The 78th Annual Academy Awards may well be the most politicized Oscars
ever televised. Many of the nominated films and performances tackle
contentious social issues including homosexuality, race relations, and
the war on terror. Adding fuel to the fire, Jon Stewart—the anchorman
of Comedy Central’s left-leaning satirical newscast “The Daily
Show”—has been invited to host.
In recent years, the Academy Awards broadcast has come under
fire for being overlong and dull. Last year, the show’s producers
trimmed its runtime by a half hour and tapped outspoken comedian Chris
Rock to give the program some much needed “edge.” To the delight of
viewers—and the horror of many stars—Rock used the hosting gig to
skewer Hollywood egos and lampoon the self-importance of the
entertainment industry. But his barbs may have been a little too
incisive—he was not invited back.
This week, I go tête à tête with former Arts Chair Ben B.
Chung ’06 over this year’s controversial slate of nominated films:
“Syriana,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Crash,” “Munich,” “Good Night, and
Good Luck,” and “Paradise Now,” among others.
WAR ON TERROR
Bernard: I’m impressed by the number of nominated films that
address the war on terror. I’m thinking particularly of “Syriana,”
“Munich,” and “Paradise Now.” “Munich” and “Paradise Now” both deal
with terrorism in the Israeli context, but it’s impossible to watch
them in the present political climate without subconsciously
substituting the United States for Israel.
Unfortunately, “Munich” received a chilly reception from the
Israeli press, while performing modestly in the States. I wouldn’t
count on it clinching any of the major awards for which it is
nominated: Best Picture, Best Director, or Best Adapted Screenplay. The
Academy has snubbed Spielberg before—notably in 1985 for his similarly
controversial film “The Color Purple.” I think “Crash” will be rewarded
instead; it is an uplifting film about racial reconciliation that is
likely to inspire easy consensus.
Ben: It is impossible to dissociate “Munich” with the U.S.
thanks to the closing shot of the Twin Towers. I admit that I am
completely perplexed as to what happened with “Munich.” Spielberg’s
previously Academy-ignored flirtations with controversy also include
“Amistad” (I’m still trying to figure out how the “Full Monty” director
got nominated above Steven) and, yes, “The Color Purple.” But I
optimistically assumed a movie this emotionally and morally
engaging—not to mention damn exhilarating—would find itself
conveniently at the cross-section between the action and indie sets.
Sadly, the inane chatter about controversy managed to drown out those
who loudly sang its praises. I agree it will probably leave
Bernard: Likewise, I doubt “Paradise Now” will win the
statuette for Best Foreign Film; I think that its sympathetic portrayal
of terrorism is more than the Academy can stomach. My prediction is
that “Sophie Scholl” will win in this category. It is about a young
German girl’s heroism during the Holocaust, and the Academy has a
history of rewarding films of this genre.
Ben: Somehow, I doubt that the Academy is interested in
avoiding controversy in this category. They’ve chosen
euthanasia-friendly fare two years in a row, with 2004’s “The Sea
Inside” and 2003’s “The Barbarian Invasions.” But I think they will
turn down “Paradise Now” in favor of South Africa’s “Tsotsi,” which has
just enough exotic feel-goodery to make voters feel pleased with
Ben: Hopefully the same attitude won’t prevail in the Best
Documentary category, where the current favorites are those pesky
penguins. If all the voters carefully watch the nominees, they will
undoubtedly conclude that the byzantine tale of Nile perch and
encroaching globalization in “Darwin’s Nightmare”—the best film of