Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar thoughts

First of all, I have to say the Oscar ceremony is just too long to sit and watch the whole show. I'd rather watch golf without Tiger Woods or a repeat of the 2008 Mississippi State-Auburn football game than sit through an Oscar ceremony.

However, I am glad the award show exists and, despite its length, it is the most fabulous night in the entertainment world. Just like the Heisman Trophy in college football, it is the history of the award that gives the Oscar its special place of reverence.

Which is why it was so gratifying to see three women of color competing for an Oscar and seeing a movie about the aspirations and downfalls that exist in one of the largest ghettos in the world received eight Oscars, including Best Picture, the most coveted prize.

'Slumdog Millionaire', a classic film in the Bollywood (Indian) film making tradition, a story about a young boy whose life is transformed because of the love of a woman and the realization of his dreams intertwining with his appearance on a hit game show, was a hit for more than just the excellent directing and music.

'Slumdog', as the new lexicon refers to the movie, was a moment in the revival of the small, independent film. In this time of recession, the motion picture industry is suffering along with the rest of us, although the designer outfits would lead you to believe otherwise. The box office revenues are holding their own, but like any business, financing for new projects are getting hard to come by.

Hit the hardest are independent films, who look for a major motion picture studio to act as a distributor of the movie, to market in American theaters. That takes a keen eye from the studio executives, as well as other investors to float capital, so the distributor does not take a total hit if their hunches are wrong.

Hopefully, with the success of 'Slumdog' this year, those independent film makers will continue to see their greatest work put on the big screen, and the quality of the art of film making will continue to improve.

There were two upsets in my opinion last night. The first was 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' beating 'Iron Man' for the Visual Effects Oscar. Whereas I respect the Academy for recognizing the visual wizardry used to turn Brad Pitt from an old looking baby into himself, a man older than his looks, 'Iron Man' was probably one of the best uses of CGI (Computer Generated Image) technology ever. But I am biased toward the comic book heroes of my past.

The other upset was Sean Penn defeating Mickey Rourke for Best Actor. The nomination alone was redemptive moment for the tormented Rourke, as was the Best Supporting Actor nomination for Robert Downey, Jr., but many folks thought that Rourke, who won the SAG Award in the same category, was as much of a lock as Heath Ledger winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

However, Penn transformed into Harvey Milk like Denzel Washington transformed into Malcolm X and Will Smith into Muhammad Ali. It is hard to go to a movie to see a story that you remember or a public figure you know without wondering if it is going to come across as one of those quickly thrown together television biopics, like 'The Michael Jordan Story' for example. Penn's performance was worthy of the award, let alone the recognition it received.

The great moments of the ceremony were Kate Winslet's and Penelope Cruz's acceptance speeches. With Cruz almost hyperventilating and the whistle heard around the entertainment world by Winslet's dad, it reminds us of why this moment is so special, and why we are fans. When the best of the best have the most human of moments, we connect with them and we relate to how we would act in that moment.

In all, it was another magical, historical moment. Congrats to Cruz, Tariji P. Henson and Viola Davis for taking another major step for actors and actresses of color. Now it is off to the movies to see what next year's favorites will be.