Oscar Party 2015: White Year
Not in many a moon they tell us, has every acting nominee been white. Not in twenty years. The one black actor accepting an Award from the Academy this year was Harry Belafonte, and even he got his nod not for his acting but for his activism, the Jean Hersholt awards that have kept the name of the old “Country Doctor” known long past its sell-by date. For acting they gave a Lifetime achievement award to Maureen O’Hara, the favorite star of me dear old dad in Ireland, Ray Killian, but in addition possibly the whitest woman in the world. And she is also the oldest to stay alive except for that 115 year old Emma Morano (whose secret to a long life is that her husband passed on in 1935 and she eats raw eggs and takes lots of naps. Director/producer Hayao Miyazaki, another Honorary Oscar winner, is Japanese of course. And you know they gave out all these honorary Oscars back in November, so they must have thought that with Belafonte and Miyazaki crowned, there, they didn’t need to do anything with people of color, let’s have all categories white again like in the old days.
In a perfectly just world the Oscar would go to Viola Davis for How to Get Away with Murder, but for some screwy reason I can’t understand she’s ineligible. Same with the many leads of Empire including Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, and their three sons, and Rhonda, and Porsha. Therefore I propose a second level of a perfectly just world in which the stars I really love, like Angelina Jolie and Channing Tatum and Halle Berry and Jon Snow from Game of Thrones would receive Oscars annually.
There’s a third reality I know, but it’s one that bores me, and unfortunately it always seems to triumph at times like these. It’s the actors’ actors. And yes, there were actors’ actors nominated this year, and yes of course Julianne Moore must be rewarded for her years playing sexy neurotics, but not for Still Alice, it just seems wrong! I speak as one who is undoubtedly going to be put to sleep for Alzheimers Disease not too many years from now, and even I think, it’s wrong to give Oscars to actors miming mental and physical illness, what are we rewarding, or are we just propitiating the gods who guard the portals of the future, as if to say, there can’t be another holocaust, I voted for Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice. Ah, Julianne Moore, that was greedy of you to take that Still Alice script and leaf through it and accept it, instead of doing the charitable thing of letting a less acclaimed actress get her big break suffering. Come on, even Kim Kardashian could be nominated for that Oscar and she isn’t even ordinarily thought of as an actress! ––Though never say never. Or what about Marissa from The O.C., she never really made it, did she? Anyhow this would be the third level of Oscar perfection for me, when the “great actors” win Oscars: Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, sigh, I’m boring myself thinking about the wins these people have racked up. Each a wasted opportunity if you ask my opinion. When beautiful people win Oscars for playing ugly, that’s still okay, as long as you can see them glowing again at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. It’s not like Charlize Theron turned her back on good looks when she won the Oscar, it was just excellent makeup, folks! But it’s the Ben Kingsleys and the F. Murray Abrahams and the Geoffrey Rushes that leave me screaming on Oscar night. Why, God, why? Who won last year? Was it Jennifer Lawrence? That’s fine with me. It doesn’t have to be Halle Berry every year. But Frances McDormand? I fall into a fitful, benighted sleep, dreams filled with contagion and Wes Anderson film festivals. In this morning’s Chronicle, Mick LaSalle made the same point, that both our Best Actor and Best Actress won for mimicking the signs of illness. “Anything,” writes reviewer LaSalle, “that reinforces the illusion that the depiction of illness is the highest form of acting is nothing to be entirely celebrated.”
But still, the absence of black nominees, of any nominees of color, awakens the sickening feeling one can’t help getting every year around this time, that racism is running the country and we’re just pawns in its game. Why are there two horrid British biopics among the top movies nominated? One about Stephen Hawking and the other about Alan Turing? It’s because the British stars are bigger hams than Julianne Moore and they can see the Oscar potential in playing tortured geniuses. My own marriage depends on a certain “don’t rock the boat” mutual subscription to the tenet that Benedict Cumberbatch is the cutest man in the world, but I agreed to nothing about Eddie Redmayne whom I remember with horror as the principal revolutionary in Les Miserables movie last year. And Russell Crowe was in it too! Russell Crowe who won an Oscar for playing a tortured genius with A Beautiful Mind, yeah, what the fuck was that all about?! I picture Crowe taking young Eddie aside in the tea breaks on the set of Les Miz and telling him, “Right, young Eddie, find yourself a role like, where you’re going mad or contract some disease and you lose all your functions one by one but your mind—keeps—blinking—and shining bright—as a ruddy beacon!” Yeah, what was that Beautiful Mind shit anyhow, was it that the story of a real person? Some math guy or something. It was, wasn’t it. Well, one hardly has to remember it, does one, for they feed you the same pap every Christmastime during Oscar qualification season. They’re all the same. It’s The King’s Speech or The Pianist or, well, I exempt from my strictures of disapproval that movie where Angelina Jolie walked through minefields as a doctor’s wife Beyond Borders. With Clive Owen was it? That was the real thing, but this year Jolie couldn’t even get nominated as Best Director for one of those Guaranteed Oscar movies.
