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A few good reasons to
hate the Academy Awards


April 8, 1999
By Franklin Harris

There is some sort of rule -- I'm sure it's written down somewhere -- that says entertainment writers must write about the Academy Awards. It applies even to entertainment writers whose subjects are as obscure and specialized as mine are.

I think there is a goon squad the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences keeps on retainer to enforce that little rule. They're probably from the same place as those accountants who count the Oscar ballots.

So, here it is -- my Oscar column, albeit a few weeks late.

I hate the Academy Awards.

They are nothing more than a narcissistic exercise in self-congratulation. Put out of your mind any idea that the Oscars recognize anything approaching cinematic excellence.

The last time I was really interested in a film the academy honored in any major way was in 1992, when "The Silence of the Lambs" swept the Big Four awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress. It picked up a screenplay Oscar, too.

The awards are political.

Say Tom Hanks deserved to win this year? (He didn't, but let's say he did, for the sake of argument.) Too bad.

He already has two Academy Awards on his mantle. The academy isn't giving him a third anytime soon.

The awards also are popularity contests.

Only sheer popularity can explain how a superficial film like James Cameron's "Titanic" can win 11 Academy Awards, picking up not only the technical Oscars (which it deserves) but Best Picture and Best Director honors as well.

Meanwhile, the late Stanley Kubrick is one of the greatest directors who ever lived. He is easily among the top three, the others being Orson Wells and Alfred Hitchcock. But was he ever honored with a Best Director award? No. Kubrick was a maverick. He made all his best films as far away from Tinseltown as possible.

So, Hollywood had its revenge: no Oscar for Kubrick.

Of course, now that he is dead, the academy may very well give him a posthumous award for his yet-to-be-released "Eyes Wide Shut." But that would be mere politics again. It would be Hollywood easing its guilty conscience.

And the Oscar voters must think they owe Judi Dench of "Shakespeare in Love." They gave her the Best Supporting Actress award for approximately five minutes of screen time. She put more effort into playing M in Pierce Brosnan's two James Bond outings.

Maybe Ms. Dench has compromising photos of those accountant guys?

At least sometimes the academy gets caught in its own internal contradictions, like this year, when the no-third-Oscar-for-Hanks rule trumped the anti-outsider rule, and the eccentric Italian filmmaker Roberto Benigni took home the Best Actor Oscar.

I guess now I can forgive Roberto his part in 1993's painfully unfunny "Son of the Pink Panther."

What's more, the Oscar awards ceremony has become unwatchable. In recent years, only Billy Crystal has been able to keep me entertained during the interminably long broadcasts.

But Crystal bowed out of hosting duties this year, leaving the task to his understudy Whoopi Goldberg.

Memo to Whoopi: You are not funny!

And don't get me started on David Letterman's "Oprah, Uma" fiasco.

Unfortunately, the ceremony isn't plagued only by bad hosts. Oscar presenters are pretentious twits.

Whether it's Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins babbling incoherently about the plight of the Haitians, or whether it's celebrities wearing cause-of-the-week ribbons, too many actors and actresses think we care about their holier-than-thou political crusades.

The overwrought debate this year over Elia Kazan's honorary Oscar is a prime example of Hollywood's hypocritical political correctness. In Hollywood, it's evil to punish leftists for their political beliefs, but perfectly fine to punish anti-Communists (like Kazan) for theirs.

And, lastly, the Oscars are rigged.

Studios spend millions to bribe Oscar voters into supporting one film or another. We'll never know if "Shakespeare in Love" deserved its honors, or if it garnered them instead thanks to the Miramax publicity machine.

In the annals of cinema history, the Academy Awards are just footnotes.

Oscar voters have slighted plenty of masterpieces and have lauded almost as many duds.

Why do you think Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert made their own picks every year?

Of course, these Oscar columns are cathartic.

Maybe I'll write another one next year. Just to keep the goon squad at bay, of course.

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