual Effects perhaps—annoyed me by cutting off the winners’ speeches too aggressively. Yes, they’d said up-front that they only got 45 seconds, but when there are four people up there, that’s awfully harsh. It must be horrible to be No. 4 and have to yell your wife’s name over the blasting music.

Steve Martin was a little heavy on the sexual innuendo, but I laughed at him more than I yelled at him, which is a pretty huge achievement given how much I talk back to the television. I was grateful that they cut the presenters’ dumb jokes, since I don’t remember laughing at a single one in all my years of awards-show watching.

The anti-war speeches were more artful than I expected. After the British Oscars, I expected Gael García Bernal and Pedro Almodóvar to speak out, and they both did so coherently and calmly (in fact, that was the most comprehensible speech I’ve ever heard from Pedro Almodóvar—in any language!). I didn’t care for Bowling for Columbine, but I do think it’s good for a movie that people have actually had a chance to see to win the Best Documentary award, and it was a sweet gesture on his part to bring the other nominees on-stage. My position on the current war is rather different from Michael Moore’s (and Pedro Almodóvar’s), but I don’t disagree with anything in either speech. I’m all for “peace, respect of human rights, democracy, and international legality.” And I agree with Moore that the fictitious president is sending us to war for “fictitious reasons” (though there are other reasons that he doesn’t have the guts to articulate that I do support—the human rights of the poor, beleaguered, oppressed Iraqis most of all, and although oil’s the reason we care about Iraq while we don’t care about millions of other people who live under the heel of vicious dictators around the world, I don’t think Bush has gone to war for oil). But anyway, the Oscars.

The best moments?

Almodóvar winning the Oscar for best screenplay—an amazing achievement for a screenplay not in English. Talk to Her isn’t my favorite Almodóvar, but as always he’s creative and wild and brilliant. And I loved his shout-out to "Spanish cinema."

Sad-sack Adrien Brody’s Halle Berry mega-kiss. I guess it was sort of uncool to get so intimate without an invitation, but it didn’t seem that Halle minded. In some ways I was glad that he got the music to shut up. It is ridiculous that Gil Cates, the ceremony’s producer, imposes the 45-second limit (admittedly relaxed for the big awards) on the winners. After building up all that suspense, they take the slow walk up there, and then all they have time for is “thanks mom”? Brody had done what a normal human being would and made it all about himself and his surprise and his amazement, then he remembered there were larger issues—that the movie he’d just won for was about the Holocaust, that the character he played was based on the life of a real person, that there was a war on—and he kind of made a second speech, and it was great.

The joy on Martin Scorsese’s face when Roman Polanski’s name was read out as the winner of the directing award. Scorsese’s spent this year getting nominated a lot and winning not very much, but he revealed his genuine love of the movies when he applauded so sincerely and whole-heartedly for what I imagine he interpreted as a victory for art over life. I was amazed that Polanski won the award—I think he deserved it, but I didn’t think the academy would give it to him.

In the weird little 30-minute pre-show, ABC kept talking about how they had backstage access for the first time ever, then it turned out they just meant for the pre-show, since they never took us backstage during the actual telecast. The replays of the winners’ reactions were lovely, though. When they make the actual announcement, you’re desperately trying to scan all five faces to see if anyone lets a bit of ungraciousness slip through. Seeing their reactions at the moment their names were called was lovely—the first reaction before the happiness hit always seemed to be something bordering on panic.

I wish they would just cut the performances of the nominated songs—though I admit I wanted Eminem to perform just on the off-chance that they might show the network standards guy sweating as his finger hovered over the bleep button. I love Caetano Veloso, and I like Lila Downs, but songs that are written for movies tend not be very good, and “Burn It Blue” is one such song. Now if the song Caetano sings in Talk to Her had been nominated that would be another story … but since it wasn’t original it wasn’t eligible.

The “In Memoriam” section didn’t seem so moving this year, though that could be a) because I’d seen the British Oscars’ version just a few weeks ago; and b) death has been on 10 channels 24/7 since last Wednesday. I loved the pageant of former winners, though, perhaps because it reminded me of the parade of former champions they do at Wimbledon every 25 years or so. And I just fell in love with Meryl Streep all over again—not in the way I might lust over Salma Hayek or Queen Latifah, but in that sort of “oh she’s lovely and she seems so fun and smart and nice” kind of way.

I correctly predicted 14 of the 24 winners, though in truth I was happier when something I wanted to win won than when something I had predicted but wasn’t really behind got called to the stage.