No feel-good factor
This year's Oscar nominations show that cinema is not just a tool of entertainment and information, but also a platform for soul searching.
Dealing with complexities: Still from "Brokeback Mountain"
HOLLYWOOD seems to be in a ruminative mood. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated for the coming Oscars smaller, personal and emotionally touching films. Gone, it seems, at least in 2006, the fancy for extravaganzas.
Remember "Titanic", which walked away with 11 Academy Awards in 1998 in a tie with the 1959 "Ben-Hur". Between these two huge budget movies, we saw any number of equally epic pictures, such as "The Lord of the Ring" series and "Master and Commander" to name only two, garnering a number of nominations.
Still from "Capote".
This season, Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain" was nominated in eight categories, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Heath Ledger) and Best Supporting Actor (Jake Gyllenhall). Lee's work traces the story of two handsome homosexual ranchers over several decades. It is a tight, reflective work that also tells us that Hollywood is beginning to come to terms with discomfort over subjects dealing with same sex affairs and gender changes.
"I think this year is the year that small movies get attention because they deal with complexities, they go to the grey area," said Ang Lee, when he received his nomination. His "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000), "Sense and Sensibility" (1995) and "Eat Drink Man Woman" have all appealed to a cross section of audiences and critics. The complexities that Lee spoke about were race relations, revenge and misuse of Government authority among other issues.
"Good Night, and Good Luck" by writer, director and actor George Clooney, which clinched six nods, including one for Best Picture, focuses on a journalist's plight during the American Red scare. "Crash" by writer-director Paul Haggis deals with racial tension in Los Angeles, and it walked away also with six nominations. Best Picture included. Steven Spielberg's "Munich" admittedly with a bigger budget of $68 million was yet another Best Picture nominee. Although panned by critics for its weak script, and by Jews for equating their struggle for a homeland with that of the Palestinians, "Munich" appears to have endeared to the over 6,000 Academy members for its gripping story of vengeance: the hunt for the killers of the Israeli athletes in the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Writer Truman Capote's relationship with two murderers he profiled in his book, In Cold Blood, made into a film, "Capote", by Bennett Miller also found itself in the Best Picture nomination slot. Miller, like Spielberg, was in the race for directing honours.
These movies, as some others nominated in the various other categories, are in some ways reflective pieces that question social and political prejudices, without quite throwing up answers, and deal with man's moral dilemmas. They appear to be echoing the general feeling among Americans about terror and retribution, about conscience and guilt.
Still from "Transamerica".
And these come at a time when the U.S. finds itself in a politically stickier situation: Iran's defiance and Osama bin Laden's unsuccessful peace overture are two examples of Washington's unease.
Actress Felicity Huffman aptly summed this up. Nominated as the Best Actress for her role in "Transamerica" where she plays a man in the process of becoming a woman she told The Washington Post that "politically, we're more on the right than ever. Maybe socially we're moving toward understanding and healing".
The Academy selections this year indicate this, and quite pointedly. There are no feel-good films with "they lived happily ever after" closing shots. And, there is an underlying current of social and political tension in them that tell us that Hollywood is not quite in tune with President George Bush's line of thinking. It perhaps never was: remember Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" that ripped apart the American Government, and, of course, some Oscar acceptance speeches. Happily, cinema is being used not just as a tool of entertainment and information, but also as a serious platform for some soul searching.
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Who's the winner?
Best Picture: "Brokeback Mountain", "Capote", "Crash", "Good Night and Good Luck", "Munich".
Best Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Capote"; Terrence Howard, "Hustle and Flow"; Heath Ledger, "Brokeback Mountain"; Joaquin Phoenix, "Walk the Line"; David Strathairn, "Good Night, and Good Luck".
Best Actress: Judi Dench, "Mrs. Henderson Presents"; Felicity Huffman, "Transamerica"; Keira Knightley, "Pride and Prejudice"; Charlize Theron, "North Country"; Reese Witherspoon, "Walk the Line".
Best Director: Ang Lee, "Brokeback Mountain"; Bennett Miller, "Capote"; Paul Haggis, "Crash"; George Clooney, "Good Night and Good Luck"; Steven Spielberg, "Munich".
Best Foreign Film: "Don't Tell", Italy; "Joyeux Noel", France; "Paradise Now", Palestine; "Sophie Scholl The Final Days", Germany; "Tsotsi", South Africa
PHOTO: AP and REUTERS
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