Saturday, March 11, 2006

The 78th Academy Awards, 2006

Just to break off from reviews for a moment - here's an article I wrote for The Courier, the student magazine of Aberystwyth university, as a summary and reaction to this year's Oscars.

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Every year the glamour of the film award season culminates with the Oscars, the epitome of Hollywood glitz. This year, Brokeback Mountain lead the competition with 8 nominations, though was closely followed by films such as Crash and Memoirs of a Geisha. This made the contest one of the most open for years, despite some of the categories being easy to predict.

Lately the ratings for the Oscars ceremony have fallen in America (and assumedly in the UK – why else was it shown on Sky Movies and not the BBC?). One wonders why, but perhaps it’s because viewers will tune in to see the pretty dresses and then switch off once the boring stuff starts. Well, this year a new host was roped in, Jon Stewart, of ‘The Daily Show’ fame. Stewart is a political satirist above all else and no doubt his some of his comments during the Oscars will have ruffled some middle-American feathers, even though he was far less scathing than most had expected.

But who cares, because we’re only watching for the pretty dresses, right? Reese Witherspoon dazzled in a vintage gown while Rachel Weisz looked fantastic in black, while 7 months pregnant. There did seem to be an distinct lack of good fashion from the ladies this year, most opting for middle-of-the-road attire. There were a fair few misses though – Charlize Theron’s monstrosity of a gown in particular, considering she normally gets it so right. There was a strange trend amongst the paler women – Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts and Uma Thurman – all wore very pale dresses, making them look particularly washed out. Many of the men turned out in fine form – Ludacris and Terence Howard looking particularly dapper!

However, some of us do stay up all night because we care about the awards themselves. This year was particularly exciting, even if many people had assumed that Brokeback Mountain would sweep the board – it didn’t. Four films shared the highest number of awards: Brokeback Mountain, Crash, Memoirs of a Geisha and King Kong. No doubt it will be the first two which will be most talked about, having won the bigger awards. Brokeback Mountain won Best Director (Ang Lee), Best Adapted Screenplay (Diana Ossana and Larry McMurty) and Best Score (Gustavo Santaolallo). Crash became the shock winner of the night as it won Best Picture, the award most assumed would be won by Brokeback Mountain. Along with the top honour, Crash won Best Original Screenplay (Paul Haggis and Robert Moresco) and Best Editing (Hughes Winborne). Memoirs of a Geisha and King Kong both won three awards each, all in the technical categories. It should be noted that in terms of a nominations-to-wins success rate, King Kong came out best – winning three of its four nominations.

There were no surprises amongst the acting categories. Philip Seymour Hoffman won Best Actor, for his portrayal of Truman Capote, the favourite in a very strong group of nominees. Reese Witherspoon won Best Actress in a weaker category, for her role in Walk the Line. George Clooney won Best Supporting Actor, for his role in Syriana. Was this to make up for Good Night and Good Luck winning nothing, I wonder? Rachel Weisz won Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Constant Gardener, bringing home at least one award for the Brits.

Other notable winners were Wallace and Gromit – I defy anyone not to be pleased about this - winning Best Animated Feature, Tsotsi winning Best Foreign Language Feature and March of the Penguins winning Best Documentary Feature. The only decision that didn’t seem quite right to me, personally, was The Chronicles of Narnia winning Best Make-Up. I loved the Narnia film and all, but I honestly thought that Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith was far more deserving, especially as it wasn’t even nominated in the Visual Effects category.

This year the main contenders were very political, very issue-driven films. Of the five nominated for Best Picture, two deal with homosexuality, one about racism, one about McCarthyism and the remaining one deals with the Isreal-Palestine situation. None of these films were huge box-office successes – King Kong made more at the box-office than all five nominees combined. Hopefully, the high level of coverage, not only during the Oscar season, but during the entire awards season will bring these films’ to people’s attentions.

As much as I loved Brokeback Mountain, I was glad to see Crash awarded with the top honours, as it is a truly wonderful film. I was sad, however, to see Munich leave empty handed as the film blew me away. There had been problems with the copies of the film sent to Academy members for consideration – it’d be a shame if this was the reason it garnered so few nominations. I was surprised not to see Eric Bana up for an acting nod. It’s possible that in its attempt at being more liberal Hollywood has only shown hypocrisy, however. Brokeback Mountain was highly praised and yet gay actors have been playing straight roles for years – where are their nominations? Many cynics think that Crash only won because it is based in LA and therefore it proves that the industry is a very insular one.

Personally, I think so long as the films that are awarded are deserving, it shouldn’t matter why it won. It’s nice to see films that are commercially smaller being awarded and gaining attention this way. The same furor will come around next year, with the speculation starting months in advance. Here’s hoping the competition for the 79th Academy Awards will be as good as it was this year.

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