How astonishing to me is the amount of attention given — worldwide and not just in America — to the Oscars. Why on earth should anyone outside the Motion Picture Academy itself care about the opinion of a group of people whose own lack of taste is demonstrated by the steady stream of rubbish, that is the usual product of the American film industry, as to which bits of these effluvia shall be judged the most fragrant? This year, it’s true, there were some pretty good movies up for Best Picture for a change. Although none of those in this expanded, ten-picture category got my coveted two-star (must-see) rating, as many as four of them, including the winner, The King’s Speech, got one star (worth seeing). But the hype surrounding the ceremony apparently had no notion of its being a particularly good year. What co-host Anne Hathaway called “Hollywood’s biggest night” would have been equally big if all the Best Picture contenders had been the usual load of dreck.
If you doubt me, consider that the four movies I (kind of) liked — besides The King’s Speech they were True Grit, 127 Hours,and (the one of that lot that I thought should have won) Winter’s Bone — were all made for grown-ups. As, indeed, were all but two — Toy Story 3 and Inception being the exceptions — of the others. The New York Times even ran a piece on the day before the ceremony about how, after ignoring the over-50s for years, Hollywood had responded to “a startling reassertion of its multiplex power” by the cohort of old folks in serving up and then belauding and be-Oscaring the likes of The King’s Speech. Admittedly, the fact that something is in the New York Times is no longer any guarantee of its being news, but it does seem odd in the circumstances that the Oscar ceremony itself was pitched, to the extent that it was, at the kiddies. Miss Hathaway herself led off with a joke about it. After her co-host, James Franco told her that “you look so beautiful and so hip,” she replied: “Oh, thank you, James. You look very appealing to a younger demographic as well.”
That was a typical Oscar-style self-referential joke, like the ensuing discussion of the presenters’ own Best Actor/Actress nominations or the lack of them. For Mr. Franco had been nominated (for 127 Hours) and Miss Hathaway had not (for Love and Other Drugs). She went on to lament: “It used to be, you got naked, you got nominated. Not anymore.” That is a variation on a joke so old they even showed a clip of Bob Hope telling a version of it (Oscar night at his house, he said, was known as Passover) 58 years ago. Not surprisingly, it got more of a laugh in 1953. As usual, too, the best jokes were the unconscious kind, as when Miss Hathaway began her cross-talk act with Mr. Franco by greeting the audience: “Ohmigosh! You’re all real.” Yeah, they’re all real the way “reality TV” is real.
In fact, this was reality TV. That made it appropriate, too, that so many of the nominees were movies about real people — or at least people who were real before Hollywood got its hands on them. The days when “you got naked, you got nominated” are now so long agone that you’d think somebody would have noticed today the maxim would be, you do an impression (preferably of a historical character, living or dead), you get nominated. Mr. Franco’s nomination was for doing an impersonation of Aron Ralston, the climber who had to cut his own arm off when it was trapped Between a Rock and a Hard Place — the title of his memoir. As Jasper Rees wrote in the London Daily Telegraph:
They used to give you an Oscar for playing someone with some kind of disability. Now you get gonged for impersonating a famous face: Piaf, Harvey Milk, Truman Capote, June Carter Cash, Idi Amin, the Queen, the serial killer Aileen Wuornos — they’ve all won Oscars. This year, it’s a straight fight between the last king of England and that bloke who invented Facebook.
Now why do you suppose this is? I put it down to reality-envy. The movie industry, having devoted itself heart and soul for so many years to fantasy because that was what was supposed to appeal to the teens who still predominate in the domestic audience, must at some level be hankering to get back in touch with reality. Maybe that’s why they didn’t laugh when Anne Hathaway, with the naiveté of youth, told them that they were “all real.” They wished! Of course, she didn’t mention that reality-hunger of a different kind was also what lay behind the fad for nakedness years ago. You’ve got to wonder if the beautiful people just haven’t been looking for reality in the right places.