[IMG:L]Yes, they've been the critics' darlings, but emotions and tensions are being stirred all the way up to the ceremony. Here are the top five hot-button topics we've been hearing more about. Where do you stand?
Scandal: So, is this a Nazi-sympathizing film or what?!
The Issue: Audiences are nearly brought to their knees, by a stoic, tender performance delivered by Kate Winslet for her character, Hanna -- a woman who, in her early 20s, partook in unspeakable (off-screen) Nazi crimes, leading countless Jews to the gas chambers. Yet, Hanna's illicit romance, illiteracy and quirks are supposed to drum-up empathy from viewers who "should see" that some SS officers signed-up for work, basically just cause it was a job.
What the Press Is Saying: The film "gives ammunition to Holocaust negationists, to the Archbishop Williamsons of the world, to the people who would tell us that Shoah is a mass exaggeration." He furthered, "the SS representative in the film ends up pathetic and sad and, by the way, not guilty of the crime for which she was sentenced," while "the lone representative of the survivors is haughty and glamorous -- a near perfect (and negative) stereotype of the wealthy European Jew in New York." -- Critic-turned-filmmaker, Rod Lurie (Nothing But the Truth) in a Huffington Post column.
Leave it alone?: Lena Olin's wealthy, somber Holocaust-survivor, who refuses an offering made to her by Hanna (we won't give away the ending) is not quite the neat wrap-up the filmmakers may have intended -- as it actually starts to ignite more tension over Hanna's unspeakable actions. But at least the speech is there, reaching out to address the SS elephant that's been quietly in the room for the entire film.
Wrongness-meter: 3 out of 5 stars
KEEP READING: Slumdog director's credit?
Scandal: M.I.A. proper credit due -- Slumdog's female, Indian co-director gets no love.
The Issue: You probably haven't heard her name, but Loveleen Tandan, who co-directed Slumdog with Danny Boyle, has been all but shut out of industry acknowledgement for her key role on the film -- sparking protest, particularly from women in the industry. In addition to casting, Tandan shot many scenes in the box office hit and made key script changes, including rewriting the children's dialogue in Hindi, creating a vitally authentic feel. A group called Women in the Audience Supporting Women Artists Now even launched an online campaign urging Boyle to share his name with Tandan on the Academy Awards ballot.
What the Press is Saying:
"Chicago film critic Jan Lisa Huttner, asked: 'If she's co-director during the film-making and marketing process, why isn't she co-nominee when the awards are passed out?" ... Of the film's 10 Oscar nominations, only the music and sound categories feature Indian contributors." -- Anita Singh, Showbusiness Editor, Telegraph.co.uk
Leave it alone?: According to the Telegraph.co.uk, the modest Tandan insists she does not want a proper director credit. "When Huttner lobbied the Golden Globes voters at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association on the issue, Tandan sent the HFPA a letter which read: 'The suggestion is highly inappropriate, and I am writing to you to stress that I would not wish it to be considered.' At the Slumdog Millionaire premiere in Mumbai, she reiterated the point. 'My credit is not 'directed by'. It is co-director: India,' she said. 'I am greatly honoured by the credit I have been accorded. It would be a grave injustice if the credit I have should have the effect of diminishing Danny Boyle's magnificent achievement.'" OK, Loveleen because we're loving your film (and your name), we'll leave it alone (and the issues that have surfaced over child labor payment) -- for now...
Wrongness-meter: 4 out of 5 stars
KEEP READING: Tropic Thunder's black face?
Tropic Thunder KEEP READING: Doubt's sexual abuse issue?
Scandal: When did it become OK to celebrate (“ironic”) blackface by way of an Oscar nom?! ... And then there's the "R" word.
The Issue: Ironically, boldly, offensively Robert Downey Jr. dons blackface in his eye-popping role as Kirk Lazarus, a thesp gunning to get an Oscar nod by taking it to another level. Yeah, we’re supposed to laugh, take it lightly -- and revel in its “ironic” brilliance -- just cause Kirk gets a black cast mate to tell him about his "wrongness" alongside other winks to the audience. But c’mon, are we really there yet? And are Tropic's writer/director Ben Stiller and his star Downey Jr. the anointed ones to be given “a pass” to present this storyline? Ironically, it took whipping out this tacky, racially insensitive plot device to get another nom for Downey Jr. -- extending the parody even further -- in a role that could’ve been met by protest. RDJ can thank his dad (edgy filmmaker, Robert Downey Sr., Putney Swope) and his own fierce acting cred, for saving him from being skewered by jaded, bitter (black) audiences who’ve watched the phenom unfold, rather silently -- though don’t bring it up at a party.
