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.
Mickey 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.