Monday, February 27, 2006

My Fondest Oscar Memories: 1998 - 'You make me wanna be a better man...'

On Monday, March 23 at the Shrine Auditorium in beautiful Los Angeles, California, the Oscars were held. I was in my second year at Morehouse at the time, and I lived with the uber-intelligent Otis (aptly named) Smart.

Tizzoe as was his nickname, knew of the importance of the Oscars to me, and allowed me to have the room from 8pm until the end of the show. He and I lived on the first floor of the Thomas Kilgore Residence Hall in room 113. Tizzoe had a 20 inch color television with rabbit ears that had perfect reception. See, he was a dual degree engineering major, so I am not surprised that we had the best reception on campus, cable or not. He wasn't just a major, he was the best in the whole department, so from time to time, random cats would come by and look for him so that they could get a hold of his notes, or receive tutoring from him. Most times, he declined the offers, but there was a list of 4 or 5 cats that he allowed me to tell them where he was actually studying. I was supposed to tell everybody else that he'd be in Douglass studying, when in actuality, he'd be in the balcony of Sale Hall Chapel. That's right, in the same room that Martin, Maynard, Andy, Malcolm, DuBois, Ali and Mays spoke, he was studying electrical engineering. Gotta love the House.

Anyway, I was extremely stoked about this year's Oscars because one of my cultural heroes, Jack Nicholson, was up for an Oscar for his portrayal of Melvin Udall in As Good As It Gets. I saw that film 3 times in the theater, and loved his seamless wordplay, and the undeniable attraction between him and the other characters.

Overshadowing 1998's Oscar telecast was the film Titanic. I liked only the last third of Titanic, when the boat was going down, and everything had gone haywire. That was entertaining to me, the rest of it was just sappy formulaic pap. King of the world, man please.

My choice for Best Picture that year was L.A. Confidential, which had it all; drama, suspense, comedy, acting unknowns for the most part and one helluva storyline. You tell me today, which movie holds up, Titanic or L.A. Confidential? Exactly. Titanic is easily one of the most panned Best Picture winners ever, and L.A. Confidential is still heralded as great art. It did win best picture from the Austrailia, Boston, Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Florida, Las Vegas, London, New York and Texas film criticis associations, respectively. The film also received eight Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Art Direction, Cinemetography, Film Editing, Score and Sound, but it only won in one category, a Best Actress nod for Kim Basinger, and most deservedly so.

Even the other pictures up that year were better than Titanic. Good Will Hunting, As Good As It Gets, and The Full Monty (well maybe not the last one).

Back to Best Actor. Up agains Jack were fresh faced Matty Damon as the title character in the classic Good Will Hunting, Robert Duvall in The Apostle, Peter Fonda in Ulee's Gold, and Dustin Hoffman in Wag the Dog. Damon was in some pretty heavy water, given the fact that all of the other nominees had either been nominated or won Oscars before. He too would walk away with a statuette that night, but for writing Good Will Hunting. He and Ben Affleck walked away with the award that Oscar gives the young up and coming talents: writing awards. Spike was nominated for his in 1989 for Do The Right Thing, Tarrantino won his in 1994 for Pulp Fiction, and the list goes on and on.

Though the field was heavy with big names, and though Damon probably gave the best performance next to Nicholson, it was still a beautiful thing to see Jack win. My Dad always rooted for Jack in the movies. Even as the Joker in Batman, my Dad was actually on his side rather than Michael Keaton's. Because of that, I too developed an admiration for Jack's work, and I even affected his speech patterns, not to mention he was the biggest Laker fan in the world, which made him that much easier to admire.

Nicholson had many great lines in As Good As It Gets, and here are a sampling of them:
"Think white and get serious!"
"Sell crazy someplace else, we're all stocked up here!"
"Don't look at me, I didn't name ya!"
"I think of a man, and I take away reason, and accountability..."

and of course

"You make me wanna be a better man..."

That line was used as his Oscar clip. There was never any real discussion about the disorder that his character suffered from, or why he was prone to politely racist, homophobic or sexist rants, albeit brief, but the character was flawed overall, and his redeeming quality was that he seemed to want to get better and be better. That line of 'wanting to be a better man' resonated so clearly I'm sure with men, that it makes one almost helpless not to use it when needed. And believe me when I tell you that when friends used it, it ALWAYS worked.

So, when they called his name, and he won, it was kind of a vindication for the redemptive quality in all of us, as long as we at least try to change, especially for the better. And when he dedicated his Oscar win to Miles Davis, Jack won me over for sure. Two greats of the arts, and though one was gone, he was hardly forgotten, and Jack wasn't going to let anyone forget that.

So, here's to Jack Nicholson, in my fondest Oscar memory of 1998, and to teaching us all the line that has helped many of my friends get off the hook.

I'm Joe and that's how I see it.


At Monday, February 27, 2006 9:20:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you feel about Three 6 Mafia performing at the Oscars?


Post a Comment

<< Home