There are few reasons to watch the Oscars. If I can manage to make it through the misplaced political commentary, awkward and painfully unfunny banter, the cartoonish seriousness with which the celebrity-speckled audience applauds each and every recipient, and the droning score that rolls over every announcement and introduction I feel as though I have accomplished a great feat.
Only two presentations pique my interest each year, In Memoriam and The Life Time Achievement Award. This year, though, I must admit I had some modern day favorites. I was rooting for The Triplets of Belleville as Best Animated Feature. Though it had no chance against Finding Nemo, the top-grossing movie of the year, Triplets was an incredible accomplishment. Without dialogue, it conveyed clearly a hectic and fantastic story with a nostalgic sensibility, and a fantastic score to boot, which reminded me of the old Fleischer cartoons. Beautifully rendered, the film uses limited CGI effects to enhance the art, rather than overpower and oppress the story. Incredibly, it was Sylvain Chomet’s first feature and only his second film. The movie’s theme, Beleville Rendez-vous, with lyrics by Mr. Chomet, has a swinging melody fit for the gold horn of a Victrola, and clearly deserved the academy award for best song, but against the award-sweeping Lord of the Rings it had no shot.
I was also pulling for Errol Morris’s The Fog of War. Perhaps the timeliest of his many fine films, Fog left me wishing that all documentarians could weld their cinematic language so gracefully to their ideas. But Mr. Morris’s ungracious acceptance of the award put a damper on his accomplishment, as he first declared that the Academy had finally recognized him, and then reminded the audience that although his film was about the Vietnam War it was meant as an allegorical comment on Iraq. Yes Eroll, we got that! After spouting something about a rabbit hole, war, and our country, he flittered off stage leaving what felt like a scripted opening for Billy Crystal to make some joke about Morris’s coming IRS audit, which, like the documentarian’s remarks, received much applause. However disappointing and inappropriate, though, it was a relief after Michael Moore’s shameless political posturing.
The Life Time Achievement went to Blake Edwards. After an introduction from Jim Carrey, who seemed to be doing a menacing, drug induced revisit of his portrayal of Andy Kaufman, Blake Edwards crashed through a fake wall in a wheel chair in the sort of zany stunt everyone still conscious expected. After the rehearsed bit, Mr. Edwards gave a very touching speech illustrating the wit and sentiment I remember so well from everything from The Pink Panther to The Days of Wine and Roses. The presentation wasn’t as dramatic as in 1999, when rat fink Elia Kazan received the award and those few who stood to clap only made more dramatic the silence of the many who remained seated. While seemingly more and more celebrities parade their politics each year, this is mostly just posturing, an accent for their “sensational” public personas. As to Kazan, I’m no fan of Communism, but the director’s naming of names before HUAC did little of benefit for America while destroying many careers, none of which is to denigrate his brilliant work. But that’s another article entirely.
In Memoriam, a montage of the year’s new crop of dead Hollywooders, at once shows the public the infinity of talent to grace film screens past and reassures a self-indulgent community that they won’t be forgotten so long as their face is on a big screen at some future Oscar ceremony. This year’s A1 obit was Katherine Hepburn, of whom Dorothy Parker once said, in reference to the 1933 play The Lake, “Miss Hepburn runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.” Well Dorothy Parker never saw Katharine play Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion of Winter. Like the character she played in Stage Door, Hepburn was a classically trained, sharp-witted beauty with a voice that was an emblem of character and finery.
Also celebrated in the mass obituary was the great Nazi documentarian, Leni Riefenstahl. After going to work for Hitler, she found herself shunned by Hollywood despite insisting that she wasn’t a Nazi for the politics, only for the art. Having finally admitted her to the fold, albeit following her death, will the American film community now begin to celebrate the films they’ve had the good taste to blackball for the past 60 years?