The day the Oscar ceremony was held, I had come down with a pretty bad cold. The season had taken its toll on me at last.¬† That made me slightly funny in the head so that I forgot to, for instance, thank Dora, who single-handedly kept the FYC gallery running this entire year. I also forgot to thank Daniel Kenealy, who wrote many articles for the site. And Nancy. And countless other tipsters and readers who continually found news and either posted it in the comments or sent it to us. It is always impossible to do justice to the kindness of people. Okay, so now that the awkward intro is over and done with let’s get on to the new season of Oscar 2009.
The names weren’t even etched on the Oscars yet this year before scads of sites came out with their 2009 Oscar shapings. Kris Tapley wrote a very extensive one. So those of you are wanting to start your Oscar watching (very) early can do so. Me, I’m afraid of early speculation and will remain afraid of it after watching another disasterous season come and go. It is true what the naysayers have said: this attention on the films before they’ve completed filming, before they’re seen, before they’re released can do no one any good in the long run. They can’t help the bloggers, who just look more and more ridiculous. They certainly can’t help the films because expectations for Oscars (which they won’t receive anyway) are swollen with hype. They don’t help the publicists who must do damage control constantly even though there isn’t any “there” there. I don’t blame Kris; he’s just doing his column early so he can get out of town and enjoy what’s left of his life. This beast can’t be so easily killed anyway. But we can talk to it and try to calm it down.
I learned a few more lessons this year that I hadn’t known before. The Oscars, for me, have always been a letdown, starting way back in 1999 when I became involved in Oscar Watching. Before that, they were just a fun guessing game. I believed them to be kind of silly, a popularity contest. As I got knee-deep in them, though, I began to see them as far more sinister than that, though they still are a popularity contest. First, the critics seemed to have all of the answers. But the face of film criticism has changed since I started doing this. For one thing, there are less of them. Where Manohla Dargis used to be along the lines of Scott Foundas – someone on the fringe — she’s now the top critic, along with AO Scott, at the NY Times. Kenneth Turan is all that remains of the LA Times’s film criticsm – it has been swallowed up by awards coverage. I say this as someone who helped feed and nurture the beast. I am not judging.
The critics, thus, became more and more unreliable as they first joined the Oscar fray and then backed off from it and marginalized themselves. They are still mixed in, and can be blamed for much of the group-think that goes on throughout the season, but for the most part, the Academy and the critics have parted ways. One need only look at the end result of Waltz with Bashir to see how that played out. Or The Reader, for that matter, the worst reviewed film that made it into Best Picture, including Chocolat.
My hope for this season is that we don’t set up movies to fail. Whatever movie is in the pundits number one spot right now is probably the one that won’t win Best Picture. You can almost guarantee it. It has to be Schindler’s List or Titanic to overcome the chatter.
Another thing I learned this year is that you have to clean yourself up and become one of them if you want to win an Oscar. This occurred to me as I watched Sean Penn collect his second Oscar while Mickey Rourke, who really gave (in my opinion, I know) the more realized and breathtaking performance of the year, was sent home empty-handed. Sean Penn, though, had long since cleaned up his act. He began to wear suits, to smile at parties, to shake hands, to have a sense of humor at the podium. Rourke, by contrast, let the hair hang in his face, wore goofy suits and had that missing tooth all through the season, not to mention the profanity-ladened speeches. Whether it was Prop 8 that tipped Penn over the edge, whether voters truly believed Penn’s was the better performance – it was clear to me on the night of the awards that there was no way those people were going to let Mickey Rourke into their club looking like that. In Rourke speak, they didn’t have the balls to bring it.
And for those who said Penn’s was the better performance, I can point you to at least five as great performances by Penn that were not recognized by the Academy because, at that point, Penn wasn’t “one of them.”¬† If Mickey Rourke wants to win an Oscar that badly next time he’ll comb his hair out of his face and he’ll wear a traditional suit. Will he ever get there again? He was the best thing about Sin City, was great in The Pledge and gave his best performance to date in The Wrestler. He’ll get there. This should be a new beginning for him, not the end.
The Academy doesn’t always reward their own, however. Annette Bening still hasn’t won and there isn’t anyone more accepted than Warren Beatty’s talented wife. Michelle Pfeiffer, Glenn Close. Look at how long it took for Henry Fonda to win an Oscar. There are no guarantees. Still, I think if Mickey Rourke had worn a different suit he would have won this thing. And I’ll probably always think that.
And so we face down 2009. On second thought, let’s not.