Time-tested theories don't hold up in tempestuous year
Everything you know about the Oscars is wrong.The 75th annual Academy Awards, held March 23, was in some ways the ideal kudos show: Shorter than usual, with spirited acceptance speeches — and, most significantly, a lot of surprises. In the days following the ceremony, pundits were doing post mortems and trying to figure out why they lost their office Oscar pool. Since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences keeps its tallies secrets, we’ll never know: Did Roman Polanski win the director award by one or two votes, or was it a landslide? “Gangs of New York,” with 10 nominations, went home empty-handed, but how many votes did it get in the various categories? These will remain mysteries. But one thing was confirmed at the kudocast: A lot of “truisms” about the film-biz awards season don’t apply. In a single election, Oscar voters confounded all awards-season cliches. Following are some bits of conventional wisdom that critics usually level at the Acad, its voting members and the Oscarcast. But clearly, it’s time for some re-evaluation. Other awards are accurate bellwethers. This year disproved that old maxim. The DGA voted for Rob Marshall. The SAG Awards saluted Daniel Day-Lewis, Renee Zellweger and Christopher Walken. The Writers Guild nods went to David Hare for “The Hours” and Michael Moore, “Bowling for Columbine.” (Oscar’s two script winners, Pedro Almodovar and Ronald Harwood, weren’t even nominated for WGA honors.) Out of the 13 film victors at the Golden Globes, only four went on to win Oscars. Critics orgs’ awards have always been interesting, but never too accurate. Maybe we will have to throw out the other omens as well. Academy voters are staid and old-fashioned, always going with “safe” choices. One word: Eminem. The other four nominated songs were mainstream, accessible and hummable. Any of them would have been a respectable choice. But “Lose Yourself”? Shocker. Oscar voters are sentimental. Longtime Hollywood faves such as Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep were bypassed in favor of first-time nominees (respectively, Chris Cooper, Adrien Brody and Catherine Zeta-Jones). Composer John Williams, on his 42nd nomination, and Elmer Bernstein, first nominated in the 1950s, lost out to relative newcomer Elliot Goldenthal. And this year’s Lauren Bacall Award goes to Martin Scorsese. Miramax was upfront in campaigning for the “Gangs of New York” director to be recognized for his career achievements, not just the one film. A few years ago, Bacall was considered the shoo-in for her supporting turn in “The Mirror Has Two Faces.” But as with the actress, voters apparently looked at Scorsese’s work and thought, “Love ya, but not for this film.” The director and best film always go together. When a film wins best-pic kudos, the director usually is recognized as well. In 75 years, there have only been 20 inconsistencies in the two categories — and most of those occurred in the first decades of the Academy. But there’s a weird new trend going on. For example, between 1957 and 1987, there were only three discrepancies. Now, there have been three discrepancies in only five years, including “Chicago” and Roman Polanski this year. It’s a popularity contest. In the animation category, Buena Vista’s “Spirited Away” was competing against such crowd-pleasers as “Ice Age,” “Lilo & Stitch” and “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.” And “Spirited Away” easily had the lowest box office of the five contestants. Go figure. Oscar speeches are boring. Maybe it’s because the winners this year had something to talk about besides themselves. Michael Moore’s angry, anti-Bush diatribe got the most attention, but others spoke of peace more quietly, including Chris Cooper, Gael Garcia Bernal and Pedro Almodovar. Nicole Kidman addressed the question: Is it appropriate to have an awards show in a time of war? Adrien Brody won over the hearts of the audience with his speech by saying his work on “Pianist” made him aware of “the dehumanization” of war, asking for a swift resolution, which brought the crowd to its feet. Whether you agree or disagree with their statements, you have to admit the spontaneity gave frequent jolts of adrenaline to the show. They like certain kinds of films. There is no “they.” With 5,816 voting members, there are plenty of varying opinions — and the results showed no pattern, no consistency. Best pic “Chicago” failed to win for either script or director. “Pianist” won for director, actor and script, but not film. The vast majority of winners were first-time nominees, but veterans also were saluted (e.g., a posthumous award to cinematographer Conrad L. Hall). Apparently, there’s only one conclusion: A member votes for what he or she likes best. But “they” don’t vote as a group.