Milking the Oscars

Watching the Oscars for me is like a college football fan watching the Super Bowl. The event is concerned with something we tangentially love, but mostly we watch it as an excuse to gamble and eat potato chips. Things get a little more interesting, however, when you introduce your homophobic, ultra-conservative grandfather into a Milk and Slumdog-loving queer Middle Eastern fest.

Ten minutes into the awards ceremony – after my mom was introduced to her new Aussie crush (who she really loved without that Wolverine clown hair)- the writer for Milk, the 34-year-old Dustin Lance Black (much like Asians, those gays are timeless), announces he was raised Mormon and would like to get married some day…and all Hell breaks loose in my Provo home. This is partially due to the fact, I’m sure, that Scott and I start laughing in glee, kissing and rejoicing in this small jab at the church my family are firm supporters of. Oh, and it might also be because said church hates gay people.

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So, as much as I respected Mickey Rourke’s performance in The Wrestler, I’ve never been happier to see Sean Penn. His acceptance speech was elegant (nothing about blood and underwear) and pointed and even though I’m usually underwhelmed by impersonations and biopics, I found Milk to be a really competent film released about 6 months too late. 

Gus Van Sant is one of those guys that continually pushes boundaries of filmmaking. This past year’s Paranoid Park is probably my number one of the year, and Gerry and My Own Private Idaho are films that have stuck with me as examples of what can be done with the medium. So when innovative directors like him make extremely conventional movies like Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester, or Milk, I get a little disappointed. Finding Forrester was a bit of a disaster. Let’s ignore that one. But Good Will Hunting and Milk are both inspiring, beautiful films. Coming from any other Hollywood director, I would be all-a-praise about them. But coming from Van Sant they seem too glossy and perfect with too many stars that can detract…

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And with the first previews for Milk I did feel that way. I had little interest in the movie even though it was shot it in my old stomping grounds (which made the Castro look really retro-ly amazing last summer) and co-starred the hunk of my dreams, Franco. I just knew that The Times of Harvey Milk would be more worthwhile.

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But despite the fact that the documentary probably is a better film overall (though comparing the two forms seems uncalled for) Milk is a shot of Hollywood inspiration that people need right now. Yes, watching the Oscars at my Mormon family’s house might have been a little painful, but it was also a huge reminder that people do need conventional Hollywood productions like Milk – a film that they might actually see – starring those dudes from I am Sam, Speed Racer and Spiderman to recognize the importance of political actions in the world today. No one saw Gerry…it was a really great movie, but no one saw it. People saw the less great Milk and they’re talking about it. Grandparents are retching and young people are embarrassed by them and it’s getting people talking. 

Even though those conversations are uncomfortable, they need to be had.

9 Comments

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9 responses to “Milking the Oscars

  1. brian

    maybe i’m too cynical, but the fact that they waited to release this movie until after the election (which meant it would have no impact on prop 8) shows that, in hollywood, oscar nominations and awards are more important than equal rights for gays and lesbians.

    and i didnt like penn’s speech, even though it will lead to discussions about same-sex rights. first off, because he was obviously on painkillers. second off, because it was so condescending — shaming us all for having grandparents who dont yet accept homosexual lifestyles.

    (i did see that kid-who-wrote-the-screenplay’s acceptance (kid-who-wrote-the-screenplay is the noun phrase) and thought that his was good.)

    but mostly, i dont see how the oscars can be moral authorities on anything ever. everything is so fake.

    but i was starting to think that the oscars is some kind of cult. wasn’t it creepy how they had past winners come out and give testimonials about the nominees? even going so far ask speaking directly to the nominees? i’m not sure how it all works out, but there’s a lot of talk about the saving (in a christian sense) power of movies and a lot of idol worship — both actors and, more importantly, the graven image of the oscar.

  2. I totally think the oscars are the most ridiculous form of idol worship since MTV, but I also kind of respect their power. Even though Hollywood itself can’t really be the moral authority with their insulated wealthy community, the industry does seem to occasionally inspire others for good. Bad, too. Really really bad (look at Dirty Harry), but in Milk’s case I think good, probably.

    Sean Penn is mostly ridiculous, but the way I interpreted that shame part was that our grandkids will be ashamed of us…not that we should be ashamed of our grandparents. But I think it could be taken both ways…and that’s no good. I just hadn’t thought of it.

    And to defend Milk’s release date, Van Sant couldn’t have known about Prop 8 when he was making the film this summer – when gay marriage had just been announced legal in CA – and it seems unrealistic to want him to finish up post-production in just a couple months. Especially since he was making such a glossy, hollywood picture. With a sped up release the film might have done some good, but it also might have been a shitty film that just would have been ignored…so it’s hard.

