GIVEN THAT IT’S OSCAR TIME, I nominate the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Best Bunch of Hypocrites. That’s because this year’s dirty little secret is the anecdotal evidence pouring in to me about hetero members being unwilling to screen Brokeback Mountain. For a community that takes pride in progressive values, it’s shameful that Hollywood’s homophobia may be on a par with Pat Robertson’s.
Despite the hype you’re reading in the press and on the Internet about Brokeback, with its eight nominations, being the supposed favorite to take home the Best Picture Oscar on March 5, Crash could end up winning. The issue isn’t which film is better. The issue is more like which movie was seen by the Academy. Frankly, I find horrifying each whispered admission to me from Academy members who usually pose as social liberals that they’re disgusted by even the possibility of glimpsing simulated gay sex. Earth to the easily offended: This movie has been criticized for being too sexually tame. Hey, Academy, what are you worried about: that you’ll turn gay or, worse, get a stiffie by just the hint of hunk-on-hunk action?
That Brokeback isn’t the Oscar favorite may have been foreshadowed at the SAG awards, when Crash topped it for best picture and Philip Seymour Hoffman won over Heath Ledger. Remember: Truman Capote was so unthreatening — as compared to the in-your-face sexiness of Ledger looking longingly at Jake Gyllenhaal’s loins — that Johnny Carson used to invite him into the nation’s living rooms as a frequent guest on The Tonight Show.
It’s not that Crash isn’t Oscar-worthy and Brokeback is. Both are good, if flawed, movies. Crash makes up in aesthetic bleakness what it lacks in subtlety — Los Angeles is a city of minorities divided but colliding, duh! — but it’s also gripping and powerful. Brokeback gives us something we haven’t seen before — closet-case sheepherders tastefully presented so they redefine the notion of love. But it’s also slow and ponderous.
Look, I do understand the degree to which the cowboy has been an iconic figure in motion pictures through the ages. Also, that many geriatric Academy members not only worked on oaters, but also worshipped Audie Murphy, Gene Autry, John Wayne and other saddle-sore celluloid heroes. And that only an equally iconic figure like Clint Eastwood could redefine the genre in Unforgiven in a way that didn’t turn off the old-timers. But, jeez, I’m not just talking about the geezers. I’m talking baby boomers and younger Academy members who are sketched out about seeing Brokeback.
Sure, even without seeing the movie, they could feel guilt-tripped or succumb to a herd mentality to vote for the gay-cowboy movie and strike a blow against Republican wedge politics and religious hatemongering. But, if they don’t, then Brokeback may lose for all the Right’s reasons.
Cantcha just see red-staters licking their lips to give Hollywood a verbal ass whooping after looking at Tuesday’s Oscar nominations? “Boy hidey, those show-biz folk are just a homo-promotin’, liberal-media-embracin’, minority-lovin’, devil-worshippin’, pimp-hustlin’, terrorist-protectin’ bunch of pansies, commies and traitors.” Or hollering “We was robbed!” when Walk the Line was blown off as a Best Picture contender.
On the other hand, you’d think the religious right would be dropping to their knees and thanking the Lord, for instance — about the miracle of Munich and Spielberg squeezing out nominations. It turned out just as I predicted back around Thanksgiving: Because of Steven’s involvement, Academy voters ignored the loudmouth neocons at The Weekly Standard and National Review who denounced the movie’s POV, and instead accepted on faith Spielberg’s much-fictionalized take on the Munich Olympics aftermath.
Overall, Tinseltown’s never been so proud to be savaged by right-wing punditry. That is, everywhere but at ABC, the award show’s broadcaster, where suits are tearing out their hair plugs anticipating in-the-cellar ratings because of the celeb polemics, the lack of blockbusters among the nominees, host Jon Stewart bitch-slapping Dubya, Dick Cheney and parent company Disney’s CEO Bob Iger. (The Daily Show wit reported on the recent $7 billion Pixar deal by asking, “Do you feel your children are beholden to too many multinational corporations?”)
