Ghosts Hover Over the Oscars This Year
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The “Chicago” fire may be impossible to put out, but Oscar voters have an impressive choice of best film nominees this year and even the losers have better stories to tell than many past winners.
They can opt for an epic tale of a land that never was (“The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”), a violent story of Civil War era New York (“Gangs of New York”), a film that takes place in three time periods and three different places at once (“The Hours”), a blackhearted frolic about homicidal hoofers (“Chicago”) or the grim story of survival in a place closely resembling Hell, war-torn Warsaw (“The Pianist”).
Says Time Magazine film critic Richard Schickel, “It is the best crop of films that we have had in recent years. They are all adult films. There’s no ‘Braveheart,’ “Titanic’ or ‘Gandhi’ here” — a reference to three past Oscar winner that were high on lofty ideals but low on critical esteem.
The smart money — indeed the only money — is on “Chicago” high-stepping to a climactic victory at Sunday’s Oscars.
A victory would be a feather in the cap for 71-year-old producer Marty Richards, who jokes that he has been trying to get the film made “since my Bar Mitzvah.”
Actually it wasn’t that long — he has only been trying to get it made since 1975, two years before Martin Scorsese started work on his epic “Gangs of New York,” a tale of the savage tensions between nativists and Irish immigrants in 19th century Manhattan.
MADONNA, GOLDIE, NICOLE
A who’s who of show business — Goldie Hawn, Madonna, Nicole Kidman — was attached to and separated from “Chicago” in recent years. Bob Fosse, the legendary director and choreographer of the original Broadway show, was supposed to direct the film version, and his death in 1987 threw Richards into despair.
“I thought it would never get made when Bob died. … He would have made the movie even darker than Rob Marshall did,” Richards said the other day.
First-time director Marshall’s bright, sunny look at semi-justifiable homicide has made the film so much the Oscar favorite that a British bookmaker stopped taking bets.
“It is so upbeat and jolly in the rhythms of the film and yet it is one of the bleakest and blackest films ever made. The movie is revolutionary,” said Time critic Schickel.
Miramax head Harvey Weinstein was the man who stepped in and got “Chicago” made. He was also the guiding power behind “Gangs.”
The buildup to the Oscars this year has been filled with litanies of “Thank You Harveys” from producers and directors with whom he fought and fought. In “Chicago’s” case, the film makers had beat back a Weinstein effort to give former teen queen Britney Spears a minor role and a song to sing.
Known as Hollywood’s bull in a china shop for his fierce temper and take-no-prisoners demeanor, Weinstein also emerges this year as a hero with 40 Oscar nominations for his films.
Never far from the flames of controversy, Weinstein ignited one with his campaign to get Scorsese a best director’s Oscar over his rivals, including “Chicago’s” Marshall.
Weinstein’s campaign has drawn criticism even though many in the industry agree Scorsese is an overlooked master of American cinema who like Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock never won a gold statuette.
GHOST OF POLISH PIANIST
The most unlikely ghost hovering over the Oscars this year is that of Polish Jewish pianist Waldyslaw Szpilman, who was one of 20 Jews who miraculously survived the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto.
The book he wrote about his experiences just after the war ended was quickly banned by the Communist government of Poland because it told of the evil that good people do and the good that evil people are capable of — not something the Communists were willing to spread around. After all, Szpilman’s life was saved by a German officer who had saved other Jews.
It took decades until his son Andrzej got the work published in the West and there it was seized upon by another Polish Jewish Holocaust survivor Roman Polanski, who blended his own memories into the work to produce a film more powerful than anything he has done in recent years.
Polanski fled the United States after pleading guilty to having had sex with a minor and he has a better chance of going to jail if he were to show up Sunday night than winning the best director’s Oscar.
“My father was a man who lived a great life but he had nightmares. He wrote his book because a doctor told him to get it all down or he would have a nervous breakdown and that is what he did. It was not until 1998 that I talked to him about the Holocaust,” Andrzej Szpilman said.
Ghosts Hover Over the Oscars This Year