Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscars Recap of sorts AKA Why Mickey was Screwed

After months of looking forward to and preparing for last nights Oscars, it is all over now. All of you great readers, can breathe easy that the Oscar season has now come to a close – if you heated my Oscar blogging, or long for next year – if you loved them.

I could go on and on about how it was a fantastic show last night. Hugh Jackman shockingly made a fantastic host. The montages, musical numbers, and the new format were impressive to say the least. It was wonderful to see the past Oscar winners award this years recipients.

After seeing the Reader, I am extremely happy for Kate Winslet’s success, because she was truly fantastic. Heath Ledger’s tribute, given through his Oscar winner performance, was extremely touching and deserving. And although all the supporting actresses were phenomenal, it was a delight to see Penelope Cruz win her first Oscar.

I thought Slumdog was overrated a bit, yet still was magical filmmaking, so the fact that it nearly swept was okay with me. Wall-E comes out on top as does Man On Wire, both bravo choices.

The gowns were gorgeous, and Angelina Jolie stole the fashion show for sure. I’m pretty sure she’s never looked better.

HOWEVER, the show took a turn for the worse for me when Best Actor rolled around. After winning the Independent Spirit Awards, just a day before (and giving his best speech of the season) it seemed Mickey Rourke would squeak out a win for his masterful performance. However, the award went to Sean Penn. It was silent as I watched the results, and then watched Penn’s wonderful and powerful speech. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. I felt hurt in a very strange way that I haven’t felt before at the Oscars. Sure, I have been angry at winners before – look at Julia Robert beating out Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream – but I had never felt saddened and hurt by the loss of an actor. Let’s be clear- The Oscars aren’t everything, for sure. But as an actor, a film lover, and an avid Oscar blogger – I was invested. Here are some thoughts as to why I think the Oscars made a huge mistake, why Sean Penn didn’t deserve the Oscar, and why Mickey Rourke did:

(note: Before I begin, let me be clear, I absolutely loved Milk. It and The Wrestler were my top 2 films of the year. I found both very moving and was touched in very different ways by both films. Nothing below should tarnish Sean Penn’s performance or the magnificent film Milk.)

- The main thing I take into consideration for the Oscars is: who gave the best performance. Not, who deserves it the most, who is most due to win, who has the better PR or backstory, who won the years awards, etc. It should be judged solely on, who gave the better performance. And, for me, out of these two actors – the clear choice is Mickey Rourke as Randy The Ram Robinson in the Wrestler. Here’s why”

• Compare the films, Milk to Wrestler. Milk was an ensemble piece. It was a statement film, and perfectly timed with the failure of gay marriage in California. It was a film about a movement, and the man behind it. Sean Penn was joined onscreen with James Franco, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna, Allison Pill, and many others. All turned in fantastic performances. The statement of the film is of course equality for all. And I feel that the statement was made with or without Penn’s performance. I could see many other actors playing the role of Harvey Milk, who know’s if they would have been as wonderful though. But the point is, the power behind Milk is more the statement and the history than the performance.

Now look at the Wrestler. The film lives and breathes because of Mickey Rourke. Althought there are strong performances by the supporting Marisa Tomei, and 2 scenes with Evan Rachel Wood, it certainly is Mickey’s film. The statement is his performance. Its all about his acting. The film isn’t trying to convince you to fall into a movement, it is simply showing you a man’s life. A slice into his world. Milk could have succeeded without Sean Penn, The Wrestler could not have succeeded without Mickey Rourke.

• Sean Penn was able to create his own character with a template in history. Watching interviews, reading biographies, etc, certainly helped his portrayal of the character. And he nailed the comparison. Mickey Rourke on the other hand drew more from himself. I hear people say a lot that Rourke was playing himself, and I do not agree with that. However, I do agree with the similarities between Rourke and Randy. On the surface both have been through a tough time, and are struggling to come back from the darkness. That makes the performance all the more raw for me. You can hear Mickey the person, facing his own embarrassing innermost feelings, when he utters such lines as: “Im a broken down old piece of meat, I just hope that you don’t hate me.” .. Or in his final scene in the boxing arena when he takes the mike, stands center ring, and says: “People keep telling me Im old and washed up and that I should just quit. But the only people who can ever tell me to quit is you people here.” The rush from the crowd begins, and Randy is home. This performance isn’t a copy of himself, it isn’t a mimicry, it isn’t trite or contrived in any way. This is a man who has taken on a character – and is exercising his own personal demons all at once. The fact that Rourke was able to play the washed up roll, involve himself in scenes concerning drugs (after a very rough battle with them himself), shows tremendous courage. Whereas Sean Penn is uplifting and characteristically Harvey Milk – Mickey Rourke is Randy the Ram. Randy is Mickey Rourke.

