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Oscar, You Did Good!

I stayed up well past midnight last night watching the 74th Annual Academy Awards. I admit I didn't watch every second of it, but I saw most of it - which is more than I can say about the movies being honored. I don't believe I have yet seen any of the movies that received nominations this year. I'm not really a movie-going person. I don't much like crowds. I prefer the warmth and comfort of my own home. I also don't like paying out the money required to purchase tickets and visit the concession booth. By waiting six months (or so), I can buy a VHS for about the cost of a single ticket, or a DVD for less than the cost of two tickets, never mind the refreshments. Fortunately, for the movie business, millions of people still flock to the theaters, although in the last year or so, the number of theaters in our area have been about cut in half. But this isn't about my movie habits (I love watching movies) or about movie theaters.

This is about the Academy Awards, its nominees and winners, and the people who attended the show. If I had posted my picks, before the show, I would probably have looked like a genius. I did really well - but, actually, the voters did well. I would have picked Merisa Tomei as supporting actress just because I have seen her in several pictures and Jennifer Connally is relatively new to me. I have no idea who I would have picked for best supporting actor. I would have picked the Faith Hill song from Pearl Harbor. (Which, by the way, isn't a bad movie. Given a choice, I'd probably prefer to watch it over Titanic, even though they are both bittersweet.) But, it was nice to see Randy Newman win after 16 nominations. I would have preferred Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring as best picture although, since I haven't seen either it or A Beautiful Mind, I have no real basis for making a choice. Besides, Lord has two more shots at it.

It is always a bittersweet moment when you see how old some of your favorite performers have suddenly become. Sidney Poitier is now in his seventies. I can still see him in those classic movies from the sixties: In the Heat of the Night, To Sir, With Love and Guess who's Coming to Dinner, to name but three. I believe I saw all of those in the theater. I hadn't realized he had first started to get into acting back in the late forties. He is an amazing actor. He is an amazing man. He is so truly deserving of special award status. Sidney's speech was somewhat formal yet still emotional and moving.

Robert Redford, too, has aged noticeably. I knew he was shy, but I suffered with him through his speech which was not easy to listen to or to follow. Another great actor well deserving of recognition.

Talk about looking old, how could Opie and Ritchie Cunningham end up winning a best director Oscar? Ron Howard has directed some of the most successful movies in Hollywood over the last twenty or so years. It's amazing that this is his first nomination, but not amazing that he should win.

But aging actors/directors weren't the only things that caught my eye. The ladies were, as usual, all decked out. Many proved that basic black is not only appropriate, but is down-right alluring. Sharon Stone managed to bare all (of her back, that is) while still looking terrific and fashionable. Others, such as Lisa Blount appeared to be having a real struggle to keep the dress up. Halle's dress was at first glance extremely revealing and risque, but all the flowers managed to arrange themselves appropriately. But there were some fashion failures as is always the case. Jennifer Lopez had a nice outfit except that it made her derriere appear far too large. Julia Roberts almost looked like her dress had been torn to shreds, but, fortunately, her face, her smile, and her personality kept people from staring too long at her dress. The real loser last night lost big. Really big. Gwyneth Paltrow is a remarkable actress. She's probably a remarkable person. And while I've never thought of her as being especially sexy, one thing is now certain: I will never think of her as sexy ever. There are some stars that you would love to see more of - yes, it's possible to see even more than these dresses reveal. I bought Swordfish at least partly to get a better look at Halle, I admit it. After last night, I don't ever want to see more of Gwyneth. That was probably the worst possible dress she could have chosen. Another person might have carried it off, but not Gwyenth.

And Whoopi proved that clothes don't make the woman. Whoopi's wardrobe certainly didn't have the viewers rushing out to buy a knock-off, but it did probably keep them in their seats waiting to see what outlandish outfit she would show up in next. They weren't disappointed. Of course, I prefer to think that she did it all in fun, poking a little fun at the dress designers who work so hard to make fashion statements of the actresses, but, who, so often, just embarrass their clients (or us) instead.

I cried with Halle when her name was announced. I had hoped she would win, not only because I think she is so incredibly beautiful, but because she is a great actress. Not too many people would take on the wide diversity of roles that Halle has done, and carry them all off so convincingly. It was a little embarrassing when she had such trouble getting herself composed and then carried on for so long, but she had a point: She did have 74 years of catching up to do. When Denzel also won, it was like frosting on the cake.

There are many reasons why someone wins an Oscar: because he/she really did give the performance of the year; because his/her body of work makes him/her worthy of the honor; because the Academy has some catching up to do; or even because someone else may be deemed less worthy. I suspect that all of these were in play this year. I have never seen Denzel or Halle give a bad performance. I don't know if the particular movies and roles for which they were honored were their best work, but there is no doubt they are deserving. Did Denzel really win or did Russell Crowe lose? Who knows. Did the Academy decide to make up for past slights all in one night? Who cares.

Will this double (triple if we throw in Sidney) win mean an end to the long drought that has plagued African-American actors in particular and minority actors in general? I certainly hope so. There are lots more deserving actors/actresses waiting for their opportunity. Some of these include Morgan Freeman, Samuel L. Jackson and Cuba Gooding Jr., to name but three. Deserving actresses are a little less obvious, probably because they have had less opportunity to shine. Vivica A. Fox and Anegela Bassett come to mind, but many others have had great performances.

Just as it has been an injustice that only three African-American actors have won the top awards over Oscar's 74 year history, it would be equally wrong to set up some kind of quota system (however informal). More minority actors need to be recognized. More need to be given the opportunity to perform.

Hollywood and stereo typing seemed to be almost synonymous. An actor plays one role as a heavy and is type cast as a heavy for the rest of his career. An actress plays a dumb bomb shell and can't get any of the meatier roles. There is much more discrimination flagrant in Hollywood beyond racial. Last night, however, a small step was taken to right a terrible wrong. Oscar, you did good.

Originally published in 2002.

Copyright © 2002 by Fred Oldfield. All rights reserved.


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