March 5, 2006

"Giving the lie to five Oscar pics"

Matt Welch, who now works for the LA Times, has put together a nifty Oscar package, five short articles debunking the realism of the five Best Picture nominees: "The truths that each of the best-picture nominees left on the cutting-room floor."

-- Like I pointed out in my AmCon review, Nicholas Goldberg notes that "Munich" leaves out the Lillehammer Fiasco: in 1973 a team of supposedly crack Mossad assassins were supposed to kill a Palestinian mastermind of the Munich Olympic terrorism, but instead they murdered a Moroccan waiter in Norway who was walking home from the movies with his pregnant wife.

-- Like I noted in my review, Andrew Gumbel shows that "Capote" is unfair to Truman Capote. In the movie, Capote didn't learn that Perry Smith had killed anyone until long after he had stopped helping them with their Supreme Court appeals because their execution would provide a good ending to his book. In reality, both jailbirds portrayed in Capote's "In Cold Blood" had confessed soon after their arrest to premeditated murder, so there was no large way in which Capote even could have betrayed them to the hangman.

Of course, the two murderers, who had decided days before their crime to slaughter all witnesses they encountered during their home invasion deserved to hang. If we don't reserve a higher punishment for witness-murderers, then we'll get more witness-murdering. But such heretical pro-death penalty logic never dawned on "Capote screenwriter Dan Futterrman, or just about any other reviewers.

Something that neither Gumbel nor I mentioned was that the essential phoniness of "Capote" is that the movie isn't really about Truman Capote. Instead, Futterman was inspired by Janet Malcolm's book "The Journalist and the Murderer," which tells the tale of how reporter Joe McGinnis started writing a book with the imprisoned Jeffrey MacDonald to prove that MacDonald was innocent of murdering his family. But as he researched the case, McGinnis became convinced that MacDonald really was a murderer, so that's what he said in his book, much to MacDonald's anger. Malcolm famously concluded:

"Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible," Malcolm wrote in The Journalist and the Murderer. "He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse."

Ironically, that's even more true of screenwriters, with Futterman as an example. Instead of making a movie of Malcolm's book about McGinnis and MacDonald, Futterman decided to rewrite Capote's life story to make it fit Malcolm's theory.

In reality, Capote's writing of "In Cold Blood" was a heroic feat.

Still, while "Capote" the movie is fundamentally bogus, Philip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal of Capote remains amazing.

-- Jack Shafer notes that George Clooney's "Good Night, and Good Luck" is falsely overdramatized. CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow's attack on Joe McCarthy didn't come until March 1954, when McCarthy was already doomed. As Paul Johnson says in Modern Times, President Eisenhower had long been sick of McCarthy, but knew that the real problem was the long, ugly Korean War. Once America was no longer at war, the public would get sick of McCarthy too. Eisenhower achieved a ceasefire in Korea in 1953, and then worked behind the scenes to bring McCarthy down. When McCarthy attached the U.S. Army, he doomed himself. Murrow's role was peripheral at best.

Something else I would add is that the noble newscaster characters in Clooney's movie are much duller than the characters on McCarthy's side, such as the drunken, self-destructive McCarthy himself, the lisping machiavel Roy Cohn, McCarthy's ruthless staffer Bobby Kennedy, and his would-be spokesman William F. Buckley. But they aren't portrayed in the movie, except in documentary footage or dialogue.

Yet, despite how thin the material is in "Good Night," Clooney shows real potential as a director. He's got looks, charm, money, fame ... and artistic talent. It's just not fair!

-- Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez points out that in Annie Proulx's short-story version of "Brokeback Mountain," Ennis Del Mar is a Latino. She complains: " the lack of Latinos in a movie about Latinos is inexcusable, and it speaks to how far Hollywood has to go."

So, why did they cast Heath Ledger from Australia in the role instead of, say, Freddie Prinze Jr.? Uh, maybe, because Ledger was better than anybody else they could have got?

Dave Weigel offers some speculation on the missing Latino question, and in his Comments below it, I explain the difference between North American and Latin conceptions of homosexuality, and how Hollywood wouldn't want to touch that politically incorrect tar baby.

