"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Guest Hosting the Oscars

Brent’s busy. I’m busy too, but as his wife I try hard to support him in all of his endeavors. In that spirit, I decided to help out my longsuffering husband, by writing a guest column for his blog.

Since for the past two years I’ve had baby brain, it’s very difficult for me to manage a coherent conversation about anything other than diaper rash and toddler toys. Being aware that these are not of much interest to most people who don’t have baby brain, I’ve stretched myself to the limits to write about something I used to know a lot about – the Oscars.

To be honest, if Brent wasn’t around I probably wouldn’t have watched the Oscars this year. I have developed a profound cynicism about that show that burst like an overstuffed zit in 2004 when Hilary Swank won the Best Actress award, beating out Annette Benning FOR THE SECOND TIME. That night, I said some especially fervent prayers and checked my food storage because I was sure that Hilary Swank winning a second acting award was a sign of an impending Apocalypse.

Look how glamorous I am!
Alas, I was mistaken. The world went on its merry way, happily convinced that Hilary Swank deserved her second Best Actress award because after all, she had played a female boxer who gets paralyzed and then makes the courageous (read: depressing) choice to ask her manager to kill her because she can’t endure living the rest of her life that way. I’m not sure what appealed to Academy members more – the fact that she was this hot (or not) actress playing a chick who beats up other chicks or that she was an actress who took on the hot button issue of assisted suicide. But having seen both Hilary in Million Dollar Baby and Annette Benning’s nominated performance in Being Julia, I’m actually shocked that those two women were nominated in the same category. Benning’s performance was subtle and strategic, bringing a character to life using her voice, her face, movement, all the tools of her trade. Swank turned in a performance that was notable for its subject matter. I have no doubt that any of a dozen performers could have given a similar performance.

Plus there’s her name, Hilary Swank. It’s just ridiculous and self-aggrandizing. She might as well be Hilary Glamorous or Hilary ChiChi.

I'm everyone's muse.
That’s beside the point. Really, at the heart of my jade-colored view of the Academy Awards is the conviction that like almost everything else in life, this contest isn’t decided by merit. Time after time we’ve seen awards given to what’s trending. Does anybody really believe that Mira Sorvino really turned in a better performance than Joan Allen in Nixon or Kate Winslet in Sense and Sensibility? Other than for that performance in 1995, Mira Sorvino has neither won or been nominated for another performance. While Allen has been nominated for three separate performances and Winslet has been nominated six different times. (When Kate finally won an Oscar on her sixth nomination, it was for her Holocaust movie, The Reader – more on that later). So why did Mira snooker the Academy into voting for her over these other women? Because she was playing a hooker in a Woody Allen movie. There’s something magical about that combination. It’s like playing someone with a terminal illness or any performance that has something to do with the Holocaust.

Adrian Brody won a Best Actor award in 2002 for The Pianist. Having seen that picture, I would say the most noteworthy thing about Brody’s performance was that his natural expression makes him look pinched and nervous. Of course, watching him sexually assault Halle Berry during the award ceremony might be unfairly influencing my memory of that performance. But was his performance more nuanced and skilled than the performances of Nicholas Cage, Michael Caine, Daniel Day-Lewis, or Jack Nicholson that year? Give me a freaking break!

I could go on and on with examples of films, performances, music that won awards and really didn’t merit them. But you’ve seen it, read it, posted about it on Facebook, all before. You probably have your own personal favorites that don’t include Hilary Swank, Mira Sorvino, or Adrian Brody. Feel free to share those in a comment to this post.

In the end, I’ve done what I do so often in my life when I don’t think things are fair. I packed up my toys to go home. Fortunately, my husband dragged me back to the game this year. For all my snarky asides during the broadcast, I was amazed when Meryl Streep won for Best Actress. In my mind, it made up for a lot. She’s the most talented actress in Hollywood. If the awards were based on merit, she’d win every year – no contest. So to see her win (her 4th out of 17 nominations) shut my mouth. Sometimes I guess they can get it right.


  1. Your snarky comments made me laugh. Although I should warn you that I am madly in love with Adrian Brody. But I'm pretty sure if he didn't have his nose I'd probably forget he exists.

