Monday, February 23, 2009

Hasta la vista, chrome-dome

It was 1992, a warm winter’s day in my junior high lunch yard. Taco Bell chilitos were the chosen fare for me and my mates. A faint smell of still-moist armpits lingered from first period PE. And for the first time, I debated movies with my peers. The hubbub centered on Terminator 2: Judgment Day, 1991’s biggest grosser, and lately snubbed by the Academy when Oscar noms were released. Flabbergast gripped the herd of 12-year-old boys. What respectable awards show would leave T2 off the slate of Best Picture candidates? One could understand the Golden Globes flubbing it, but the Oscars? A sad death knell for the relevance of the Academy Awards.

I was the lonely naysayer, a defender of sophisticated artistic taste. I explained that T2 was merely an action movie, albeit an intensely dramatic one, but not the kind of thoughtful work of art that deserves serious Best Picture consideration.

The barely pubescent throng responded with merciless gasps and much foaming of mouths. One lad was so upset that he angrily wagged his soggy chilito at me. The cry went up, “What do you think should win Best Picture? Beauty and the Beast?” Consider it a call to arms. I could see Gaston and his roiling lynch mob, all ablaze with torches and pitchforks, bearing down on me. Well, that’s what I would have thought, if I had actually seen Beauty and the Beast at the time. But I hadn’t, and yet this: “Yeah, you like Beauty and the Beast! You like a Disney movie!” Yes, in two seconds, I became known as the dude who liked Beauty and the Beast more than Terminator 2.

I withstood the furor, standing by my belief that the ignorant masses could have their say at the box office, but awards would be meaningless unless they were decided by more discerning viewers, and more legitimate criteria than the almighty dollar.

Young Czardoz, I say to you with some pity: You should have been an Academy voter. My current disdain at the 2009 Oscar nominations (and wins) is matched only by my regret that I, too, once tried to convince blissful fools that only certain kinds of movies deserved to compete for Best Picture.

For chuckles, let’s take a look at 1991, and we’ll see that it was not a bumper crop for the Oscars:

  • The Silence of the Lambs (winner)
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Bugsy
  • JFK
  • The Prince of Tides

I’ve seen all these films (and when was the last time I could say that about any year’s five Oscar nominees?), and even then, even as I pooh-poohed the artistic merit of T2, I couldn’t have praised most of the above films with any passion. The exception is Beauty and the Beast – for now, let’s consider only the other four movies. Much as today, they represent the Academy’s self-satisfied nodding at yawn-inducing films about sad people doing boring things. Okay, so Lambs was exciting at moments, but not really daring, not even for the early 90s.

Here is a list of notable 1991 films that I enjoyed more than the above (non-Beast) nominees:

  • Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (the superior Kevin Costner film of that year, in my opinion)
  • City Slickers (haven’t seen it in maybe 15 years, but back then, I probably watched it five days a week for a month, and laughed every time that guy said “slit him from neck to nuts”)
  • Thelma and Louise (Brad Pitt, yo!)
  • The Fisher King (Robin Williams goes full frontal)
  • Cape Fear (the superior Nick Nolte film of that year)
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (“You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.”)
  • The Addams Family (ironically, probably Christina Ricci’s least creepy role)

And of course, Terminator 2, a movie defined not by its groundbreaking special effects or action sequences, but by its haunting idea that our pride and irresponsibility will one day doom us to a collective urn.

So what’s your beef, Oscar? Why so glum? Can’t stand slap-happy good fun in a movie? Or do you fear the bizarre and unfamiliar? Maybe you just hate space, and believe that turgid melodrama is the true final frontier.

I look at the list I just made, and I look at this year’s Oscars broadcast, and I think I see where goldi-bald has it all wrong. Then as now, Oscar bludgeons the year in film into a short list, giving close-ups to just the five Best Blather nominees and a smattering of other big or memorable flicks, instead of panning across the annual panoply of diverse and affecting movies. Perspective is lost, and the cinephile suffers vertigo as the expansive year is squeezed accordion-like into a narrow strip of celluloid.

T2 was a hit, but what about films like the elegant Dead Again, or the inelegant but even more enjoyable Double Impact? How about the ungainly but ambitious Hook, or the beautiful bomb, The Rocketeer? Not necessarily great films, but they give perspective, and show that one year cannot be whittled down to five mediocre films.

If I could return to that lunch yard, I would hoist a chilito with my chums and affirm that Terminator 2 was the best film of the year, and should have crushed those five nominees like skulls under a cybernetic foot . . . that is, except for Beauty and the Beast.

Yes, I am still the dude who likes Beauty and the Beast more than Terminator 2. Live with it.


Henry said...

I think a more accurate awards ceremony would judge the best films of ten years prior. Then we'd see how well a talkie like Crash really endures.

I laughed when I finally realized what the other Kevin Costner film of 1991 was. Was The Prince of Tides the other Nick Nolte film? Never saw it.

And at least you're not the guy who thinks that Beauty and the Beast is NOT the best Disney movie, despite it having been the only one nominated for best picture.

Czardoz said...

The only thing I remember from The Prince of Tides is the sight of a soul-shattered Nick Nolte slumped in on himself, saying, "I didn't know it could happen to a boy."