Stephen King rates the Academy Awards ceremony — and explains how he knew all along that ”Crash” would score the top prize
I know what you’re thinking: You need another column on this year’s Oscars, especially at this late date, about as much as Dick Cheney needs a few more jokes about hunting quail in Texas. But bear with me; this is, after all, the only Oscar postmortem you’ll read from a guy who put The Devil’s Rejects on his 2005 Ten Best List. Besides, this year I actually picked most of the big winners, although I admit there were some surprises — a rap crew wins for Best Song? Slap my tail and call me stinky. I don’t know if Academy voters were trying to show their kids (make that grandkids) that they’re still hep (make that hip), but Three 6 Mafia’s performance — and exuberant acceptance — lit up the evening. And the ”clean” version went over pretty well; my elderly ears detected only a single ABC bleep.
I thought Jon Stewart was fine. The negative reviews of his performance suggested to me that there have been so many hosting changes in the last 10 or 15 years that it’s hard to get comfortable with any new face. More to the point, hosting the Academy Awards is a pretty damned thankless job. It’s almost like being a janitor in a tuxedo — you bring on the talent with a joke and a wave, then sweep ’em out again after they’ve made their little speeches and torn open their little envelopes. I thought Stewart was sweeter-natured than Chris Rock, and let’s face it: The gay-cowboy montage was a hoot.
What I liked best about this year’s show was that the cumbersome, usually unfunny repartee between presenters was almost completely gone. Good! Good! As for the hosting part, it may be that the job is as dispensable as those tiresome jokes between presenters. If the Academy can’t settle Jon Stewart in for a nice long cozy run — and certainly he’s smart enough and talented enough to grow into the job and make it his own — I’d love to see the show’s producers test-drive the No-Host Option. If it did nothing else, it might cut the still-too-long show down to three hours.
But back to why I did so well with my picks this year: I had Brokeback Mountain shut out of every major category except for the screenplay adaptation, which I figured they had to give to Larry McMurtry (they did — and he was ballsy enough to show up in jeans). There’s been a fair amount of talk about Brokeback being a breakthrough, but that’s nonsense. A check of Brokeback parodies on Google should convince anyone with half a brain that the American pop culture is intent on passing this passionate, well-meant, and well-made movie like a kidney stone. And how does the American pop culture pass what it cannot stand? Easy. It laughs that s— right out of its system.
You can say Hollywood has been here before, awarding gold to Midnight Cowboy in 1970, but that’s also bull — Midnight Cowboy is a movie about a make-believe cowpoke (Jon Voight) who hustles to keep himself and his ailing buddy (Dustin Hoffman) from starving. The movie’s major moment of catharsis comes when Joe Buck (Voight) beats a harmless homosexual half to death. Cowboy is a well-made male weepie about friendship. As such, it was rewarded with a Best Picture Oscar. Brokeback is about enduring love and fierce sexual attraction between two men. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, at bottom as conservative as the current U.S. House of Representatives, gave Ang Lee one Oscar (which surprised me), the writing team of McMurtry and Diana Ossana another…and with those bones thrown, felt free to move on.
To Crash, of course.
Crash was the perfect alternative, and — ahem — I had it picked for Best Picture the whole way. It’s the sort of flick the Hollywood establishment loves best and will always embrace, if given the chance, one where the complexities are all on the surface; its issues should come stamped GOOD FOR 2 SLICES OF PIZZA AFTER THE MOVIE (OR) 1 COCKTAIL PARTY. Crash says we have problems. Crash says we have troubles. It says this modern life of ours is certainly a pain in the ass, especially this modern urban life. People keep ”crashing” into each other (heavy symbolism at work, better wear a hard hat). But in the end — this is the part Academy voters like best — we can all get along if we rilly, rilly TRY!!! You almost expect to hear ”Why Can’t We Be Friends?” over the closing credits.
And you know, until I read that last paragraph over, I didn’t realize how bitter I’ve become about this process. Because I liked Crash. I did. I happen to believe we can get along if we really try, that coincidences do happen from time to time in the great Manhattan Transfer of city life, and people sometimes do change. It’s a valid point of view, a decent theme, and Paul Haggis made the most of it. But was it the best film of the year? Good God, no. Brokeback was better. So were Capote and The Squid and the Whale, for that matter.
But let’s let it go, okay? The lights are off in the Kodak Theatre for another year. The set has been struck. The Academy sent the same soothing message it almost always sends: Everything’s all right, everything’s okay, the right movie won — the good movie, not the gay movie. Go to sleep, and sleep tight. Next year we’ll do it all again.