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Oscar + Race

So my tally this year is 25 out of 30 correct, or 83%. Let’s say a B. An improvement over a year ago, with  6 wrong.  Now if I had gone with my first choice and the received wisdom and picked “Little Miss Sunshine” for Best Picture over the long shot “Bobby” that would have brought the score up to 87% and a B+ but then if I got it right I would have looked like a genius…

Okay, enough whiny second guessing. I swore I wouldn’t go over the might have beens when the Patriots lost, and that was something really important. So let’s look at the bigger picture: what does it mean?

It means my basic idea that the Academy makes its choices partly and perhaps subconsciously based on timid knee-jerk liberal principles still holds, with reservations. “Letters to Iwo Jima,” which I said would be too “real” for Academy members to endorse as Best Picture, got a nomination. Same for “United 93,” which got a Best Director nomination (remember the nominees get voted on by the members of their particular branch, and if anyone in Hollywood was going to see Paul Greengrass’s harrowing film, it would be the directors). So I underestimated the Academy’s backbone when it came to these two.

But what’s the deal with “Dreamgirls?” Everyone misjudged this one. Things started looking bad for the film, touted as an Oscar shoo-in before anyone had even seen it, when Bill Condon didn’t get a Best Director nomination. True, the film got the most nominations (eight), but none that mattered. Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson got relegated to the traditional minority ghetto of the Supporting categories, and the rest of the nods were in the razzle dazzle category of art design, costume, songs, etc. Was this a sign of the predominantly white and male academy’s understated racism? Or, more insidiously, its homophobia?

Another surprise is Brad Pitt’s failure to gain a nomination as the privileged white guy who gets a lesson in Third World misery in “Babel.” The Academy apparently preferred  its white guys nominated for supporting roles to remain unpunished and unrepentant, as with Alan Arkin’s unapologetically perverse and homophobic geezer in “Little Miss Sunshine” and Mark Wahlberg’s shamelessly politically incorrect townie cop in “The Departed.”

Otherwise, “Babel” and “The Departed,” hold up as top contenders. In the end, this year’s Oscars, and probably every year’s, comes down to guilt. Which do they feel more guilty about? Their culpability for a world of injustice dominated by Western greed, indifference and power for which the phony pastiche of progressive values that is “Babel" provides a panacea? Or about the criminal neglect of Martin Scorsese, one the world’s greatest filmmakers, to whom they have never given an award?

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