- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2001

At the Academy Awards ceremony Sunday evening, Hollywood will once again honor its world view.

The old designations no longer suffice to convey what serious cinema is about today. So, I've taken the current nominees and placed them in more descriptive categories.

BEST GORE-FEST MASQUERADING AS AN EPIC — “Gladiator.” Director Ridley Scott's motto is: If a little sadistic violence is good, a lot is better. (P.S., We also crucified your cat.) The film is a Western revenge fantasy with swords and sandals in place of six-shooters. It should have been titled, “The Gladiator Josey Wales.”

BEST ENVIRO-HYSTERIA — “Erin Brockovich,” wherein another callous corporation dumps carcinogens in a water supply poisoning working-class folk. According to Hollywood, the only corporations that aren't polluting the environment are those too busy operating Third World sweatshops that employ child labor.

As Michael Fumento pointed out in The Wall Street Journal, while the movie is based on a true story, scientific evidence shows there's no truth in allegations that Pacific Gas and Electric's release of a rust inhibitor could have caused any of the ailments attributed to it in the film.

BEST SMEAR OF CONSERVATIVES — “The Contender” is a cliched genre: Saintly liberal politicians overcoming diabolical conservatives out to destroy them. “The Contender” has the subtlety of a car bomb like “The American President.” There, a vicious right-wing senator named Bob Rumson tries to bring down a widowed president by attacking his environmental-lobbyist girlfriend. The film also manages to get in pleas for gun control and the ACLU.

In “The Contender,” the conservative ogre is a pro-life senator named Shelly Runyon. (Rumson, Runyon — is Hollywood trying to prove its commitment to the environment by recycling the names of conservative heavies?) Runyon attempts to destroy a female senator, nominated to fill the vacant office of vice president, with decades-old sex photos. Bill Clinton should have had a cameo role. After all, it is a fable intended to vindicate Hollywood's favorite president.

BEST MALIGNING OF MIDDLE-CLASS VALUES — “Chocolat.” A mysterious woman moves to a repressed French village in the 1950s, opens a sweet shop and helps locals to overcome their hang-ups with magical confections. The natives are smug, hypocritical and violence-prone — sins attributed to their obsession with religion and denial of the joyous life-force within.

The bourgeoisie hasn't been battered this badly since 1999's “American Beauty.” There, suburbia was the setting for Hollywood's little morality play. Its villains were a shrewish real estate broker and a retired Marine Corps officer. The most sympathetic character was a teen-aged drug dealer.

BEST REFUTATION OF GENDER “STEREOTYPES” — “Billy Elliot.” The 11-year-old son of a striking English coal miner takes the money he's supposed to use for boxing lessons and studies ballet instead. When they find out, macho dad and older brother are afraid the lad may be a “poofter.” But the aspiring prima ballerina wins them over with his twinkly toes. Harvard psychologist William Pollack (author of “Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood”) could have written the screenplay.

BEST HOMAGE TO A DEGENERATE — “Quills,” the heart-warming story of the Marquis de Sade's years in an asylum. Just because the eccentric aristocrat liked to mix sex and suffering, those stuffy French have him committed. While not exactly presenting de Sade as a hero, Hollywood clearly appreciates a man who defies conventions and is martyred for his art.

Previous winners in this category include 1996's “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” about another pornographer punished for pushing the boundaries of expression.

BEST SAPPY TRIBUTE TO ROCK MUSIC — “Almost Famous.” Sure, members of the band an underage music critic follows take drugs and use groupies as stakes in card games, but they're really rather sweet, insecure dudes, who — with all of their flaws — are just doing their thing.

The foregoing is what the entertainment community considers the highest expression of its craft. To paraphrase the studio slogan in “The Player” — Movies, now less than ever.



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