Not Abhorrent!

The 71st Oscars: 30 percent less abhorrent than last year.

Published March 22, 1999 10:43AM (EST)

It seemed we'd just gotten over the tiresome, sleazy commercial horror
that was the Grammys, and now we were already being forced to witness the
year's largest, most unregenerate, most obscenely grandiose
self-congratulation orgy in the culturally moribund entertainment world, the
Fucking Oscars. What is it about our society that loves to decide that a
certain select group of people are Super-Untouchable Caesar-esque Divine
Royalty that get to have the most material possessions and unceasing,
sycophantic attention and love, and then, what compels us, the Great
Unwashed, to watch awards shows where the same 52 reshuffled people get to
lick on each other and pat each other's silky asses and squeak out corporate
valentines for the same mind-blowingly mediocre accomplishments, over and
over again, ad nauseam?

Nevertheless, just when you finally decide that all awards shows must
be officially destroyed, they finally crank out a semi-entertaining one.
They seem to have that sixth sense, like obnoxious dogs, that if they act real
charming once in a strategic while you might not have them carted away
and/or put to sleep. This Oscars, for once in a blue moon, wasn't another
groaning night of relentless unworthy bastard fondling; it was actually kind
of entertaining and all of the winning decisions didn't make your head spin
with outrage and venom.

For example : I fully expected that my favorite movie of the year,
"Pleasantville," a soulful, unexpected delight, would get all the
nonattention of a 9-year-old's first efforts on the
camcorder, but was pleasantly shocked to see it get nominated for a series
of technical yawner awards. Hey, it was something!

And Whoopi Goldberg was surprisingly good. Very funny, even. She said "shit" a lot!
Too quickly to be bleeped! It made the whole event seem almost warmly human
for a minute or two.

The big question of the night was: What the fuck were the makeup artists
thinking, with this Damp Actress look? Was this glittering,
unpowdered facial effect supposed to simulate a youthful dewy fecundity? It
looked like the malaria sweats from where I was sitting, and no white woman
was immune; La Paltrow, Helen Hunt in her Ally McBeal anorexia scare dress,
Christina Ricci, Lisa Kudrow, monotone-ing off the cue cards like she was
reciting the eye chart at the DMV, Uma with her new bad Grace Kelly faux
Americo-Brit-snob enunciation efforts; they all looked like their foreheads
were runny. Nobody's going to be happy when they see the tape at home. It's
going to take more than a SWAT team of AVID editors to fix THAT fashion
travesty. Coiffed heads will roll down Rodeo Drive Monday, mark my words.

That Captain Luc Picard guy! That fucker shore is British! Cate Blanchett is
a real fox and she's British, and that Geoffrey Rush guy (well, they're
Australian, but close enough) and Dame Judi and
Christ, Queen Elizabeth was British too! And Emily Watson with her big sad
eyes and frowny little mouth, and wonder-homosexual Ian McKellen, and that
Redgrave chick who was the Weight Watchers lady before Fergie! Why do the
Brits have their own Academy Awards when we slobber all over them just fine
right here in our own frisky little country?

Well, at least we had Gwyneth. She's not a Brit, she just played one on the
Big Silver TV. She was there, moist and nervously lovely and shellacked,
trying to look happy with no boyfriend.

James Coburn received his Coveted Verge of Death Award, and they let him
ramble a bit with his painful-looking arthritic fists. He dedicated the
award to his 19-year-old wife, Paula, who had outrageous EE-cup
techno-hooties. The music came on to drown him out. It got slowly louder and

And then there was Roberto Benigni, Italian, leaping around like a big pink
bunny, twizzling in the air like St. Groucho, effusing goldly all over the
place, spitting candy and emeralds and foolish cardboard hearts. Watching
him win for best foreign film was a spectacle like Baby's First Christmas, with
puppies and Big Wheels for all. Sophia Loren, wearing a demure breast
maturity veil, burst into hysterics. So did Goldie Hawn; Roberto Benigni
freaking out is a great thing to watch. Everybody would listen to him
talk and stop crying, and their plucked eyebrows would bend up and assume a
puzzled "Huh?" expression. It happened every time.