  3. brian

    well, i dont blame van sant for the late release date. the way i figure it, the movie was done last spring (and probably much earlier) and then they sat on it to release in the fall so they could get a lot of oscar buzz. so i’m blaming the movie studio.

    but if it is the case that it couldn’t be released til then because it wasn’t finished, that’s fine.

    and i think you’re right about the shame thing. that sounds more like what he actually said.

    it seems like every year, the oscars pretends to be political. remember a couple years ago when they single-handedly overcame racism (by giving best actor/actress awards to african americans)? then they took on global warming by having a “green” oscars and awards for al gore. this year it was gay rights. i see all the politicking of the oscars as, at best, pandering.

    but, the truth is that is probably does create real discussions about the issues. on the other hand, it shows how easily political movements can be coopted for corporate gains.

  4. brian

    oh wait, i reread your comment. so he wasn’t finished shooting. in that case, i take back all the stuff about the later release date.

  5. brian

    and, sean penn’s speech is a billion more times bearable than any i’ve seen clooney give.

  6. Oh didn’t you hate this year how they were pretending they were affected by the recession? That was the biggest bullshit. They always do find a way to make the program about the struggles of the industry. So ridiculous.

    I’m kind of sad Mickey Rourke didn’t win because I’ve heard that he’s been giving some crazy speeches about missing his dead dog and so on.

    And I was disappointed with Winslet’s speech too. Not only did she win the oscar for her worst role ever (including Titanic) but then she went on and on when in all the other awards ceremonies this year she’s just been saying “thanks” and sitting down.

  7. “the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes” (great line) was directed at the creepy westboro church protesters outside; hopefully their grandchildren will be mortified by their actions in the very neat future

    i’d much rather hear a politically motivating speech than one about a dead dog

    And I was disappointed with Winslet’s speech too. Not only did she win the oscar for her worst role ever (including Titanic) but then she went on and on when in all the other awards ceremonies this year she’s just been saying “thanks” and sitting down.

    you must have missed the golden globes

  8. anne

    I’m a devout Mormon. I believe that the LDS church is true & just. The biggest MISCONCEPTION is that we are this deeply conservative & backwards church.

    If any true Christian blatantly cursed homosexual people it’s because they’re afraid & confused of it. Any of us who both support LDS practices & DO NOT have a problem with gay rights or activity, clearly understand that judgement is reserved for the Omnipotent ruler only.

    We should love anyone & everyone no matter what! I have so many gay, lesbian & bisexual friends. It really isn’t a big deal. They know what I stand for & I know what they stand for.

    I support them in “relationships” based on the fact that any human relationship is complex & delicate, my love for them as people who have feelings, overrules the need to chastise them. I don’t agree with their choice of lifestyle, but you can’t choose who you are attracted to.

    It takes discipline but you can learn to control how you react to those instincts. If you actually read up on it, we acknowledge that any attraction to the same sex is not a sin. Only the act of indulging in it is.

    Sadly, yes, some people may feel their desire to overcome sexual attraction to the same sex & fulfilling their needs comes before having faith in Heavenly Father, that one day they will be rewarded for their brave & courageous willingness to stay true & pure. But then again, don’t straight people have that same temptation? To dabble in sexual experiences is a human curiosity, it’s an obstacle for all of us!

    However I believe the “homosexuals” will have their glory day, when they will be lovingly explained to why they had such attractions & thoughts.

    So the fact that they may be practicing it as a lifestyle, eg live in partners, we are more concerned primarily on the sacredness of sexual activity being conducted outside of marriage than anything else.

    I hope I don’t sound too preachy. I just really believe that it’s wrong to say that we hate homosexuals.

    “Who am I to judge another when I walk imperfectly… sorrow that the eye can’t see… who am I to judge another…I would be my brothers keeper…Lord, I will follow thee”
    “Lord I Will Follow Thee”
    pg 200, from the church hymn book.

    As a side note I thought that the speech of the script writer for milk was beautiful, I shed a tear or two. I felt that he truly meant it when he said he loved his Heavenly Father & the fact that he still has hope even though his church community gave none is remarkable. He sort of delicately pointed the blame at the church though which I wasn’t too impressed with. But I can undertstand, not everyone will feel the way I do in my church about this. I come under fire all the time.

    But as they always say – the gospel is true. faultless. It’s the people who may/or may not misenterpret.
    _____________________

    now for happier things!

    Just watched Paranoid Park last night, which I absolutely adored. The cinematography & soundtrack was flawless.

    Gabe Nevins did an excellent job as a newcomer to the screen. Who’s raw ability delivered the right amount of expression that called for the part.

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