Tag Archives: movies

How the Oscars got grouchy: In your face politics

26 Feb

by Patrick Novecosky

(February 26, 2019) — When Jack Palance stood up to collect his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1992, I distinctly remember thinking, “I bet the old guy has a heart attack by the time he hits the third step.”

Jack Palance with his Academy Award in 1991

Palance did, indeed, drop to the floor. Not because he went into cardiac arrest, but to execute three one-handed push-ups – and one more with two hands to top off the performance. He checked his politics at the door.

Those were the days.

Over the past couple decades, the Academy Awards’ prestige — along with viewership of the live broadcast — has waned. It hit an all-time low last year when Jimmy Kimmel took a turn as host. The 26.6 million people who tuned in to the ceremony were the fewest to do so since Nielsen began estimating the program’s viewership in 1974.

Last night’s numbers weren’t much better, up a modest 2.1 million.

Why the Oscars Are Dying

Philip Bump at The Washington Post blames the slump on people not actually seeing the nominated films, therefore having no interest in the glitz and glamor of Hollywood’s biggest night.

Using statistical analysis, Bump makes some good points. The more popular the nominated films, the more popular the Oscar broadcast. Make sense.

But there’s something deeper going on here. Politics.

It’s Getting Too Shrill

Actors have always worn their politics on their sleeves. Humphrey Bogart organized a delegation to Washington, D.C., in 1947 against what he perceived to be the House Un-American Activities Committee’s harassment of Hollywood screenwriters and actors. Jane Fonda blasted the U.S. military’s involvement in Vietnam in the 1970s, and a bevy of stars — from Mark Ruffalo to Meryl Streep  — lined up to support Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in their 2016 bids for the White House.

But that’s on their own time.

Americans are free to tune out celebs’ activism (and they do) at the push of a button. While Fonda’s shrill rants against most of America’s war efforts are annoying, most of us are able to palate her on-screen performances. As annoying as I find Susan Sarandon’s liberal politics, it didn’t dissuade me from watching Thelma and Louise for the third time.

Marlon Brando famously refused his Best Actor statue in 1973 for his role in The Godfather, sending Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather in his stead. On stage, Littlefeather cited “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry.”

Brando’s stunt was an exception to what was generally an entertaining awards program.

Crashing America’s Party

Michael Moore delivers a rant against President George W. Bush at the Oscars in 2003 (Getty)

The last couple of decades, however, have seen an excessive number of stars use the Oscar pulpit to lecture Americans on how to vote, how to spend their money, and which causes to embrace.

In his acceptance speech for winning the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for The Cider House Rules in 2000, John Irving gave a nod to “everyone at Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights League” and thanked the Academy “for this honor to a film on the abortion subject.”

Three years later, Michael Moore delivered a blistering speech, lambasting President George W. Bush only four days after the U.S. invaded Iraq. “We are against this war, Mr. Bush! Shame on you, Mr. Bush! Shame on you!” Moore shouted, drawing boos and groans from the audience, as well as some soft applause.

When Leonardo DiCaprio accepted the Best Actor award for his role in The Revenant in 2016, he lectured America:

Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating.

Spike Lee channels Prince at the 2019 Oscars

And last Sunday, Spike Lee (dressed as Prince), took a not-so-veiled swipe at President Trump. “The 2020 election is around the corner. Let’s all mobilize and be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate.”

Americans don’t mind lectures from qualified experts. But they don’t have much patience for overpaid entertainers posing as authorities on anything but entertaining. Maybe if they’d take a page from Jack Palance’s playbook, we would give the Oscars a second chance.

Patrick Novecosky is a Florida-based media relations professional, founder of this blog and NovaMedia. This article originally appeared on Feb. 26, 2019, at The Stream.

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Jon Voight, Angelina Jolie, ISIS, a film called WOODLAWN, and me

14 Sep

Pursuit of happiness 2

by Patrick Novecosky

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. (Sept. 14, 2015) — Good movies get me pumped — especially guy movies. James Bond, Indiana Jones, Rocky Balboa, and Chris Gardner (deftly played by Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness). These are characters that make me want to get off the couch and save the world — or at least make it a better place.

For me, few sports films fit into that category. Exceptions: the first and last in the Rocky franchise (Creed, releasing in November looks promising), Rudy, Chariots of Fire, Miracle, and Field of Dreams. Despite the fact that most professional athletes are men of faith, there are relatively few faith-focused sports films. Recent years have given us When the Game Stands Tall (Jim Caviezel), Facing the Giants, and Soul Surfer.

woodlawn_xlgWoodlawn

Last night (Sunday), I finished a press screener for a film that should rank as the best sports faith film of all time — and perhaps challenge as one of the best sports films (secular or Christian) to ever hit the silver screen.

