Oscar Nominations and the Religious Right

I guess the Oscars are now officially irrelevant. I know, a lot of my readers have considered them irrelevant for years, and while I follow them closely, I don’t take them seriously.

But I’m not talking here about people in Bayflicks’ demographics. After Brokeback Mountain’s Golden Globe victory, Dr. Ted Baehr of the Christian Film & Television Commission ministry declared those awards “more irrelevant every day.” After seeing the Academy Award nominations announced Friday, I suspect that the Oscars are irrelevant, as well.

The Academy does seem to be thumbing its nose at the conservative Christians running so much of our country these days. I’ve seen four of the five Best Picture nominees, and I doubt they’ll please those who believe Jesus said “It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a homosexual to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Brokeback Mountain and Capote have gay protagonists. Munich suggests that violent revenge, even when targeted at terrorists, isn’t always good policy. Good Night, and Good Luck doesn’t treat Joseph McCarthy with the reverence due that Great American Hero.

All things considered, it’s a pretty good selection. They’re not my favorite films of 2005, but three out of those four made my Top Ten List, and the other came close. When you consider that official Academy rules and unofficial Academy traditions effectively disqualified The Best of Youth, The Power of Nightmares, and The 40 Year-Old Virgin, it’s as good a selection as we could realistically expect.

Actually, all of these films break those unofficial traditions, which usually favor movies that are kind of liberal without getting too controversial. The one nominee I haven’t seen, Crash, breaks those traditions in another way: It came out early in the year.

In other news, February is a dreary month that needs lightening up. So it’s a good thing that The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum is running a special, three-day Midwinter Comedy Film Festival on the 17th through the 19th. Mostly silent with piano accompaniment, mostly short subjects, and, I suspect, mostly funny (although why they’re showing “A Day’s Pleasure,” one of Chaplin’s worst, is beyond me).

The movies below aren’t beyond me, and will contribute to your day’s pleasure.

Recommended, with Reservations:  December Ends, The Women’s Building, Friday, 7:00; Roxie, Monday, 2:15. A teenage boy gets in over his head when his mother’s death sends his father into a severe depression. Suddenly the bread-winner, he turns to drug dealing–his only way to bring in a living wage. Falling in love with his boss’ girlfriend doesn’t help his situation. Josh Janowicz and Alex Thayer make an appealing couple, but writer/director Lee Toland Krieger never quite succeeds in merging the excellent drama with the mediocre thriller elements. Part of the San Francisco Independent Film Festival.

Noteworthy: Sing-a-Long Mary Poppins, Castro, one-week engagement opens Friday. If this was simply a screening of Mary Poppins, I’d give it a wholehearted recommendation. Walt Disney’s final masterpiece stands amongst the greatest of children’s films. But a sing-along Mary Poppins? I’ll forgo judgment.

Recommended: Munich, Balboa and Parkway, extended runs opening Friday. If your view of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict can be summed up with “Our side is virtuous; it’s all their fault,” you’re going to hate Steven Spielberg’s latest. By making what could have been a conventional thriller into a morally ambiguous and emotionally complex drama, he’s created his best work since Schindler’s List, and his most daring yet. Although Spielberg clearly sides with the Israelis, he’s not ready to let them off the hook.  He understands all too painfully that revenge breeds revenge and violence breeds violence. The Balboa is showing Munich on a double-bill with Paradise Now, which I haven’t seen. But from what I’ve read, the two should go well together.

Recommended: Facade, The Women’s Building, Saturday, 7:00; Roxie, Monday, 4:30. Keep an eye on Brian Bedard; we’ve got a major new talent here. The 23-year-old Bedard wrote, directed, and acts in Façade, a small-scale film about five young people partying their way towards disaster. The central figure is birthday boy Harold (Patrick J. Adams), who can’t handle the copious drugs, the rivalry between his girlfriend (Shannon Coltrane) and his best friend (Bedard), or, for that matter, life. While two characters fall sweetly in love (or at least, in lust), the other three dig themselves deeper into an emotional quagmire in this thoughtful, surprising, and disturbing film. Part of the San Francisco Independent Film Festival.

Recommended: Touch of Evil, Lark, Monday, 7:00. Orson Welles’ film noir classic, and one of his few Hollywood studio features. He lacked the freedom he found in Europe, but the bigger budget–and perhaps even the studio oversight–resulted in one of his best. As a corrupt border-town sheriff, Welles makes a bloated, scary, yet strangely sympathetic villain. Janet Leigh is a lovely and effective damsel in distress (although Psycho apparently didn’t teach her to stay away from seedy motels). As the hero, a brilliant Mexican detective, Charlton Heston is…well, he’s miscast, but not as badly as some people say.