Albion Monitor /Commentary

The 1998 Lefty Academy Awards

by Lawrence Levi

Industrial polluters, international drug cartels, a scummy Donald Trump-like real estate developer, Senator Alfonse D'Amato, boxing promoter Don King -- all in cahoots with Satan. Finally, a movie that tells it like it is
Although the official Academy Awards will select the usual treacle as the year's best, an alternative set of awards is long overdue.

BEST FAMILY VALUES: Boogie Nights. Sure, Boogie Nights appears to be about a well-endowed youngster (Mark Wahlberg) who becomes a porn star, junkie, and thief, but at its core it's about the dependability of the traditional American family. And what a family: a benevolent dad (Burt Reynolds) who brings wayward youth into his home and gives them a showcase for their unique talents; a dedicated mom (Julianne Moore) who loves her adoptive children in quite a special way. As writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson shows, the only mistake children can make is to stray from the hearth. (Runner-up: The Ice Storm, in which an uptight suburban Connecticut family is brought closer together by shoplifting, infidelity, and dry humping.)

BEST PROOF THAT THE COLD WAR ISN'T OVER: Anastasia /Air Force One (tie). In Anastasia, Hollywood's latest marketing- campaign- disguised- as- a- movie, the Russian Revolution wasn't a revolution -- it was a curse that persnickety magician Rasputin cast on the Romanovs. Not only does this make life a drag for the sad-sack Russkies, but it separates the titular Czarina from the $10 million in Romanov money she deserves. In Air Force One, our stone-faced Commander-in-Chief (Harrison Ford) craftily outwits the Kazakh terrorists (led by Gary Oldman) who hijack his plane and execute his aides. Commies, of course, are merciless, but they do have a soft spot: sing a round of the "Internationale" and they'll pause to shed a tear. Can a remake of Red Dawn be far behind?

BEST USE OF BLACK MEN AS PROPS: Amistad. As in Schindler's List, Steven Spielberg once again proves that exotic minorities are safe as long as cuddly white men are around to protect them. Do yourself a favor: leave Spielberg's whitewashing to the weepy crowds at the multiplex and rent Nightjohn instead. Made for the Disney Channel (but don't let that dissuade you), it's about two plantation slaves separated from their families. Charles Burnett (who also directed To Sleep With Anger) knows how to create intensely emotional sequences without Spielbergian manipulation; he also knows that a story about slavery is best told from the slaves' point of view.

BEST REALITY CHECK: The Devil's Advocate. A ritzy New York law firm that protects industrial polluters, international drug cartels, and chemical weapons makers turns out to be run by ... Satan! The Prince of Darkness (in the form of Al Pacino) hires a brilliant young defense attorney (Keanu Reeves) to defend a scummy Donald Trump-like real estate developer who's accused of offing his wife. Not only does the jerk go free, he's sleeping with his own stepdaughter! And when someone finally tells Keanu what he's gotten himself into, the informant gets run down -- by a Mercedes with diplomat plates! Also in cahoots with Beelzebub (in charming cameos) are Senator Alfonse D'Amato and boxing promoter Don King. Finally, a movie that tells it like it is.

BEST PICTURE ABOUT PUBLIC HOUSING: Public Housing. The puzzling lack of competition in this category makes Fred Wiseman's 195-minute documentary a shoo-in. This time around, Wiseman focuses on Chicago's Ida B. Wells Homes, introducing us to residents, advocates, counselors, plumbers, exterminators, cops, and criminals. His contemplative style puts tabloid TV to shame.

BEST PROVOCATION FOR ARMED CLASS REVOLT: Everyone Says I Love You. Woody Allen's stab at a musical is meant to be lighthearted and droll, but it winds up revealing his true colors -- he's a cloistered millionaire with nothing but contempt for those of us outside his tax bracket. In Allen's Upper East Side fantasyland, convicts on parole give debutantes an opportunity for sexual slumming, progressivism is the laughable pursuit of bored housewives, and spying on someone's therapy sessions is a clever means of seduction. It's a world in which unalloyed narcissism is the highest state of existence. (Runner-up: Deconstructing Harry.)

BEST LOVE STORY: Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist. Flanagan, who grew up with agonizing cystic fibrosis and outlived most people with the ailment by several decades, also lived up to his honorary title. Kirby Dick's documentary displays in colorful detail all the inventive varieties of Flanagan's self-mutilation. But the bizarre heart of the film is his relationship with Sheree Rose, the woman who for fifteen years punctures, slices, burns, and dominates him with unsettling tenderness. After this, romantic comedies just won't cut it. (Also the winner for best musical number: a penetrating performance set to "If I Had a Hammer.")

KATIE ROIPHE AWARD FOR PSEUDO-FEMINISM: G.I. Jane. Ridley Scott, the director who demonstrated in Thelma & Louise that the best way for women to assert their independence is to drive off a cliff, now enlightens us with the best way for women to assert their equality: by becoming just as brutish and servile as the men of our mighty armed forces. Demi Moore, turning Navy SEAL training into a mud-spattered workout video, proves she can fight, cuss, and withstand degradation by her superior officers -- just like the boys! And when she's denied a chance to really prove her mettle -- by gutting a dastardly Libyan -- we're meant to share her disappointment and resentment. Too bad we can't give every liberated American woman an Arab to slaughter.

BILL HAYWOOD AWARD FOR RIGHTEOUS BUTT-KICKING: Fire Down Below. Forget Greenpeace -- in Fire Down Below, Steven Seagal is a one-man Environmental Protection Agency. As Jack Taggart, a paunchy EPA marshal whose partner mysteriously gets murdered in the line of duty, Seagal goes undercover in the hills of Appalachia, only to find that a mercenary mining tycoon (Kris Kristofferson) is making the big bucks on illegal dumping of hazardous wastes. Seagal gets to waste a bunch of Kristofferson's groundwater-poisoning goons along the way, which doesn't keep him from sermonizing the downtrodden townsfolk on the need to stand up to greedy capitalists and fight for justice. If you missed this one, don't be shocked: it lasted about as long as Al Gore's commitment to global warming.

BEST DEPICTION OF A LEFTIST: Children of the Revolution. Judy Davis plays Joan Fraser, a red-diaper baby whose dedication to the Party leads her all the way from Australia to Joseph Stalin's bedroom. It's 1949, and her beloved leader (F. Murray Abraham), a romantic sort, falls for her relentless correspondence and invites her to the Kremlin for dinner and a movie. He dies that very night, but not before endowing her with a son. While the storyline may stray a bit from historical accuracy, Davis is dead-on -- she's precisely the fiery, virtuous, outspoken and slightly daffy activist you tiptoe away from at demonstrations when you don't want to get arrested. As a young woman she gets herself and her boyfriend (Geoffrey Rush) thrown out of movie theaters by yelling at the screen during anti-communist newsreels; as an old woman she shouts "The devil is Ronald McDonald!" at the TV when Gorbachev is on. She's everything the left needs, and she'll drive you nuts.

Lawrence Levi is associate editor at Art & Antiques magazine

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor March 9, 1998 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to reproduce.

Front Page