Still, Ms. Valdes-Rodriguez is correct in pointing out the lack of political clout of Hispanics in the entertainment business, especially relative to the less numerous but vastly more powerful African-American bloc. This was brought home four years ago when the half-blonde Halle Berry successfully campaigned for the Academy to award her the Best Actress Oscar as reparations to earlier black actresses. Meanwhile, Jennifer Connelly won the Supporting Actress Oscar for playing crazy math genius John Nash's long-suffering wife in "A Beautiful Mind." In reality, Alicia Nash is from an upper class family in El Salvador. A few days after the Oscars, the LA Times mentioned that some La Raza activists were sore about the role going to the "Anglo" Connelly, but, it didn't matter because Hispanics don't count much in Hollywood.

-- Matt Welch reserves for himself criticizing "Crash" for a lack of realism, which is like shooting ducks in a barrel. He makes most of the same criticisms I made of this highly contrived screenplay in my review, but I see the "Crash" glass as half full as well as half empty. In "Crash," unlike the last 14 years of "Law and Order," the violent urban criminals turn out to be ... black. (Screenwriter-director Paul Haggis was carjacked in the early 1990s by two black guys who stuck .38's the faces of himself and his wife.) The end of the movie gets pretty soppy, but it did include some of the bravest scenes of 2005. As I wrote:

As two African-American men emerge from an expensive restaurant, one (played well by rapper Ludacris) entertainingly rants about how their waitress gave them poor service just because they are black. While his sidekick points out that she was black, too, they pass L.A.'s district attorney (Brendan Fraser of "The Mummy") and his Brentwood socialite wife (Sandra Bullock of "Speed"). Although heavily Botoxed, she visibly flinches at the sight of black guys just walking past her. This blatant racism enrages Ludacris, so he chooses the DA's Lincoln Navigator as tonight's vehicle to car-jack.

Afterwards, the DA groans, "Why'd they have to be black?" Calculating that the news is going to cost him either the black vote or the "law-and-order vote," he immediately instructs his aides to find some black to publicly promote.

Meanwhile, a black LAPD detective (Don Cheadle of "Hotel Rwanda") is investigating a road rage incident in which a white undercover policeman shot an out-of-control off-duty black cop. The DA's oily Irish-American fixer (character actor William Fichtner) lets Cheadle know the boss wants to prosecute the white cop to appease black voters, so he's not happy when Cheadle reveals the dead black officer had $300,000 in his trunk. (This is based on a 1997 LAPD scandal.)

The politico blurts out his frustration at how the tidy deals he engineers are constantly undermined by black malfeasance. "Why do blacks get themselves thrown in prison eight times more often per capita than whites?" he demands of Cheadle, who has no answer. Cheadle finally agrees to frame the innocent white cop in exchange for a promotion and the dropping of felony charges against his younger brother (who turns out to be one of the car-jackers).

Sounds like Haggis read the original 1999 version of Jared Taylor's "The Color of Crime!"

By the way, at the local discount movie house where I saw "Crash," the heavily black audience seemed to enjoy it intensely. "Crash" (which was made for only $6.5 million) had some of the best "legs" of any movie of 2005. It opened in 1800 theatres and took in a modest 9 million its first weekend, but it then hung around long enough to earn a total of $53 million, for almost 6 times its opening weekend haul, which is highly unusual for a May release these days.

Yet, "Crash" doesn't really seem like a Best Picture-worthy film -- more like a successful experiment. Of course, none of the other nominees seem Best Picture worthy.

The problem with the 2005 pictures was not so much in the quality of the art films that got nominated for Best Picture, but in the lack of good filmmaking in the hits that made over $100 million.

As recently as 2002, you had quite a number of movies making over $100 that were also pretty good: e.g., "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," "Spiderman," "Chicago," "Catch Me If You Can," "Lilo & Stitch," "Minority Report," "Bourne Identity," "Sum of All Fears," "8 Mile," and "Road to Perdition." Or, in 2003, the following films made at least $90 million: "LOTR: Return of the King," "Finding Nemo," "Elf," "Seabiscuit," "Last Samurai," "Italian Job," "Cold Mountain," "Master and Commander," and "Mystic River." Not all of them to my taste, but a lot better selection of popular movies than 2005 produced. Hopefully, 2004 and 2005 have been just a slump, not a trend.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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