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Quendrith Johnson

Quendrith Johnson is Los Angeles Correspondent covering everything happening in film in Hollywood... Well, the most interesting things, anyway.
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Oscars2020 Take Flack, But Hey It’s Once Upon A Hollywood, Get Over It

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, CA: So JOKER’s Joaquin Phoenix, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor Brad Pitt from ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD took some serious incoming Social Media ire after Sunday’s 92nd Academy Awards telecast, for what?
Being less political than many other past Oscar broadcasts. Remember DEAD MAN WALKING’s helmer speeches, the days of Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins?

C’mon, truth be told, JOKER is a Camus-like stranger message as a film, and Phoenix, whose known for unusual behavior anyway, was fairly low-key. He invoked the spirt of his long-gone actor brother River Phoenix, who is still mourned in the business. The Joker-lauded winner basically said nothing Homeland Security alert-worthy.

And Brad Pitt, the Comeback Elder Kid, certainly said nothing along the lines of Marlon Brando’s stand-in way back when he un-accepted his trophy from AMPAS. To use the words of the political world, the 92nd Oscar acceptance speech fracas is an In’n’Out animal-style “nothing burger” with fries.

Consider the 65th Academy Awards. At this presentation, which took place in 1993 before Sarandon shined in DEAD MAN WALKING (1995). While ostensibly handing out the Best Editing award for Clint Eastwood's UNFORGIVEN, Sarandon and Robbins latched onto the isolation of Cuba Haitians with HIV and AIDS. They were disgraced briefly but returned for Sarandon's Best Actress win in DEAD MAN WALKING, and in 2004, when Robbins returned for MYSTIC RIVER. ROCKY HORROR’s Sarandon is now a darling of insider Hollywood; the Actor’s Gang’s Tim Robbins is mostly behind the scenes in theater these days.

At the March, 27, 1973, Oscars, Sacheen Littlefeather stood in for Brando in protest of the stand-off at Wounded Knee; this was Marlon Brando’s nose-thumb to the powers that be, with friendly fire aimed at The Academy. Littlefeather un-accepted his supporting award for THE GODFATHER. Doing the old unseen hand trick, ON THE WATERFRONT’s legend stage-managed his scoff at AMPAS from afar. While largely unpunished for this crime against decorum, Brando faded into his own kimono-wearing eccentricities in his later years. Johnny Depp still owns a Marlon Brando late-career starrer possibly titled THE WHITE BUFFALO. Legendary film critic Leonard Maltin once asked Depp about this film, under that title, when the CRY-BABY star received Maltin's eponymous life achievement award. Why Depp refuses to release the film is likely to protect his deceased mentor.

Recently Sharon Stone learned the hard truth about saying anything negative about China, and is in the processes of repairing that relationship after an ill-placed earthquake comment related to Tibet, the Dalai Lama-led bete noir of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). She should have taken a page from the apology tour of Richard Gere, who put a foot in it at the 1993 Oscar gala when he called for the Chinese army to vacate occupied Tibet, among with other human rights high-notes. Gere was called-out by showrunner Gil Cates, a longtime Oscar producer, who complained to the LA Times.


The show on April 3, 1978 is even uglier and thornier. At the 50th Anniversary Academy Awards, a wide-eyed newcomer named John Travolta presented “left-wing” activist Vanessa Redgrave with Best Supporting Actress for JULIA. She began “my dear colleagues, I thank you very, very much for this tribute to my work…” Redgrave thanks Jane Fonda, who also starred, and then her speech took a left turn into politics and, well, even pissed off Paddy Chayefsky. Meanwhile, Redgrave wisely ended her barn-burner with “I will continue to fight against anti-Semitism,” but her hot-button words before this left a near-indelible mark on her career at that time. JULIA is now a little-seen film that is known mainly as newcomer Meryl Streep’s first onscreen appearance.

So, given the Hollywood history here, is “virtue-signaling” the worst thing that’s ever happened at the Oscar telecast? Nope. Frankly Joaquin Phoenix was actually his best offscreen self, coming off the heels of a gut-wrenching role as the American canary in the emotional coal mine that is our divided country right now, where homelessness and despair could said to be papered-over right now with flag-waving “winning” for many.

And Brad Pitt, who invoked the name John Bolton in a glancing swat at the recent Impeachment Hearings, pretty much was Pitt 2.0 - the guy who regrets leaving ex-wife Jennifer Aniston for Angelina Jolie, in so far as their contentious divorce almost blew up his life onscreen and off.

Though many have privately derided the THELMA & LOUISE walk-on hottie for perhaps (mostly speculation) having hired a “ghostwriter” to concoct this year’s Award Season acceptance speeches, at least the man outsourced his glory moments to those who know how to deliver a heart-felt climax to Pitt’s reappearance as a mostly good guy to his fans, friends, and family.


Let’s face it, the 92nd Oscars will fade into memory as the year PARASITE stormed the trophy case, being the first non-English language film to take the top gongs, Best Picture and Best Director, plus Best Screenplay and Best Foreign Language Film. It is a win on so many levels for South Korea, but it is a strike at xenophobia in the wake of the pandemic known as the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Next year, at the 93rd Oscars, there will likely be another trumped-up social media troll fracas, but this one isn’t note-worthy in Hollywood history.


What is a watershed moment, besides PARASITE?

AMPAS opens a new destination on Dec. 14, 2020, The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which you can visit in person in Los Angeles, or online here.


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