Author Topic: Red & Blue States Bash and Boost 2005's Best Picture Nominations  (Read 2064 times)

Offline ethan

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Red and blue states bash and boost 2005's best picture nominations

By Kathleen Murphy
Special to MSN Movies

You wouldn't know it these days, what with all the kerfuffle about this year's "controversial" nominations, but Oscar really is a very old-fashioned and conservative kind of guy. It's not as if Academy voters are wild-eyed radicals or elderly anarchists looking to advance agendas anathema to the Heartland.

Despite red state paranoia, what turns Oscar on -- bottom-line -- is almost always money, not politics. Box-office clout -- and sometimes verging-on-maudlin sentimentality -- has traditionally carried far more weight among Academy oldsters than cutting-edge socio-political content or avant-garde art.

Hollywood talent can afford to be PC to the max, but most of the money gravitates to old-school business values. A big-bucks industry like the Dream Factory is not about to go gaga over product that won't sell in the flyover states.

Still, during the past decade, some Academy Award nominations -- if not always wins -- have gone to what many right-wing types would consider hot-button movies. Strangely, they rarely elicited the kind of brouhaha brought on by 2005 noms such as "Brokeback Mountain" and "Munich."

In 1996, "The People vs. Larry Flynt" (Director, Actor noms) humanized "Hustler" magazine's unregenerate pornographer, making him a poster boy for the First Amendment (the wheelchair helped -- the Academy favors movies about the physically challenged).

In 1997, "Boogie Nights" again made the world of porn a fit subject for the mainstream screen, with Burt Reynolds (playing a dirty-movie director) and Julianne Moore (playing his porn-star wife) tapped for Best Supporting Actor/Actress noms in addition to its Best Screenplay nom. That same year, Kim Basinger took home the Best Supporting Actress award for her portrayal of a high-class Hollywood prostitute in "L.A. Confidential." (Oscar's penchant for fallen women is known as the "Butterfield 8" syndrome.)

On the gay front, "Gods and Monsters" (1998) garnered a Best Actor nod for a pre-Gandalf Ian McKellen, playing "Bride of Frankenstein" director James Whale, haplessly in love with his hunky gardener (Brendan Fraser). "American Beauty" (which nearly swept the top awards in 1999) featured an abusive father (Chris Cooper) whose extreme homophobia masked an "unnatural" lust for his next-door neighbor (Best Actor Kevin Spacey).

That same year, Hilary Swank won her first Oscar for her "Boys Don't Cry" (1999) performance as a doomed girl with the heart and soul of a gallant boy. Four years before tall, dark and handsome King Kong, Naomi Watts gave her love to Laura Harring in David Lynch's "Mulholland Dr." (Director nom, 2002). And in 2003, Oscar went happily home with Charlize Theron when she shed her constricting beauty to play a lesbian man-killer in "Monster."

In 2004, the year that "Hotel Rwanda" (Actor, Supporting Actress, Screenplay noms) opened our eyes to the horror of genocide and "Vera Drake" (Actress, Director, Screenplay noms) introduced an abortionist who looked like anyone's mum, it took Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" to generate a mini-firestorm of unexpected controversy, among conservatives and liberals alike.

What was it in the film's Hemingway-esque boxing tale that ticked off right-wingers as well as champions of the physically challenged? Euthanasia. That "fightin' word" threatened to eclipse the living, breathing film, which nonetheless copped Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor awards.

This year's "Million Dollar Baby" is "Brokeback Mountain" -- Ang Lee's Western "Wuthering Heights" that the liberal media and critics organizations are using as an excuse to "shove the gay agenda down the public's throat" (the figure of speech anti-"Brokebackers" keep using). Or at least that's the way a lot of conservative critics are reading it.

"Brokeback" and fellow Best Picture nominees "Munich," "Capote," "Crash," and "Good Night, and Good Luck." certainly can't claim to be blockbusters, and they're mostly a mixed breed -- a little bit Hollywood, a little bit indie. What four out of five of these films share is superb storytelling, mostly top-notch visual artistry and characters who enlarge our grasp of what it means to be human.

But, in our polarized times, movies are treated less like art and/or entertainment than red state/blue state Rorschach tests for a schizophrenic nation, an America so deeply divided in its values and beliefs that every film fiction is bound to offend someone.

So whereas most liberals have found little to complain about in Oscar's choices, this year's provocative contenders leave a good many Americans cold -- or worse yet, hot under the collar. Let's put on our red- or blue-colored shades for a closer look at the 2005 Best Picture 2005 nominees.


