Wow. Talk about a community with bad luck. There, courtesy of Warren Beatty’s mistake or a bad envelope was something we had never seen before. But then, before the snafu there was more bad luck.
There they were in film community of Hollywood, the most self-celebrating community on earth. And they were all ready to celebrate their annual self-love festival: The Oscars, the event that taught the rest of the world the not-so-fine art of occupational narcissism. And the movie slated to take home the lion's share of gold statues was "La La Land" the most narcissistic movieland movie since 'The Artist," one of the truly ridiculous Best Pictures of all time in 2012.
And then came the political hurricane of November and all the tornadoes since. If there's anything that Holly-folk love more than publicly celebrating their own wonderfulness, it's raging at the brutality of American politics.
Funny thing, though. It's amazing how politically buttoned up Holly-folk can become on Oscar night. In 1972, when disgust at Vietnam was high, Jane Fonda accepted her Oscar for "Klute" by saying there was a lot to be said but that she wasn't going to say it. So she just said thank you and silently cantered off with her statue.
I understand why it's the American way to think that the most self-loving sub-set of people on earth have no right to tell off politicians. But I beg to disagree.
Spoiled they are -- a tiny minority of them anyway. But not only are Hollywood actors, directors, writers and such, citizens with all the rights the rest of us have, they're also people who, unlike the rest of us, often make their living being profoundly empathetic, or at the very least, as sensitive to other members of our species as they have to be. I once sat in a small room with a couple of other journalists watching Dustin Hoffman re-enact the process that went into creating his Oscar-winning performance in "Rain Man."
By the time he was finished, our jaws were on the hotel suite floor. I felt as if I were watching a gift and a dedication from another galaxy. Just as the rest of us are never going to shoot a basketball like Steph Curry or play the guitar like Jimi Hendrix, we're not going to have Dustin Hoffman's capacity to climb into the skin of another human being either.
So, if the most empathetic of our fellow humans can't blast away at those in a profession renowned for being the least sympathetic, who can? Viola Davis, the sure thing Supporting Actress winner Sunday, even talked about it: "There's one place where all the people with the greatest potential are gathered and that's the graveyard. ... I became an artist and thank God I did because we are the only profession that shows what it means to live a life." I'm sure there are millions of people who would have loved to shut up her longish speech, but I wasn't one of them.
The community at large took its biggest opportunity to hoist a collective middle finger to the new administration by giving its Foreign Film Oscar to "The Salesman," a relatively mediocre Iranian film whose director Asghar Farhadi refused to come to the ceremony out of both protest and fear of the travel ban from his country. "Toni Erdmann" was the logical winner in the category.
Going to Farhadi meant they had to go out of their way to make a statement. His acceptance statement read at the ceremony told the audience "my absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of the other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S." Films, said his statement, "create empathy between us and others. An empathy we need now more than ever."
Pure kumbaya idealism, right? I'm not arguing with it. But all that blasting away at those currently in charge on the same night the Oscars were expected to go ga-ga over "La La Land?"
For all of that film's nominations, the Academy voters seemed disposed to deny Oscars to "La La Land" unless they absolutely had to. Even editing, a category that could easily have gone to "La La Land" for its solving all manner of formidable cinematic problems went instead to "Hacksaw Ridge." (That also, by the way, marked the first ever Sound Mixing Oscar for Kevin O'Connell, the fellow who had been nominated 20 times before without ever winning.)
The inclination to pay attention to a frightened world, if possible, was, at times, every bit as large as their inclination to reward a movie musical in love with movie musicals. When the maker of the documentary short subject winner asked the audience members to stand up in solidarity for peace in Syria, they were happy to. That they were happy to spend so much time for short films, documentary and otherwise, to get there, tells you even more.
"Moonlight's" writers -- including its director Barry Jenkins -- were predictably eloquent.
Jimmy Kimmel was pretty good, stealing as much as he could from the Ellen Degeneres playbook -- ushering a bus load of Hollywood tourists into the Oscars, dropping candy and doughnuts from the ceiling and making a good running gag about Meryl Streep being "overrated." To Mel Gibson, he observed "Mel, I think the Scientology is working." A good, solid B-plus job but Degeneres remains the best since Billy Crystal.
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