Oscar? They're all a little too worthy, darling

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The Independent Culture
So (wide yawn) what are we to make of the Oscar nominations? Does it matter? Only at the box office, to the ranking positions and pay cheques of the Hollywood elite, and those of us who have the gang over on the night to eat pizza, swill beer and laugh ourselves sick at the tacky "good taste" of those borrowed designer gowns. Is it any wonder that Sharon Stone wore Gap last year? Absolutely not.

Oh, who am I kidding...? Get out of my way: by snubbing Madonna - never mind Nicole Kidman, who gives the performance of a lifetime in Portrait of a Lady - the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is ignoring more than a Material Girl's self-willed transformation into mainstream diva and the biggest mother of them all. The one potentially exciting development on the celluloid horizon is the possible comeback of the long unfashionable musical, a multimedia form apparently completely in tune with the times (witness the massive, traditional yet trend-setting Rent on Broadway) but still handled with studio tongs. Evita's impressive box- office returns, and Madonna's impressive performance, at last make the form ripe for reconsideration. An official nod would have been in order, if not downright necessary. Other directions must now be explored. A truth made all the more self-evident by the current fate of Hollywood's conveyor belt fare - the blockbuster, the romantic comedy, the "no-brainer" - now routinely stiffing at a box office bored rigid with tired formula. Audience pleasers that fail to please - or, like Independence Day, leave you feeling obscurely cheated - are a clear contradiction in terms. And ethos.

Not that the Academy is unaware of the stale, torpid state of American film-making. (Well, commercial American film-making - you will search yesterday's lists in vain for the sparky Flirting with Disaster, Welcome to the Doll's House or - gulp - even the conscience-pricking Lone Star. You will, however, find the obviously signalled, Isn't-it-Ironic Fargo here, there and everywhere.) And, speaking of obvious, the voters have done what they always do at such lean times. Retreated into corrugated middle brow and a general state of safe "good taste" nearly as dubious - and revealing - as those designer gowns.

Last time around it meant nominations - and wins - for Gandhi and Chariots of Fire; stiffly upright British works chosen over the din of Rocky Whatever Number, though what was Chariots of Fire except Rocky in running shoes? Different but familiar, epic and sweeping, but actually about the human condition, that's the (cinema) ticket. The English Patient, Secrets and Lies, Shine and Breaking the Waves are infinitely more worthy - but the key word, of course, being worthy. Compelling as individual nominees are, and overdue as the recognition is, there's still a whiff of retreat and smugness to the line-up of the unusual suspects. You have to ask - if the choices reflect a current malaise, and are maybe meant as a shot across the system's rotting bows, wouldn't the inclusion of, say, Flirting with Disaster ram the point home? Nah. Because Hollywood is out of touch its way, and the Academy out of touch in its.