Friday, January 23, 2009


There was a time--I guess--when the annual Running Of The Mediocrities known as the Oscar nominations had a certain mystique.

Not just because there were fewer award shows back in the day, or because in the pre-wired world it was much more rare to see celebrities on your home entertainment delivery system, though there was that, too. But once upon a time, the Academy Awards really were a celebration of what Hollywood perceived as its best.

True, they got it wrong nearly every time out (Mrs. Miniver? Seriously?), but the award was never really meant to represent artistic excellence, but to celebrate Hollywood professionalism. Oscar winners from the thirties, forties, fifties and sixties nearly always exemplify the industry's ability to turn out competent, uninspired entertainment.

The New Hollywood revolution of the seventies caused an unusual number of truly great films to get the Best Picture nomination for a decade or so--Taxi Driver, All That Jazz, Apocalypse Now, both Godfathers--and occasionally win. That wouldn't last, and with the back-to-back Best Picture wins in '81 and '82 for Chariots Of Fire and Ghandi, it was clear that the Academy was back to celebrating dull respectability.

All of which is a long-winded prelude to observing that this year's list of Oscar nominations is one of the most boring on record. While there are some nice surprises in the acting categories (it's always nice to see some love for Richard Jenkins, Melissa Leo and Michael Shannon), the main nominees represent typical Oscar Bait. All right, I admit I haven't actually seen any of the Best Picture nominees, but if you had to make a template for a list of dull, respectable Oscar nominees, this batch would surely be it: Long, sentimental weeper (The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button), unadventurous adaptation of a middelbrow play (Frost/Nixon), biopic of a safely dead liberal icon (Milk), moderately edgy psuedo-indie (Slumdog Millionaire) and of course, Holocaust drama featuring Kate Winslet naked (The Reader).

If I had to see one of these movies, it would be Milk. I'd see The Reader just for the opportunity to see Kate Winslet naked, but really, pretty much any of her movies will suffice for that.

(But not, sadly, her best movie, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. She alternates between blue and bright red hair in that movie, and I wanted to see if she was commited enough to her characterization to dye the carpet to match the drapes. The one movie in which her nudity could give us insight into the person she played, and she kept her clothes on. Go figure.)

I don't care about the Academy Awards, and I care less and less about movies in general these days, but if I have a point to make, it's that I do respect the Academy for nominating Winslet for movies in which she appears naked. And I'd like to take this opportunity to suggest that Lauren Graham and Thora Birch, two wonderful but underused actresses, ought to use Winslet as a role model. Abundant nudity is clearly the way to go to get awards attention, and I for one would applaud it.