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CINEMA
FEBRUARY 22, 1999 VOL. 153 NO. 7


And the Award for the Best Acceptance Speech...
By BRUCE HANDY

In the coming weeks, everyone will be offering predictions about the Academy Awards. Many, as Time does on the previous page, will even have opinions about which pictures should win, as if good taste and critical justice had anything to do with it. I, for one, refuse to be upset that a cabal of Academy members voted for Titanic last year over Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, which, come to think of it, wasn't even nominated. See what I'm saying?

I prefer to make Oscar-night predictions based on which acceptance speeches I do and do not want to hear. For instance, I wouldn't bet on whether Tom Hanks will receive a third Best Actor statuette for Saving Private Ryan, but I do know that if he wins, he will offer a halting, heartfelt tribute to the veterans of World War II. Hanks can be eloquent, and veterans obviously deserve the recognition, but we have congressional resolutions and postage stamps for that sort of thing. What we have awards shows for is displays of sheer, naked narcissism. "I'm king of the world!" James Cameron bellowed last year; his belated tribute to the 1,500 or so people who died on the Titanic put the victims in their proper place as a historical footnote. It was the greatest Oscar moment since Sally Field's "You love me" speech back in 1985. That said, I'd rather listen to Hanks than to fellow nominee Nick Nolte--you heard it here first!--ramble on gruffly if ethereally, like some scary uncle, about the primacy of "the work."

Steven Spielberg has been nominated as both director and producer of Saving Private Ryan. Critics have been promulgating the notion, which Spielberg in interviews appears to encourage, that the film has redeemed selfish American baby boomers by forcing them to acknowledge their parents' sacrifices--as if these baby boomers hadn't grown up reading Sgt. Rock and listening to the fakey tromp-tromp sound effect of marching Nazi soldiers on all those episodes of The World at War. But people these days seem to think of Spielberg less as a filmmaker than as a healer of deep historical wounds (don't forget that he has already helped us come to terms with the Holocaust, slavery and the extinction of the dinosaurs). Expect him, if he wins, to offer some kind of generational benediction in a manner both elfin and rabbinical.

I am most concerned about the possibility of three speeches from Roberto Benigni, nominated as writer, director and star of Life Is Beautiful. As he told the New York Times last week, his movie is "about three little clowns--myself, my wife and the boy--in the most terrifying place in the world. It's a movie about how to protect your innocence, your purity, in the face of evil." What else can one say but: Yikes! The only thing worse than listening to mawkish European comics lecture about innocence is listening to mawkish $20 million-a-picture American movie stars do the same. I don't look forward to Oscar night 2002, when Robin Williams will surely be honored for the American remake of Life Is Beautiful--unless, that is, Billy Crystal beats him to the role.

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