- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2006

A perfect politically correct storm is gathering over La La Land as awards season reaches gale force intensity. A pair of films illuminating the homosexual and transgendered lifestyles, “Brokeback Mountain” and “Transamerica,” appear mortal locks for Oscar nominations after securing a total of five Golden Globe awards last weekend. Two movies — “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “Syriana” — co-starring liberal lenser George Clooney (Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for “Syriana”) are almost as certain to nab nominations. The left’s favorite comic, Jon Stewart, will serve as Oscar emcee this year.

Even a novice weatherman could forecast the outcome — a downpour of socially conscious speeches come Oscar night and more than a few thunderbolts hurled down at the Bush administration.

Michael Moore’s incoherent rant against the president after winning the 2003 Oscar for Best Documentary for “Bowling for Columbine” might seem quaint by the time the March 5 Oscar telecast signs off.

It’s Hollywood’s way of praising itself for being on the right, or rather correct, side of the day’s social issues.

Last time we checked, the nation was split down the middle between states red and blue. Factor in polling on public perceptions about homosexuality, and the gap is even wider. Thumbing one’s nose at a majority of the country doesn’t seem like a wise business model.

All year long, the movie industry has been searching for reasons why ticket sales keep dropping.

They’ve blamed DVDs, chatty moviegoers and stale remakes — everything except the fact that many of their films either alienate or ignore entire swaths of the country.

An industry known for its ability to Xerox a hit when it sees one — expect a rash of sensitive movies depicting alternative lifestyles in “Brokeback’s” wake — still hasn’t seen fit to clone 2004’s wildly successful “The Passion of the Christ.”

The best television could muster is NBC’s new drama “The Book of Daniel,” a series which takes great pleasure in making its religious figures ripe for ridicule.

It all goes back to “Brokeback Mountain,” a film which has delighted social progressives, made some conservatives twitch and left us with memorable lines like, “I wish I knew how to quit you.”

Its per-screen average remains impressive so far, although clearly carefully calculated. But it’s hard to recall another movie which garnered as much free, and almost uniformly positive, press as it has.

We’re all for the Hollywood and critical establishments heralding artistic merit over box office tallies. But is aesthetic merit really the only — or even the main — criterion of judgment underlying the award season accolades raining down on the “Brokebacks” and “Syrianas”?

If so, where’s the love for films like “Junebug,” “Crash” and “Hustle & Flow,” the little movie that proved a two-bit pimp could dig his way out of the moral sewer of his own creation?

These indie movies were at least as thoughtful, original and artfully made as “Brokeback,” “Transamerica” and “Syriana.” Not to mention considerably more entertaining.

What they weren’t was as tendentious, as ideologically sound from the perspective of political Hollywood. They matched — or exceeded — the Globe winners in merit. Where they failed to match them was in message discipline.

Critics and public alike can and will argue the merits of all these films. As it happens, I admired “Brokeback Mountain,” a story told with depth and nuance. Reviews for “Transamerica” have been mixed, but no one will deny star and “Desperate Housewife” Felicity Huffman has arrived.

But love these films or hate ‘em, it’s hard to argue that there’s a large underserved market out there clamoring for more transgressive sex melodramas.

Picture this: It’s a Saturday night, and the family wants to catch a feature. Would they opt for a film about a homosexual love affair gone sour (“Brokeback Mountain”), a hectoring history lesson on journalism’s ills (“Good Night, and Good Luck”) or a rollicking adventure where good squares off against evil (“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”)?

It’s a no-brainer, and one reason “Chronicles” has raked in $264 million so far and counting.

Hollywood is entitled to make any kind of film it wants to. What it’s not entitled to do is regularly write off half the potential market for its product and then kvetch that ticket sales keep falling.

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