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Oscar Grouching

Posted: January 26, 2005

By Kevin Forest Moreau, The Bloviator

I don't have much use for the Academy Awards. Never have. And after this week's announcement of nominees for the 2005 awards, I've got even less. Aside from the inclusion of Sideways -- whose nomination pleases me on principle more than anything else -- this year's slate of Best Picture nominees is the safest, most staid such list in years. Finding Neverland? Yeah, there's a real classic we'll be talking about decades from now. Right. Million Dollar Baby? Not in my lifetime. (Sorry, Clint -- blame Hilary Swank.)

The fact that there were audible gasps when Alan Alda's name was announced as a nominee for Best Supporting Actor only shows how insular the Academy really is. Alan Alda nominated for a role in a high-profile Martin Scorsese film? That's not a surprise, people. If you nominated Paul Giamatti -- now, that would be a surprise. If Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle had been nominated -- that would definitely be a surprise.

Nor is it a surprise that neither Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ nor Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 received nominations for Best Picture or Best Director. The Academy as a whole shuns controversy the way Ben Affleck shuns good roles. There's too much potential for the whole red-state/blue-state schism, embodied in those two polarizing films, to overshadow the awards themselves -- and no one at the Kodak Theater on Feb. 27 wants that to happen.

The only surprise about this year's list of Best Picture contenders is that no one in Hollywood seems to acknowledge how whitewashed it is. Of course, this is the same bunch of folks that takes it cue from the Golden Globes, despite the fact that the Globes are the most dubious prizes in the entire world. This is the same bunch that acts surprised when Best Picture and Best Director don't go hand-in-hand (dudes: If you really think one should always go with the other, just combine them! Problem solved.). The same bunch that awarded that coveted statuette to Shakespeare in Love, a picture so dull and in love with itself that not even a brief glimpse of Gwyneth Paltrow's unremarkable naked breasts could enliven it.

C'mon, people -- The Aviator? Really? And Leonardo DiCaprio for Best Actor? I realize I'm in the silent minority here, but DiCaprio is just no longer interesting. Yeah, it's a bit too easy to say that DiCaprio, who excelled as a quirky character actor in such films as What's Eating Gilbert Grape? and The Basketball Diaries, just hasn't been the same since Titanic made him a mega-star. But it's also true.

It's not entirely DiCaprio's fault that that film blew him up into a huge celebrity. But the fact is that that celebrity status now overshadows his roles -- and that's only compounded by the fact that the roles he's chosen since then just aren't a good fit for him. I thought Gangs of New York was atrociously miscast with him and Cameron Diaz -- hell, why not just plop Seann William Scott and Tara Reid in those parts? And if you can't see that he's all wrong for the part of Howard Hughes, well, I don't have either the time or the patience to convince you. (And Leo, what's up with the Martin Scorsese security blanket?)

Distressingly, The Aviator seems to have a very good shot at winning Best Picture, which points to one of my main problems with the Oscars: It's little more than a lavishly publicized opportunity for Hollywood to feel good about itself. The Aviator, which lionizes one of Hollywood's own, basking in the glow of old-time Tinseltown (Ava Gardner! Katharine Hepburn!) in the process, is programmed to tug at the heartstrings of Academy voters. "Look how great Hollywood is," it all but proclaims. "Look how fabulous we look! Don't you just love us?"

Well, no, not especially. With apologies to all the voting Academy members who work in the industry's technical trenches, the Oscars are just a popularity contest decided by the popular kids themselves. Caring about who Charlize Theron or Robin Williams voted as the best movie star of the year (and come on, let's be honest, that's what these awards are, by and large) is like caring about the snarky titles the popular kids in your high school class gave each other in your senior yearbook. "Leo: Most Likely to Succeed -- At Scoring With Any Girl Within 30 Seconds! Way to go, Bra! Whooooo! Remember Spring Break 4-EVUH!!"

The Academy Awards -- the high-profile ones, anyway -- are all about movie-industry big shots patting themselves on the back. Why the rest of the world finds this cliquish event fascinating is one of life's great enduring mysteries. That said: Go, Thomas Hayden Church!

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