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News » Film & TV

Grouching About Oscar

Oscar Night or a Steven Seagal movie? Pick your poison.



Don’t write a column about your Oscar picks, my editor says.

Why not? I ask.

Because nobody cares, my editor says.

Good point, I say.

But what should I do? I ask. The only new release is Exit Wounds, and reviewing a Steven Seagal movie is kind of like pushing an old man down a flight of stairs. Sure, it can be fun and therapeutic, but what’s the point? Anyway, what did Seagal ever do to me? He’s just a fat old jerk still searching for his artistic center. Guys just like him are working at every weekly newspaper in the country. And I always thought an exit wound was that numb feeling in your ass after you leave a Seagal movie.

You can still write about the Oscars, my editor says. ’Tis the season. Just don’t be that toffee-nosed film critic who tells everybody how stupid the Oscars are. Don’t talk about how your 10 favorite films of the past year were inaccessible foreign pictures with weeping Iranian women and children playing with butterflies amidst the trauma of the Internet economy. Don’t praise a bunch of movies with the combined domestic audience of one 12:30 p.m. Tuesday showing of Big Momma’s House.

That’s never been a problem for somebody whose tastes usually run alarmingly down the middle of the movie stream. If I catch myself watching A Night at the Roxbury one more time on Cinemax, I may have to kick myself out of my apartment.

Come to think of it, I also watch my share of Steven Seagal-type movies, even when they’re on TBS or TNT and all the swearing is replaced by homophonic but still strangely offensive-sounding words. Sometimes you feel like you’re watching a poorly dubbed Hong Kong martial arts film, like when Seagal or Brian Bosworth kicks a guy in the crotch and then says, “Go sock yourself, you roddamn brother-chuckin’ one of a witch!” It’s always fun to imagine the foley artists trying to find a voice that will match Seagal (“No no no, that guy hasn’t been kicked in the head enough times. I need a voice that says, ‘meatball.’ Go down to the community college and don’t come back until you’ve got one”).

I’ve never had anything against Steven Seagal. Hard to Kill is one of the coolest movie titles ever, right up there with The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh. The Oscar telecast, on the other hand, offends me almost every year. Anything that improves with the addition of Billy Crystal must be in severe trouble anyway, but over the decades, the Oscars have done more to kill off old-fashioned movie glamour than anything else.

For an industry more concerned about its image than any except the NBA, you’d think somebody would realize the utter suicide of allowing people like Warren Beatty, Jane Fonda, Kevin Costner or Angelina Jolie to talk without a script, a TelePrompTer and a well-paid acting coach. With a few exceptions, movie stars are terrible when forced to improvise anything, even a two-minute acceptance speech. All that glamour and idealistic sheen slowly melts for four hours, and we’re left with a fat producer clutching the Best Picture Oscar in one smelly paw.

That’s just one of the reasons the Academy is as warm and approachable as the Kremlin, only with a better home office. On everything from their website to their promotional material to—I’m sure—the bottom of the statuettes, they can’t even use the word “Oscar” one time without slapping an ® next to it. Ditto for “Academy Award.” For those of us who aren’t lawyers, that kind of trademark protection borders on the manic.

And what really doesn’t help is the truly Seagalian way in which the Academy takes the Oscar show so seriously. At various spots on its website, the Oscars are referred to as “the biggest party of the year,” “the world’s most anticipated show,” and “a night of exceptional memories for the entire world.” Good lord. They release the names of the presenters gradually over a three and a half-month span, trying to turn each little announcement (“Michael Douglas to Make Ninth Oscar® Show Appearance. Alert the Queen.”) into a news story for the Hollywood press corps, who have trouble typing because the sauce from the complimentary shrimp bisque has dripped between the keys on their laptops.

But one thing you’ve got to love about the Oscars is the way the Academy’s hugely varied voting bloc leads to the oddest of couples in the nominations. On Sunday, you’ll see Javier Bardem up against Tom Hanks, Laura Linney against Julia Roberts, Julie Walters against Kate Hudson. They’d be even better as cage matches, but it’s still a strange, ultimately entertaining mental exercise to compare these apples and oranges.

There’s some reason to hope for excitement at this year’s show, even if much of that excitement is of the NASCAR variety (you know, waiting for wrecks). The always-mildly-entertaining Steve Martin is hosting, so we can finally put to rest the notion that Billy Crystal is useful as anything except a doorstop.

I’m hoping studio bosses, writers and actors start a red-carpet rumble in advance of the pending strikes. I’m hoping Julia shows up in one of her Erin Brockovich outfits and solves the crime of who’s putting contaminants in the seat-fillers’ drinking fountain.

And I’m hoping Steven Seagal is there. I want one cutaway shot of my man, brooding in the back corner of the upper mezzanine, eating a box of JuJuBees and trying to see over Carrot Top’s hair. It’d be the crowning touch on the world’s most anticipated show.