The 80th Academy Awards were like the 4th of July. You hear fireworks, and think perhaps to go to the window, but on second thought decide to keep on sitting on the couch. You’ve seen fireworks, but at this point in your life you’ve come to value a good sit above a spectacle. More than anything, the effect of this year’s prolonged writer’s strike was a revelation of how unessential entertainment television is to the couch-bound life. And yet this year I decided to get up (metaphorically) and attend the event (in a manner of speaking).
After all, this was an interesting year for American movies. No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood both warrant third and fourth viewings. Both are cinematographic showcases, and both are interesting engagements with American self-understanding. Our quotidian atrocities were addressed in more than a few films and documentaries, a handful of which were recognized at the Awards. A few actors (unfortunately, this year it was mostly men) gave stunning, often villainous, performances. In the year that saw the passing of Antonioni and Bergman, it felt as if America was stepping forward as a locale for serious, introspective mainstream filmmaking.
Except for Juno, which was dumb as hell.
The 80th Academy Awards were hosted by Jon Stewart, who is engaging due to the distance between his persona and that of the standard Hollywood succubus. He is a good MC because he seems to take the awards as seriously as your standard viewer; he stands with us against the dripping Jack Nicholsons and beaming Miley Cyruses. A man of the people, he is!
And the Awards were actually pretty interesting, largely due to some gaping cracks in the veneer through which could be seen the mad morass of American entertainment culture. The first presenters obviously had trouble with the teleprompter, and stumbled through their speeches only with difficulty. Midway through, Harrison Ford walked on stage scowling. Visibly disdainful of the lines he was to read, he said in a low, contemptuous voice: “Every film has lines… These lines need to be (pained wince) written…so thank God we have screenwriters.”
The upset of the night was the Best Actress award. Everyone and their mother knew that the award was going to Julie Christie, for her performance of a woman losing her memory in Away From Her. I never saw the film, as I am 21 and do not believe in ageing. Christie is a legend, and the award was to be a career achievement Oscar like the one Scorsese received last year for the mediocre film The Departed. And yet, to everyone’s surprise, little known French actress Marion Cotillard took home the award for her role in La Vie en Rose! A film about Edith Piaf, the who-could-care-less songbird of pre-war Paris! That being said, she is much more beautiful than Julie Christie, and Hollywood is a tough town, so take your tears back home to Tullahassee, toots!
Yet the most impressive moments of this year’s Academy Awards show were the few shots of Cormac McCarthy sitting in the audience. A famed recluse (he told Oprah in his first ever television interview in 2007 that he preferred the company of scientists to that of writers), McCarthy appeared disturbed. His piercing eyes moved frantically over the audience. His mouth twitched. He looked like the last human in a field of zombies, horrified yet willing, if necessary, to dismember all of them, limb by bloody limb.