Monday, Feb. 23, 2009

Oscar Afterward

By David Luhrssen
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I wish the Razzies were televised. You know, the Golden Raspberry Awards handed out on the eve of the Oscars to the year’s worst movies. Much can be learned by starring into the Hollywood abyss where the green light is given to the likes of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or The Love Guru. For the record, the big winner at the Razzies on Saturday was Mike Meyers, whose groove ran short in The LoveGuru, and Paris Hilton, arguably the most inexcusable individual on earth. Crystal Skull, by the way, was named Worst Sequel.

It’s not just me: Public interest in the Academy Awards has waned in recent times but this year, however, Oscar might have seen better ratings because Hollywood is one of the few remaining growth industries. Housing has plummeted, stocks have gone south, retail is weak but ticket counters at the multiplexes have been busy. Alas, most customers are paying to see fat mall cops or friendly dogs, not the amazing backwards-aging man or the sexy death camp guard who gives herself to a teenage lover.

The most popular movies seldom win the most trophies. A growing segment of Academy voters have disconnected themselves from the big Hollywood franchises, at least when the time comes for Oscar nominations. Maybe they are understandably embarrassed to be in an industry that produced Love Guru and Crystal Skull. Or maybe they are film school snobs who turn up their noses at The Dark Knight. Perhaps the road that leads through the plethora of secondary awards shows to the red carpet at the Kodak Theater is the only way that a certain kind of quality film can still be made in Hollywood.

Not that quality usually means aesthetically, emotionally or intellectually challenging work; the definition generally embraces films that are technically well made, easy on the eye, acted with some grace and written by people with IQs over 100 (especially when adapted from a literary source). By those lights The CuriousCase of Benjamin Button should have swept the Academy Awards last night, but something truly curious happened. Slumdog Millionaire, an unexpected contender from the frontier where indiedom meets Bollywood, surged ahead to win eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for Danny Boyle.

Slumdog isn’t challenging in the old-art house sense of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni but stands as an exuberant, transnational hybrid of styles, a bi-lingual face of things to come in a world of dissolving boundaries. The story is Horatio Alger revisited, a boy with pluck who makes his way up the slippery ladder of success (and gets the girl in the end).

I’m happy for Slumdog (and that all but one of my Academy predictions in last week’s Shepherd Express came true). Still, I wish I would have been watching and writing about the Razzies instead. I would have been spared the sight of Wolverine as a song-and-dance man, and the usual cavalcade of Hollywood self-congratulation.

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