Mark Harris debunks two myths that have caught the fancy of Academy voters

By Mark Harris
Updated March 10, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

Here are the latest Oscar absurdities circulating in Hollywood

As you’ve probably heard, 4000 of the 5600-odd Oscar ballots mailed out to Academy voters were lost this week. This is an inconvenience, but not a tragedy. In fact, it may be a good thing. Based on some of the Oscar buzz that’s been coming out of Hollywood this week, I’d like to propose that 4000 out of 5600-odd Academy members not be allowed to vote.

The Oscars mark the very end of the annual movie awards season. This year, they’re on March 26 — a full 86 days after the end of the eligibility period. On the positive side, that leaves time for more thoughtful reflection on the year’s movies. Unfortunately, it also leaves time for some truly ludicrous second, and third, and fourth thoughts among voters. Here are two of the most appalling:

1. ”Hilary Swank doesn’t deserve an Oscar — Annette Bening does.” See if you can follow this argument, which is actually being bandied about by some voters: As the cross-dressing Brandon Teena in ”Boys Don’t Cry,” Hillary Swank gives the year’s most universally acclaimed performance. She wins virtually every award she’s eligible for. Therefore, she should not win the Oscar; that would represent too much too soon. Instead, it should go to Annette Bening, because ”it’s time.”

A couple of problems here. First of all, the ”it’s time” argument is gold-plated condescension. It carries a whiff of sympathy for Bening, as if she’s struggled through decade after decade of moviemaking with little reward. In fact, Bening is a wonderful mid-career actress who’s had a sporadic 10-year run in movies, and has been rightly honored with a nomination for her fine (though essentially supporting) performance. ”It’s time” suggests she’s ready for the glue factory. (And why, by the way, is it not ”time” for the similarly un-Oscared Glenn Close or Sigourney Weaver?)

Problem No. 2: Underneath the rejection of Swank is an old-fashioned case of classism and homophobia. Many Oscar voters are turning their noses up at ”Boys Don’t Cry.” ”It’s about trashy, brutal morons,” said one to me. ”Why is everybody making Brandon Teena out to be some kind of hero?” said another. ”She was a screwed-up kid.” There seems to be no such hesitation about rewarding the screwed-up characters in ”American Beauty,” but Academy voters like their gay martyrs as pure as Tom Hanks in ”Philadelphia” and as sweet as ”Kiss of the Spider Woman”’s William Hurt.

2. ”Personally, my favorite movie was ‘The Insider.’ But it’ll never win.” It’s no surprise that some Academy voters are saying this (it’s my favorite, too, and I agree that it’ll probably lose). The shock is that therefore, they’re not going to vote for it. You heard right: In a town obsessed with finishing in first place, voting for an also-ran is coming to be considered weak. Why back a losing horse, they say, when everyone knows that either ”American Beauty” or ”The Cider House Rules” is going to take the crown?

It’s a striking situation. People are almost embarrassed to admit they like ”The Insider” (and NOT in the same way they’re embarrassed to admit they liked ”The Green Mile”). They don’t like to cop to the fact that they missed the film when it was in theaters, that they only caught up with it on cassette, that it raised questions about loyalty and responsibility that they couldn’t answer, that it left them troubled. Press them, and they confess that they think it’s the best of the five. And then they vote for something else.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if all those ballots got lost on the way back to the Academy? Finally, we might have a real race.

American Beauty

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  • 121 minutes
  • Sam Mendes