American Idol is for amateurs. Bring on the pro-edition humilitainment we’ll see on Oscar night. Take George Clooney, who always said he’d never attend the Academy Awards unless he’s a nominee. So now he’s ass-kissed by the Geritol generation in not one, not two, but three different categories. Look for him to show up at the Kodak Theater all smiles only to be shitting by evening’s end, when he’ll be blanked bigtime.
Then there’s Mark Gill, kicked to the curb from Miramax by Harvey and Bob Weinstein back in 2002, when the longtime president confided that he’d be leaving when his contract expired. Who has the last laugh now? Harv and Bob lost control of Miramax. But Gill, now head of Warner Independent, slapped a Morgan Freeman narration on the French-made March of the Penguins and will see it win for Documentary Feature unless the Academy resents its $115 mil worldwide gross.
Speaking of Harv and Bob, Oscar campaigning has been less nausea-inducing than usual — that is, if you don’t dwell on the drivel being written by the Los Angeles Times and New York Times in their new awards-show blogs. (Please prescribe a Xanax stat for Tom O’Neil’s hyperventilated prose.) Interesting how this year’s absence of backbiting coincides with the Weinsteins’ MIA status while their new company gears up. Still, the dysfunctional duo did manage to eke out two Best Actress nods (Judi Dench for Mrs. Henderson Presents and Felicity Huffman for Transamerica). But don’t be surprised when gossip columns soon start outing category rival and current front-runner Reese Witherspoon as a Ku Klux Klan member or, worse, a Republican donor.
Meanwhile, it’s never too early to prognosticate about who’ll win these lame awards, who’ll lose, and who’ll just jerk off. (Sorry to work blue, but given that this year’s films include gay cowboys, trannies and a song about a pimp, just deal.)
BEST ACTOR: This category should be renamed Best Impersonation of a Real-Life Dead Guy. Terrence Howard fails to qualify. David Strathairn is known as an actor’s actor, which means he’s never the first guest on Leno or Letterman. Translation: He’s not flashy enough to win. Joaquin Phoenix played it like Johnny Cash Lite, so he’s out. Philip Seymour Hoffman eerily seemed more Capotesque than even the writer’s archival footage, so he’s the front-runner. Which leaves as his only serious competition Heath Ledger. I dunno, couldn’t he have married someone hotter than Michelle Williams? I think that lapse in judgment alone gives the Oscar to Hoffman.
BEST ACTRESS: The geezers love Dame Judi, but Dench won too recently. Same with Charlize Theron. Keira Knightley is too waifish; she needs to pack on 50 pounds for a role to get serious notice. Which leaves Felicity Huffman in the perennial Oscar-favored gender-bender role versus Reese Witherspoon in the less admired I-didn’t-think-I-had-to-sing role. Both are one-half of famous Hollywood couples: Felicity is married to William Macy, who always collects accolades, while Reese is wed to Ryan Phillippe, who mostly collects unemployment. Reese therefore gets the sympathy vote.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Forget loony William Hurt, who once fired an agent for “making me into a movie star.” Jake Gyllenhaal already has the next best thing to an Oscar: on-again-off-again girlfriend Kirsten Dunst. Matt Dillon hasn’t done anything decent since 1983, when he played opposite Ponyboy in The Outsiders. Not even George Clooney spitting up spinal fluid can mitigate those Vanity Fair glamourpuss photos of him at the wheel of the speedboat he keeps at his Lake Como villa. By contrast, Paul Giamatti looks like a troglodyte. The ugly guy wins.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: This is usually the wild-card category. (Two names: Marisa Tomei and Juliette Binoche.) Amy Adams and Michelle Williams are still nobodies. Frances McDormand already has one for Fargo. Catherine Keener always elevates the material, so that alone should make her the shoo-in for her work in Capote. But the Academy desperately wants to assuage its liberal guilt and bestow largess on The Constant Gardener. So Rachel Weisz is the beneficiary.
BEST DIRECTOR: Spielberg limped into this category. It’ll take more years for the Academy to forgive Clooney for making Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Paul Haggis and Bennett Miller came close, admittedly. But Ang Lee wins for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
BEST PICTURE: Too close to call between Brokeback Mountain and Crash for the reasons I’ve cited above. But if the adulated Don Cheadle campaigns hard, give the edge to Crash.