Oscar Party 2009: The Third Way

Kevin Killian


They’ve been stirring enthusiasm all month with the whisper on the street that this year’s 2009 Oscar ceremony was going to be totally different than any other you’ve ever seen, and the first order of business was that Peter Gabriel was not going to sing his nominated song, whatever it was.  I took heart at this new item, since I have never warmed up to Peter Gabriel, even though I know he’s supposed to be a genius or whatever.  I think maybe the time period in which he attained fame, I was still on drugs and missed the whole thing, so all I got was that one song that John Cusack plays on the big boombox outside that girl’s house in yet another seminal classic I missed.  People tell me that Peter Gabriel was married to Rosanna Arquette or discovered Kate Bush and it gives me a migraine, for I’ve discovered there are entire bodies of knowledge I’m too tired to take in any more.  Thus I was glad to hear the new broom swept out Peter Gabriel and any chance of me having to study his face once again to see if I recognized him from somewhere; was that his real name, I wonder, or the conflation of two great Biblical loud mouths, Peter and Gabriel?

This was the year the Oscars were going to change altogether, and some of the changes I liked (the anti-Peter Gabriel rule) and some I did not.  Why mess once again with what was once my favorite segment, the In Memoriam montage of all the stars who died during the past year?  Actually I liked having Queen Latifah come and sing “I’ll Be Seeing You,” while the photos changed, but due to some incredibly bad camerawork we completely missed the opening—hmm, dead celebrity, for the cameras were still climbing all over Latifah!  Only people with really sharp eyes could have identified the tiny images pixilating across the stage of the Kodak Theater as representing the one and only Cyd Charisse, star of Two Weeks in Another Town and Party Girl, who died this past summer, nearly our last link to the old MGM studio dream factory.  Pshaw!  She deserved better than that!  Reminds me of the year we were at an Oscar party at Craig Goodman’s house and the In Memoriam montage concluded without ever having shown us a clip of Dorothy McGuire, who had died the preceding year and had actually been nominated for an Oscar, and in the ensuing silence someone said, “Well, somebody fucked up.”  We totally expected heads to roll or, maybe the following year the Academy might correct its mistake at the beginning of the telecast, perhaps by devoting a good 20 minute chunk of the show to the great McGuire (whose role as the mom in Old Yeller alone could have made her immortal), but instead Dorothy McGuire has still not been mourned the good ol’ fashioned proper way.  And why not?

Well, anyone who knows me has heard me rant that the Oscars were ruined the day the suits decided to pad the list of the dead with those who were not stars, or even directors, but—oh my God, cameramen, editors—OK a few of those I can stand—but managers and agents and “executives”!!!!  It was horrible.  I’m sure they love to honor their own, but in the TV audience? think of us, the little people in France, Nairobi, Hong Kong and Daly City, people like us don’t know your managers and agents, and yet when you throw us picture after picture of Paul Newman smiling and glinting, we go to pieces—and that’s how we like it.

My friend Mark Kirby, who runs an Oscar prediction service from his home in Florida, wrote this about the best actor race:

BEST ACTOR:  Sean Penn for MILK.  His galvanic portrayal of gay politician Harvey Milk, who was assassinated in 1978 in San Francisco, is certainly a change-of-pace for Penn, and even though he won an Oscar just five years ago (for MYSTIC RIVER) he has a good shot at getting a second for MILK.  His closest competition is Mickey Rourke, equally galvanic in THE WRESTLER, but Rourke’s decades-long behavior that turned off Hollywood will be rewarded by the nomination only.  The recognition of his comeback will have to suffice (a la Eddie Murphy’s for DREAMGIRLS) and Penn will probably prevail here.  

Mark you were right as usual, but I demand we should have an exemption made—in fact a new amendment to the Constitution that would interdict actors playing real people from being included in the nominations for best actor or best actress.  Instead the Academy should create a separate category for biopics and that’s where you can stick your Oscars for Marion Cotillard and Ben Kingsley and F. Murray Abraham and George C. Scott and Coal Miner’s Daughter and Charlize Theron and all these actors playing real people which ultimately endangers the spirit of cinema if you ask me.  I would love a new biopic category—the “third Oscar,” like the “third way” debate in contemporary poetry—the third Oscar, which could go to a man or woman, and all the competitors would have starred in biopics, and every other category would be free from them.  Don’t get me started on the year when Geoffrey Rush won for playing that piano nut in Australia or wherever.

