The Joker
Aside from Tilda Swinton’s designer potato sack, there weren’t that many surprises at last night’s Oscars®. The nerd movie contingent was represented but didn’t really prevail; as everyone in the world knew would happen, the late Heath Ledger won for his portrayal of the Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT, marking the first acting Oscar win for a comic book movie. TDK, which just passed the magic $1 billion mark in global box office (only the fourth movie to do so) also won for Best Sound Editing. Our beloved WALL*E won for Animated Feature, but the highly regarded WALTZ WITH BASHIR lost Best Foreign Film in what was thought of as an upset.

The lack of big nominations for THE DARK KNIGHT (and other popular action films) has left a few in Hollywood discomfited:

For executives, filmmakers and publicists, the real shock came with the exclusion of “The Dark Knight” from this year’s list of best-picture nominees.

It wasn’t so much about admiration for the picture itself, though there was plenty of that. Insiders read the snub more as a rejection by the academy, once comfortably regarded as an adjunct of the industry that created it, of what the inner circle does best: Build complex, monumental films that move millions.

To keep the mood here from curdling wouldn’t have taken much of a bow toward the audience. A best-picture nomination for “Wall-E,” from Walt Disney and its Pixar Animation unit, if not “The Dark Knight,” from Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures, might have done it. Even an acting nomination for Clint Eastwood, whose crusty appearance in “Gran Torino,” from Warner, turned out his biggest box office to date, would have helped.

200902230321Mickey Rourke’s failure to win Best Actor for THE WRESTLER was also a blow to the nerd contingent, but if you were a long-time Academy watcher, Sean Penn’s win for MILK would have come as no surprise, even in these indie-loving days. Rourke goes out as a gallant almost-was.

Speaking of Rourke and THE WRESTLER, the film’s bleak view of the life of the aging grappler was lauded as stunningly realistic by everyone we know who was ever in the biz, so here’s a couple of last links of interest. Former champ Bret Hart wrote about the movie and found it disturbing even while talking about his favorite subjects:

Pro wrestlers don’t have medical benefits, a pension plan, or a union. I’m not complaining. Wrestling has been very good to me, despite heart-wrenching disappointments, betrayals, and too many deaths to want to count any more—including my youngest brother, Owen, who fell to his demise from the rafters of an arena on a WWF pay-per-view during an ill-conceived stunt.

I was retired from the ring by an errant kick to the head, on live pay-per-view, which resulted in a concussion so brutal my doctor used the word hamburger to describe the back of my brain. That was followed by a stroke that paralyzed the entire left side of my body. Battling back was the toughest fight of my life by far, and, although I’m left with permanent effects, I’m grateful that when people meet me I can still measure up to their memory of the hero I’d long pretended to be. I still sign autographs all over the world and my fans still come out in droves. I’m humbled when they tell me, time and again, that my wrestling character inspired them in some way to make positive changes in their lives.

And just to end this on a happier note, the NYT profiles former champ Tito Santana, 55 and for once finds a semi-normal lifestyle:

Mr. Santana knew wrestlers like Mickey Rourke’s character, but he did not turn out that way. He has been married 27 years and is close to his sons. One’s a Princeton grad doing human rights work; another is about to graduate from law school; the youngest is finishing at James Madison University. The family lives in a handsome home here on three wooded acres atop a hill. He teaches Spanish at Eisenhower Middle School and coaches boys’ basketball, while his wife runs their hair salon, Santana’s. He is, in short, the antithesis of “The Wrestler.” Through the craziness of the pro circuit, he hung on to a set of values — family, education, frugality, hard work — that enabled him to reach middle age whole. This story doesn’t have the edginess to be a major motion picture coming soon to a theater near you. Battered middle-aged men may provide filmgoers with a much-needed catharsis. But if you’ve seen Mr. Rourke in “The Wrestler,” or Anthony Quinn in “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” or Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront” and wondered if they really coulda been somebody, the answer is: yes, Tito Santana.


  1. I fail to see the nerd connection with Rourke. Is it because he was in Sin City, and might be in Iron Man 2? Because, really, big whoop. You might as well say Frank Langella’s loss was a blow to nerds as well.

  2. My guess is Rourke’s nerd connection is the titular profession of his nominated movie. See, wrestling features guys and girls in tights beating the crap out of each other, which many superhero fans find enjoyable for some odd reason. I think it reminds them of something…

    Anyhow, well deserved for Ledger, even if he’s sadly no longer here to enjoy it.

