Academy Award, Denzel Washington, film industry, Hollywood, motion picture industry, Oscars, Sidney Poitier, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Denzel Washington Accepts Academy Award in 2002

Ten years ago, on the same evening that Sidney Poitier was presented with an award for lifetime achievement, Denzel Washington and Halle Berry won Academy Awards for their respective leading roles in Training Day and Monster’s Ball.  Though I had mixed feelings about their stereotypical roles –Berry as a tragic, dependent sex object and Washington’s portrayal of a corrupt cop – I still enjoyed seeing them honored.  In particular, despite the overly exuberant presence of Julia Roberts, Washington’s acceptance speech is what made the evening memorable for me.  Perhaps I’m being too hard on Roberts.  After all, given the same opportunity, I too would have draped myself all over Washington like a cheap suit.

 “Two birds in one night, huh?” – Denzel Washington

Washington began his acceptance speech by referencing Berry who had just won.  Unlike Berry who was tearfully grateful, Washington was cool, confident and in control.  Washington’s manner indicated that he recognized his self worth and talent with or without the award.  The only emotion Washington showed was his acknowledgement of Poitier who looked on proudly.  Maybe Washington’s previous disappointments with Malcolm X and Hurricane tempered his enthusiasm and expectations.  Perhaps he had come to realize that actors are not always recognized for their most outstanding roles.  Or it’s possible that Washington chose to keep his real feelings private.  Whatever the reason, Washington showed a healthy respect for the award without appearing to need its validation.   

With the Academy Awards about to begin shortly, I find myself emotionally torn once again.  I am rooting for Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer to be recognized for their fine work while hating The Help, a film that trivializes the pervasive evil of America’s racism.  Will there be another memorable moment tonight?  I’ll be watching and hoping…

Video clip:  Sidney Poitier Looks On As Denzel Washington Accepts Oscar

Academy Award, cinema, Film, film industry, Hollywood, motion picture industry, Movies, Oscars, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Everything You Need to Know about the Oscars — Part Two: All in the Family

 

“You know who should have won.  My friends can’t be straight with me!  It was rigged. That’s like family.  They can’t give it to… a stranger!”

Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever

During a pivotal scene in Saturday Night Fever, Tony Manero (John Travolta) realized that his dance contest victory was more about popularity than performance.  Tony was a great dancer, but he knew he had been out danced on that particular night.  His friends, however, were not that objective.  They voted based on how they felt about Tony.  His preferential treatment – though fictional – exemplifies how the Oscars sometimes determines its “best.”  It is not always about the quality of the work.  At times, in addition to popularity, the determining factors include sentiment and compensation. 

As an avid observer of the Oscars for many years, I have experienced countless moments of disbelief.  The first one occurred during the 1974 Best Actor contest when Art Carney won for his role in Harry and Tonto against a field that included Jack Nicholson (Chinatown) and Al Pacino (The Godfather Part II).  No doubt Carney, a comedic actor and older than his fellow nominees, was the sentimental favorite.  The unlikely win by Carney provided a more compelling narrative: “Honeymooners” star conquers drama with Best Actor win!  I’m sure the voters also felt that Pacino and Nicholson, unlike Carney, would have more opportunities to be nominated and eventually win.  Nicholson would go on to win the following year, and Pacino would finally win in the early 90’s (more on that later).

Another compelling narrative that has been irresistible to Academy voters is:  Actor triumphs in directing debut!   Such was the case with Robert Redford in 1981 and Kevin Costner in 1990.  Ironically, both wins came at the expense of Martin Scorsese’s superior work in Raging Bull and Goodfellas, respectively.  Even though Ordinary People is a fine movie that survives the test of time, there is no way it should have topped Martin Scorsese and Raging Bull in the Directing and Best Picture categoriesThe same is especially true for the woefully overrated Dances With Wolves in regards to Goodfellas.

Then there is what I like to call the “make-up” Oscar which is used to compensate an actor for his or her body of work.  As much as I love Pacino, his 1992 Best Actor Oscar was more about recognizing the sum total of his remarkable career, which includes The Godfather and Dog Day Afternoon, than his over-the-top performance in Scent of a Woman.  Many – and I include myself in that number – felt that Pacino’s Oscar came at the expense of Denzel Washington’s extraordinary turn in Malcolm X.  Perhaps Washington’s loss was meant as a slap to Spike Lee, an outspoken Hollywood outsider, or due to the controversial title character. 

Nine years later, however, Washington won the Best Actor Oscar for his 2001 performance in Training Day.  Yes, it was fun seeing Washington play the bad guy, but based on what I’ve seen of him during interviews and by his own admission, Washington’s performance, ad-libs and all, was not much of a departure from his actual personality.  Nevertheless, the Academy did not miss the opportunity to compensate Washington for Malcolm X while at the same time punishing that year’s frontrunner, Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, for behaving “badly” at a movie awards show in Great Britain.  Crowe’s Oscar snub was made even more obvious when the film he starred in took home the major awards.

TO BE CONCLUDED…

Part 3:  The Illusion of Inclusion