John has a theory he calls the Tilda Swinton Rule: If the actress is in a movie, it can’t be all bad. (I would argue this purely based on her part in Jim Jarmusch’s meandering yawner BROKEN FLOWERS, but that’s besides the point.) I thought about John’s theory because it held water in regards to the 47 year old actress’ unexpected Best Supporting Actress win for MICHAEL CLAYTON at the Oscars on February 24th.
I’ve got a checkered history with the Academy Awards. When I was a kid, I totally bought into the hype and the purported “importance” of the Oscars. I even remember getting inexplicably excited over victories such as when Dustin Hoffman’s Best Actor win in 1980 for KRAMER VS. KRAMER, a movie I hadn’t even seen at that point (and wish I could still say the same). When I got a bit older, I did probably host some Oscar Parties (but I honestly can’t recall).
But as I got a bit crustier in my 30s, my increasingly-cynical eye began to view the Oscars as a vainglorious circle jerk of the most overpaid, over-pampered people in the world giving each other shiny awards and displaying wretched excess that only served to inflate their already out-of-proportion sense of importance in the world. For years, the Whoopi-Billy-Robin hosting triumvirate was hellaciously torturous. And mostly, movies that I considered total crapola were being bestowed multiple awards that deigned to declare their parts and sometimes sums that superlative adjective, “Best:” FORREST GUMP. SCHINDLER’S LIST (well, I thought it sucked). GLADIATOR. And of course, TITANIC. Blech. No thanks. I stopped watching.
But when I reached the point some years back where I actually started getting paid to have opinions on popular culture, I grudgingly accepted that ignoring the Oscars is kinda like a sports writer deciding he’s going to skip the Super Bowl. I still despised the hype and the ridiculous attention to fashion and the fawning over Jack Nicholson (I like Jack, but c’mon) and the mostly insipid production numbers and the awful, unfunny patter shat out by Hollywood hack writers and awkwardly spat out by actors who often proved they should never do live theater. And I still disagreed with much of what was being declared “Best” (MILLION DOLLAR BABY was an awful, awful motion picture and I couldn’t friggin’ stomach Adrien Brody in anything until last year’s DARJEELING LIMITED).
Jon Stewart did a terrific job as emcee (and I didn’t think so two years ago). He was comfortable and funny and most of all, brought a welcome East Coast air of perspective to the proceedings. Secondly, there was no hideous huge opening production number (although almost all of the Best Song nominees were pretty painful). But most of all, I actually LIKED much of what won: I did indeed think that NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN was the best film of the year, and I loved MICHAEL CLAYTON and RATATOUILLE (my opinions are not as strong on THERE WILL BE BLOOD and I have chosen to not see JUNO, thank you very much). And it was great to see Hitchcock collaborator Robert Boyle get a well-deserved honorary award. When all was said and done, I thought it was perhaps the best Oscars I’d ever seen.
But I often forget how far outside of the mainstream my opinions tend to lie.
And so I was kinda stunned to discover that not only were the 80th Academy Awards the least watched since they starting keeping track, but that almost everyone else on Earth seemed to hate the show. Barbara fucking Walters complained that there was “no gwamour” and that she’d never heard of most of the nominees. Xenophobes bemoaned the fact that no Americans won an acting Oscar. Jon Stewart’s casual demeanor wasn’t sycophantic enough for the narcissists in Hollywood who demand constant butt-sucking. And most hilariously, people complained that the biggest movies at this year’s Oscars… weren’t BIG enough and were all so DREARY! Wah! I guess everyone was longing for the feel-good flicks of yore about police corruption, mental illness, debilitating disease and the Holocaust!
The problem wasn’t that NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN or THERE WILL BE BLOOD or MICHAEL CLAYTON were dreary (I didn’t find them dreary, I thought NO COUNTRY and MICHAEL CLAYTON were absolutely exhilarating), it’s that they weren’t dumbed down to reach a mass audience. What all three of those films have in common is that they challenge the viewer.
I saw MICHAEL CLAYTON late, just a week before the Oscars aired. I had seen only the first 45 minutes of it via hotel pay-per-view in early February, and was dying to see the whole film. So, one afternoon a few weeks back, my pal Gary and I did an afternoon double feature at the AMC Empire 25 in Times Square. About five seats across from us in the sparsely-attended screening sprawled a middle aged fella with his shoes off, his (thankfully) stocking-clad feet resting on the railing in front of him. “I just like to stretch out and have a little solitude in the afternoon, y’know what I mean? Little time to myself!!” he ranted, as I wondered why someone demanding solitude would choose a block of the world that is never, ever, at any time of day or night devoid of a sprawling throng of tourists.
As the advertainment gave way to the trailers, Mr. Sockitude got antsy. With each passing preview, he’d grouse, “C’mon, let’s start da fuckin’ movie already, fer Chrissakes!” I thought perhaps it was this gentleman’s first time in a movie theater, and what happened next only supported that premise.
As MICHAEL CLAYTON got underway, a couple seated behind us took out some contraband snackage, a smuggled in bag of SmartFood and opened it up. Anyone familiar with the physics of snack packaging knows that this act produces what is called a SOUND, a crinkling of paper and plastic that, while not pleasant, is to most, an acceptable reality of the filmgoing experience.
But not to Socky. He spun around in his seat and began to berate the couple. “JESUS, quit dat fuckin’ crinklin!’ Pour some into yer fuckin’ hands and eat it like dat! What da FUCK~!” This repeated itself a number of times until finally, under great duress, Mr. Sockitude put on his shoes and moved to the other end of the row, away from us, loudly bitching, not giving a crap that he was being ten times more disruptive than the cheddar-popcorn-munching patrons behind us.
The movie continued, and despite his distance, Socks continued to make his presence known to the whole theater. When the scene came where Tom Wilkinson describes to George Clooney a moral epiphany that occurred while two hookers were giving him a blowjob, Mr. Sockamagee whooped and hollered in glee. “HAHAHAH! YEAH!” He really liked the description of two whores taking turns sucking Tom Wilkinson’s joint.
But that, apparently, was the film’s sole high point for Sockeroony, because he left not too long after that. I guess the film’s explorations of moral ambiguity, corporate greed and personal redemption weren’t enough of a grabber for this brain trust.
I’m not saying that Chef Sock-ar-dee is the average moviegoer, or especially someone who throws Oscar Parties, but I’m betting that he didn’t get bored and walk out of THE DEPARTED. For once, the Academy actually awarded truly rewarding, challenging films, and what happens? It gets shit upon by everyone from the chowderheads on THE VIEW to freaking ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY who, in the current issue (the cover of which declares about the Oscars, “THEY WERE BORING!”) staggeringly recommends that next year they “Nominate More Hits.”
So, maybe Tilda Swinton won’t be making a return trek to the stage next year to pick up another statue that looks like her agent for her performance as Lady Macbeth in the upcoming COME LIKE SHADOWS. Maybe media darling Miley Cyrus will be getting Oscar’s first pre-emptive statuette for what’s sure to be an amazingly awesome HANNAH MONTANA: THE MOTION PICTURE coming in 2009!!! I would SURE DAMN LIKE TO SEE DAT!
I just hope nobody opens a bag of SmartFood behind me. That would suck.