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Monday, February 27, 2012

Regarding the Oscars...

The Oscars is just a few hours away, and if I don't oversleep until the afternoon, I might be able to catch its live stream on my computer.

As some of you may know already, my father is a film buff (and film critic/ commentator), so it's inevitable that I have been following the Oscars ever since I was a child. The earliest ones I could remember were the ones in 1991, when films like DANCES WITH WOLVES, GHOST or THE GODFATHER 3 were the ones that dominated the ceremony. My father was, like most sane film lovers, a fan of THE GODFATHER films, so he cared.

Surprisingly, that was one of those rare years when my mother cared too. Like most people back then, she cared a lot about GHOST (in my vague memories, GHOST was like the biggest thing then, there were all sorts of references about it, and "Unchained Melody" was playing everywhere I went), she was probably happy that she was taking pottery classes then because of the pottery scene.

Somehow towards the weeks leading up to the Oscars, and before it, my parents would be going through the nominated films on video tapes or laser discs, I could remember being traumatized by MISERY.

In the end, Kevin Costner swept the awards for DANCES WITH WOLVES, my mom didn't mind then, since she liked Kevin Costner too. (Her Kevin Costner fandom peaked with THE BODYGUARD, and then plummeted after WATERWORLD) DANCES WITH WOLVES stood out to me because of its title, and when footage of the film were shown during announcements of nominees, I was always looking to see whether there were really people dancing with wolves, I ended up disappointed.

Watching Billy Crystal host the show would always make me laugh, because even though we had never seen the nominated films, his opening song and dance routine or monologue would pretty much brief us what we are going to be seeing. I still remember his 1991 opening very vividly. Especially his HOME ALONE impression. (I was six, I loved HOME ALONE)

When you grew up with films playing such a huge role in your life, you sort of expect this to be the same with everyone else around you. Only, gradually, to your disappointment, you realize most of your friends in school had no idea what the hell were you babbling about. (of course, thinking that a 7-8 year old kid trying to tell his friends about "The Godfather", or "Misery", would have been quite an odd sight then.)

That was the earliest Oscar that I could remember.

And since then, from childhood to adulthood, watching the Oscars with my father was like an annual religious experience, sort of like the Super Bowl. We used to watch delayed telecast at night, and watching the Oscars at night is a much more different experience than watching its live telecast during the day. I felt closer to the people in the ceremony, more impressed by the glitz and glamour of the stars. As a child, you cannot really fathom what other events would bring THAT many stars together in one venue.

It was exciting then, to predict and guess which film would win, which actor and actress would win the acting awards, I would root for the films I loved, the performances that moved my heart, and either feel happy that the greatness of those I rooted for were reinforced by their Oscar wins, knowing that they would end up deservingly in film history. That was how big I thought the Oscars were back then.

I remember my shock when Tom Hanks didn't win for SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN losing out to SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE. I remember the horror I endured when the mind-blowingly awesome FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING lost out to A BEAUTIFUL MIND (which I liked too).

Occasionally the people of Malaysia would care a bit more about the Oscars. Usually when Ang Lee was involved. Or the year of the TITANIC. Or the three years of LORD OF THE RINGS.

Even when I moved to Perth (2004-2006), I made a point to catch the delayed telecast of the Oscars at night (making sure that I wouldn't go online that day and know about the results). The year MILLION DOLLAR BABY won, I felt a little bad for Martin Scorsese. And I thought that my favorite SIDEWAYS was "robbed" too, probably because it was funny.

And then, the following year, by accident I found out in advance that CRASH won over BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. I was devastated that a yellow brother got robbed...

With Ang Lee after Joe Dante's The Hole screening (Venice Film Festival 2009)

... so I chose not to watch the Oscars that night! I was indignant. (even though I did enjoy CRASH when I first saw the film at the cinemas!)

But once you stumble into the film industry, and start making the sort of stuff that you think are films, and as you travel around film festivals meeting all kinds of industry insiders, becoming increasingly aware of the machinations of show business, the unpredictability and mythic quality of the Oscars begin to fade. The magic it held over me almost all my life felt a little... different. Perhaps instead of it being a faraway myth as it was to me, it became more grounded, more realistic.

Following all kinds of Oscar pundits on their blogs, websites and tweeter doesn't help much either. The surprise element is gone, I "knew too much", so most times I knew who was going to win weeks before the actual ceremony. I became aware of the precursor awards, and the history and the patterns, so I could actually see the slow inevitable march towards the Oscars for a film that had long been favored to win.

(Of course there are still surprises, but they are rare.)

So yes, I know it is most probably that in a few hours, THE ARTIST is going to win almost everything. (It's such an immensely likable film. I watched it just a few weeks ago and I definitely had a lot of good time.) There's probably only a bit of suspense with Best Actor and Best Actress.

I still root for films that I loved and hoped to see them being rewarded for their greatness. After all, I'm a film lover as much as a filmmaker, and the years I spent as a film lover dwarfed my years as a filmmaker. But I do miss the magic and the mystery of the Oscars that captivated me so very much when I was growing up. Sometimes, too much knowledge does ruin the beauty of ambiguity, and when faced with reality, there's a part of me wanting to cling on to whatever shreds of illusion I could find. Or maybe it's really just my way of reconnecting with feeling of wonder I had as a child.

Maybe it's just nostalgia.