Lefty reviewers tout "Brokeback Mountain" as a cultural breakthrough: frank gay love featured in a mainstream movie, starring A-list actors. Others see the film first and foremost as a great American love story, full of authentic tenderness and pain.

Ironically, Annie Proulx's spare short story reminded some of fiction favored by Victorian novelists: in an age of extreme sexual repression, they wrote of mismatched lovers who are prevented -- by class or social stigma -- from having a life together, but remain wedded emotionally and spiritually.

Critics of many stripes praised the way director Ang Lee gave tragic resonance to the film's star-crossed lovers by evoking trace memories of classic Westerns and by contrasting the promise of the West's wide-open spaces with the constricting roles his modern-day cowboys are forced to play.

Conservative reviewers concede that "Brokeback" is artfully made, but argue that that just makes its "abhorrent" content -- read "homosexual propaganda" -- all the more dangerous and seductive. It's so dangerous, in fact, that an industry insider reports the rumor that some Academy voters aren't screening the film, presumably for fear of contagion.

Larry McMurtry, longtime chronicler of the West with all its warts, has been labeled "traitor" for adapting Proulx's short story for the screen. His wife and co-writer Diana Ossana has said that even friends and fellow scribblers had reservations about the movie's homosexual text.

Steven D. Greydanus, film reviewer for the online Decent Films Guide, argues that "Brokeback" is a flat-out indictment of masculinity. And, he declares, it "may be the most profoundly anti-Western ever made, not only post-modern and post-heroic, but post-Christian and post-human." You'd have to say that all those "posts" pretty much cover the ground -- though watching the actual movie, it's hard to keep abstract theory in mind, what with all that distracting truth and beauty.

Conservative talk-show host Michael Medved advises taking a big dose of "March of the Penguins" (Best Documentary Feature nom) to ward off infection from "Brokeback"'s abhorrent agenda: homosexuality, adultery and bad parenting. In Medved's deeply Disneyized notion of nature, the adorable emperor penguins live out all the values Lee's cowboys flout.

Even monkey love can be prophylactic in the battle against "Brokeback"'s anti-values: "King Kong"'s characters "exemplify feminine virtue, masculine heroism and romantic love," trumpets Don Feder, compiler of "The 10 Best Conservative Movies of 2005." "Heroic" animals and "romantic" interspecies love affairs may be heaven sent, but when a couple of lonely humans hook up, all hell breaks loose.

Fittingly, in this year of the gay agenda, "Brokeback"'s Heath Ledger is up against Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Capote" in a very close contest for Best Actor. Shouldn't Truman's calculated conning of star-struck Kansans (especially susceptible women) cause red state critics to bridle? Where's the right-wing outrage at Capote as a self-admitted monster, as sociopathic as the cold-blooded killer he's half in love with and using as fodder for his best-seller?

Interestingly, conservative ire is reserved for "Capote" screenwriter Dan Futterman (Best Screenplay nom), criticized for his subliminal antideath penalty "message." The "true monsters," pundits explain, are the two murderers, not the man who writes about them.

Perhaps the novelist escapes conservative censure because he disguises himself -- in the Heartland -- as a domesticated homosexual, the gay equivalent of the neutered black man in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." Still, Capote's a fair-haired, golden-tongued rogue only by virtue of brittle talent and style -- otherwise he, too, might have murdered to make a name for himself. Come to think of it, that's exactly what he does.

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Offline Cowboy Cody

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No doubt there is much at stake this year as the race for the mid-term elections begin. Perhaps an omen of good things to come should BBM come out on top in a country that has decidedly, haphazardly turned red in most communites. Funny that art does in fact imitate life. We at least we can look upon this as being for 'us'.
You were goin' up there to go fishin'....NO SHIT! GIMME SEX!

Offline chameau

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Thanks for posting Ethan, very interesting

I have now 2 pages of links I collected on this board on a Word document... Some addiction!  :P
La dictature c'est ''ferme ta geule'', la démocratie c'est ''cause toujours''
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Offline Italian_Dude

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Thanks for posting Ethan, very interesting

I have now 2 pages of links I collected on this board on a Word document... Some addiction!  :P

don't worry, i'm addicted too..

I ran downstairs and taped the first 5 minutes of Enetertainment Tonight Canada so I would tape them talking about Jake being Heath & Michelle's daughter's Godparent.. haha
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