COLUMN: Academy Awards give hope for quality films

Tuesday, March 16, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:32 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The last time I bothered to write of the Academy Awards, the films deemed Oscar worthy by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences consisted of five real dogs (my apologies to the American Kennel Club and dog lovers everywhere).

Included among them were the love lives of two gay sheepherders ("Brokeback Mountain"), yet another stirring expose of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy ("Goodnight and Good Luck"), an irrational defense of Palestinian terrorists ("Munich") along with the equally forgettable "Crash" and "Capote."


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One commonality was enjoyed by this collection of Hollywood's over hyped but under appreciated movies — they were all losers at the box office. Not one of them cracked the top-25 moneymakers — the ultimate winner, "Crash," finished 27th, trailing a remake of the television series, "The Dukes of Hazard."

The crowning insult though of the 2006 academy selections was the award for the song of the year. With past choices including memorable classics as "White Christmas" (1943), "High Noon" (1952), "Moon River" (1961) and "I Just Called to Say I Love You" (1984), the committee dipped below the gutter to find the totally-bereft-of-redeeming-value "Its Hard Out There for a Pimp" (2005).

Finally realizing that interest in the awards ceremony was plummeting faster than an Olympic downhill skier, the academy doubled the best picture nominations — the first time in 76 years for a ten-film slate. Sadly, not one of the 2010 selections could compare with "Casablanca," "Watch on the Rhine," "Song of Bernadette," "Heaven Can Wait," "The Ox-Bow Incident," "Madame Curie" or the other four 1943 choices.

It is no secret that Hollywood and the academy are woefully out of touch with the public. It should not require an exercise in mental gymnastics for the motion picture industry to comprehend a reality which has for some time escaped filmdom’s cognitive reason.

In the not so distant past, there was a mutual respect between the industry and the public in that the studios were responsive to the entertainment desires of the customer. Consequently, we looked forward to the Academy Awards inasmuch as we had actually viewed and savored the nominated film fare.

Those of us who remember when movies featured not only a coherent plot but also dedicated and skilled actors to present it are turned off by today's substitution of car chases, sound, special effects, explosions and gunfire to disguise the fact that plots and acting rarely exist. We have been fed such a steady diet of anti-military, incompetent police, politically correct, pornographic sex, drugs and contempt for authority films that it boggles the mind that anyone will purchase a ticket and equally exorbitantly priced popcorn, soda and/or candy to be insulted by inferior entertainment.

I must admit to a faint glimmer of light at the end of a long tunnel this year. Score one for the academy in recognizing "The Hurt Locker," despite its low budget ($13 million), absence of stars and an error-plagued release as clearly THE choice for best movie. An independent film on the actions of an Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal team in Iraq, "The Hurt Locker" portrayed the hazards of war with realism and objectivity — our soldiers are the good guys again.

The selections of Sandra Bullock for Best Actress for "The Blind Side" and Jeff Bridges for "Crazy Heart" were excellent choices. Bullock's portrayal of a surrogate mother and the family's influence in nurturing a young black football player's sports and academic skills to a university scholarship and education was superb. Equally worthy was Bridges' role as an alcoholic country musician who turns his life around as a result of a near tragedy to a pre-schooler.

The fact that both movies were wholesome, ending on a happy note, may strike some of today's "sophisticated" critics as mawkish. Nonetheless, anytime one can watch a movie and leave the theater smiling and feeling no need for a decontamination chamber, he or she has been well entertained. My first movie was 1939's "Wizard of Oz," my all time favorite is "Casablanca," with "Stalag 17," "The Bridge on the River Kwai," "Sands of Iwo Jima" and "Milo and Otis" as contenders. Remember when films had class?

As stated, I see a gleam of hope in the judgment of the 2010 Academy Award choices but, to return to earlier, better days, the movie industry must set aside its deeply-rooted and short-sighted arrogance in creating self-pleasing films to produce for the consumer. We recognize good movies and will pay for that which stimulates and entertains.

