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AND THE WINNER IS ... NOT THE ACADEMY

I’d Like to Spank the Academy

By Amandeep Loomba

Staff Writer

By now you’ve all already figured out that the Academy Awards are not there for you to find out what subset of last year’s films were necessarily better than all the other films released last year. And they’re not there to give recognition to the Hollywood megastars who so richly deserve recognition on top of their grossly bloated salaries. And this year, they weren’t even there to let us see which actress wore the most garish gowns, or which songstress came dressed in a swan, since the opening red carpet business was cancelled due to world events.

So why are the Academy Awards there? Are they there just to remind us how remarkably shallow, commercial, and bereft of originality the American film industry is? Perhaps, but that is a wholly cynical view. Cynical as I am, I have to admit that the Academy gets it right from time to time.

For example, they made the right selection this year (from the five nominees, at least) in the best picture category by picking one of the most cynical pictures released last year. Chicago is easily one of the sharpest, cleverest pictures I have ever seen. Compared to another recent over-the-top musical release, Moulin Rouge!, which boasted that warm feeling of having been written by a schoolgirl, Chicago is simply brilliant and, above all, great fun.

Granted, it’s easy to write about the Academy Awards after they’ve already taken place. I hadn’t seen enough of the films nominated for 2002 to make any sort of predictions or judgments about which films would win and which should win. The truth is, I don’t want to. Who has the patience to sit through something with the self-importance and interminable length (166 minutes) of Gangs of New York? It seems as if the film is a test to see who can keep from bursting into laughter every time Daniel Day-Lewis shows up onscreen with that absurd moustache and stovepipe hat.

Instead of allowing a picture like Gangs to participate against other worthy films for best film of the year, it should have simply been awarded “Best Martin Scorsese Film” and been forgotten. If you’re really interested in heralding 2002’s best picture, why not take the time to look at films where the director was trying something new?

How about, for example, Punch Drunk Love? Effectively ignored by the Academy, all of whose members probably took an oath never to nominate a film starring a former Saturday Night Live cast member, Punch Drunk Love was easily the most fresh and engaging film released last year. Or, for a whole different set of neuroses, Adaptation, which bizarrely lost in its home court, best adapted screenplay (to Chicago), and was entirely overlooked for best picture.

In fact, 2002 was just a remarkable year for films about lovable neurotics, but the Academy somehow completely missed the wonderfully twisted Secretary and its stellar performance by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Likewise, they overlooked her brother Jake’s performance (along with top-notch performances by Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon and Aleksia Landeau) in the sweet and unpretentious Moonlight Mile. Not at all surprising, considering they previously neglected the 2001 masterpiece in which both Gyllenhaals starred, Donnie Darko.

The best performance by any actor last year was without any doubt at all Andy Serkis as Gollum in The Two Towers. But, probably because the performance manifested itself onscreen as a computer-generated character, the Academy did not even nominate him, generating a fair amount of controversy.

Further controversy was found in the best documentary feature category, which saw bombastic Michael Moore win for Bowling for Columbine. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a born leftie and firmly opposed to the war. As such, I know for a fact that the last thing the Left needs is its own Limbaugh, a paranoid propagandist who manipulates his audience and never considers fact-checking. This error was especially egregious in a year of such great documentaries as Scratch, Comedian, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, and The Trials of Henry Kissinger, none of which were even nominated.

In the animation category, the Academy once again got things right by awarding Spirited Away. I can’t even imagine why drivel like Ice Age and Treasure Planet were nominated. In truth, Spirited Away was by far the best picture released in any format in any country last year. Unfortunately, America doesn’t seem ready to accept animation as a legitimate art form just yet, and Spirited Away never made it to the best picture category.

If the Academy Awards actually meant anything, they would have awarded best picture of 2002 to Spirited Away, dispensed with all the other awards, and shown the film on TV uncut, unedited, uninterrupted and certainly undubbed. That would at least give American audiences a chance to think about why the film is the most successful film in Japan, ever. Unfortunately, they stuck to their old ways (and received some of the lowest ratings in the award show’s televised history).

The Academy Awards already have the honor of being the most respected and coveted of all the ceremony awards; perhaps someday they will do something to deserve that honor. Until then, important, world-wise films such as Super Troopers will remain in obscurity while nonsense like The Hours gets continual recognition.