Music Features

Post-Oscar Hangover

Ya know, it’s campaign season here in the US of A, and a lot of disgruntled observers, myself included, are getting swept up in the phenomenon of Obamamania (Obamania?). Finally, in our lifetimes, we are seeing a politician talk about Hope with the rhetorical finesse to make it stick. Maybe he can change our politics, maybe he can bring us together, maybe there is Hope. Well, for anyone who stayed up to watch the Oscars last night, and has done so countless times before, the message is clear: Don’t count on it.

No, I’m not talking about how virtually all of the acting awards were exported to foreign countries, severely impacting our trade deficit. Actually, many of the best films of the year were American-made, and many of them were actually great. We didn’t have to deal with warmed-over Scorsese or, God help us, an afternoon special warning of the evils of racism in present day L.A.. Sure, we did have to tolerate that irascible, wisecracking scamp, Juno, and her twee soundtrack with just the right combo of outsider eccentricity and hipper-than-thou condescension. But let’s not be too hard on ourselves, starting out the year with the sadly overlooked Zodiac and ending with the masterful There Will Be Blood, American directors finally struck gold outside of the mainstream and by succeeding so brilliantly, injected themselves right into it.

So the Oscars had a major head-to-head death match lined up between There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men and, true to its history, made the wrong choice. I reviewed both films for this site, and while I love the Coen Brothers, and Cormac McCarthy, and I thought that they made a terrific film with an unforgettable performance by Javier Bardem, the fact is that their film was simply not in the same league with Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece, much in the same way that McCarthy’s book was not in the same league as his own Blood Meridian. The simple reason is that No Country does not aspire to be anything more than it is, a riveting and perfectly executed thriller. Sure, there’s the whole “collapse of civilization” theme that pervades the story but that doesn’t resonate nearly as much as Bardem’s Prince Valliant haircut. I won’t belabor the points already made in my review, but PTA’s film succeeds on so many levels, as drama, allegory, morality tale, that by fulfilling its higher aspirations it is necessarily the superior work. But this is what we have come to expect from the Oscars, which struggle to contend with great art and only do so when forced into it, as they were this year. Any idiot would have given the Actor nod to Day-Lewis, whose titanic performance simply annihilated the competition, but it takes more than a sleepwalking academy to separate perfect entertainment from truth and beauty.

And as if to drive the point home, they made the spectacularly boneheaded decision to not even nominate Jonny Greenwood for Blood’s brilliant soundtrack, easily the finest work of the year, showing that they know less about music than they do about movies. The only saving grace last night musically speaking was the song from the charmer, Once, beating out the three abominations nominated from Enchanted for Best Song. Glen Hansard doesn’t seem to understand the pleasure of subtlety and understatement, but he writes a good tune and performs the hell out of it. On a related note I was sad to see Cate Blanchett lose for her uncanny rendering of 65-era Bob Dylan in I’m Not There, but Tilda Swinton is no slouch and she proved last night that she’s one of the freakiest looking people to ever have a solid Hollywood career, which counts for something I guess.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, ever since I watched in disbelief as Goodfellas went down to Dances With Wolves in 1990, it’s that when Hollywood is involved, it’s wise not to get your hopes up.