Contradicting Popular Opinion: Oscars 2001

Contradicting Popular Opinion: Academy Awards 2001

A.K.A.

An Enquiry Concerning Why Your Favorite Movie Sucks

I remember watching the Oscars, that twenty fifth of March 2001, and contemplating my pick for best picture.

After much pondering, I decided my favorite. None of them. None of the nominees are something I would consider to be Best Picture caliber. If you are hazy on the year, let’s refresh.

First we had Wu hu cang long, or for those of us who don’t speak Mandarin and aren’t pretentious, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It’s an okay movie, I guess. But it is pretty much the blandest, least original martial arts movie I’ve ever seen. An average chopsocky film with higher production values. Of course, many of us are still wondering why Ang Lee thought that Chow Yun Fat was a kung fu star.

He shoots people.

Anyway, the flick isn’t bad, but it is nothing special save some nice shots.

Next we had Chocolat, or if you aren’t pretentious, “that chocolate movie.” I saw that thing in the theaters. It was pain. Pure pain. One of those movies that starts with “once upon a time,” so that it can be all goofy and cutesy.

Plus it sends a bad message about diabetic care.

It’s all fun and games until Dame Judy Dench loses a toe.

Some day I might do a Chocolat column, but that would necessitate watching the durn thing again. Not going to do that anytime soon.

Then we had Erin Brockovich which nobody really expected to win, least of all anybody who had seen the dang movie. Albert Finney was in EB which is about the only thing good I can think to say about it. It was directed by Steven Soderbergh who was twice Oscar nominated that year as best director. He won for the better movie of the two, Traffic.

Traffic was also nominated for best picture. It didn’t win despite being directed by the guy who won the best director Oscar. Weird. Shouldn’t the best director be directing the best picture? Traffic was another okay movie, guilty of having no central thesis and being really silly at times.

Suddenly, Catherine Zeta Jones is Lady MacBeth!

Fucking Soderbergh man. For me, his career peaked with Out of Sight. Out of Sight is a surprisingly fun movie, despite starring both J-Lo and George Clooney. After winning his Oscar, Soderbergh went on to punish audiences with such films as Full Frontal, Solaris, Ocean’s Eleven, etc. Jesus, is he in some sort of credibility destroying competition with Cuba Gooding?

Finally, we have the film that won the dang Oscar, Gladiator. Gladiator is a big dumb movie starring everybody’ favorite emotionally unstable, hotel clerk punching, idiot man-child/ bad rocker Russell Crowe. As a party bonus, it is also directed by the notoriously over-appreciated Ridley Scott.

Fucking Ridley Scott man. The nicest thing I can say about him? He was decent from 1978-1982 if you gave him a great, unf*ckupable script by Dan O’Bannon or Hampton Fancher and David Peoples.

Ridley Scott, accused visual style master, yet also manages some slip-ups worthy of Ed Wood. There is at least one in every one of his movies. Alien probably has the most memorable bad “jump cut” in an otherwise nice film. You know what I’m talking about too. The now it’s a fake head, and now it’s Ian Holm busted android shot.

I saw Gladiator at the drive-in with Road Trip.

Gladiator was outshone by Road Trip.

It won best picture.

The f*ck?

Anywho, one of these days, one of these movies might get its own CPO devoted to it. But now, it’s time for the Mail Bag!

When it comes I want to wail, “MAIL!”

Here are some of the Garden State letters I got. The hatemail was just kinda sad this time. Not smart enough to be interesting, not dumb enough to be entertaining. Just, kinda lame. Here are some of the positives:

Matthew W emails:

ML Kennedy –

I just have to say:
Hell yeah for your review of the aimlessly directed, banally
written Garden State.

Hell yeah for your lambasting of that no-talent, no where
near the level of Audrey Hepburn, pretentious, waster
Natalie Portman.

And most of all…

Hell yeah for pandas and penguins fighting to the death
(they ARE natural enemies, as we all know).