Perhaps the academy will amend also the Oscar ceremony — in its current form, there are 45 minutes of entertainment, expanded to three hours of near mindless drivel.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at

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Linda Ferris March 16, 2010 | 3:28 p.m.

Yes, but Karl, I am not really interested in supporting movies that showcase and aggrandize war. You might, but then you are a war-loving Marine. Lots of differences between you and me, dear Karl. "Blindside" was about how people can make a peaceful difference in this world. As a woman, that's what I practice, and try to teach my children to do as well.

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger March 16, 2010 | 6:06 p.m.

I'd suggest that most of the films that Mr. Miller decries as not being responsive to public taste do, in fact, give the public what it wants, and what it wants is aptly described in his following paragraph, to wit: "car chases, sound, special effects, explosions and gunfire.... [and ] a steady diet of anti-military, incompetent police, politically correct, pornographic sex, drugs and contempt for authority...." Those films selected by the Academy tend not to fall into those categories, in my opinion.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller March 16, 2010 | 6:44 p.m.

Linda, your taste in movies is your own and not to be questioned; however, you must realize you are guilty of an erroneous stereotyping. As one who has experienced combat, I can assure you that I am not a "war loving Marine" nor have I met any member of our armed forces who is enamored of war. War is a dirty and horrible business but, we should count ourselves fortunate that " people can sleep peaceably in their beds because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

Finally Linda, there is no one in this great nation who hates war so fervently as those who have been there.

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop March 16, 2010 | 7:41 p.m.

Miss Ferris, I find your comment simply incredulous. I am unsure if you are naive or willfully unintelligent (I had to search for an acceptable word rather than use the obvious).

For those who have carried the wounded, held the dying, or patched up the women and children that thugs of any stripe used for human shields, they know the costs and horrors of war far beyond your pathetic attempts to minimize those experiences.

What you should feel is deep shame and revulsion for mocking those men and women who have kept tyrants off your doorstep for decades. Perhaps you missed the Nazi concentration camps, the Soviet purges, or the Japanese murders of 300,000 civilians in six weeks in Nanking in 1937. Maybe to you watching films of Japanese soldiers tossing babies into the air and bayoneting them in front of their parents while the Japanese ambassador watched means nothing.

But by God, those men and women who put themselves in harms way to keep that kind of horror from happening on our streets are worthy of every praise, and you lady, are worthy of our utmost contempt.

Every right and privilege you enjoy today was bought and paid for in the death, blood, and sacrifice of Americans far better than you or those who mock them. Grow up.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin March 16, 2010 | 11:27 p.m.

Col. Miller:

I read this quickly and maybe I missed it, but you appear not to have mentioned Avatar, which won a few Oscars this year, and was a story about the true spirit of the Marine Corps, admittedly seen through the eyes of layman director James Cameron.

The film took some heat from folks who couldn't see past the surface, and found its portrayal of Marines turned mercenaries counter to that organization's good image.

But what Avatar said to me was that the hero of the story, paraplegic Marine Jake Sully, represented all that was right and good about the Corps -- and human beings generally.

Corporal Sully overcomes a serious disability and myriad other problems to lead a people against oppression, remaining true to his Corps values all the way through -- as an Avatar and in the end, as a Na'vi.

After all, just because you call yourself a Marine or wear a uniform, doesn't mean you are a Marine.

Avatar hit this point home perfectly.

(And I haven't seen any contemporary fictional images that say "The Few, the Proud, the Marines" much better than this one):

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller March 17, 2010 | 9:09 a.m.

Mike--Inasmuch as I did not see the movie Avatar, I could not,in all honesty, offer an opinion. Watching Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and the President attempt to sell health care legislation provides all of the science fiction my 75 year old "square" personality can handle. Additionally, the feedback I received from other former Marines whose opinions I respect advised me to save my money. I do thank you for your comment.

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