Only one performer has ever deserved to win the Oscar for playing a real person, and that was Miss Ross in Lady Sings the Blues.  Oddly enough, she lost, and a little piece of me died that night in 1972.  I kind of think Diana gave up too, even though her triumphs with “Love Hangover,” “Upside Down,” “My Mistake,” and “Muscles” were still ahead of her.  Anyhow when my third Oscar category gets adopted by the Academy, I would like the statue to have not the famous gold face of Oscar, but it could be a gold face of Diana Ross, with the big natural Afro she sported when they let Billie Holiday out of that rehab cage and everyone in the audience gasped in terror and pity.

I did think it was strange that the frontrunners in the Best Actor trophy were the two most popular wife-beating stars!  (Penn and Rourke.)  Why was Chris Brown not nominated I wonder?  At any rate, next year they will have to bring out Madonna, Carré Otis (the former wife of Rourke), and Rhianna, and either nominate them too, or let them serve on the technical panel.

Zac Efron and Alicia Keys gave out two awards, first to the score of an individual motion picture.  Then Zac turned to the screen and told us, “If the score is the narrative of the movie, then the song is its punctuation.”  I don’t know, for some reason we laughed?  It sounded silly with him saying it, but could it be true?  I guess we were thinking, not every movie has songs, and yet all of them, or nearly all, have punctuation.  On third thought it’s just ludicrous, and so was the stiff way Zac stood barely acknowledging Alicia Keys, as though afraid of what gossips would say if he allowed himself to touch her with any part of his shoulder or elbow.

Okay, Kate Winslet, not that I’ve seen The Reader, but all I can recall are the uniformly horrid reviews the movie got and I just wonder how she managed to rise above it all and get nominated?  Or really how she managed, with a straight face, to have all those sexy scenes with that boy who looks like Landry on Friday Night Lights, and for those who don’t know Landry, let me find another metaphor—I know—a coffee table—a beechwood coffee table polished within an inch of its life but crying years out of its two knots for eyes.  Well, she did it with Leo in Titanic, and this German kid is but the newest beneficiary of her mania.  Sorry, but I think Harvey Weinstein’s money won this award for Kate, just the way he paid for the award for Gwyneth Paltrow all those years ago.  That’s just business as usual, plus Hollywood loves British accents and British people and thinks the British are doing us an incredibly big favor by gracing us with their presence.  We certainly got the impression that no other director was as good as Slumdog Millionaire’s Danny Boyle, right?  He’s from Manchester.  In a pinch, maybe Stephen Daldry, the Dorset born genius behind Kate Winslet’s triumph of the will, whose pale face had an odd glower to it all evening.  They kept showing him at a few paces behind the young, hissing star of Twilight, Robert Pattinson, who can’t look at you sideways without making you a vampire.  Methinks Pattinson had somehow, during the commercials, turned Stephen Daldry into a Renfield-like creature eating spiders and flies.

A few doors down, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie clutched hands desperately as both lost to other, less golden creatures.  I might have mentioned this last year, but cynical Hollywood will always nominate one or the other, just to get them into the room, but then will deny them the awards eternally, on the theory that you mustn’t have everything or, according to the Rapture Principle, the world will explode.  On her throat and wrists, Jolie wore 20 million pounds worth of emeralds, and meanwhile that tattooed square on her upper arm apparently reveals the names and birthdates of all of her children just in case she suddenly gets assumed into paradise for being so Promethean or as the terrorists’ reward for bringing down the World Trade Center.  Speaking of which, Phillepe Petit—the man who walked across the twin towers with an impromptu and illegal tightrope back in 1974—joined the winning makers of the documentary about him, Man on Wire, thus breaking the ultimate taboo, for hitherto no subject of any documentary was allowed on the stage with the filmmakers.  You’ll remember him, he was the little clown who balanced the Oscar on his nose.

Or was that Jerry Lewis?  At 82 the onetime evil-est man in movies seemed to have mellowed a bit, though I thought his speech was a bit self serving and hypocritical, the part where he said he went into charity work never expecting anyone to commend him for it!  What horseshit, and yet, you have to love him for it, and in fact everyone in show business for their “never expected” routine which they apparently think has never been used before.  I was happy to see the Bollywood genius of A R Rahman so recognized, and I expect all of you already know he’s written a new track for Kylie Minogue to perform in one of his next features?  And what do you think of the new way to present the acting Oscars—round up a group of 5 previous winners and have each of them make a nice speech to the nominees?  I could write a whole new book about my feelings on this subject, so let me just say, that Ben Stiller did Joaquin Phoenix pretty well, but comedy isn’t pretty.  Or (in this case) funny.  But you know what they say, if life is the narrative of a movie, then the Oscars are its punctuation, and Joaquin Phoenix its question mark.

And Sophia Loren, her skin turned to fine Corinthian leather, wearing a dress made from a yellow pumpkin shell, is its exclamation point and umlaut.

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