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COMMENTARY

Jeff Simon: It's movie award season; image, reality collide like crazy

Jeff Simon

What we always have to remember about the Oscars is this: The TV show is the world's most expensively dressed industrial promotion. They didn't start out that way, which is why so much tedious unwatchable inside "gratitude" ("I want to thank my driver, Pierre ...") on the show remains a crashing bore to this day.

We watch for the glamour and the undeniable fact that during a live broadcast, lord only knows what can happen.

The whole point of the show, though, is to goose revenue from films, whether from box office, cable TV, streaming sales or whatever. At the same time, they exist to sanitize the public image of the American film community that can get decidedly funky when left to its own devices.

If you've been following it at all, you know the announcement of the ubiquitous comic Kevin Hart as Oscar host caused enough consternation to be considered more than just a brush fire.

It was caused by old Hart jokes that were both blatantly homophobic and not the slightest bit funny. When it's part of a comedian's personality to explain hyperbolically how disgusted he'd be to have a gay son, he's basically turned his comedy into high school sexual anxiety about his masculinity. At that point, card-carrying grownups tend to leave the room.

Hart withdrew from the gig. As it stands now, there will be no single "host."

Hart said, in an "apology," that he'd changed drastically from the comic who made those jokes. (No, countered CNN's Don Lemon, his apology said nothing of a sort, it merely claimed to do something it never actually did.)

Then, late last week, something hugely interesting happened that nakedly revealed the Oscars, yet again, in their public relations booster-ism. Ellen DeGeneres, interviewing Hart on her show, was talking to him as a kind of standard publicity platform for this weekend's opening of Hart's movie "The Upside." She endorsed Hart as an Oscar host and urged him to go back and take the gig on.

Considering that DeGeneres is probably the most famous entertainer to come out to America, her feelings had authority. There was even more to it than that. DeGeneres, in the opinion of some of us, was the most successful Oscar host since Billy Crystal at his best (who was backed by the formidable snark and gagmaking machine of openly gay comedy writer Bruce Vilanch).

To understand what had happened, you had to consider the circumstances of DeGeneres' sudden endorsement. Hart was being interviewed promotionally before the release of an anticipated major-image changer for a comedian in search of a kinder, gentler, more adult kind of presence that wasn't awash in adolescent sexual anxiety.

What had happened was this: In the industrial world of Hollywood, "The Upside," with all its charms, was already a known commodity even though the public hadn't seen it yet en masse. It had premiered at the Toronto Film Festival where its commercial potential was obvious.

The film was concocted in the kitchen of Harvey Weinstein, the now disgraced mogul. "The Upside" was, in fact, a remake of a successful French film ungrammatically called "The Intouchables," which fictionalized the story of a real wealthy quadriplegic and his caregiver.

Caring for a quadriplegic, obviously, entails the most intimate human care there is, which makes for a relationship of stark, unassailable truth between the two men.

"The Upside" had miles of pedigree on top of Hart. Starring with him as the paralyzed, rich employer is the redoubtable Bryan Cranston, who can do just about anything onscreen. Directing is a hugely talented guy named Neil Burger, whose underrated films include a terrific movie called "The Illusionist" starring Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti.

So consider how the whole Oscar flap happened: The show's producers knew full well a real movie crowd-pleaser was on the way that would radically reset Hart's comic image and make it more palatable and grown-up. So they appointed him Oscar host.

Unfortunately, the movie and its "new" Kevin Hart hadn't opened wide yet so America at large only knew Hart's comedy from his past, which indeed included plenty that was noxious.

The Oscars had jumped the gun in selecting Hart. They knew a huge image change was on the way but they assumed that everyone else did, too. We'll see what happens when the movie opens Friday and does the work it's expected to do.

On Sunday, we saw an utterly jaw-dropping image collision in the #MeToo era when a Golden Globe was given to "Bohemian Rhapsody," two-thirds of which was directed by Bryan Singer, the hugely successful director ("X-Men," "The Usual Suspects") who was fired from "Rhapsody" because of wildly erratic behavior and an escalating number of allegations of pedophilia.

In the #MeToo era, Singer has been treated by some as an image liability as great as Kevin Spacey, if not greater.

Incredibly then, "Bohemian Rhapsody" won a Golden Globe for Best Film on the strength of Queen's involvement behind the scenes and the era's need to aggrandize the sexual ground-breaking of Freddie Mercury.

At the same time, with all the awards it won, no one muttered a word of thanks to Bryan Singer, whose baby the film was for so long. Nor was there any mention at all, in all those voluminous thank yous, for any director whatsoever. Singer had been erased from the film's history.

If you watched the Golden Globes, you'd think "Bohemian Rhapsody" was a kind of miracle film -- a film that, somewhat incredibly, had actually directed itself.

Politics and the #MeToo era are making movie award season a lot more interesting than they probably have any right to be.

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