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Knight at the Movies: The Oscars (aka gay men's holiday)
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times
2014-02-26

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In last year's column ruminating on the gay men's national holiday—otherwise known as the annual Academy Awards—I complained that the show didn't have nearly enough queer content. To me, there weren't enough queer-themed movies being honored, enough gay actors and filmmakers amongst the nominated ( were there any? ) and certainly the host and his not very funny hijinks weren't queer enough to satisfy my queer-centric way of thinking.

All in all, there just wasn't enough queer content ( no matter how many gay fashion designers' couture gowns were on vivid display ).

This year promises to be different—well, maybe a little different, at any rate. The first big indicator of that, of course, is the return of the world's most renowned lesbian aka Ellen DeGeneres as host. DeGeneres has taken the Oscar emcee gig before and ably comported herself, which bodes well for the show. Openly gay producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are to be congratulated for bringing back DeGeneres and nixing the return of Seth MacFarlane, whose mean-spirited wisecracks mostly landed with a thud and whose wilted routines ( that "song-and-dance" number! ) revealed the essence of the man: a former nerd-turned-powerbroker with lots of score-settling foremost in his mind.

So, hiring DeGeneres gets my hopes for this year's ceremony off to a good start. And the inclusion of the announced tribute to The Wizard of Oz, which is celebrating its 75th year ( along with Gone with the Wind and a host of other 1939 classics ), could not make the hearts of elderly gay men ( hello, my fellow Friends of Dorothy ), showtune fans of Wicked and fellow Oz maniacs any happier. It also might help to erase the memory of the bizarre, mistimed tribute last year to the movie musical Chicago, which seemed to be included for two reasons: 1 ) Zadan and Meron produced it and 2 ) Zadan and Meron wanted it included.*

Speaking of musicals, and Wicked in particular, it also warms my gay little heart that Frozen—Disney's latest original animated song-and-dance spectacle—is sure to take the Best Song Oscar ( this one deserved ) for "Let It Go," sung in the film and performed at the ceremonies by a gay icon in the making: Wicked's own Idina Menzel. "Let It Go," a rousing call to arms for anyone facing personal obstacles if there ever was one ( hello, my unfortunate closet-trapped queers ), is sure to become a staple of gay cabarets nationwide ( if it hasn't already ), and its performance at the Oscars is a much-anticipated highlight ( unlike the bare-bones performance by Madonna of that leaden, bare-ones ballad from Evita—$5 to anyone who can hum more than two bars of it ).

Since I'm thinking about gay piano bars and showtunes, I am also feeling optimistic that Zadan and Meron, who have produced a slew of musicals for TV ( along with the Oscar-winning Chicago—oh, did I mention that already? )* will be smart enough to capitalize on the Best Documentary nomination for 20 Feet from Stardom, the glorious film about many of the legendary backup singers for the likes of the legendary Bette Midler, the Rolling Stones, et al. What could be more entertaining than having this line-up perform a medley of previous Oscar song winners? Maybe with Pink ( who is also announced as appearing )? Well, one can dream ( and produce the show in one's mind, hello, my fellow fantasy Oscar show producers—let's do lattes and omelets soon as we talk it over! ).

Back to what is set in stone: a slew of nominations for bona fide, can't disguise the fact that these movies are flush with queer themes and characters. Okay, okay, there's only one: Dallas Buyers Club—but it's really, really gay. This means, naturally, that it focuses on one of the most tremendously difficult periods in the long, incredibly difficult history of Our People ( in this case, the height of the AIDS scourge, back in the late '80s when the plague was at the height ). It also focuses on a guy who was a homophobe until he contracted HIV. But it does have six nominations and has maybe helped open a few eyes to areas of our painful past that the mainstream culture never knows ( or cares ) much about, it seems.

What's better is that both nominees, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, are still looking like they'll be in the winner's circle for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively ( although Leo DiCaprio and company, The Wolf of Wall Street boys, are making a very pushy last-minute attempt to sneak up the inside lane as we go into the final stretch ). As for The Wolf of Wall Street, has anyone else mentioned that Jonah Hill—yup, nominated again—plays a closeted gay man in the film? Will he mention it in his speech should he beat all the oddsmakers and take Oscar gold ( over Leto )?

You can bet that Sean Mahon—who played the real-life character Michael/Anthony, the long lost gay son of Judi Dench in Philomena—would have had he have gotten the Oscar nod ( and isn't that have been a bittersweet moment to contemplate? ). Or there was Dench herself, for that matter ( although I don't think Dench has much of a chance in a race that has Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine as the leading contender—although the contest has become very tight in light of what's going on with Blue Jasmine director Woody Allen ).

Speaking of actors—look at all the openly queer actors amongst the nominees this year! Okay, okay, I can not only dream about producing the show, but I can also populate the nominees with openly queer thespians as well. ( In my fantasy Oscar show, both ex-lovers Zachary Quinto and Jonathan Groff are nominated and each shows up with their new plus-ones. They then have to present an award together while the new significant others kvetch in the men's room about their famous boyfriends, who are onstage presenting an award together for the sake of publicity. )

Until then, I shall leave the Academy ( whose Board of Governors is no doubt eagerly reading this ) with a few more uninvited suggestions. The first and foremost—always—would be the inclusion of a lot more movie clips. I mean tons. This is, after all, an awards show dedicated to movies—a medium which has 100 years of stuff from which to pull highlights. ( The Oscar show itself—as evidenced in TCM's new documentary, And the Oscar Goes To, from queer directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman—has plenty of material, too ).

Second, since you've made a precedent this year and rescinded a nomination ( in the song category ), why not do the same for the most outrageous of those undeserved wins? I am speaking now of the troika—Oscar's three most egregious errors. Dear Academy, I want you to break into Sally Field's house and take back her Norma Rae Oscar and send it to Bette Midler ( the rightful winner for The Rose ). Then do the same with Glenda Jackson for A Touch of Class ( Barbra is waiting to add that second, well-earned Best Actress Oscar for The Way We Were to the basement trinket store of her Malibu manse ). And to the dear heirs of Princess Grace of Monaco: You need to right the Oscar made wrong when the former Grace Kelly sneaked into the winner's circle in place of Judy Garland in A Star Is Born.

My final suggestion would be the return of the honorary career Oscar to the telecast. This is the bestowing of a long-coveted statuette to that luckless movie star who has been unjustly overlooked by Academy voters for one reason or another in the course of said legend's legendary career. This year's honoree, Angela Lansbury, could not be more worthy of the honor—or more of a friend of the gay community if she headlined a thousand performances of Mame, Gypsy and Sweeney Todd combined. For decades, said legend ( last year it was Lauren Bacall ) could always be counted on to add at least a moment of dignity, grace and honest-to-God awe by the live assemblage ( not to mention the billions watching on TV ) to the proceedings. Sometimes these legends were queer as well ( though not a one of them was "out" ). That, too, helped make the Academy Awards show worth elevating to national holiday status for Our People in the know.

Now if only we could get all of this and an honorary Oscar for Doris Day, I could die declaring the Oscars, at long last, queer enough to suit my fancy.

*Chicago, the Oscar-winning 2003 Best Picture Winner, is out just in time for the Oscars in a new, special feature-laden Blu-ray edition that really is all that—and all that jazz, too. Some non-musical film called Gravity, the multi-nominated Oscar contender starring Sandra Bullock ( and the movie I hope takes the gold ), is just out as well.


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