Gump: the movie that didn't inhale

The Oscars
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The Independent Culture
Oscar night is like a box of Maltesers: you always know exactly what you're going to get. And on Monday night, despite the plodding three- and-a-half-hour ceremony being redeemed by the crackling script of its host David Letterman, the winners themselves might well have been picked on automatic pilot. Forrest Gump took the four major prizes. The majority of voters clearly sensed an affinity with Gump's limited IQ.

Here was a character who represented innocence, trust, generosity, as opposed to the profane, brutal thugs peppering Pulp Fiction. The Academy was plumping less for Best Picture than for Character You'd Most Like to Be Stuck in a Lift With.

This is nothing new. The last truly abrasive performance rewarded by the Academy was Robert De Niro in Raging Bull. Even Jeremy Irons in Reversal of Fortune and Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs were cuddly villains, their unhealthy proclivities garnished by snappy gags and a charming demeanour - they were the psychos who could keep your dinner party guests amused.

There is no avoiding the fact that Forrest Gump's approbation has come from the doughy mix of conscience and mind. It asks the viewer to feel, not think - the moment you start delving into its morality and politics, it falls apart in your hands. Its view of recent American history is smoothed out, making it a monument to stasis. That's why it slots so neatly into the Academy's world view.

Plainly speaking, Tom Hanks's win for Best Actor (his second after Philadelphia) is an indictment of an anachronistic system, not proof of the movie's greatness. The film shows America that, despite relentless social change, there is a streak of small-town, home-cooked goodness personified by Gump that can never be tainted. It's an appropriate mirror to the Clinton era - it's the movie that doesn't inhale.

The pleasing victories came where they usually do, in the supporting categories. The underrated Dianne Wiest was named Best Supporting Actress for Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway, which opens here on 12 May. The most satisfying result, however, was Martin Landau's Best Supporting Actor for playing faded horror icon Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton's Ed Wood, released in Britain on 26 May. It was a joy to see his delicate performance rewarded, even if the orchestra did strike up before he was through with his speech.

Ken Adam, the 74-year-old production designer of The Madness of King George, scooped the movie's only award and provided further proof that, though British films are largely ignored in the main categories, our technical achievements are continually regarded as outstanding. Peter Capaldi scored another point for Britain when his short Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life won Best Short Film.

Quentin Tarantino won the only award that was ever realistically within his grasp (Best Screenplay), a fact that he acknowledged in his speech, while Jessica Lange, though stunning in Blue Sky (out on 7 April), was lucky to be up against such unlikely competition this year.

The awards prompted the same commentators who had assured us that Forrest Gump would win to scramble around trying to discern why exactly it had won. Everyone agreed it was soothing to the collective American conscience; everyone accepted that it was a sweet antidote to that whippersnapper Tarantino, who has been spraying the screen with blood in person (Pulp Fiction) and by proxy (Natural Born Killers).

But in a year which has also seen US audiences canonise the brainless in the new Jim Carrey comedy Dumb and Dumber (opening on 7 April), there is no denying that stupid is in. Sit back, relax and succumb, says Gump, this won't hurt a bit. Sleep well, America.

Ryan Gilbey