Monday, January 12, 2009
Before I start with my dime-store philosophy on Hollywood, I have a confession to make. I haven't watched an award show in years. I don't remember which I stopped watching first, the Academy Awards or the Golden Globes, but I haven't listened to a gushing speech full of self-love in quite a while. Though it may not have been the self-aggrandizing nature of the award shows that drove me away. I seem to recall a fairly disturbing moment during one Golden Globes in which Jim Carrey bent over, grabbed both butt cheeks and had an Ace Ventura moment on stage in which he literally talked out of his ass; I know this is the normal mode of the Hollywood horde, but I didn't need to see it portrayed so graphically. So when award season approaches I generally ignore the whole thing. But this year I have kept an ear out for the nominations for one reason only; Heath Ledger. I knew when I watched "The Dark Knight" that Ledger's performance as The Joker went far above and beyond just portraying a comic-book villain. Any thought in my head that Ledger's work in the film was over-hyped was laid to rest almost immediately. His performance was stunning. But almost from the get-go everyone downplayed the idea of Ledger getting any posthumous awards. Comic book movies just don't win Oscars the pundits said and normally they're right. Just look at the movies, and actors, that were nominated for the Golden Globes. You have the yearly Holocaust film ("The Reader") starring an angsty actress who isn't going to stop making heavy dramas until she wins her Academy Award (Kate Winslet this time). In fact the awards were littered with nominations for movies I had never heard of-- you know, the dramas that are released, not coincidentally, just in time for award consideration. Some may be very good, I'm thinking Clint Eastwood's "Gran Torino" here, while others don't interest me at all, like "Revolutionary Road" (Winslet's other attempt at an Oscar this year), another "serious" film about the quite desperation of the suburbs. What did the suburbs ever do to these people? The point is, there are award-winning-vehicles for the Academy Awards and you seldom see action movies or comedies ever end up as a player in the game. Therefore it really is reasonable to see "The Dark Knight" as a long-shot in any of the award categories. Really, a movie about Batman? Getting an Oscar? But a funny thing happened. Christopher Nolan created a a grown-up fantasy that is surprisingly relevant and smart. More remarkably, it seems as if some of the Hollywood elite noticed. I admit, I like making fun of Hollywood when I can. It is the most self-congratulatory industry in the world. Not only do these people make gross amounts of money as actors, they also get to spend a great deal of time patting themselves on the back during award season. Apparently making $20 million for a few month's work isn't thanks enough. But at the same time I do recognize how much I enjoy the products that this industry puts out. I stand in line to watch movies like "The Dark Knight" and I appreciate that it's there for my enjoyment. I know it isn't always fun for actors to be stalked by the paparazzi, though I suspect the paychecks ease the pain considerably. But when a talented actor like Ledger dies, it's hard not to pause and wonder if the job they do takes a harder toll on them than we realize. Granted, one doesn't have to be an actor/rockstar/model to have a substance abuse problem; usually just being alive is enough to drive some of us to drink. And still, after watching Ledger's performance in "The Dark Knight" it's easy to believe that he gave a lot of himself to that role. It would have been so easy for Ledger to turn in a Jack Sparrow like interpretation of the character or take a dash of Jack Nicholson's Joker and embellish that-- but he didn't. And that is what makes Ledger's Golden Globe win mean something. He didn't win because he picked a showpiece role specifically chosen as an Academy Award winning vehicle. He didn't win because he died-- therefore garnering the sympathy vote. (Brandon Lee's role in "The Crow" could be compared to Ledger's as could his premature death, but Lee wasn't considered for an award because, while he was good, I don't believe his performance rose above the genre to the extent that it would have needed to be noticed by the award committees) In the end, Ledger was nominated, and won, a Golden Globe because he was exceptional. I also like that Ledger won the award for reasons beyond what I have stated so far. I love that a comic-book movie finds itself smack-dab in the middle of all the heavy (and pretentious IMO) dramas that make up the usual Hollywood award-season fare. I love that a great performance can shine through all the clutter and change expectations about what an "award winning" movie looks like. And I hope, I really hope, that I'm not deluding myself into an unrealistic expectation about Ledger's chance for an Academy Award nomination. But if he does get a nod, it will raise my opinion of Hollywood. A little.