Wednesday, February 24, 2010

CI # 69 -- Real: the new retarded

Play a handicapped person -- get an Oscar nomination or, with a little luck, a win. So goes the joke, which is almost indistinguishable from the truth (and was parodied perfectly in Tropic Thunder).

Of course, if you can't get a hold of one of those highly coveted and elusive "retard roles," you could always: A) gain/lose a lot of weight for a role (DeNiro in Raging Bull, et al) OR B) make your pretty self really ugly (Charlize Theron in Monster, et al).

There now seems to be an even newer path to Oscarville: C) playing real -- someone who actually lived and breathed and walked this earth. Of course biopics and films based on true stories are nothing new. And, full disclosure, I very often enjoy true stories.

However, I fear that with Hollywood taking fewer risks, "real stories" are becoming a crutch. And maybe it doesn't hurt that actors almost always get nominated for their portrayal of a real person.

Just this year, there are two "real nominations": Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela (Invictus), Meryl Streep as Julia Child (Julie and Julia). While it is a "tragedy" that Meryl Streep has fewer best actress awards (1) than Hilary Swank, ... really? Julie and Julia? Really?

Has the Academy completely abandoned awarding individual performances in favor of lifetime achievement recognition? C'mon, guys. At least pretend like you're trying.

Over the past four years, there have been four Best Actor/Actress awards doled out to people playing real people [winners in caps] and even more nominations.

2005 -- PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMON (Capote), Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line), David Strathairn (Good Night and Good Luck), REESE WITHERSPOON (Walk the Line)

2006 -- HELEN MIRREN (The Queen)*

2007 -- Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth: The Golden Age)*

2008 -- SEAN PENN (Milk), Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon)

*British actresses should, at this point, only be playing queens.

I just can't stop wondering Why do we so readily reward people playing real people?

There must be built in-advantages. We must by association assume that actors portraying brave people are therefore brave themselves. Actors portraying troubled people are troubled themselves (double bonus if you can prove you are instead, in fact, down to earth).

I think we must feel smart by automatically knowing how to judge a role. "Hey wait a minute, man. I saw that guy on the TEEVEE. That guy acts just like the real guy. Whoa, man! That's crazy! Talking like that guy must be hard and stuff!"

In truth, I think we often confuse caricatures of icons with honest depictions of them. We all know what Nixon was like on TV, in speeches, etc. So what I want to see is the other side we never saw. Yet, we tend to clap and cheer the hardest when we see what are essentially replays of historical moments.

Okay, back to not caring about the Oscars.


  1. wow, nice throwing around of the word retarded. what gives? you don't need to make a mockery of people with special needs to pontificate your Oscar bullshit. and you don't need to use the word retarded to gain hipster points.

  2. Just out of curiosity, how many "hipster points" did I rack up by using the word "retarded" once in the context of parody?