March 23 - March 29, 1995


Screen Plays

Our Incisive Film Guy Grades The Academy.

By Zachary Woodruff

HOW CAN ANYONE not slow down to look at the horrible car accident that is The Academy Awards? We all know that the Oscars don't carry any critical weight, given that the voters are composed of "industry insiders" and 80 percent of the films those "insiders" create are fit to be made into ukelele picks. But there's no denying the zesty good time you can derive from griping about the shut-outs, waxing philosophic about what makes a movie good, and reaping large sums of money from correctly betting which celebrity will deliver the goofiest acceptance speech (hint: Tarantino).

That's what I intend to do in this space this week, and if you don't mind let's cut straight to the griping. Linda Fiorentino's performance as the basketball recruit in Hoop Dreams was astounding. Those legs, that snarl, those dunk shots. Her exclusion is every bit as unjust as the years Dr. Strangelove lost to My Fair Lady, Network lost to Rocky and E.T. lost to Gandhi (note the pattern: social relevance is only rewarded when it's dull). Equally disturbing is the lack of a Best Editing nomination for the hyperbolic Natural Born Killers. Just because the filmmakers were shrooming doesn't mean they shouldn't be recognized.

But then, we can't expect ideal taste from a ceremony hosted by a man whose movie career peaked with Cabin Boy. What we can hope for are some well-placed, deprecating wisecracks as Letterman segues through the first two hours of Awards Nobody Cares About. Will The Monk and the Fish beat out Bob's Birthday for Best Animated Short Film? Will Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life take the Best Live Action Short Film honors? Close your eyes and cross your fingers. Clap politely when the winners whoop.

But playing Nostradamus is the real joy of The Academy Awards, so here are my predictions. Dianne Weist will win B.S. Actress, and if she doesn't, it's B.S. Jessica Lange will win Best Actress, and she won't be Losing Oscar for Losing Isaiah next year, either. Both the Best Supporting Actor and Best Actor awards will be taken by men whose characters were heroin abusers (Martin Landau and John Travolta), because it's the drug of champions. It would be a real drag if The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert didn't win the Best Costumes award.

Best Director is irrelevant because the Best Director and Best Picture awards almost always go to the same film. But if this year is an exception, let's hope Krystztof Kieslowski nabs it for Red, if only to hear people try to pronounce his name.

About those Best Picture nominees: Four Weddings and a Funeral? Excuse me, but I'd sooner give the Best Picture award to Clifford than that cream-filled Ding Dong of a movie. Quiz Show must also be automatically disqualified because it comes across like it's trying really, really hard to be Best Picture. You know when the director promotes his film by staging political seminars, somebody needs to just calm down and relax. It's only a movie, Bob.

That leaves us with Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump and The Shawshank Redemption. Such weird choices: "Pulp" and "Gump" sound like the stuff inside a golf ball, and "Shawshank" sounds like something that happens when you can't hit one.

Everybody knows that the greenest golf ball will emerge the winner. The real question is: which movie ought to win? What images and feelings does each film leave lingering in the cranium?

What I'll always remember about Pulp Fiction is John Travolta accidentally shooting off a kid's head in the back seat of a car, causing a burst of ketchup to splatter the inner back windows. When this happened, a nearby stoner turned to his friend and said, "This is so rad!" I don't know why, but something about the experience rubbed me the wrong way.

Sure, Pulp Fiction is radically different from mainstream Hollywood's usual turnout. Sure, it has a nifty chronology. But hasn't anyone seen an independent film before? I'll grant that the film is unique, but personally, two-and-a-half hours of stylized apathetic coolness was about an hour too much. (Looking on the bright side, it will be interesting to see the slew of copycat free-form intensity-fests that are sure to emerge as a result of the film's success. Bring out the Gimps.)

That leaves The Shawshank Redemption and Forrest Gump. The latter has state-of-the-art special effects to spare, and I doubt I'll ever forget the sight of Tom Hanks showing his butt to Lyndon Johnson or playing ping pong at 100 miles per hour. But like Pulp Fiction, the movie exists mostly at the surface. It's visual candy, a three-hour sugar pill.

Forrest Gump gives you a placebo effect of having gleaned something about how integrity and hard work lead to prosperity. But nobody really gets anywhere by just going and going and magically knowing when to stop. The difference between Forrest Gump and The Shawshank Redemption is that the hero of Shawshank actually has to use his intelligence and imagination to find a way out of life's prison. Shawshank's closing shot, and its accompanying sense of spiritual satisfaction, actually feels earned.

That's why my vote for Best Picture goes to The Shawshank Redemption. Unruly title and all.

Of course, it won't win. But as a consolation, I'd like to see an extravagant musical production involving Pulp Fiction's S&M Gimp and the series of weapons Bruce Willis grabs on his way to slaughtering his sodomite captors. Or better yet, I'd like to see a satirical merging of Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction into Forrest Gimp, with a Hanks-like dunderhead dancing around in bondage gear uttering truisms about how "Life is like a box of sex toys..."

That's why I like The Academy Awards. You really never do know what you're going to get. Heck, Pulp Fiction could even win Best Picture. And if that happens, I'll gladly eat my words. With ketchup.

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March 23 - March 29, 1995

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