Line between success and failure is wafer-thin, but consequences are gargantuan
Suddenly they’re here — the torpor-inducing awards shows, the clunky acceptance speeches, the post-kudo orgies of self-congratulation.
I realize it’s all about celebration — a celebration of artistic achievement, of box office success and of the sheer joy of beating the odds. But I always get uneasy watching the acolytes lined up to congratulate people who already have all but suffocated in admiration. I find my thoughts shifting to those folks who are far needier of encouragement — the ones whose shows failed miserably, whose hopes were dashed and whose careers suddenly moved into the shadows.
I’m glad Ang Lee is getting plaudits for “Brokeback Mountain” and that Philip Seymour Hoffman will reap his rewards for depicting Capote. But I also think of Jim Brooks; I’m sure he felt that “Spanglish” would be another “Terms of Endearment,” but instead it fell off a cliff.
Rob Cohen got his head handed to him for “Stealth,” but he was confident he was making “Top Gun.” Charlize Theron is accustomed to being the critics’ darling, but Paramount wouldn’t even let her latest film, “Aeon Flux,” have a critics’ screening. And Johnny Depp was being hyped as the next $20 million superstar — “Libertine” will never outgross “Gigli.”
Underlying all this is the reality that the line between success and failure is wafer-thin, but the consequences are gargantuan. The fate of a movie can be changed by an alternate ending, a switch in casting or some 11th-hour edits. The upshot is that you’re either wallowing in praise or you’re sitting home hoping your agent will return your calls.
I admire success as much as the next guy. I also empathize with those who struck out. I don’t know what Martin Brest is doing now, but “Gigli” shouldn’t be a career-ender. Michael Bay thinks he’s David Lean, but “The Island” did not rank as a crime against humanity. Rob Reiner shouldn’t have taken over “Rumor Has It,” but that shouldn’t obscure the memory of all his hits.
And while audiences at Venice and Toronto snoozed through “Elizabethtown,” Cameron Crowe surely has learned that studio execs are saying, “Show me the money.”
The same principle holds for the suits as well as the talent. Peter Rice of Fox Searchlight looked like a hero last year because “Sideways” won kudos and “Napoleon Dynamite” was a dark horse winner at the box office. This year his slate went south, so someone should throw a banquet for him. The same for Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton: They put forth a gutsy slate, but “Geisha” didn’t quite happen, among other brave gambles. How about a special award for them?
I realize it’s all about winning at this time of year, but I still feel for the losers. We shouldn’t turn our backs on them — next year they might be winners and we won’t be able to get them on the phone.