Celluloid Heroes

Though Hollywood’s Year of the Superhero was not much remarked on at the 2009 Oscars, it was hard for the costume not to come clattering out of the closet with Wolverine hosting and Heath Ledger taking the first truly prestige award for a comicbook movie. Though Huge Jagoff, I mean, Hugh Jackman’s desperate corn seemed less like one long promo for the upcoming X-flick and more like an audition for George Sprott: The Movie. This at least keeps it in the family; still, I found myself unexpectedly musing on what a seasoned trouper New Jersey cult-cable fave Floyd Vivino is, and, in a recession, how much cheaper he could’ve filled the tux.

At least Hugh *was* desperate, of course; everyone else but Bill Maher and Will Smith seemed to have just woken up and be reading the teleprompters for the first time. I don’t know if there’s been a directors’ strike they all thought it best not to worry us about, but I’ve been to student riots that were better rehearsed than this show. For a while I thought the Academy was at least making up for the *writers’* strike by giving excess make-work to Hollywood scribes with the strange testimonial-dinner format of the show, in which, instead of film clips, five rehab-parolees and plastic-surgery disasters who’ve won past awards each stood up to introduce one new nominee with a little tribute speech. But as the night wore on it became increasingly clear that they’d skimped on writers’ fees by getting the stars to come up with it themselves. (Either that or Adrien Brody was doing method-acting practice for a role as a drunken Best Man — I mean, “you’re instantly recognizable but I’m glad you’re getting recognition”? Two-Face would scratch up *both* sides of his coin for that kinda nonsense.)

Unlike the warmed-over celebs, some horses were so dead it took me a full 24 hours to remember to beat them; i.e., perennial world-music reprocessor Peter Gabriel getting his @$$ handed to him by an actual Indian superstar in the Best Song category. Or to borrow the instantly famous phrasing of Philippe Batshitte Petit, YESSSSSS!

But we’re here to dish comics, and the loser for Best Foreign Film deserves a place on the talk-show couch. With its juxtaposed images and expressionistic shadows, Waltz With Bashir owed more to the sequential than animated visual vocabulary, and played more like a motion-comic than a full cartoon. And it managed to be the anti-action film that Watchmen may only try to be. You’d think stuff about a colonial power questioning itself (I’m Jewish, don’t send letters) would be big this year, especially at the least Republican convention on TV, but amidst the (well-taken) calls for civil rights whenever Milk won anything, the snub of this difficult and important flick seems to mark off the limits of the Academy’s courage — either that or a belated impulse to leave foreign policy to those who took PoliSci rather that acting class.

It fell to Heath Ledger to redeem our honor. And yeah, in my own parallel continuity he gets nominated for Best Actor (‘cuz let’s face it, Christian Bale’s the nominal star but that Aussie boy was fookin’ distractin’) and loses to Jeffrey Wright (in Cadillac Records) while Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon takes Best Supporting and Dark Knight gets Best Picture. But Ledger’s embodiment of the terror-era fears we’re ready to face and taunting reminders of the lost soul we’re ready to reclaim was a big part of what made this the movie of the year, no matter what the Academy’s ready to admit.

As it was, my heart couldn’t resist melting as much as anyone’s to see the little kids from Slumdog and seemingly half of London and Mumbai crowd the podium for a victory dance — though I couldn’t help but worry that it was more like a danse macabre for the Indian Century that, only eight years in, seems to have been shut down by the Fin(anci)al Crisis emanating outward from Wall Street’s dark heart. Better to seek refuge in the past, and see if it can be done any better. Meet ya at Watchmen.

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