Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The (2nd) Morning After the Oscars: With Love for Hair and Other Cool Things

Now that the hoo-hah is over (the jewelry is going back in the vaults, and the stagehands are sweeping up the sparkles), I guess it’s time to assess my feelings about the annual exercise in rampant narcissism and mock-humility. It was exciting, boring, funny, perverse, sweetly sad, and all-around unique, much like last year. As always, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

The victory of Parasite was a thrill, and the awarding of the top Oscar to this beautifully made, audaciously entertaining work of thought-provoking foreign-language cinema ended the evening on the highest of high notes. I loved the artful way that the film’s writer/director, Bong Joon Ho, paid tribute from the stage to grand-master Martin Scorsese. In fact, Scorsese received so many shout-outs that for much of the evening he seemed the happiest man in the audience. Until, of course, his The Irishman didn’t take home a single statuette. Which was fine by me.

The acting awards generated little excitement for me because every one of the four ultimate winners had been sweeping up accolades for months. I’m never going to be a Renee Zellweger fan, nor do I have much affection for tortured super-villains of the Joaquim Phoenix variety. But I’ve got to hand it to Brad Pitt, both for his marvelously laid-back turn in a great film, Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood, and for his wit on the podium. It’s in iffy taste to make political pronouncements while accepting an acting award in this company, but Pitt’s glancing John Bolton remark seemed perfectly timed and delivered.

But my biggest enthusiasm is for the woman who won in the supporting actress category. Like Martin Scorsese, Laura Dern has a Roger Corman connection that endears her to me. She tells anyone who’ll listen that she was conceived on the set of Roger’s 1966 biker epic, The Wild Angels¸ in which her parents Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd both had featured roles. But that’s not the only reason I like her. I’ve been appreciating her acting for years, with a special admiration for her leading role in a small 1985 indie called Smooth Talk. It’s based on one of Joyce Carol Oates’ best stories, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Dern plays a bored, rebellious fifteen-year-old who leaves her home in search of adventure and finds far more than she bargained for. In the story as written, we’re inside young Connie’s mind; on screen Dern’s performance subtly lets us see what makes her tick.

There’s also the fact that she’s beloved by the film community: she’s on the board of the new up-and-coming Academy Museum, the opening of which was announced with much fanfare during the broadcast. As a museum donor, I attended a session where Dern interviewed the project’s architect, Renzo Piano, revealing that she can be charming and witty even without someone writing her lines. And of course the voters took note of the fact that, while awards-nominated for playing a tough-as-nails divorce attorney in Marriage Story, she also scored in the much gentler, much more maternal role of Marmee in Little Women. The lady has range to go along with her unflagging energy, and I’m delighted she got the win.

One thing more: I’m generally out of the loop when it comes to the Oscar-nominated short subjects. They sometimes play on bills around L.A., but I rarely get to see them. After the fact, though, I found it was easy to watch for free the winning animated short, “Hair Love.” Check out this crowd-funded instant classic here!  

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