What the Press Is Saying: “Though we enjoyed Tropic Thunder, we're still dumbfounded with the ironic reality of Downey's supporting actor nod (he played an actor obsessed with academy recognition). Regardless, Oscar speculators know that comedy equals death in this game, and frankly we're OK with that. Downey's been much better in roles that didn't require face paint.” -- Merie Weismiller Wallace, Associated Press
"What does it say about racial politics in America that two days after the first African American president is inaugurated, Robert Downey Jr. is nominated for a supporting actor Oscar for essentially playing a part in blackface?" -- Rachel Abramowitz / LA Times: The Envelope
"The passionate outrage of groups like the Special Olympics ... which rallied outside the premiere of the film and demanded a boycott, has successfully diverted any negative attention from Robert Downey Jr.'s outrageous turn ... Downey's performance is undeniably funny, but might white critics also be tempted to overpraise him simply for having gotten away with something so forbidden? New York magazine went so far as to say that Downey "really does make a damn fine Negro," a comment that dips its paternalistic toe further into the tar of racism than anything in Downey's performance." -- James Hannaham, Salon.com
Leave it alone?: It’s only "comedy," and to make a point, filmmakers and audiences claim. Well, the absence of any black male actor Oscar noms, for a bevy of fine performances this year, makes us think we can’t even touch how messy this one is. Calm yourself with the fact that our beloved Heath may win for “whiteface”? Um, we're just being "ironic", of course!
Wrongness-meter: 4.5 out of 5 stars
KEEP READING: Doubt's sexual abuse issue?
Scandal: Seemingly sensible (black) mother mechanically turns the other cheek upon learning her son may be being sexually abused by a priest?
The Issue: No matter how you slice it, Viola Davis' stunning performance as the beat-down, mind-blowingly non-redemptive mother; a role that is supposed to draw sympathy and pose a logical response for her dilemma, is rooted to the fear of her abusive husband and her (looks-like-he-may-be-gay) young son. But what mother would stay entrenched in such denial, as to put her son in what could be harm's way -- without being reflective? Even as Meryl's Sister Aloysius screams at her to wake up to the possibility of molestation, what other onscreen mother would be that blind? Perhaps the other black mother role awarded at the Oscars in recent times: Halle Berry's in Monster's Ball. Hmm...
What the Press is Saying: "You see, the young man’s gay and therefore a social outcast beaten by his homophobic father, and so awful is all of this that maybe the best option left for him is at the hands of a sympathetic, forty-something, molesting predator. To her credit Sister Aloysius is horrified, but Sister Aloysius is portrayed in the film as her own kind of monster. So our sympathies are quite obviously supposed to be with a working class black mother stuck in an abusive household desperate to do anything to help her boy ... The film’s defenders will call this turn of plot, complicated, nuanced, realism … anything but what it is, monstrous." -- John Nolte, Big Hollywood
Leave it alone?: Viola's Mrs. Miller is having a hard time: her husband may "kill" her effeminate son whose already had to leave one school, or the nice priest with certain tendencies may be molesting her possibly gay son. Maybe her inability to see that both sides are potentially equal in danger has to do with her shock?
Wrongness-meter: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Scandal: When it comes to earning Best Picture nods, will animated films ever escape being categorized as a niche?
The Issue: On a lighter, yet still important note, several Oscar snubs, such as Sally Hawkins for Happy-Go-Lucky, have left folk shaking their heads. Namely one in particular, which points to the fact that, although technology has progressed, there's a certain reluctance to embrace animation in the Best Picture category -- as well as actors who give voice to animated characters; think the utterly overlooked Andy Serkis as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings.
What the Press is Saying: "There's a good case to be made that it was a mistake to nominate Wall*E only for Best Animated Feature and not Best Picture. It got a better critical reception than any of the movies nominated for the most prestigious award. As of today, Rottentomatoes.com says that Wall*E has a 96 percent positive rating based on an aggregation of movie critic reviews. That's higher than the Tomatometer registers for any of the five Best Picture nominees."
-- Matt Bandyk, U.S. News & World Report
Leave it alone?: We have a feeling this gem will get a highly coveted award, one way or another. So all's good.
Wrongness-meter: 2 out of 5 stars