If you find yourself less than starstruck come Oscar night, don’t say we didn’t warn you. Oscar had his chance to dance with some of the most sought-after dates in Hollywood but instead settled for “The Aviator” and a bunch of other flicks you’ve never seen.
Box-office success rarely guarantees critical raves, but in recent years Oscar seemed to warm to blockbusters (or at least acknowledge that they can occasionally be good). “Titanic,” “Gladiator,” “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” — all made mad bank, all took home Oscar’s biggest prize, Best Picture. So what happened this year? The worldwide box-office haul of this year’s five Best Picture nominees adds up to less than the $600 million take that Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” brought in. Could it really be that the biggest films of the year weren’t that good? We don’t think so. Ponder the following arguments … even though Oscar voters apparently didn’t.
Beyond the seamless CGI and stunning action, this Spidey sequel may have served up the year’s most poignant and moving love story. Peter Parker’s struggle between his yearning for a simple life with Mary Jane and his sense of responsibility and duty was crafted by acclaimed author Michael Chabon and was brought to life with delicacy and power by Tobey Maguire. The story of sacrifice, longing, honor and love provided more genuine heart than a thousand screenings of “Shall We Dance.” And hey, the whole big-money-effects-plus-gripping-love-story thing worked Oscar magic for “Titanic” (even though this flick about a wall-crawling superhero somehow seems more honest and lifelike than that historically rooted weeper). But apparently Oscar couldn’t see past the tights.
Given that this gem delivered more human wit, charm and incisive commentary on modern American life than indie faves like “Sideways,” maybe it’s time for Oscar to drop the animation chip from his shoulder. Critics didn’t serve up backhanded compliments like “pretty good … for an animated film.” Instead, Roger Ebert gave it four stars, while Rolling Stone called it “the latest in the line of miracles from Pixar.” But no matter how far Pixar (or any other animation studio) seems to knock it out of the park, Oscar seems intent on relegating it to the kiddie table known as the Best Animated Feature category. Please, Oscar, let “The Incredibles” sit with the big folks.
At its best, art inspires emotion, reaction and discussion, and few films succeeded on those levels to the degree that Michael Moore’s polemic against the Bush administration did. It scored onscreen, with Rolling Stone hailing it as a “brilliant battering ram” and the Cannes Film Festival handing it its top prize, the Palme d’Or. But it grew beyond film, driving political discourse for much of last year’s presidential campaign and cementing Moore’s place as a cultural lightning rod. It transcended the medium in a way that few other films ever have and reminded everyone — whether or not they agree with Moore’s message — of the power of film. Surely Oscar — always making noise about the magic and power of movies — can get behind that.
The Passion Of The Christ
You could argue that no film did more for the film industry itself last year than Mel Gibson’s brutal Biblical tale, and Oscar usually likes nothing more than to help those who help the film industry. Roger Ebert gave the film four stars, lauding Academy Award-winning director Gibson for “putting his artistry and fortune at the service of his conviction and belief.” But the strongest testament to the power of the “Passion” came in its ability to bring people out to the multiplex who hadn’t been there in years. And when viewers wouldn’t go to the theater, “Passion” took the theater to them, screening in unconventional venues and spawning a staggering grass-roots success. As a result, Gibson’s controversial work reminded millions of disillusioned, spiritually devout Americans that Hollywood just might have something to say to them as well. Conversely, Oscar’s cold shoulder seems to suggest that Hollywood, in fact, might not.
But it’s too late for those arguments now. The Oscar votes are being tallied, and Sunday night’s big winner will not be any of the major cinematic events outlined above. Oh well, at least we can count on host Chris Rock to give us a few tune-in-worthy moments.
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