Oscar Nominees Reveal Hollywood’s Weakness

This year’s Best Picture nominees clearly expose Hollywood’s artistic problem – political correctness is stifling creativity. The finest movies are no longer made in America because of the oppressive, leftist groupthink dominating our film industry. Significantly, two of this year’s five Best Picture nominees weren’t made in Hollywood.

To view the problem, let’s start with Erin Brockovich, one of two Best Picture nominees for director Steven Soderbergh, the true story of a file clerk who uncovered a water contamination cover-up by a major utility company. Reflecting a cheap ‘60s countercultural ethos, everyone in the film is a victim of something – the townspeople by the utility, working women by big corporations, Erin by men in general.

As usual, Julia Roberts grossly overacts in the title role, playing a shrewish single mom with more cleavage than character. Albert Finney is Brockovich’s stooge, Edward Masry, a witless boss who is constantly outmaneuvered by his street-smart assistant. The entire film is an exercise in audience manipulation, particularly those with a bent against our “patriarchal” society.

Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon may be the finest feminist kickboxing epic ever made – but that’s not saying a whole lot. Beautifully filmed with jaw-dropping special effects, Crouching Tiger’s story is so paper-thin that it can’t support the action going on all around it.

Can’t say I blame them: the past year’s crop of films is probably the worst of all time. If any integrity existed in Hollywood, this year’s Academy Awards would be cancelled and an “Oscar watch” immediately instituted to wait breathlessly until a film worthy of accolades came along.

But then if there were integrity in Hollywood . . . it wouldn’t be Hollywood.

Suffice to say that no one is calling this “The Golden Age of Hollywood.” Compare Tinseltown’s current output with, for instance, 1939. In that single year alone, the following movies were produced: Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, Beau Geste, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Rules of the Game, Drums Along the Mohawk, Ninotchka, Wuthering Heights, Gunga Din, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Young Mr. Lincoln, and Hunchback of Notre Dame (with Charles Laughton.)

That’s an average of more than one great film per month, a feat the current industry couldn’t dream of matching. Our expectations of cinematic art – as with so much of our cultural life – has sunk to match the present degraded conditions. Reflecting this, I’ve developed Bemis’ Rule of One: Any year that produces one good film can be considered a good one for Hollywood. Sadly, few years measure up to even this lowly standard.

No wonder Hollywood bigwigs can’t sleep.

Two warriors in pursuit of a stolen sword and a notorious criminal are led to a nobleman's teenage daughter, Jen (played by a fetching Ziyi Zhang), who is at a crossroads in her life. The search becomes a ritual of awakening for Jen, in which she rejects her impending marriage for living the heroic life she “has always read about in books.” Not only does she break her betrothal vows, but, after a fling with an outlaw in the desert, Jen decides to dump the bandit too. In the end, she hurls herself off a mountaintop, leaving her distraught lover high and dry, in an act of womanly self-expression and, ultimately, self-destruction. The film’s feminist message: Better dead than wed.

Chocolat is a vile little movie directed by the talentless Lasse Hallestrom. Beneath its sugary exterior, the film undertakes a frontal assault on Catholicism: its villains, major and minor, are Catholics, its heroines and heroes are those rebelling against the Faith, and the Church’s pieties are snickered at and ridiculed. The picture is produced by Miramax Films, owned by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, who have made a cottage industry out of offending Catholic sensibilities (as producers of The Last Temptation of Christ, Priest, The Pope Must Die – renamed The Pope Must Diet after an uproar – and The Cider House Rules.)

What makes Chocolat so fraudulent as a Best Picture contender, though, is that it’s a terrible movie. Characters are cartoonish, the story sophomoric and utterly unimaginative, and the acting mediocre at best. Why was such an insubstantial movie selected as one of the year’s best? It can only be because its shallow political statement – religion bad, “tolerance” good – falls on the right side of the culture war in the eyes of Hollywood’s elite.

Director Soderbergh’s second Best Picture nominee, Traffic – a penetrating look at the international drug trade – almost succeeds but loses its nerve at the film’s end. Looking at the drug trade’s impact on four different cities – Washington, D. C., San Diego, Cincinnati, and Tijuana, Mexico – Soderbergh imaginatively keeps plot lines clear by giving scenes in each city a different look. Furthermore, Traffic features a terrific performance by Benicio Del Toro as the honest, sad-eyed Mexican cop, making the film’s big name stars like Michael Douglas (as the U. S. drug czar) and Catherine Zeta-Jones (playing a drug dealer’s wife who takes over the business while he’s on trial) look like pretentious stiffs.

Traffic, though, is undermined by that old Hollywood bugaboo, the hokey ending. When Douglas melodramatically walks off the job in the middle of a press conference to return home to help his daughter overcome her drug addiction – proving he’s a compassionate sort of guy – the film loses all the credibility it carefully cultivated. After trying so hard to be a tough, gritty docudrama, it suddenly turns soft and mushy. More’s the pity, as this could have been an excellent film.

Among the nominees, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator is the only worthy contender. The film is that rarest of Hollywood birds – a manly film about duty, honor, and country. Though, like Mel Gibson’s great Braveheart, marred by excessive violence, the film is unafraid to wear its traditional virtues on its sleeve – or biceps, in this case.

Russell Crowe is outstanding as the noble Maximus, a Roman general who is betrayed and his family murdered by the slimy Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), a corrupt and perverted prince. After struggling to survive, the former warrior comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge and finally gets his chance. Featuring exciting action (including a great opening sequence) on a grand scale, the film also develops Maximus’ romantic, spiritual side – his love of wife and child, and his pious worship of pagan gods in this early Christian age. (Heaven forbid the hero should be a Christian!) With a clear-cut distinction between good – however flawed – and evil, Gladiator stands out among its competitors like a rose among the weeds.

Sadly, the creative drought in Hollywood can only worsen. For the American movie industry’s slavish devotion to materialism and secular humanism will continue to bear bad fruit. Great art is inspired only when man looks beyond himself and seeks to represent his right relationship with God by finding the good, the true and the beautiful.

In simply seeking worldly praise, the artist can bring about only seductive trivialities for the entertainment of his peers but is incapable of creating great artistic achievements that live beyond his mortal life. In a supreme paradox, it is only the humble craftsman who recognizes the truth of Divine Revelation and strives to produce something beautiful for God that creates art of lasting beauty in architecture, literature, music, painting – and film, for that matter. Until this truth is recognized in Hollywood, artistic quality in the American film industry will continue its precipitous decline.

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