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The Oscars go to Hell

The Devil knows what the nominations will be for this year’s Oscars
By PETER KEOUGH  |  January 18, 2008


Peter’s Picks
The films that will (not should) earn Oscar nominations

Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
Sweeney Todd
There Will Be Blood

Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood)
Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men)
Sidney Lumet (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead)
Sean Penn (Into the Wild)
Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)

George Clooney (Michael Clayton)
Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd)
Ryan Gosling (Lars and the Real Girl)
Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood)
Denzel Washington (American Gangster)

Julie Christie (Away from Her)
Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose)
Angelina Jolie (A Mighty Heart)
Laura Linney (The Savages)
Ellen Page (Juno)

Casey Affleck (The Assassination of Jesse James . . .)
Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men)
Philip Seymour Hoffman (Charlie Wilson’s War)
Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild)
Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton)

Cate Blanchett (I’m Not There)
Ruby Dee (American Gangster)
Saoirse Ronan (Atonement)
Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone)
Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton

Maybe it’s just as well if the writers’ strike forces a cancellation of the Oscars show.

Like so many things we’ve taken for granted as good and normal throughout the years, the Oscars have become the handiwork of Satan and benchmarks of the coming Apocalypse. And we don’t need Mike Huckabee or Mayan horoscopes to know this — the signs are there for all to see.

Let me explain. Many mistakenly think that the Oscars merely reward the best films of the year. (Maybe even some Academy members believe this.) But in fact, consciously or not, Oscar voters choose not the best movies, but those that demonstrate what Hollywood does best. And what Hollywood does best is sell fantasies, through which moviegoers can vicariously experience what it is they really want and fear. Theoretically, then, by predicting the Oscars, one can also read the mind of society at large — at least as accurately as the pollsters in the recent New Hampshire primary did.

And what’s showing up in the crystal ball this year isn’t pretty. Damnation. The Devil. Joyful indulgence in the worst excesses that demented male behavior can contrive. And, on the distaff side, fragility, dependence, incapacity, and defeat. Every year, the Oscars seem to present a dichotomy between the roles of men and women, and this year — reflecting, perhaps, the presidential ballot-box victories of a man who is looking forward to 100 more years in Iraq and a woman who cried — the contrasts couldn’t be starker between demonic men and defeated women.

Greed vs. Milkshakes
Take, for example, one of the leading Oscar contenders, Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. In it, Daniel Day-Lewis’s fulminating performance as ruthless oil baron Daniel Plainview has created a charismatic and irredeemable icon of American rapacity unequaled since Michael Douglas won a best-actor Oscar 20 years ago as Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. Both bigger-than-life characters are heroes of their times, embodying its worst qualities.

Back in 1987, the situation was much like today’s: a two-term Republican administration (Ronald Reagan’s) was coming to an end; the country was in the midst of a presidential campaign; Congress was investigating the White House (Iran-Contra); and the economy was in trouble (remember Black Monday, when the Dow dropped 22.6 percent?).

Oh, you say, but we weren’t then engaged in a war against “evildoers.” Come again? As viewers of Charlie Wilson’s War, a jolly and factually facile take on this dubious chapter in American foreign policy, might notice, that was the year that the film’s titular congressman leveraged the US into a covert billion-dollar funding of the anti-Soviet rebels in Afghanistan.

So, in both 1987 and 2007, the consequences of cupidity, deceit, and wickedness were made plain, and the people responded by celebrating, at least on the screen, incarnations of those same baleful qualities. Douglas’s Gekko had everything that was wrong with America going for him. How we loved him! Same goes for Day-Lewis’s Plainview. The time will come when Gekko’s mantra “Greed . . . is good,” which every suspender-sporting Wall Street wannabe would parrot for years to come, will be succeeded by Plainview’s more enigmatic “I drink your milkshake!” They’ve already designed the T-shirt.

For that and other reasons (he’s up for a Screen Actors Guild award and just won the Golden Globe, to name two), Day-Lewis is a lock for a best-actor nomination. The film, too, should earn a best-picture nod and Paul Thomas Anderson will be in the running for best director.

Not that there is any shortage of demonic assholes this year, and films celebrating them — including the aforementioned Charlie Wilson’s War. Had director Mike Nichols shown some spine and not softened Wilson into a lovable scamp (i.e., Tom Hanks) and turned the brutal Afghan wars into a madcap romp, he might have had something. As it is, Philip Seymour Hoffman manages to portray CIA bagman Gust Avrakotos — a wisecracking loose cannon — somewhat more amiably than the fanatical but somehow irresistible gargoyle depicted in George Crile’s book. The performance, the alpha-male antithesis of the one he cashed in for an Oscar two years ago in Capote, will put Hoffman in line for a best-supporting-actor trophy.

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