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Monday, March 06, 2006

Crash-ing Brokeback's party

It's a good thing that I didn't head off to bed after the announcement that Ang Lee had won Best Director for 'Brokeback Mountain'. Having sat through four hours of an interminably predictable and lifeless ceremony - exacerbated by Sky's segues to the abysmally clueless Mariella Frostrup - everything seemed to be going according to plan. All of the expected winners - deservedly in the vast majority of cases - had been to the podium to claim their prizes. 'Brokeback' was on the way to capping its incredible year by taking home Hollywood's top honour.

And then, out came Jack Nicholson to reveal the winner of the Best Picture Oscar. We were a bit surprised seven years ago when 'Shakespeare in Love' pipped 'Saving Private Ryan' to the top award but nothing in recent Academy Award history compared to the gasps and stunned silence that greeted the proclamation that melting-pot ensemble drama 'Crash' had emerged as victor.

It's a good movie, no doubt, but 'Brokeback Mountain' was infinitely superior in nearly every respect. But, Lions Gate, the backers of 'Crash', ran a brilliant (and expensive) marketing campaign that played on 'Brokeback's frontrunner status.

'Crash' was released last summer: never before has a movie released so early in the award year won the Best Film Oscar. In the pre-award analysis, commentators noticed that this was the first time since 1981 that the nominees for Best Picture and Director were for all the same movies. There was a premonition of last night's final shock in that fact: 25 years ago, Warren Beatty won the Directing prize for 'Reds' but was beaten at the last minute for Best Film by 'Chariots of Fire'.

'Crash' was an actors movie, set in L.A, the home to the majority of Academy members so it must have resonated with them. It's also the first film to win Best Picture without winning a single Best Film prize in the pre-Oscar award blitz. This is also the first time that there has been consecutive Best Picture winners that were written by the same person ('Crash' writer, director and producer Paul Haggis wrote last year's big winner 'Million Dollar Baby').

A clearly devastated Ang Lee saw his film - the most acclaimed of the year by a long stretch - tie with 'Crash', 'King Kong' and 'Memoirs of a Geisha' for award wins (three apiece). 'Brokeback' took home Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score. 'Crash' also won Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing. That latter award went some way to prove a point that I remember 'LA Times' critic David Ansen making a few years back: that the film that wins the Editing prize nearly always goes on to win Best Film.

The acting prizes went as expected. Bafta, Golden Globe and SAG winners Philip Seymour Hoffman and Reese Witherspoon took home Best Actor and Actress for 'Capote' and 'Walk the Line' respectively. Hoffman had an easy win whereas Witherspoon arguably had a much closer result over chief competitor Felicity Huffman.

Hollywood favourite George Clooney saw off a last minute surge from Paul Giamatti to win Best Supporting Actor for the complex geopolitical drama 'Syriana'. Clooney's 'Good Night, and Good Luck' (for which he was also nominated as Director and Writer) went home empty-handed as did Steven Spielberg's controversial 'Munich'. Both movies had six nominations each.

British actress Rachel Weisz made up enough lost ground at the Baftas to emerge victorious in the closely contested Best Supporting Actress category. Weisz won for her movie-stealing role opposite Ralph Fiennes in 'The Constant Gardener'.

Emcee for the night was freshman Jon Stewart, acerbic host of satirical news programme 'The Daily Show'. It's fair to say that Stewart's performance was mixed at best. His opening monologue died a death and many of his jokes and asides were met with silence. He improved as the dreadful show dragged on however. A great spoof reel claiming dirty campaigning in the Best Actress race went down a storm as did the joke about Bjork (who attended the Oscars five years ago dressed as a swan) being shot by Dick Cheney. Other highlights included a beautiful performance by Dolly Parton of her nominated song 'Travellin Thru' whilst Meryl Streep's and Lily Tomlin's tribute to Robert Altman was inspired.

Overall, the show was dire and was made all the worse by a seemingly endless stream of movie montages and some nauseating, self-pitying pleas from presenters for audiences to abandon DVD and return to the cinemas. 2005 was a hard year for the Hollywood studios so there is a lot of lost ground - and money - to make up for. Expect a slew of big budget movies to dominate next year's ceremony.

Despite the quality of the delivery, most of the awards were deserving. The problem is that most of the winners have been front-runners since January. Apart from Best Picture, there were literally no other surprises. Congratulations to Irish playwrite Martin McDonagh, who won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short for 'Six Shooter'. Let's hope that we'll be hearing more Irish accents at the show over the next few years.

And that's all I want to say about Oscar 2006 because, like an Irish general election campaign, it feels as if the contest has been on-going for the last seven months. Some great work was produced and, true to form, the Academy failed to award the year's best film with the Best Film Oscar. Next, please. The challenge to Hollywood is to find a way to move forward from one of the most unusual award years' in recent memory. If the current trend for topical, political cinema continues into the next movie year, it'll be interesting to see what 'hammers to mould society' Tinseltown produces next.


Tony said...

Easily the best synopsis I've read of the Oscars... (I especially like the tabloid sensibility shown in this and other recent post titles. We're clearly learning...)

Good shit dude. It's a while since I've logged on but won't be so long till I'm back.


Declan Cashin said...

Aw thanks Tony, mucho appreciated!