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Love, The Thin
Red Line, Velvet
Each year, about this time, just when my hope for humanity starts to reach some unfounded peak, the Oscar ceremony, and all the dreadful hype that accompanies it, brings me decidedly back to Earth. Not surprisingly, the 71st Annual Academy Awards was no exception. In fact, the Academy's decision to bestow a lifetime achievement award to Elia Kazan, who ratted on some of his closest friends during the McCarthy era, made the experience less like a gravitational pull, and more like a serious crash landing to the planet.
I began the evening with a cynical eye, but no amount of jaded skepticism could prepare me for the phenomenon known as the Academy Awards. I tried to approach the event in a mind-set that one must have while on the way to receive a good beating in an S&M dungeon. You know it's gonna hurt but you expect to love every minute of it. What a fool I was. I would have chosen a good whipping, any day, over the experience of witnessing the unseemly carnival that transpired Sunday evening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.
Why Whoopi Goldberg, this year's host, would choose to be affiliated with this most unholy of events is clearly a mystery. My guess is that the gig paid well. Whoopi initiated the ceremony, wearing a Queen Elizabeth get-up and fired off a barrage of tired one-liners. From there, the show traveled its usual sad path inexorably downhill. Whoopi tried her best to keep things spicy by continuing with her costume changes and delivering more sex jokes than prior Acadamy outings have encountered. Unfortunately, it was like trying to save rotten meat by flooding it with a river of steak sauce.
The usual flattering exchanges between the stars and the endless windbag acceptance speeches did prevail through the final Oscar ceremony of the current millennium. Sure, Roberto Benigni's rambling tirades were endearing in their awkward sincerity, but I somehow still couldn't wait for him to get off the stage. (In case you've been away from Earth on business for the past couple of days, Benigni won the Best Actor and Best Foreign Language Film awards for Life Is Beautiful.) And for the poor souls like James Coburn, who spoke at less-than-a-gunfire pace, they were rudely interrupted by the exit-to-stage-left cue music before they were 30 seconds into their monologues.
Speaking of Coburn, it was nice to see him grab the award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Affliction, after so many years in the business. It was also nice to see the stunningly talented Judi Dench win for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Shakespeare In Love, after being robbed of it last year for her role in Mrs. Brown. More so, it was nearly worth all the root-canal-like torment to catch a current glimpse of the exquisite Sophia Loren and to see Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow in her lovely pink gown. (Just the fact that Gwyneth has chosen not to pump her breasts up to the size of seat cushions to further her career is commendable, by any means.) But Gwyneth's fair beauty and the political correctness of Whoopi as host could not save the ceremony. Nothing ever will. The Oscars are like the death penalty, loathsome and ugly, but somehow necessary and undeniably here for the duration.
The evening's musical highlights included Whitney Houston and Maria Carey singing Oscar winner "When You Believe" from The Prince of Egypt. I wasn't exactly bowled over by the sappy duet and I'll say this, if Maria doesn't consider a serious diet sometime soon, she's definitely going to lose that sex advantage she's enjoyed to date. Fortunately, the memory was soon erased by the subsequent kick-ass performance by Aerosmith of "I Don't Want To Miss a Thing" (from Armageddon) and Peter Gabriel's stellar performance of "That'll Do" (from Babe in the City).
The main problem, from my vantage point, with the whole sordid affair is that you can't help but harbor the stinking feeling that you're being seriously bamboozled. During an acceptance speech, acclaimed producer Norman Jewison suggested that the industry put box office sales aside and try to make the best picture possible. As the audience responded approvingly, I thought, who are these people kidding? This is Hollywood. This crowd is sitting here lusting after a 13-inch golden idol known as Oscar. These people arrived here in stretch limousines and $10,000 gowns. Why not interject a little honesty into the proceedings? How about an award for the most budding young actresses shagged by a single Hollywood producer in one season. How about one for the fattest wallet in town, biggest swimming pool, etc.
Toward the end of the evening, a nervous Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese presented Kazan with his award. The response from the crowd was decidedly mixed. Warren Beatty stood and clapped. Nick Nolte sat grim-faced, arms crossed defiantly across his chest. I would have respected Kazan if he had apologized for the people whose lives he destroyed. He did not. He thanked the Academy for their "courage" and left the stage after a few brief words. It was a dissatisfying speech, but in the words of Fred MacMurray, delivered to Edward G. Robinson in one of my favorite movies of all time, Double Indemnity: "At least it was short."
Best Picture: Shakespeare in Love