OSCARS: When Hollywood gets it right & wrong

by Phil Boatwright, posted Friday, March 02, 2018 (3 months ago)

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP) -- I suspect some readers may be disappointed that I've elected to pass on reviewing the Oscar telecast this year. Sorry, I prefer watching a movie over viewing Hollywood congratulate itself for the umpteenth time this awards season. I did, however, want to express my unabashed love for the cinema.

Movies combine the essence of all the other art forms, and films have been used to both edify and entertain.

That said, when it comes to award-giving, Hollywood doesn't always get it right. Many have been overlooked (Alfred Hitchcock never won a Best Director Oscar) while others may have gotten golden statuettes for the wrong movie. Case in point: Paul Newman deserved a Best Actor win for "The Verdict" (1982), receiving it instead for "The Color of Money" (1986).

Over time, many have come to agree that "The Greatest Show On Earth" (1952) was not the best film of that year, and film composer Elmer Bernstein should have gone home with the Oscar back in 1960 for his work on "The Magnificent Seven" (the best western score of all time), and again two years later for "To Kill a Mockingbird" (perhaps the greatest score of all time). After 14 nominations, Mr. Bernstein finally won for the insipid "Thoroughly Modern Millie" (1967). Oh, brother.

Frequently, members of the Motion Picture Academy do nail it. George C. Scott was perfect casting for "Patton" (1970), and he gave an inspired performance in one of the best war/anti-war films ever made. And certainly no one could object to Marlon Brando receiving Best Actor for "On the Waterfront" (1954). To this day, it's the finest male performance I've seen in a movie.

As to the ladies, Meryl Streep would have to be saluted as the most chameleon of performers (she has more Oscar nominations than any other performer). But Anne Hathaway's Oscar-winning performance as Fantine in "Les Misérables" (2012) may be the best-written, best-acted female screen role ever! It is difficult to sit through Fantine's ordeals as the little she has (her hair, her teeth, her virtue) are systematically taken from her in order that she might get money to keep her child alive.

Hathaway's "I Dreamed a Dream" number was a shared audience moment I'll never forget. As the song ended, most in the audience were in tears while everyone burst into applause.

Well, award shows come and go, with audiences soon forgetting who won what. What remains is the work itself. And we movie buffs are blessed to live in a time when you can watch restored Blu-ray editions of films from decades past that still entertain, inform or nourish the spirit.

The Bible speaks of how men will wander away from the truth when they turn their backs on God (2 Timothy 4:3). And sure enough, movies frequently take us down a fantastical path that leads to nowhere, because their makers all too often disavow the existence of our Creator. Ah, but there are artists who do acknowledge the Creator. God bless them.

"America's Heart and Soul" (2004), "Friendly Persuasion" (1956), "Inside Out" (2015), and "For All Mankind" (1989) quickly come to mind as examples of films that amuse and uplift. However, "The Tree of Life" (2011) was my choice for viewing the night of the Academy Awards. Directed by the inventive Terrence Malick ("Days of Heaven," "The Thin Red Line"), it's a bit too artsy for some, but I felt it was appropriate for the night Hollywood pats itself on the back while telling off the Republican Party.

The Tree of Life is a thought-provoking hymn to life, an impressionistic story of a Midwestern family coping with a death, embittered relationships, and haunting questions concerning God and the afterlife.

With a tip of the hat to Stanley Kubrik's "2001" (1968), this visual and viscerally emotional feast is sparked by exquisite imagery that is imaginative and profound, intimate and epic. What's more, The Tree of Life fearlessly examines ethereal questions with a spirituality that is neither pious nor prejudiced.

The film suggests that we become aware of spiritual matters and rely on faith when the conundrums of the day overwhelm. Like any artist attempting profundity, Mr. Malick provides an atmosphere and sets a mood suitable for examining our own beliefs, thus giving the viewer a renewed desire to share them with others. At least that's what happens to me upon each viewing.

Theologians may counter with the perspective that the auteur's lofty resonance is in actuality little more than an incoherent introspection. However, detractors cannot deny the film's ability to cause discussion.

At first you may ask, "What was that all about?" But as you ponder the film's visuals and its intent, you will come to the joyous revelation that you've just had an insightful motion picture experience. It's a film where CGI effects are used to support the theme and performance, not dominate them. And the filmmaker does more than awe us with his narrative; he taps into our subconscious, delving into spiritual and life-altering subjects. He has used a freeform arthouse film to suggest the omniscient stature of God.

The Tree of Life was nominated in several Oscar categories, including Best Picture. It won none.

Phil Boatwright is the author of "MOVIES: The Good, the Bad, and the Really, Really Bad," available on Amazon.com.
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