It’s like, I like uplift of course I do, and I like the downbeat too, I sat through Persona fifteen times, but they missed their chance in the 80s when they failed to remake it with Kim Basinger and Melanie Griffith, the two greatest stars of the twentieth century. Meanwhile, Eddie Redmayne, the Howdy Doody of the 21st Century, is Stephen Hawking, I don’t think so! My wife reminds me that early in his career her favorite, Benedict Cumberbatch, already played Stephen Hawking in a BBC drama called Hawking in 2004, and wiped the floor with your Eddie Redmayne. Everyone knows how badly Cumberbatch wanted the Oscar for The Imitation Game; my wife fretted about the torment he must have been feeling when Redmayne stole the prize away from him for a role he had already not only mastered but forgotten about! At our Oscar party we decided it was no coincidence that both Turing and Hawking end with the same three letters, as though England, and by extension Oscar, reveres the gerundive hero. The gerund is a form suspended eerily between past and present, just like Godard’s dictum about what is truth (“film, 24 frames per second”).
We also noticed how, after a rousing rendition by Common and John Legend of the winning theme from the otherwise ignored Selma, the show went back to white again. Scarlet Johansson came on and took us back to a time in which the biggest movie of the year was The Sound of Music (1965), and we wondered why, what was up? Were they going to reunite the principal players. Then it turned out to be a setup for the appearance of Lady GaGa on the Oscars, in full Julie Andrews mode, to unleash a pounding medley of the greatest songs of Sound of Music! Her hair was pale, pale blond and her dress was a robust and somewhat saintly concoction of sparkly, billowy satin and tulle; it was the spirit of white, white in excelsis. “Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes”—“Edelweiss, small and white”—“Silver white winters that melt into springs” etc. We parsed the event, which culminated in Julie Andrews crying her eyes out over the passage of time, as a series of subliminal white events, that you might not even notice happening, much like daily life I guess. It’s all very puzzling! Peter explained that the bit with host Neil Patrick Harris, irritated, trapped without his pants, stalking the backstage of the Oscars in just a pair of tight, white underwear, was a takeoff on a similar sequence in Birdman, but to us it was another visual reminder, too subtle to be picked up by the human mind, that white covers even the largest of packages. (Too large to be real, methinks, weighted down by some sort of Lego-built prosthesis.)
Couple after couple appeared on the stage and gave awards to people who invariably thanked their families. Haven’t heard so much praise of family life since the old Pat Robertson show. Do people who make movies really do so because of their families? I wonder! The Birdman contingent got up there, having won best screenplay, and announced, “Family time!” like this was some great treat with much honor on its observance. In the meantime, Neil Patrick Harris, the worst host I have seen in decades of hosting Oscar parties, delivered the worst jokes and pranks in human history. He wasn’t as smug as Seth McFarlane from two years ago; but he had that flop sweat spinning off of him starting from his introductory number, and I didn’t like him saying that “Edward Snowden couldn’t make it to the Oscars for some treason.” Even Clint Eastwood, spotted behind NPH, was scowling at this low blow. And what about Harris telling Oprah that she is American Sniper because she is rich? My little brain is still trying to work out where that came from, and what it means, and I can still remember Jonathan Hammer’s Oscar party from years ago where we sat stupefied as David Letterman, trying to be an iconoclastic host, asked the audience to point at Oprah in unison, and then to Uma Thurman, and chant, “Oprah… Uma…. Oprah… Uma,” and not twenty minutes into the show, completely lost his chance ever to appear on the Oscars ever again. It was like, don’t fuck with Oprah Winfrey, but NPH didn’t get the message maybe?
And can someone tell me who was the absurdly tall and gawky young guy presenting the award for Visual Effects with tiny, bell shaped Chloe Grace Moretz? Haven’t seen that sort of height disparity since the good old days when Tom Cruise was married to Nicole Kidman, only here, oddly enough, the man was taller than the woman! And also, beg pardon, but is Chloe Grace Moretz a little girl, or am I thinking of someone else? With her fists plunged into the pockets of her formal gown, she looked like Julie Harris in The Member of the Wedding, at the wedding. We tsk-tsked when the camera caught Michael Keaton chewing gum, but what on the other hand is Oscar for but for forgetting about all manners and decency?
You can tell this wasn’t one of my favorite episodes of The Oscars, but I did enjoy watching the intriguing trailers for two forthcoming ABC series, An American Crime and Secrets and Lies. They may turn out to be lousy, but they kept reminding us every couple minutes that TV is better than the cinema nowadays. And I did enjoy the solidarity of Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez, sitting side by side as though actresses of equal stature, pumping their fists into the air at Patricia Arquette’s controversial women-are-important-too pro-ERA acceptance speech. Perhaps still smarting from the terrible critical reception of her starring part in the masterpiece that is The Boy Next Door, Jennifer Lopez was particularly fiery in her display of scorn for men who don’t know first editions of Homer and use that knowledge to keep women underpaid and in their places. That’s the way it goes in a white year in a white world. Next year we will see Eddie Redmayne playing Sherlock Holmes and the whole world will snap into one tightly constructed jigsaw puzzle of complete connivance.