    I'm personally not that pleased with the awards this year.

    P.S. Hilary Swank looks like a man.

  2. I never watch the awards because I feel like you--they are based on something other than merit. Thanks for the entertaining synopsis!

    And yes, Hilary Swank does look like a man.

  3. I hate Hilary Swank. But the Artist? Oh, come on, it totally deserved to win this year!

  4. Thanks so much for writing this, May. I really enjoyed it, and it helped ground my understanding of why you grumble about the Oscars.

    As you know, I don't share your anti-Swank (her birth name, by the way) bias, but I will certainly agree in a heartbeat that Annette Bening is a fantastic actress who deserves to be feted to the skies. And sure, I don't have any trouble believing that rather broad choices tend to attract disproportionate attention (disabilities, Holocaust, celebrity imitations -- thought apparently Marilyn isn't as compelling as Capote) and that sometimes a performance or film that is hot for some non-intrinsic reason gets the nod over a deeper, subtler one. Absolutely. Oscar history is rife with that sort of thing, along with longstanding prejudices against comedies, genre films, etc. etc.

    Here's the thing though. The notion of arguing about who or what should win an Oscar -- just like the notion of giving Oscars in the first place -- is fatally flawed by the fact that although Hollywood is a business, movies themselves are works of ART. Very often pretty crappy art, but art nonetheless, and whenever the notion of competition gets superimposed over artistic creations, the result is *always* going to be awkward and tense. How could it possibly be otherwise? You end up comparing wildly different things that are only superficially in the same category, and judging them on incredibly subjective, personal criteria. To say that any kind of authoritative statement arises from such a process is silly.

    To me, focusing on who wins, who should have won, who should have gotten nominated, etc., is kind of missing the forest for the trees. The point of the Oscars, at least in my little world, is not to decide who gave the single best performance of the year, or what film is better than what other films, but simply to a) bring attention to worthy work and b) celebrate the art form. In my opinion, the Academy Awards do a great job of both, and that is why they are my favorite TV night of the year.

    Except for all the red carpet carpet about who's wearing what. (Or as it's apparently said now, who's wearing who.) Now THAT's ridiculous. :)

  5. That would be "red carpet carping", not "red carpet carpet." My proofreading process got a little derailed by the fact that for some unknown reason blogspot doesn't want to accept my livejournal credentials today.

  6. I love Denzel Washington so, so much but there was no way he should've won the Best Actor award for Training Day. I'm pretty sure that's when my profound cynicism for the Oscars started.

    A fantastic post. I loved reading it.

  7. Training Day was not a good movie, but Malcolm X was, and that year Denzel lost to Al Pacino in Scent of A Woman. Although it's not supposed to happen, there is sometimes a "career achievement" quality to an Oscar even when it's given for a specific performance. (See Paul Newman in The Color Of Money.)

  8. I hear you on the Oscars. I like the fact that they bring attention to some interesting movies around this time of year, but I can't really stand to watch the actual ceremony, and I agree with you completely that the winners aren't always picked on sheer talent alone. Sometimes there's a hot button issue; sometimes they give someone an award to make up an award they should have given them a previous years (like Denzel Washington, as the person above mentioned.)

    So, I'm glad the Oscars exist...as a thing...but I don't like to watch them. The Grammy's on the other hand, I really can't stand altogether, but that's another story ;D

  9. Glad to hear from you, Miz W!

    I've tried to get Miz rev to do a guest post on my blog before and all I get is a "I don't think so!"

    Ah, well.

    I think they should run the Oscars and the Grammys and all of the other award shows like the general elections, with everyone being allowed a vote, not just some obviously corporately sponsored geeks in a small dark back room making the decisions based on how much money they are paid.

  10. I know I'm tardy, but thanks for all the comments. I'm not sure why Wifey May hasn't responded herself, other than for the same reason I've been absent, but I'm glad she posted this. I concur with most of what she has to say here. The big difference, I think, is that I'm not such a fan of Annette Benning; thus, I'm not so offended that the Next Karate Kid stole two Oscars from her.