Showbiz Kids: The Oscars, Charlton Heston and Steely Dan

Before we begin, there are two important things to remember about the Oscars. The first is the Charlton Heston Rule. That rule is that the Academy is made up of a lot of people like the late Charlton Heston—old fogeys with traditional tastes. Wonder why Crash beat out Brokeback Mountain or There Will Be Blood didn’t take best picture in 2008? It’s not a hard or fast rule, but think about what your grandmother might vote for. There are a lot of retired actors and techies out there who have a say in what wins.

The second rule has been inaugurated this year. It’s the Steely Dan Rule. What do the ‘70s jazz-funk duo have to do with the Academy Awards? You might remember in 2001, their disc Two Against Nature beat out stiff competition from Radiohead’s Kid A. The reason commonly given was that the producers, engineers and other tech-heads who made up the Recording Academy wanted to recognize the painstaking approach Fagen and Becker took in the studio. Two Against Nature didn’t win because it was filled with great tunes like “Do It Again.” It won because, to a group of voters who use their ears for a living, it sounded great.

It’s this latter rule which makes me think that James Cameron is going to have a good night. Avatar is pretty much a turkey as far as movies go and a staggering display of kitsch. There’s no denying, however, that legions of effects people have spent a lot of time making it look good. That effort will, Squally thinks, be honored by the Academy. Cameron also gets the credit for marshalling that effort. Say what you want about Avatar. Like Titanic it took a guy with a genuine Napoleon complex to put it on screen. The Hurt Locker may be the better movie, but it’s still a more modest achievement—especially in terms of box office. At least Kathryn Bigelow gets a chance to work again, which nobody was expecting after The Weight of Water Avatar’s victory, though, is somewhat bittersweet. That the movie should be honored with a best picture nod when wiser heads understood that its acting and script were somewhere around the level of that Tucker Max flick is a pop culture crime of the highest order.

So now onto the rest …

1. Il Divo is a film that to a non-Italian makes about much sense as reading a Calvino novel upside down. Somebody, though, watched it and thought, “I don’t know what’s going on, but they did a helluva job with the makeup.”

2. If Squally had to pick his favorite out of the big nominees, it would be Inglourious Basterds. Yes, Quentin Tarantino is super annoying and shouldn’t be let near a cup of coffee. But his war movie is as much a product of personal obsession as Cameron’s film. (The Hurt Locker’s great virtue is its detached professionalism. It’s Bigelow breathing life into an assignment.) Tarantino not only gives his actors room to breathe and music to sing, his feeling for cinema’s punch comes through every frame. There is an original message relayed in cinematic terms. There’s a story which remains compelling throughout. It’s a shame that Oscar politicking doesn’t allow more of the cast to be appreciated. Both Brad Pitt and Melanie Laurent are particularly good—one twisting his star persona around, the other establishing hers.

3. Without having seen Crazy Heart, Squally would have to say Jeremy Renner is his favorite card in the actor pack. Freeman does a statesman, Firth plays gay and Clooney is himself—that is, a mix of the first two. Can’t shake the feeling that Crazy Heart was once called Tender Mercies.

4. Both Supporting Actress and Supporting Actor lineups read like ballast next to the two obvious winners—Mo’nique and Christoph Waltz. Shame there was no room for Anthony Mackie’s sensitive soldier in Hurt Locker or the brilliant Fred Melamed.

5. Best Animated Feature: As much as Squally loves Up, it should be Coraline for everything Up (and Selick’s old boss Tim Burton) isn’t.

6. It’ll be interesting to watch the slugfest between The White Ribbon and Un Prophete, although the first film seems to have struck more of a chord with critics than audiences.

7. Is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince really such a good-looking movie that it needs a Best Cinematography nomination?

8. The collective BO of the Best Costume Design nominees this year couldn’t even buy you a felt hat.

9. MIA from Best Documentary: Joe Berlinger’s Crude and the much loved Anvil!. Surveying the worthy but dull list, it’s almost like Bowling for Columbine never happened. That means the winner is The Cove.

10. Looking at the nominees for Best Original Score almost makes you wish the nominating committees would accompany their shortlists with some consideration of why they chose the films they did. Squally defies anyone to hum a note from any of those three scores. Together the nominees have won three Oscars and been nominated a further 14 times. Not that there’s a composing mafia or anything …

11. Best Original Song: Another failure of the whistle test. Squally would take Mary J. Blige at the end of Precious over any of this.

12. At least we’ve got Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin to look forward to … oh, right.

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