Keep up the good work.

Part of an e-mail from George M, (who also reads AHA! whoduthunkit?)

Thank you sooooooo much for hating Catcher in the Rye.
I remember reading that 200 page piece of shit for
Honors English and hating every moment. That same
summer I had to read The Bell Jar and was glad at
least one whiny protagonist makes the attempt to end
their misery. If I could re-write Catcher in the Rye,
Caulfield would have painted a wall with his brains
around page 100 or so, if not sooner.

I had e-mailed my friend DC in order to inspire extra hate for Natalie Portman. Computer problems erased a long e-mail, and I got the replacement after posting. Here’s some of what he had to say:

I assume that you are now about to post your column…so I think I’ll just have to read it and
send you hatemail because you didn’t give me enough advance notice that you were getting ready to
proclaim to the world the bottomless, soul-searing lameness of Natalie Portman.

I assume that you will instinctively (recognize) that she has been neither identifiable, nor interesting, nor particularly attractive in any major film role since her striking and guilt-tinged debut as that terrifying nymphish little girl in The Professional.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about who I think should belong in the sentence “Natalie Portman is thepoor man’s __________,” and I came up with a short list of candidates who I think cover the bases
adequately enough. The obvious answer is “anyone,” of course, but that’s not very funny, so I
picked a few. At a first glance, or any number of subsequent glances, most of them seem to have
nothing to do with Natalie Portman, but that just makes them cooler people and better
replacements, so whatever.

1. Dominique Swain, for bothering to act even when her character is entirely defined by stupid
make-up (Face/Off, as Travolta’s goth-chick daughter) and for nuancing nymphish charm into
dramatic pathos instead of simply falling back on girlish cuteness (in a recent adaptation of
Lolita, as the titular Dolores Hayes). Notably, both of this gal’s debut movies came out in the
conspicuously Portman-free year of 1997.

2. Robin Tunney (End of Days), the fairly inept actress who has nonetheless earned her place in
our generational cultural unconscious with her roles in such formative films as Encino Man, Empire
Records, and The Craft. That’s right, she’s practically an archetype and she was never in a
f*cking Star Wars movie. Also, if you compare key scenes from Empire Records to the publicity
stills from V for Vendetta, you will discover that she looks much better than Natalie Portman with
a shaved head, but then again, so does that ropey broad Sigourney Weaver when you come down to it.

3. That girl from Scary Movie and May, just on general principle, even though I will never be able
to remember her name and she isn’t actually in any movies when I think about it.

4. Pam Grier, who isn’t young enough or tender enough to make any sense on this list, but still
ranks among the top ten coolest people on the f*cking planet. No way anyone would have f*cked with planet Naboo if Pam f*cking Grier was queen…and it wouldn’t have been called some lame shit like “Naboo” either. Wait….Darth Grier. That’s it. That would have made the second one kinda good.

I’m also giving DC part of the What Else To Watch portion for this week.

You know, there was a pretty cool piece in Film Comment some time last year (around the time that
American Splendor came out) bashing the whole tradition of movies that flatter the intelligence of
the viewer, usually by making it easy to identify with some sort of existential loner, without
actually providing any content that requires the exercise of any critical or personal judgment. So
Garden State falls into that category easily, along with flicks like American Beauty and the whole
alienation-chic thing going on. I think Napoleon Dynamite is this weird update of that genre where
all the anxiety isn’t even hidden…and I hate it even more. The flicks doing it right are Ghost
World (much more honest about the shortcomings of its protagonist), Rushmore (better still, and
more eclectic), and even something as dumb as The Faculty, which has more complicated ideas about
alienation and community than Garden State, American Beauty, and Magnolia put together.

Let’s see as for something related to the 2001 Oscar Year, i.e. a movie that came out in 2000… Let’s do comedy for a change and say Best in Show. I think Ghost World came out in 2000, so I’ll second DC.