Oscar Loves Brad, Hates Bruce
There isn't much left for me to say about the Oscar nominations after Hank Stuever and Dan Zak's Jan. 23 article in the Washington Post. The headline pretty much says it all: "Benjamin's Golden Age: 13 Noms? Film Turns Oscar's Head, Leaves Us Scratching Ours." Of course this isn't the first time the Academy has thrown laurels at a fairly inconsequential film (for more of my thoughts on "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," see the next issue of Scene4). But this year, like Stuever and Zak, I really feel the inequity, particularly since fellow nominees "Milk," "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Frost/Nixon" (I haven't seen "The Reader" yet) are all vastly, astonishingly better movies than "Benjamin Button." Yet the fix appears to be in, and I think the source of the Academy's affection is not David Fincher's film itself, but its star, Brad Pitt. The Academy really, REALLY wants to give Brad the Oscar this year, just as a couple of years ago it really, REALLY wanted to give an Oscar to Brad's buddy George Clooney. The reason is obvious: Brad Pitt is currently Hollywood's reigning superstar, perhaps the last real, traditional box-office draw left in the mainstream film industry, still boyishly handsome in his mid-forties, known more for feeding starving African children than jumping off sofas on "Oprah," and with legitimate claims to being a serious actor. His performance as Benjamin Button, which requires him to age backward from his eighties to his late teens, is a genuinely impressive feat, never mind that Sean Penn in "Milk," Frank Langella in "Frost/Nixon" and Richard Jenkins in "The Visitor" (I haven't yet seen Mickey Rourke in "The Wrestler") are more impressive still, and considerably more moving. Hollywood loves to reward its own, and no one in the history of Hollywood, with the possible exception of Clark Gable, has ever been more "its own" than Brad Pitt.
Just as Hollywood loves to reward its own, it doesn't like to reward people who are not its own, by which I mean people not its own in ways it can't co-opt. Rock stars--the one group of people, except perhaps for soccer stars, who have a larger worldwide base of power than Hollywood movie stars--top this list. The Academy made the mistake several years ago of giving Oscars first to Eminem, then to Bob Dylan. Apparently it has decided never to make that mistake again. Last year it shut out Eddie Vedder (never mind that the Best Song winners last year, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, were if anything more deserving than Vedder), and this year it shut out The Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen, whose song "The Wrestler" by common consensus ranks at or near his best work. Last year the Academy dodged Vedder by loading the nominations with three songs from the Disney flick "Enchanted;" faced with numerous protests, it decided this year to limit Best Song nominations to three, instead of the usual five. One song, of course, is from the requisite Disney movie--this time, "WALL-E." The other two are from "Slumdog Millionaire," written by A.R. Rahman, one of India's musical legends. My guess is that Rahman will take home a statuette this coming Feb. 22. Thus the Academy can kill three birds with one stone: it can give a little bow of approval to Bollywood from Hollywood; it can snub one of the greatest figures in the history of rock for not being Hollywood; and it can give "Slumdog Millionaire" one more consolation prize for losing the Best Picture award that will go to "Benjamin Button."