Tastes Good Still? Oscars 2010

Benjamin Strong


For months in advance, and long before the nominees were even announced, the 82nd Academy Awards ceremony was billed as a combination Divorce Court episode and live-action Celebrity Death Match, with an aggrieved ex-wife facing off against her former husband for the Best Picture spoils, and nothing but ABC’s five-second delay standing between the audience at home and the schadenfreude sure to ensue inside the Kodak Theater. Though actually, thanks to an ongoing dispute between Cablevision and ABC’s parent-company Disney—which resulted in the network’s signal being pulled from three million odd viewers—it’s possible something else was threatening to come between you and the His-n-Hers throwdown last night. Anyway, the point is, these Oscars had been hyped. And after all that hype, we did finally get to see an impromptu on-stage tussle (watch it here).

However, the fight was not, as promised, between best director nominees and exes James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow. Those two, quite predictably, were all hugs and kisses. No, the fight was between Roger Ross Williams and Elinor Burkett, the director and the producer, respectively, of Kayne, the winner for Best Documentary Short. It was that kind of night, I guess.

I’ve said before, every Oscars is the most boring ever, and I still think that’s true, but complaints were up from my wife and the four friends watching with us, and it seemed to have something to do with how drearily predictable this year’s winners were. With the number of Best Picture nominees newly expanded from five to ten, my Fanzine colleague Kevin Killian was apparently certain that this was going to be the year the Oscars would be liberated from the tyranny of Miramax-era good taste, possibly even resulting in a win for Avatar. But with all due to respect to Kevin, I mean, of course Bigelow won for best director.

And I don’t say of course because she’s the first woman to win the award, or because the “the time has come,” as Barbra Streisand put it. (Was it just me or when Babs handed Bigelow the trophy did she seem to imply she’d been robbed back in ‘91 for The Prince of Tides?) I say of course because Avatar is a science fiction film, while The Hurt Locker is a Serious film. Even better, The Hurt Locker is a Small and Serious film. (Though, what isn’t small or serious next to Avatar?) When Charlize Theron said, “Every year there’s a movie that defies the odds. This year that’s Precious,” she understandably thought she was talking about Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. But actually Theron was explaining why The Hurt Locker was such an obvious shoo-in over the current most popular movie in the world.

The Oscars exist for the sole purpose of Hollywood’s identity maintenance, and in a year in which the most expensive movie of all time has also become the most profitable, the industry didn’t want to be perceived first and foremost as a commercial monger, a protector of franchises and the bottom line. Rather, Hollywood wanted to be seen as a champion of the underdog. As an anti-war film (purportedly, but I sure didn’t get that message out of it), The Hurt Locker more closely resembles Hollywood’s image of itself than do blue people. Against the power of Hollywood’s vanity, Precious and the other so-called “indie” nominees for Best Picture, such as District 9 and An Education, never stood a chance.

George Clooney, the entertainment industry’s version of a well-liked class president, broke character on the red carpet last night and admitted as much when he was asked for his opinion of the expanded nominee list. “I don’t think it’s good for filmmaking,” Clooney said. “I think it’s probably very good for the show. You can get more people on it. I think it’s sort of like making the basket bigger in the basketball court so more points get scored.”

Famously such a class act (last night his Up in the Air co-star Vera Farmiga called him “a humanitarian of the first order”), Clooney in this moment was basically calling his fellow nominees charity cases. That was funny. He was also sporting a hockey haircut. That was even funnier. My guests couldn’t stop talking about what was up with the mullet, and they most certainly did not agree with E!’s Jay Manuel that the actor was “looking younger” because of it.

It’s too bad then that nothing in the actual show could match the spontaneity or excitement of Clooney’s coif and candor. It didn’t help that nominal co-hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin (the latter “on loan from NBC” as Neil Patrick Harris sang during his opening number, and it sure felt like it) were barely there, constantly shuffled aside to make way for entering and exiting presenters, and Ben Stiller in blue face.

But then again, the 82nd Academy Awards were a welcome reminder that rarely is the evening’s drama in who wins and who loses. As Sandra Bullock acknowledged in her acceptance speech for Best Actress, and as she proved by winning, sometimes all one needs to do to win an Oscar is wear the Academy down. And so if it’s all for show at the Oscars, if there really is no meaningful competition, and this year underscored that fact, then perhaps we have been liberated from good taste, after all. Which means we can finally admit that, for us, it has always been about the haircuts anyway.

*See Kevin Killian’s article posted earlier today, on same topic.


Related Articles from The Fanzine:

Oscar Lessons 2009

No Place for Old Men at the Oscars 2008

Oscar Agonistes: The 2007 Academy Awards Take 2

Oscar’s Grouch: Robert Altman Takes His Like a Lamb