Oscars: Culture Warriors Left out; Moore, Gibson Hits Sidelined

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 26, 2005 | Go to article overview

Oscars: Culture Warriors Left out; Moore, Gibson Hits Sidelined


Byline: Gary Arnold, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Academy Awards for 2004 might be described as a showdown that neglected to invite the most conspicuous antagonists.

"He would have claimed credit," remarked critic Michael Medved in a phone conversation soon after the Oscar nominations were announced. He was alluding to Michael Moore, in the event that President Bush had failed to win re-election.

The Oscar-winning documentary polemicist of "Bowling for Columbine" (2002) probably sabotaged his chances for a safe repeat triumph with "Fahrenheit 9/11" at tomorrow night's 77th annual Oscar ceremony. Mr. Moore insisted that his pseudo-documentary assault on the Bush administration be considered an eligible contender for best motion picture and best direction rather than documentary feature.

It would have been an unprecedented gesture for the Motion Picture Academy of Arts & Sciences to accommodate that aspiration. Best movie and direction have always been confined to acknowledged works of fiction. Having refused to submit his movie as nonfiction, Mr. Moore became a noncontender for this year's awards.

Academy voters dodged a bullet, but perhaps only because the American electorate preferred a second term with President Bush to a first one with Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat. From his privileged vantage point as a political conservative based in Los Angeles, Mr. Medved reflected that the Moore bid might well have been successful in the wake of a Kerry victory.

"Moore decided to shoot the moon," Mr. Medved said, "and a euphoric political mood for Hollywood liberals would have played into his hands. I think he had a real chance, but only if Kerry had won first. When the Democrats lost, his stance became as quaint as a bumper sticker for a losing candidate."

So the outside possibility that the 77th annual Academy Awards might recharge a cultural war, with "Fahrenheit 9/11" as the bone of contention, failed to materialize.

There was a longer shot in the wings.

Shortly before last year's ceremony, Mel Gibson released his controversial biblical spectacle, "The Passion of the Christ." Despite an imposing box-office performance here and abroad, the movie always seemed so out of step with the prevailing Hollywood culture that its chances of securing major nominations were remote.

Unlike "Fahrenheit," "Passion" isn't completely out of the running; it received three craft nominations and seems a competitive finalist in every category - cinematography, makeup design and original score.

Mr. Medved confessed that he was expecting it to be frozen out entirely. The receptivity in at least three movie guilds impressed him as evidence of fair-mindedness, and he said he was sorry to have underrated their deliberative integrity.

He also mentioned that "Camp Gibson" had given serious consideration to submitting "Passion" as a candidate for best foreign-language film because the dialogue is in ancient Hebrew, Aramaic and Latin. Evidently, the bylaws of the governing academy committee proved discouraging. So the oddest Oscar duel imaginable - "Fahrenheit" as best movie coupled with "Passion" as best foreign-language film - became an impossibility.

The absence or marginality of the year's biggest controversial hits leaves the membership with a rather subdued final ballot for best-picture honors: "The Aviator," "Finding Neverland," "Million Dollar Baby," "Ray" and "Sideways. …

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