Jewish World Review Feb. 18, 2000 /12 Adar I, 5760
Every year, the heartily hyped Oscar race reflects the obvious leftward tilt of the entertainment elite, but the political preferences of pop culture potentates have rarely emerged more clearly than they did with the Academy Award nominations announced on February 15. The front runner for Best Picture is the ironically titled "American Beauty," an oddly lyrical view of dysfunction and despair in darkest suburbia.
The fun fest begins with middle-aged householder Kevin Spacey (nominated for Best Actor) committing an act of forlorn self-abuse in the shower. We know his wife (Best Actress nominee Annette Bening) is supposed to be a heartless shrew because she's a money mad realtor who (horror of horrors!) takes up the evil sport of pistol shooting. The movie's most sympathetic, sensitive character is a teenaged drug pusher, while that kid's father is a viciously abusive Marine Colonel (and latent homosexual in deep denial). Naturally, the only loving relationship in this cruel world involves a pair of handsome, perfectly matched gay males. When our anti-hero (Spacey) finally achieves his own sort of redemption, he does so through obsessive lust for a high school cheerleader, quitting his job, smoking a great deal of marijuana, and compulsively exercising to improve his physique.
The political and cultural agenda of "The Cider House Rules," also nominated for best picture, is even more heavy-handed. The plot centers on a Maine orphanage in the 1940's, run by a compassionate physician (Michael Caine, nominated for Best Supporting Actor) who courageously provides illegal abortions to troubled young women. Although his protégé initially refuses to perform his own abortions, he eventually learns that terminating pregnancies is not only noble, but sacramental.
Other nominees for the top Oscar include "The Green Mile," an overlong if superbly acted diatribe against the cruelty and capriciousness of the death penalty, and "The Insider" portraying the tobacco industry as a vast criminal conspiracy whose tentacles reach even into the inner sanctum of CBS. Al Pacino's character in this overwrought bit of anti-capitalist sermonizing represents the ultimate hero --an unreconstructed leftist muckraker with a proud radical past. "The Sixth Sense," an apolitical, superbly crafted story of ghosts and redemption, emerged as the only Best Picture nominee without the deafening background noise of grinding axes.
Those who attempt to downplay the politico/cultural bias in such selections point to the Oscar's tendency to "follow the money" by honoring box office hits. But "Boys Don't Cry," "The Cider House Rules" and "The Insider" generated feeble public response and little or no commercial success.
Meanwhile, delightfully entertaining fare like "Toy Story 2" (a major winner at the Golden Globes) earned some $300 million at the box office while winning no serious recognition from the Academy. Other superb films, such as "October Sky" and "The Winslow Boy," featured essentially conservative messages about family and hard work and honor, while drawing no Oscar acknowledgment of their excellence.
No one should assume some conspiratorial background to the political messages broadcast to the world through these nominations. The members of the Motion Picture Academy don't get together to determine the best strategy for advancing the left's agenda; the existence of consensus makes conspiracy altogether unnecessary. Creative personnel in the movie industry understand that they can earn precious peer respect by emphasizing the values that the film colony associates with "justice" and "idealism," even at the expense of box office success. When award ceremonies wallow in orgies of self-congratulation for a film's "inspiration" or "decency," what they're usually praising is its unabashed liberalism.
Variety's nomination day coverage, for instance,
cited the pro-abortion fable "The Cider House Rules" as a "heartfelt"
film with "a political conscience." When conscience, heroism and
excellence are defined in exclusively leftwing terms, it's no wonder that
up-and-coming young filmmakers feel compelled to fall into lock stop with
the prevailing prejudices of Tinsel Town. The old Soviet Union may have
given way to a freewheeling if imperfect multi-party Democracy, but
Hollywood remains in all significant aspects a one party
JWR contributor, author and film critic
Michael Medved hosts a daily three-hour radio talk show
broadcast in more than 120 cities throughout the United States. His latest book, written together with his wife, is Saving Childhood : Protecting Our Children from the National Assault on Innocence . You may contact him by clicking here.
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