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Oscar who … ?

February 21, 2008
By RICK CHATENEVER, Maui Scene Editor
Quick now, … and the Academy Award for the Best Picture last year went to ... Don’t feel bad. It took me a while, too.

It was, of course, “The Departed,” with Jack Nicholson to the max, backed up by folks like Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Walburg, Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen. The headline was that Martin Scorsese finally got to join the Best Director’s club, an honor so overdue that several of his film school pals who had already gotten theirs, showed up to present his on stage.

Who could forget?

And the year before, the Best Picture was ... ?

Right, “Crash,” an all but perfect movie even though few pundits had picked to win over “Brokeback Mountain.” That movie, with Best Actor nominee Heath Ledger, has added significance now, and will probably be tragically recalled during Sunday’s ceremony, which airs beginning at 6:30 p.m. (after the red carpet arrivals at 6) on KITV channels 4 and 12.

Academy Award legends are a tricky business. As hard as they are to try to predict, they’re even harder to try to remember.

But even on that score, this race is in a class of its own. So far, it’s shaping up to be — tada! — The year Oscar Forgot.

For openers, blame it on the writers strike. It was hard to tell which was lower, morale or interest, as scribes and producers vied for every last piece of the money pie. But uncertainty about whether the Academy Awards would follow the Golden Globes into oblivion this year shorted the entertainment media’s usual hype cycle to a few weeks.

Only now are we getting the puffery about what a great guy George Clooney really is, or about how spunky newcomer Ellen Page didn’t have to act to play Juno.

On the other hand, Oscar season nonstories do provide a valuable function. Julie Christie’s performance in “Away From Her,” the odds-on leader for the Best Actress prize, is almost the only thing I missed in this year’s Oscar field. She just about gets my vote anyway, after being so terrific just playing herself in an interview this week on NPR.

Not having actually seen the contenders is another slight, uh, problem with the awards this year. Aside for wannabe Oscar know-it-alls, few folks have seen most of the movies we’re talking about.

With the exception of the smart, funny “Juno,” which cost $6 million to make and has probably sold more tickets than all its Best Picture competitors combined, general audiences weren’t buying Oscar’s choices for the year’s best this year.

That’s nothing new, but the distance seems to be growing between what critics like and what people like. For some reason, the old title “Dumb and Dumber” comes to mind.

It sometimes feels like critics are vying to be hippest of the hip at the runway show of the emperor’s new clothes … while general audiences would prefer to hunker down in front of the 50-inch plasma and put their brains on autopilot.

It didn’t help that so many of this year’s contenders were —how you say? — on the dark side. The likely, and deserving, winners of the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor prizes — Daniel Day Lewis for “There Will Be Blood” and Javier Bardem for “No Country For Old Men” — are two of the most awful dudes to ever set foot on a movie screen.

Add Johnny Depp slitting throats in “Sweeney Todd,” Viggo Mortensen slitting throats in “Eastern Promises,” Marion Cotillard living out the nonstop tragedy of Edith Piaf’s life in “La Vie en Rose,” Tom Wilkinson going nuts in “Michael Clayton,” Julie Christie losing her mind to Alzheimer’s in “Away From Her,” and on and on.

It’s enough to prompt a group howl, “Enough already!”

The tone of this year’s races has produced a bit of a backlash from these quarters, making me appreciate movies like “Juno” and “Michael Clayton,” not only for being so well done, but just for pumping a little more hope out into the cosmos.

Even on the dark side, though, I’ll never stop loving the Oscars. As opposed to trying to pick individual “bests,” it’s when we remember that all those nominees together are the best. They are incredibly gifted people who do interesting things and do them awfully well.

Oops, I’ve run out of space before I could make my own predictions.

Just as well. You can do it as well as I can, on the ballot you’ll find on Page 8.

No matter what happens, you can be sure that the best will win.

• Contact Rick Chatenever at'>


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