Sunday February 24, 2013

Once again we are on the eve of that celebration of competition in the most ridiculous of venues, motion pictures. The Oscars are only useful for promoting the rare piece of artful entertainment that might otherwise go overlooked by the public, perhaps a film like "The Life of Pi." But as for choosing one film or one actor, director, etc. as the best in a field where reasonable comparisons are impossible is just another product of our winner-driven society. Leave such competition on the playing field where it is the object of a game. Or leave it to television’s dreck-filled reality show/ competitions.

In 1971, George C. Scott refused an Oscar for his performance in "Patton" and decried the Oscars as a "two hour meat parade" that was offensive, barbaric and innately corrupt. These words, from one of our greatest actors who didn’t believe in competition among his colleagues, ring even more true today when the political event has degenerated into a three-hour meat parade cum fashion show.

One of the chief absurdities of this event is that it honors as many as 10 films and five nominees in other categories. Why 10 or five? Why not three or 15, i.e., as many as are deserving instead of an arbitrary number? And why insist on a winner when all may be as deserving for wildly different accomplishments even in one category?

Consider some of the idiocies of the current festival of self-promotion and explain why it is not corrupt and offensive to one’s intelligence.


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"Argo" is nominated, while its director, Ben Affleck, is not. How does one compare the superbly sober performance of Daniel Day-Lewis in "Lincoln" to the unbuttoned comic performance of Bradley Cooper in "Silver Linings Playbook"? Why is Christoph Waltz nominated in the best supporting actor category when he was clearly the better of two leads in "Django Unchained"?

How does one reconcile the nomination of Emmanuelle Riva for "Amour," with the lack of recognition given her even more deserving co-star, Jean-Louis Trintignant (in a larger and more difficult role)? And how do you compare Riva’s portrait of a descent into death with Jennifer Lawrence’s brave celebration of youthful vitality and hope? What is the means of comparing Anne Hathaway’s touching musical performance with Helen Hunt’s realistic minimalism?

And there are the films that are routinely overlooked by the academy, films that we never see because our multiplexes, and even our independent cinemas, are showing over-rated stuff like "Zero Dark Thirty" (a film that might have benefited from Affleck’s ability to clarify a complex story) instead of "Holy Motors."

Anyone who truly loves films and chafes at such nonsense ought to boycott the Oscar parties and host a party that shows an underdog film be it foreign, independent or one of Hollywood’s own ignored gems. Or watch Scott in "Patton."

RALPH HAMMANN

Williamstown