• Sean Penn played Harvey Milk, a very recognizeable character in history, especially to people involved in the gay community such as muself. Randy Robinson is a fictional character. And I predict that, because of Mickey’s performance, whenever someone says Randy the Ram 5 years from now, 10 years from now, people will understand the reference. I think he will enter film history with the performance, as one of the most memorable ever given to the screen. Sean Penn has many of those performances to his credit, look at Mystic River, Dead Man Walking, I am Sam, and others. All are fantastic, we come to expect good work from Penn – however that shouldn’t take hold of Academy voters, as I think it did. The popularity or respectability of a nominee shouldn’t hamper the true meaning for the Oscar ceremony – to choose the finest performance. Now I am not saying people didn’t choose Penn because they thought he was the best, I am sure many many did. But I do believe that some uptight voters chose Penn as a safe choice – because who knows what the future of Mickey Rourke holds. Who knows what he would say on the Oscar stage? Etc. None of this should matter. And while were on the topic, I don’t know when Sean Penn was ever the squeaky clean guy .. he is afterall beaten many paparazzi and a couple wives. But who cares? What does that have to do with the performances .. nothing. I certainly hope Rourke will keep his career on track and give Oscar another shot.

* I have heard the comment that Sean Penn’s win is good for the gay community, or that I should be excited, as a gay man for the Penn/Milk win. And my response to that is, that’s not what the Oscars are about. Especially best Actor, I could perhaps understand that argument in Best Picture (and would have loved for Milk to have won that). But the simple fact is, it should be voted on best performance, that’s what I am worried about. For example, I loved Brokeback Mountain and wanted it to win best picture. Not because it is a “gay” movie, but simply because it was the best movie. When it lost I was outraged. When Mickey Rourke, the best performance, lost last night I was outraged. My support of The Wrestler and Mickey Rourke comes from me being an actor. Knowing what is challenging, what is rewarding, etc. in a performance of my own. Therefore I get immensely involved in the actors each year. And this is the best performance for me. I should know, Ive been acting since I was 6. I know what I like, and what I liked was Rourke, and I know I am not alone. If I voted on my sexual tastes, perhaps I would have chosen Sean .. but that doesn’t come into my mind when I watch films.

Simply put, the honesty of Randy trumps the triumph of Harvey for me. Just seeing the camera follow Randy through the hallways of a high school gym in the opening moments of the Wrestler contain so much emotion. The way he walks, the way he talks, the way he sits, its all encompassing.

Put SIMPLY: It is easy to make people love Harvey Milk. He was a hero, a wonderful man. It is easy to make him likeable and loveable. However, when an actor can make a character like Randy “the Ram” Robinson, (a washed up wrestler, who cannot pay his rent at the trailor park, who is friendless, has desserted his daughter and family, who’s favorite hangout is the strip club, who falls onto barb wire and is stapled for money, who is into drugs, who is stuck in another decade, etc), when an actor can make this man sympathetic and endearing – you have something there. Mickey didn’t need theatrics, he didn’t need a supporting cast (he shined just as bright in scenes such as when he works in the grocery store alone, without Marisa or Evan), he didn’t need the glitz or glamour to help his performance. The performance was him, he was the performance. He was the film. He was the best actor of the year.

I couldn’t help but feel like I was in high school again, and the sweet school outcast had just lost out of prom king by 2 votes to the popular jock. I was silenced by the decision.

But now that I have been able to get out all my feelings, I will be able to leave it be. The Oscars are over, they aren’t the end of the world, and they often get it wrong. The only good thing to come of this, is that Mickey Rourke’s performance in “The Wrestler” will live on on DVD and video forever. As will Penn’s. And then people can watch and judge for themselves. I am solid in my knowledge that the wrong person won. And I am solid in believing that it is okay – I can still watch the performance and be inspired by the raw emotion of Mickey Rourke whenever I please. And that makes it okay.

Here is a look at what should have been, Mickey giving his best speech yet, when he won the Independent Spirit Award on Saturday:

In the end .. congrats Sean Penn.
Congrats Winslet and Cruz.
And congrats Slumdog.
Until next time..

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