  3. 1) The Baz-ly Berkley musical number… most of the songs were from Broadway (and “Lady Marmalade” from pop music!). For a show aired by ABC, the absence of Disney songs (which have dominated the Best Song category) was deafening. The AFI selected a list of 100 original songs from movies, and that easily could have been used to formulate a better number.

    2) Kudos to the stage designers. The orchestra on stage, the glamour of the golden age of Hollywood, the intimacy with the audience (as shown in the opening number), the great set designs and projection… that was spot on.

    3) Steve Martin and Tina Fey presenting the Writing awards was simple genius, and funny. Ben Stiller, kind of. It would seem Joaquin Phoenix is not a member of the Academy. The humor this year was organic, not forced.

    4) The Academy should also be lauded for not producing a gimmicky “animated” presenter this year, and for staging an impressive Best Original Song presentation. (Although the singer for “Down to Earth” was lackluster.) Compared to the Slumdog score, the western scores all seemed the same.

    5) Also, kudos for the President of the Academy not speaking, the rules placed at the end of the telecast, and actual trailers run alongside the credits. However, on Sunday, prime time runs from 7PM Eastern to 11 PM. The awards show ran 3:30. Why not treat the Oscars like the Super Bowl, with a pregame show of the red carpet, start the shebang at 4 PM Pacific Time, and if the show ends early, fill the time with analysis from some Hollywood insiders.

    6) Note to red carpet interviewers: refer to the stars’ guests as “companion” or “guest”, not as “date”. Robert Downey, Jr. corrected the correspondent that his “date” was not only his wife, but also the producer of his next movie, “Sherlock Holmes”!

    7) Would it be too much trouble to provide interpreters for recipients?

    8) The Academy/ABC did pander to the hoi polloi this year. Will Smith; genre reviews for Animation, Romance, Action, Comedy movies; teen presenters; Hugh Jackman…

  4. It’s been funny/sad to hear all the wrestling fans on message boards whinging about Mickey Rourke losing and then predictably playing the “Gay Olympics/Hollywood is out of touch” card to explain why he lost.

  5. I’ve read some comic boards today with the same attitude towards Rourke not winning. I wonder if those commentors have seen all five performances?

    I have, and IMO while I thought Penn was great as Milk and enjoyed Rourke’s wrestler, for money Langella’s Nixon should have taken home the gold. Within minutes after Frost/Nixon began you no longer see an actor but the ex-president himself.

    I’d always thought the true greatness of an actor’s performance is to convince the audience that he/she was that character. My only problem with Rourke is that throughout the film I kept seeing Rourke the overcoming-the-odds actor and not the washed up wrestler.

  6. “Why not treat the Oscars like the Super Bowl, with a pregame show of the red carpet, start the shebang at 4 PM Pacific Time, and if the show ends early, fill the time with analysis from some Hollywood insiders.”

    Why not make the Oscars EXACTLY like the Superbowl and dress everybody up in football gear?

    Have John Madden scribble all over the screen talking about how Kate Winslet’s knee injury may have been aggravated when Meryl Streep came in for a bone-crushing sack. Or how Mickey Rourke may have broken Brad Pitt’s spine in the last blitz.

  7. Between all the banks that have been funding Hollywood movies for years, going under (they’ll be choosing their next projects very carefully, and paying eveyone a lot less) all the amazing things you can do on You Tube with your computer and your camcorder, and a little nothing film like Slumdog taking the Oscars by storm, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the way movies are funded, made, and consumed is about to go away forever. Hey, it’s looking the same for comics, right? But here’s the thing… I don’t think that’s bad. I think this could mark for a bold new world of creativity, possibility by the year 2012. The revolution is in the hands of every day people, and that’s really cool.

  8. All Mickey Rourke has to do to win an Oscar is turn in a passable performance in a year and half, then everyone in the academy will remember how he was slighted this year and he’ll get the 2011 Best Actor award.

    The rule is you can never win in the year you actually should (see Ledger in Brokeback Mountain) or if you are Bill Murray.

  9. “The revolution is in the hands of every day people, and that’s really cool. ”

    And just as much a double-edged sword as the old school mainstream or whatever term you want to use.