By Amy Nicholson
By LA Weekly critics
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Anthony D'Alessandro
Ordinary Iraqis who still had access to U.S. media last week must have been entertained by watching us debate the truly burning questions of "Showdown With Iraq."Would the Oscars go on? Would they go on with or without red carpet, bleachers, paparazzi and after-parties? With or without Sir Peter O'Toole? Though the Los Angeles Times mustered enough grace to run its advance coverage at the bottom of the front page, below the war coverage proper, day after day it jumped to page-long dissertations at the back and in the Calendar section, culminating in Sunday's orgy of think pieces, spilling enough ink on the Oscars run-up to fill the Silver Lake reservoir.
As for the show's producers, having declared early on in the week that it would be "self-serving" to go on with the show while battles raged, they elected to serve themselves anyway. With all due piety, of course. Red carpet and bleachers were nixed. ABC proudly announced there would be no pre-Oscar hoopla, and that the network would cut in on the show with war coverage. (In the event, Peter Jennings' strenuously somber face showed up only twice, offering brief canned summaries of the day's events.) When push came to shove, however, the pre-show interviewees ended up tripping across something that looked uncannily like a red carpet. Anti-war protesters were shooed away by police in overkill riot gear, and the Kodak Theater was pronounced the safest building in the country.
And the tamest. Burdened by all that advance breast-beating, the show itself proved to be a singularly bloodless creature, though hardly free of glitz, as host Steve Martin noted in a brief burst of biting wit ("That'll show 'em!" he yelled, casting an eye around the opulent auditorium) before settling into defanged jokiness for the duration. One felt for him: Tact is death to comedy, and it was pretty clear he'd been warned off dangerous territory — even a projected joke threatening to cut off Saddam Hussein's television connection (just before Best Picture was announced) never saw the light of day. As to the stars, they were well-behaved, if a touch schizophrenic about the dress code. As promised, the uniform was black, but it was far from basic. Nicole Kidman's multistrapped gown appeared inspired by someone's bondage fantasy. Susan Sarandon was ravishingly sexy in an off-the-shoulder number. And both Queen Latifah and Catherine Zeta-Jones, in their much-touted dance number from Chicago, spilled copious bosom out of their décolletages.
When it came to political statements, the code ranged from pomposity — Dustin Hoffman, apparently under the impression that the circumstances called for extreme gravitas, made his introductions in slow motion — to self-censorship. Sarandon herself ventured no more than a serene peace sign, while most of her colleagues served up palpably sincere but namby-pamby twitterings about how much they loved peace. (Not even Schwarzenegger would quarrel with that.) Michael Moore's outburst against our glorious commander in chief and his "fictitious" administration had at least the virtue of specificity. If nothing else, it was a moment of Hollywood truth, for the loud catcalls that greeted Moore (and, more alarmingly, a midspeech blackout ordered up by producer Gil Cates), as well as the flak he reportedly got backstage in no uncertain expletives, ought to dispel any notion that the industry is a dictatorship of Reds and limo liberals. Then again, it may just be it's Moore's monster ego that raises hackles — no one, after all, heckled the adorable Pedro Almodóvar when he announced himself embarrassed by his government's support of Bush. Nor did anyone seem to object to the terminally cute Gael García Bernal, star of the shamefully neglected Y Tu Mamá También, when he invoked dyed-in-the-wool Marxist Frida Kahlo to condemn the war.
At the Oscars Moore repeated, almost word for word, the speech he had made the day before at the Independent Feature Project Spirit Awards, where both his words and his movie were greeted with rapture. Once a funky little outfit catering to really independent film and now a baby cousin to the Oscars with a splashy annual event at the beach, the IFP event was a much jollier affair than the Oscars — in part because the organization expressed, in public at least, no jitters about whether to cancel itself, freeing both members and guests to have a good time, wear what they pleased (one man sported camouflage and a hat proclaiming "THE FUTURE IS STUPID") and say what they wanted about the war.
What they had to say — Moore notwithstanding — was hardly more bracing than what went down the next day at the Oscars. Ditto the voting. The IFP's swelling membership votes much more middle-of-the-road than its nominating committees, which was why Far From Heaven, a lovely picture yet by far the most conventional movie Todd Haynes has made, cleaned up with five awards. And though there was one intriguing upset — the young African-American first-timer Derek Luke won Best Actor for Antwone Fisher — it made me wince to see the John Cassavetes Award, of all things, go to the pallid, if beautifully shot, Personal Velocity. And when Nia Vardalos snagged Best Debut Performance for her big fat vapid Greek movie (over the enchanting young Raven Goodwin of Lovely & Amazing, for starters), I broke down and wept into my beef tenderloin.
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