I called ’em. Unlike certain Belgians who never
really outgrew their D&D phase, I knew that even the Academy at
its worst wouldn’t give the Best Picture award to a piece of dreck like
Lord of the Rings. I got all four of the big awards, and five of the
top six: I missed only Jim Broadbent for Iris, reckoning that Ian McKellen
would win that one. So LOTR did even worse than I thought it
What I didn’t expect was the angry reaction to the African-American
sweep among certain of my fellow Oscar-watchers. The debate was so heated
that it wasn’t entirely clear what position people were taking, but
there did seem to be a feeling that the Sidney/Halle/Denzel gongs smelled
of political correctness if not tokenism.
Not true. The Academy was, of course, painfully aware of the dearth
of black actors with leading-role statuettes, but it’s been painfully
aware of that for a long time. When Denzel was nominated for Malcom
X in 1993, it had already been 29 years since Sidney Poitier’s award
for Lilies of the Field. This year, he was the beneficiary of the same
forces that saw him lose out to an execrable performance by Al Pacino
back then: the Acadmey’s desire to reward one of its favourite actors,
almost regardless of the nominated performance.
The difference this year is that Washington actually did just as well
in Training Day as any of the other nominees did in their films. (Pacino
beat out superior performances not only from Washington, but also from
Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven and Robert Downey Jr in Chaplin.) In truth,
Washington was unbeatable this year: the Academy loves to award the
actors it loves, and it had a great performance to hang its award on.
Russell Crowe lost for the flip reason: the Academy will never give
an actor the top award two years in a row unless he’s loved as much
as Jimmy Stewart or Tom Hanks.
As for Halle Berry, she and Lions Gate worked the Oscar campaign masterfully,
and her competition was two Grand Old Dames who already have Oscars,
and two performances in what the Golden Globes calls a "comedy
or musical". Given the choice between that and a serious, meaty,
dramatic role, the Academy will always choose the drama.
Berry was by no means the highlight of the show, though: that was undoubtedly
Woody Allen, appearing at his first awards ever (he didn’t even show
up the year he won for Annie Hall), and showing the likes of Billy Crystal
and Whoopi Goldberg how a comic monologue is really done. Woody,
you done all us New Yorkers proud.