This week’s inductee into the “Overrated Hall of Fame” is … Oscar angst.
The annual post-Oscar bitchfest is in full swing, with self-professed filmophiles gnashing their teeth over who and what won and who and what didn’t. You know these types. Their gripes usually go something like, “The Academy is a joke! How could (insert name of low-budget indie flick with dreadful production values and seen by all of 37 people) not even get nominated while (insert big-budget, big-star vehicle) wins six Oscars?”
I admit to occasionally joining this chorus. I’m an indie freak. I shun whatever middle America deems “must-see.” I have bitched about Oscar results. That dreamy piece of melodramatic dung The English Patient beat out both Fargo and Secrets and Lies? Travesty! Bill Murray’s brilliance in Lost in Translation was bested by Sean Penn’s embarrassingly over-the-top scenery gnoshing in Mystic River? What a joke. You’re telling me that John Travolta’s stylish, philosphical, heroin-addicted hitman lost out to Tom Hanks’s tiresome redneck retard with the “box of chocolates” philosophy of life? Then Oscar is a box of shit.
But sometimes, despite the wailings of film snobs (like me), the Academy gets it right. Big names get beaten by virtual unknowns. The blockbuster fan favorite with the multi-million dollar P.R. campaign loses out to the threadbare-budget indie flick that found box office legs through word of mouth. Let’s take a look at some instances where certain undeserving nominees did not garner that coveted golden statuette:
If Mimicking Is Acting, then Rich Little Should Have More Oscars than Meryl Streep and Katherine Hepburn Combined:
The past three years have seen the Best Actor Oscar go to actors who portrayed famous dead people. In Ray, Jamie Foxx donned black glasses and bobbed and weaved his head, and that was considered genius. Hell, if they ever make Stevie, four fifths of the country could play the lead role, as most of us do a mean Stevie Wonder imitation. Dead-eye Forest Whitaker won for playing a charismatic despot no one remembers and doughy Philip Seymour Hoffman won for playing an opportunistic alcoholic writer that people vaguely remember but don’t really care about.
But other imitators did not win Oscars, nor should they have. Will Smith’s turn as Muhammad Ali required little more than hitting the gym and shunning carbs. He didn’t win. Woody Harrelson sat in a wheelchair, whined and looked grumpy when he played a persecuted Larry Flynt. No Oscar. And Joaquin Phoenix deservedly won jack shit on Oscar night for portraying the Man in Black as if he were a semi-retarded Ritalin addict.
Get Over Yourselves … You’re Still Just Fucking Kids:
Nominees Linda Blair (The Exorcist), Jodie Foster (Taxi Driver) and Juliette Lewis (Cape Fear) were impressive adolescent actresses, but they didn’t deserve to win. So they didn’t. Sure, they gave full grown men shame-inducing hardons with their “Daddy, please love me” skankiness, but that doesn’t mean theirs were great performances. If all it takes to win an Oscar is playing a 15-year-old skank that older men want to fuck like a blow-up doll, then my local mall is teeming with potential winners.
A Catchy, Memorable Phrase Does not an Oscar Performance Make:
Okay, this isn’t always true. I’m reminded of this every time I happen upon Al Pacino’s horrendously bad performance in the dreadfully bad Scent of a Woman. He won that year for one reason only: “Hoo-aaaaaah!”
But sometimes even a famous movie quote can’t help an actor overcome a bad case of the overacting bug that the Academy so often rewards. “Gooooood Morning Vietnammmmm!” Good night, Robin. “You can’t handle the truth!” You can’t handle the Oscar this year, Jack. “I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It smells like … victory.” Sorry Bobby – you don’t get to smell victory until Tender Mercies.
Look Ma! We Progressive White Folk Are NOT Afraid of Big Black Muscular Men:
I’m still shocked that “look how liberal we are!” Hollywood didn’t show enough racially condescending love to Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile) and Djimon Hounsou (In America) to get them supporting Oscars. I was certain that these two actors would win for their Magic Negro roles. (I didn’t coin that phrase. Look it up.) Roles like these allow a still-racist America to pretend we are not racist at all. “Oh, the big colored fella won. I’m glad. He was so good … and harmless. And nice to white people. And he didn’t steal our women with his 12-inch cock and black man’s ability to make love 12 times a day. And he didn’t rob anyone. Yes, give that big black gentle buck an award. But don’t be giving any Oscars to thugs like Ludacris or Method Man. They still gives us white folk the shivers.” Oh please, like your mom or aunt hasn’t thought that.
You’re Going to Die Soon? So Fucking What:
Sometimes, even being an aging acting legend on the brink of death is not enough to earn an Oscar. We saw that this past Sunday when two-feet-and-one-arm-in-the-grave octogenarian Hal Holbrook lost. The same happened to Paul Newman (craggy and tired in Road to Perdition) and Peter O’Toole (age 135 in Venus). These actors might have won if they had had the good timing of Peter Finch, who died soon after his nomination for Network, pretty much ensuring the sympathy vote. I wish I could report that this was the reason for Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s mystifying win for Jerry McGuire, but alas, he is still alive and making movies. But I can always hope.
Fuck Your Affliction:
Oscar has a long love affair with the physically fucked. They’ve twice rewarded blind men (Ray and Scent of a Woman) and three times honored the ‘tard (Shine, Forrest Gump and Charly.) They’ve sent a golden shout-out to the gimp (My Left Foot), the mute (The Piano), the deaf (Children of a Lesser God) and the flat-out crippled (Coming Home). Bony Adrien Brody damn near starved himself into an Oscar.
Yet some actors still couldn’t summon the acting stones to limp, grunt or die their way to an Oscar. Tom Cruise might be the only nominated actor inept enough to lose as Oscar from a wheelchair (Born on the Fourth of July). Leonardo DiCaprio apparently didn’t have the requisite ‘tardness to win for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Gary Sinise, in what might be the biggest gimp failure of all time, didn’t win for Forrest Gump despite missing not one but – count ’em – two legs.
Sometimes, Even though You’re a Box Office Behemoth with an Endless String of Smash Hits, and Even though You’re One of the Most Powerful Men In Hollywood, and Even though You’ve Managed to Stay Stunningly Good Looking for 25 Years, and Even though You Can Still Charm Most Americans with Your Unctuous Charm, You Suck so Badly as an Actor that You Remain Oscarless, Proving Yet Again that the Academy most often Gets It Right:
Tom Cruise ain’t won shit yet.
Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.