I’d like to thank the Academy for nothing
The novel he'd written had become a movie that was nominated for an Oscar. But that didn't mean he'd have an open ticket to the party.
The release of The Dark Knight Rises, and the return to the screen of Bruce Wayne, has reminded us that fictional rich men love playing politics just as much as real ones. Wayne and his moneyed pals, after all, helped fill the reelection coffers of hope-and-change district attorney Harvey Dent like it was a party at George Clooney’s house.
LOTTERIES, BY DEFINITION, are for losers. You enter them with an evanescent sense of grandiosity and optimism, but beneath this delusion lurks the knowledge that you wouldn’t be buying a ticket at all if you believed you had a fighting chance of obtaining the prize by normal means. Then the winner is chosen—always some distant stranger who’s notably lacking in your best traits—and it becomes insultingly apparent that you can’t beat the system by any means, including the one that you just vainly tried. The game is not only rigged against you; it isn’t really a game.
Since first seeing The Artist, I believed it was going to win Best Picture. It’s “different” without being challenging or difficult or worrying. The Artist could have been designed by a computer to appeal to anyone who has a sense of nostalgia for movie history. (And 54 percent of Academy voters are over sixty). It is also a light, entertaining picture in which froth passes for energy, and pat ironies are made to seem intelligent. I enjoyed it, until the moment I guessed how close it was to getting Best Picture.
There are advertisements and reviews out there that tell you to expect comedy in Young Adult. You deserve a sterner warning. Yes, the picture is written by Diablo Cody* (of Juno and TV's “United States of Tara”) and it is directed by Jason Reitman (of Juno and Up in the Air). But, if you recall, Up in the Air had George Clooney as a cool, amiable flake whose job it is to tell people they are fired, and who is set back (to zero?) when Vera Farmiga’s colder character tells him that their love affair of convenience and intricate travel schedules is going nowhere.
At the public screening of The Descendants I saw, there was gentle but earnest applause as the film ended. It’s merited, and I suspect it came from a middle-aged audience that is weary of noise and violence in our films, and respectful of anyone prepared to deal candidly with family material. That doesn’t mean this is softer than PG. It’s an R film, with a lot of rough language, most of it coming from a ten-year-old and a seventeen-year-old.
The time demands of fatherhood have forced me to see most movies vicariously, through the eyes of reviewers. So while I don’t know film all that well, I do know the people who write about film. My favorites are the ones whose reviews reflect knowledge of something besides the art – science, history, politics. A.O. Scott and Rogert Ebert come quickly to mind. Another is my former colleague, Christopher Orr, who now works for the Atlantic.
Why is this picture called Larry Crowne? Is it because the filmmaker and star, Tom Hanks, buys into the limp orthodoxy that he is an American everyman figure? Is it because he has vague hopes that this is a story about everyday, good-natured American stick-at-it-ness, in the league of Jerry Maguire or Erin Brockovich? Or is it because no one involved in the making of it really knows what the film is about? Just think for a moment how the film’s attitude toward us, and its sense of purpose, might shift if the title was, For Example, Larry Crowne? And why not?
Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America By Peter Biskind (Simon & Schuster, 627 pp., $30) Warren Beatty has not done a lot for us lately. Town and Country, his last movie, was nine years ago. The absence is such that some of his old associates have concluded that he may be happy at last. But I doubt that such a hope lingered more than a few seconds: Beatty’s entire act has been the epitome of dissatisfaction.
The Oscar nominations rolled on out this week, but with a difference: In a rather explicit admission that it does not trust its own judgment, the Academy has upped the number of Best Picture nominees from the usual five to ten. Let’s begin there. Best Picture Last year, there was widespread disgruntlement that critical and popular hits Wall-E and The Dark Knight missed the cut for this award. So the Academy decided, in essence, to protect itself from its own ineptitude by nominating more pictures.