Tuesday, March 1, 2011

On the 2010 Oscars - Navigating the Old and the New


It was clear that the organizers of this year’s Oscars had decided to “mix things up” by bringing in two of Hollywood’s younger stars, Anne Hatheway and James Franco, to host the show. In the months leading up to the awards ceremony, this certainly must have seemed like a very good move. For 2010 featured a parade of younger actors and actresses in outstanding roles. Among the best movies were some which were either positively revolutionary (Inception) or documenting in big ways and small ways revolutions taking place before our eyes (The Social Network, The Kids are All Right and Blue Valentine). Even the Coen brothers' decision to “rework” the previous John Wayne classic True Grit was brave, revolutionary and indeed, subversive. (The hero of the Coen bros. version was _not_ the “John Wayne” character Cockburn, but the teenage _girl_ who set-out to hire him to hunt-down her father’s murderer. Who had the “true grit?” The _girl_). So 2010 appeared to be a year that screamed: “Out with the Old and in with the New.”

So how is it that as the curtain fell on this year’s Oscars the big winner was a movie about a stuttering, long-dead, white, war-time King (where even Churchill, if not John Wayne, was a character in the story), and the two young starry-eyed hosts of the show were so widely panned?

Well, one of the reasons why I’ve liked movies (or for that matter events like the Oscars) is that these are among the few “mass events” of our times and reflecting on the way that we respond to them can help us to discern the “signs of the times.”

Anybody in the Catholic Church knows that we have experienced a 20 year more or less sustained “correction” (to some) or “counter revolution” (to others) to roll back some of the changes brought about during the time of the Second Vatican Council. Similarly, since the election of Ronald Reagan as President in 1980, despite an occasional spikes (the Clinton years, _perhaps_ the relative surprise election of Barrack Obama) the U.S. has trended in a generally more conservative direction.

And a few years ago, a generational shift in hosts of the Tonight Show from Jay Leno to Conan O’Brian, was famously rolled back, so that Jay is hosting the show again and Conan has been exiled to the cable network TBS.

All this can serve to invite us to reflect – How do we understand “revolutions” or “revolutionary times?” How permanent are they? Is it really as The Who already sang at the end of the 1960s “[Meet] the New Boss, same as the Old Boss?”

Perhaps sustained change really comes “under the radar” and “incrementally.” The Kids are All Right (underscoring growing acceptance/mainstreaming of homosexuality) and especially Blue Valentine (a narrative that worked because it’s indicative of a truly broad-based rise of feminist consciousness across all levels of society) do present changes that are much more long term than perhaps the needless taking of pot-shots at venerated icons of the past (the Coen bros. True Grit) or glorifying passing fads (or even stages) in _ongoing_ technological progress (The Social Network)..

And while I am and hope always to be a booster of the young, because I honestly believe that God generally has more faith in the young than we do, or the young themselves have in themselves – God would almost always pick the young (Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Mary) over the old (Esau, Joseph’s brothers, David’s brothers, Absalom, etc) to do his work (and all this has worked its way into countless homilies I've given over the years at quinceañeras) - I do believe that there is something to be said about prudence that does come with age.

I’ve loved Anne Hatheway from the time of her Princess Diaries. And I’m happy that she and a whole host of other young actresses (among them famously being Amy Adams and Amanda Siegried) have learned a thing or two from the experience of Meryl Streep and have decided to take on widely varied roles early in their careers. Indeed, that would seem to be one of the great joys of acting: the taking-on of widely different roles during one’s career and thus entering into their worlds. Further, from what I’ve seen of James Franco, I see nothing but a brilliant future for him as well (he’s both on General Hospital _and_ studying for a PhD in Poetry at Yale!).

However, perhaps the hosting or next year's Academy Awards should fall back to the Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lopez, Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt, Ben Affleck, Ben Stiller crowd. There’s no crying need to jump over that generation of talent in search of hosts that don’t require resurrecting Bob Hope (or Billy Crystal/ Whoopi Goldberg for that matter) as a hologram.

2010 was a great year for movies. Years from now, Inception could be looked at as the 2001 Space Odyssey or Blade Runner of its time and probably _both_ versions of True Grit will come to be respected for what they were, the first as a vehicle to finally get John Wayne an Oscar and the second as a great retelling of the story closer to its original style and language where all the actors truly had fun with their roles. But lasting change does not come overnight. And _perhaps_ the better model is that of a patiently self-improving "King" (person/individual) who seeks to walk steadily forward in a world of fluctuation, conflict and change.


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