Woodlawn (Jon Voight, Sean Astin, Nic Bishop) tells the true story of Tony Nathan, a superbly talented running back in 1973 playing for the newly desegregated Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Ala. The future Alabama Crimson Tide all-star went on to play for the Miami Dolphins from 1979-1987.

As cross burnings and riots erupt in the city, Tandy Gerelds, the Woodlawn Colonels’ football coach, struggles to ease racial tensions between his players. It’s only when Gerelds allows Hank, a self-styled evangelist, to speak to his team that real change begins.

Hank (Sean Astin), who had a radical conversion to Christ during a Billy Graham event a year earlier, tells the players a “better way” is possible through following Jesus. More than 40 players, nearly the entire team, black and white, give their lives to Christ. A ripple effect challenges the entire team, school, community and opposing teams.

The film culminates in high school football history. An estimated 42,000 fans turned out to watch the No. 1-ranked Banks Jets defeat the No. 4 Woodlawn Colonels 18 – 7 at Legion Field in Birmingham on Nov. 8, 1974. Woodlawn featured running back Tony Nathan and Banks had Jeff Rutledge at quarterback. Woodlawn features some real footage of the historic game.

Jon Voightvoight-woodlawn2

If you’ve read this far, you have questions. Why is Jon Voight in the headline and why is the dateline Beverly Hills? In Woodlawn, Voight plays legendary University of Alabama football coach Bear Bryant. Although his is a relatively small role, he lends his sizable talent to a film that has few big-name stars. The other being Sean Astin.

Stay with me. Last year, a conference I was assisting with had booked Gary Sinise. At the 11th hour, Sinise and two other notable celebrities bailed. Left in a lurch, our team started making calls. One of the names that surfaced was Voight’s. After making a few calls to Hollywood friends, I got an e-mail address and agency contact info. I passed it on to our organizing committee. Nothing came of it because Voight was working on a film.

Voight2015This morning, still thinking about Woodlawn (which I finished watching the night before), I spotted Voight’s e-mail address in my contacts list. I shot him a quick two-sentence email:

Jon: I just saw a preview of WOODLAWN. Thanks for lending your talent to such an impressive and important film. You remain in my prayers,

And I included my full contact information. Almost exactly 90 minutes later, my cell phone rang. It came up as a 310 area code in Beverly Hills. I’ve been getting pre-recorded calls that are apparently from my “cell phone provider,” so I almost let it go to voicemail. I’m glad I didn’t.

“Hi. This is Jon Voight. Do we know each other?” he asked.

Yeah. I almost dropped the phone to the floor … right beside my jaw. It’s not often (NEVER) that a Hollywood legend rings me up, let alone an Academy Award-winning actor (he won Best Actor Oscar for his role in Coming Home, 1978).

I regained my composure and explained who I was and how I got his e-mail (which I expected would go right to his publicist). He asked where I saw the film, and I told him. I also mentioned that I had met Woodlawn writer/producers Jon and Andrew Irwin on the set of Moms’ Night Out a few years ago. We chatted about Woodlawn and the rise of recent faith films like War Room and 90 Minutes in Heaven.

ANGELINA JOLIE testifies before the House of Lords in London on Sept. 8, 2015

ANGELINA JOLIE testifies before the House of Lords in London on Sept. 8, 2015

Almost 10 minutes into the the call, he asks, “So, how’s your life. How are you?” Jon Voight was interviewing me now! Wow. I told him a few of my greatest blessings: My wife, five children, remarkable job.

Then I interjected and told him that I was quite impressed with his daughter. Yeah, he’s Angelina Jolie‘s dad. She testified before the House of Lords in London last week, blasting ISIS for its systematic rape of women in its reign of terror.

“The most important thing is to understand what it’s not: It’s not sexual. It’s a violent, brutal, terrorizing weapon and it is used, unfortunately, everywhere,” she said.

I told her father that he should continue to encourage her to bravely stand up for important issues like this. He assured me that he would. And I assured him that I’d keep him in my prayers.

Who knows, maybe we’ll bump into each other again sometime. After all, as I just learned, the world is a really a pretty small place.

WOODLAWN OPENS NATIONWIDE ON OCTOBER 16. See it. You won’t be disappointed.

PATRICK NOVECOSKY is a speaker, Catholic journalist, editor of this blog, and the editor-in-chief of Legatus magazine.