But what is wrong with Tom Hanks? He was wearing a thickness of unsightly
hair on both cheeks. Is he turning into a weird patriot, or a Rasputin-like
recluse à la Matthew Broderick? He doesn't even seem affable anymore. Has he
embraced a backwoods snake-handling cult? He looked Serious and disturbed,
with the flat nail-head eyes of someone who has suddenly learned to fear
Jesus. This World War II thing got him all spooky; he looks like he wants to
salute astronauts or wade bravely through billowing flags. Snap out of it,

Whoopi made a couple of pussy jokes, and every time, the cameras cut to
Warren Beatty, looking sculpted out of raw beef! Caving in from his own four-decade struggle with the dread Pussy Sickness! Anybody who gets that much
pussy becomes gradually rotten and demented; Beatty is jittery with it; so
is Nicholson.

The appalling parts of the Oscars were the ones that were the same goddamn
hack musical embarrassments that we sat through at the Grammys -- Celine
unctuously meowling with her pet blind opera guy again, the desiccated mummy
of Aerosmith, in danger of collapsing into small piles of ash. Whitney
and Mariah were fighting in mortal diva combat, clawing each other's
wrists, trying to arpeggio each other into pulp, with another gratuitous
gospel choir in holy robes of soft-jam holiness.

What the fuck was that all-wrong, Debbie Allen music-interpretation
jazz-dance boner?! We were all howling when that sweaty ridiculous Red Hot
Chili Pepper guy started his staccato Irish breast dance to that incongruous
piece of swoopy film music! Then they made Savion Glover tap out the
beat-less violin mush of the "Saving Private Ryan" song! And that long brown
ballerina's vinyl hot pants rode all up her butt and there was nothing
anyone could do about it; it was super bad art and everybody had to shudder
through it and look appreciative.

I thought Costner would be doing Chuck Wagon commercials by now; you know,
expressionless commercial cowboy jobs. Loathsome polystyrene egomaniac
hick-honky dunce stuff.
He presented for best director: Spielberg again?! The sky above the stage opened and a mystical sun came streaming through the hole in the jellyfish-like Bat Dome: "Look!" my
friend D. screamed. "God has come to collect his favorite Jew!" That was
just what it looked like, no Jewish offense intended.
Costner was muttering in the back, not listening, hitting on the tall boobie
girls who escort the stars on and off the stage.

Roberto won again. "I wish I was Jupiter!" he screamed. "I collect you and
lie you down in the firmament and make love to you all!!" Whadda joy bomb.
What a human treat that man is.

The whole Elia Kazan mess turned out to be a non-event, but De Niro had a
frightful toupee hairdo. He looked like a fat mean pineapple.
If people left for the award, you didn't know it because extras took their
places; Nolte scowled with his arms crossed, but that was the only visible
dissent. Kazan mumbled a couple of old man words, took his little statue and
slunk away.

Nicholson was there, leering Nicholsonesquely. They must keep him in a big
tank of grain alcohol like a giant, prehistoric frozen squid, then lift him
out by crane once a year and wring him out, ironing the tuxedo directly on
his fearful body and letting him be that scary spike-toothed Nicholson
thing he is, in that aisle seat. He Nicholsoned the best actress award to
the Lady Gwyneth. She was shivering and stuttering and being sweaty and
weepy and awfully lovely, despite the fact that her dress was designed to
look like she zipped it on and promptly sweated six pounds off, all in her
chest, from nerves. She had to get the award; she's our only legit,
American, young, beautiful, gracefully romantic, big money movie star. She's
our new Grace Kelly, and she's the only one we've got.
(I personally dig the feisty tang of Reese Witherspoon, but she's a
different creature altogether.)

Well, "Shakespeare in Love" was the only nominated movie I saw, and I really
liked it. It was driven by all the right things; a real knowing, mature
reverence of theater and Shakespeare and poetry and romantic love. It had
great writing, and it won. So unlike the smarmy horror of "Titanic." So I
guess we'll let Oscar live to see 72; he's still on probation, but we won't
Kevork him just yet.

By Cintra Wilson

Cintra Wilson is a culture critic and author whose books include "A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-Examined as a Grotesque, Crippling Disease" and "Caligula for President: Better American Living Through Tyranny." Her new book, "Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling America's Fashion Destiny," will be published by WW Norton.

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