Wednesday

March 29th, 2017

Insight

Oscars No Longer about Talent

Alicia Colon

By Alicia Colon

Published Feb. 3, 2017

It's not much of a surprise that the film 'La La Land' won 14 nominations for the upcoming Oscars. The musical is about the angst and trials of those seeking fame and fortune in Hollywood. In other words, it's all about Hollywood.

Famed author Truman Capote is quoted as saying: "The better the actor, the more stupid he is." This may explain Meryl Streep's anti-Trump dramatic rant at the Golden Globes. More misplaced outrage was expressed at the SAG Awards by actors using their acceptance speakers to denounce President Trump's executive order vetting immigration from terror nations.

I am reminded of another Capote quote that explains why celebrities feel compelled to spout about issues they know little about. He said, "It's a scientific fact that if you stay in California, you lose one point of your IQ each year."

I do not share Truman Capote's disdain for good actors but I will admit that due to their fame and consequently their need for isolation, they sometimes live in a bubble accompanied by the like-minded rather than those with different opinions and ideology.

But this column is not meant to belittle or mock these Hollywood denizens but rather to expound on how the Oscars and other Awards have lost their ability to judge who really deserves them.

The original purpose of the Oscars was to award outstanding performances in the film industry. The excellence of the performance was celebrated in spite of the vehicle in which it appeared. It could be a huge film like Ben Hur or small like Marty; in other words, it was the excellence of the actor/actress rather than any expensive marketing campaign by the producers that determined the award winners.

I first noticed this dissonance of the Academy's artistic integrity in the 1964 Oscars when Lee Marvin won Best Actor for the comedy western Cat Ballou instead of Rod Steiger's heart wrenching role of a Holocaust survivor in The Pawnbroker. I had seen both films and couldn't understand how Marvin's depiction of a drunken cowboy could compare seriously with Steiger's.

Could it be that the box office was impressive because Jane Fonda was in the film? I grant you that Cat Ballou is an amusing comedy and Lee Marvin gave it all he had but the Columbia Pictures had a bigger budget for marketing and promotion than the small Landau company that spent only half a million to make The Pawnbroker.

The Academy made it up to Steiger in 1968 by awarding him the Oscar for In the Heat of the Night. His role as a Southern Sherriff was not particularly brilliant and Paul Newman deserved it for Cool Hand Luke but the Oscars were just beginning to morph into a PC touchy-feely entity instead of promoting excellence in entertainment.

When Denzel Washington won his Oscar for Training Day the same time that Halle Berry won hers for Monster's Ball, he wisely noted this tokenism in his acceptance speech by saying, "Two birds with one stone, right?"

Another example of a poor selection took place in 2001 when the Oscar for Best Actress went to Julia Roberts and her push-up bra in Erin Brokovich rather than Ellen Burstyn who gave an incredible performance in Requiem for a Dream. Whether one likes the film or not, the judging for acting should be based on the quality of the performance not whether the studios have spent millions to court judges in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Science. I loved the film, LA Confidential but really Kim Bassinger- Best Supporting Actress for basically playing a stony faced hooker?

I've always wondered who picks the nominees because so many stellar performances miss the spotlight and one has to suspect that the selector hasn't watched the entire movie. In 1941, Jane Darwell won and deserved her Best Supporting Actress for The Grapes of Wrath but I was moved the most by the B movie character actor, John Qualen as Muley yet he never won nor was ever nominated for any Oscar.

Nor was another B actor, Earl Holliman, who impressed me with his role as a man heading to the gallows for a murder he did not commit in the western, A Covenant with Death. Poor Val Kilmer was the best thing in the western, Tombstone, but wasn't even nominated. He'll always be my huckleberry.

As you can probably surmise from all this, yes, I was a film buff going to the movies two or three times a week and watching the classics on television. I held Oscar games every year to guess the winners but those days are long gone and probably started dying in 1998 when the Best Picture went to Shakespeare in Love rather thanSaving Private Ryan. The Oscar telecast definitely succumbed in my house the following year when The Sixth Sense lost to American Beauty, a film about despicable human beings.

Different strokes for different folks, I admit and I readily admit to being a crotchety old woman unimpressed with today's entertainers. I receive Entertainment Weekly magazine and find myself skimming over most of the content because it's geared towards the very young with dubious taste.

It's no secret that talent doesn't win awards but money does. The studios spend millions to bribe the judging but that may be coming to an end thanks to the Internet. Films that are still playing in the theaters can be viewed online by scores of sites for free. La La Land is not the best picture of 2016. It is a mediocre musical.

Manchester by the Sea has a most annoying soundtrack that distracts from the sappy story and lame acting. I enjoyed Hell or High Water but best picture? Mel Gibson is a good director but I really don't think Hollywood has fully forgiven him for his drunken rant so Hacksaw Ridge is unlikely to make it.

Although I haven't seen it yet, the very plot of the film Hidden Figures is long overdue by showcasing NASA's three brilliant black women( and great actresses) as much greater role models for young women than Beyonce, Jlo and Rihanna. When the Oscars start paying more attention to the quality and excellence for their awards rather than the green offered by producers, it might be fun to have game night again. Until then, I'll spend Feb. 26th watching anything but ABC.

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