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And the Oscar goes to …

I’m a movie aficionado, but I don’t attend Oscar parties, nor do I watch the Academy Awards. I just can’t get overly excited about the Hollywood hype, unless, of course, Billy Crystal is the emcee for the gala.On the other hand, my daughter, Kate, is, as she might say, “totally” into the whole Oscar milieu and considers my cavalier attitude toward the Academy Awards just this side of heresy. But then that’s “totally” understandable because Kate lives in Los Angeles and is immersed in the entertainment industry. Kate is pretty well dialed into the Hollywood buzz, considering she’s the events coordinator for Variety charged with orchestrating the screenings for the upcoming Academy Awards. On occasion she’ll call and tell me how such and such a movie was received at a screening or she’ll offer some other little tidbit of insider scoop. My daughter also knows that her dear old dad loves a good Western. Speaking of Westerns, my all-time favorite is “High Noon,” perhaps the best Western ever made, starring Academy Award winner Gary Cooper. It’s followed by “Cat Ballou,” with Lee Marvin, who also won an Oscar for his performance. A close No. 3 is “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” the best of the spaghetti Westerns and the movie many feel propelled Clint Eastwood into stardom. For whatever reason, Westerns have always fascinated me. Perhaps that’s because when I was a youngster I loved watching TV shows such as “The Lone Ranger,” “Hopalong Cassidy” and “Gene Autrey,” the singing cowboy. In those days, the West was portrayed as a place where the good guys always wore white hats and the bad guys wore black. There were no shades of gray. And the few women there were always seemed to be in need of rescuing. The greatest moral dilemma was usually little more than who possessed the fastest gun and the sturdiest steed. The bad guys drank whiskey in dance halls during the middle of the afternoon. Bullets were always true and smote the desperados without a trace of blood. The hero always ended up with the only single girl in town. At age 10, I liked that clarity.But with the release of the Oscar-nominated “Brokeback Mountain,” the American West is being portrayed a bit differently. “Brokeback” is the story of two young men, a Wyoming ranch hand and a rodeo cowboy, who meet in the summer of 1963 sheepherding in the grasslands of contemporary Wyoming. In the movie, the young men begin their relationship with a physical bonding. The remainder of the film chronicles life events for the two star-crossed lovers.However, the Hollywood abstract describes the movie thusly, “‘Brokeback Mountain’ is an epic love story set against the sweeping vistas of Wyoming and Texas and how two young men forge a lifelong connection of complications, joys and tragedies providing a testament to the endurance and power of love.” A bit quixotic, perhaps, but I think you get the point.When the movie was released I told my significant other I had no great desire to see it because it was a contemporary film set in the West and not a Western per se. I figured what could be interesting about a couple of cowboys, gay or otherwise, herding sheep in Wyoming in the 1960s? After all, there was no Hole-in-the-Wall gang, no renegade Indians or galloping posses.But one day after returning from skiing, Bobbi said, “Let’s go see ‘Brokeback Mountain.'” I said “Sure,” and I’m glad I did.On a personal note, the well-publicized pup tent scene didn’t disturb me in the least. Actually I think it was necessary to establish the context of the movie. And on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best (“Old Yeller” was an 11!), I would give the movie an 8-plus. It was nuanced, intricate and the performances were outstanding. Nevertheless, it certainly wasn’t the best picture I’ve seen this year. That honor would go to “North Country” (Charlize Theron was exceptional) or Woody Allen’s “Match Point.” But then I’m not a Hollywood critic either.”Brokeback” is one of the nominees for Best Picture, and I believe that it will win the Oscar. However, I also believe that it will win predicated upon its subject matter versus its artistic quality. The abstraction known as “Hollywood” has long considered itself an iconic trendsetter and deliverer of meaningful social and political messages (Michael Moore, Richard Gere, Marlon Brando, etc.). I believe that by giving the Best Picture award to “Brokeback,” this year’s Oscars will again represent another statement”from Hollywood.I applaud the academy for its open-minded approach to homosexuality on the silver screen. But I still can’t shake the feeling that an uplifting movie such as “Cinderella Man” or the energetic “Walk the Line” weren’t even nominated for Best Picture because they did not advance a cause. Butch Mazzuca, a local Realtor and ski instructor, writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at bmazz68@earthlink.net


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