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Music For Relief Concert
Mark Mainz  /  Getty Images
Comedian Chris Rock performs during the "Music For Relief Concert" at the Wiltern Theatre on January 17. He will host the Academy Awards this year.
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 2/3/2005 2:28:25 PM ET 2005-02-03T19:28:25
COMMENTARY

Apparently someone needs to teach comedian Chris Rock what it means to be a good host. One of the things it does not mean is insulting your guests before they even receive the invites.

Rock, who will host this year’s Academy Awards on February 27th, handed out his insults (with raised lettering) in a recent interview with Lola Ogunnaike in “The New York Times.”

“I am rooting for Jamie,” Rock told Ogunnaike, referring to Jamie Foxx who will most likely be nominated best actor for his uncanny performance as Ray Charles in “Ray.” “[A]nd if he doesn't win, I’m going to talk about it on the show.” He added, “I’ll take an Oscar from one of the sound or light people that win and give it to him… Jamie Foxx is not going to walk out of that place without an Oscar.”

Forget for the moment what an insult this is to the other, eventual best actor nominees (Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio and Don Cheadle are among the usual suspects). Forget for the moment what an insult this is to sound engineers and lighting people, who are apparently unimportant peons in Rock’s world. More than anything, Rock’s comments demonstrate a complete lack of understanding about how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences actually votes. So: School’s in session.


Oscarless lip-synchers
Question: How many African-Americans have won the Oscar for best actor? Two. A measly two. Sidney Poitier in 1963 for “Lilies of the Field” and Denzel Washington in 2001 for “Training Day.” Now a more pertinent question: How many actors or actresses have won the Oscar for portraying a singer whose songs they lip-synched in the film? Answer? Zero.

Admittedly the overall field of winners in music biopics is small to begin with — James Cagney in “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” Sissy Spacek in “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” F. Murray Abraham in “Amadeus,” and Geoffrey Rush in “Shine” — and the last two aren’t even singers. But Cagney and Spacek did sing as Cohan and Lynn. They won. Angela Basset lip-synched as Tina Turner in “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” She lost. Jessica Lange lip-synched as Patsy Cline in “Sweet Dreams,” and Jennifer Lopez lip-synched as Selena in “Selena.” They weren’t even nominated.

Jamie Foxx? A lip-syncher. Still a great performance, and, prior to Rock’s comments, I might have been rooting for him to win. But Rock’s comments are so classless — for a host — and they left such a bad taste in my mouth, I don’t know who to root for now. Maybe Don Cheadle. Yeah, let’s see what Chris Rock does with that.

Because if Chris Rock is suggesting that a Foxx loss is yet another example of the Academy’s rampant racism (of which, I agree, there are many examples), then I’d suggest he consider the lip-synch issue.

However, if Chris Rock is suggesting that Foxx should win because he delivered the best male performance of the year in “Ray,” then Rock knows even less about the Academy than I thought. With the Academy, “best” is meaningless. In fact, overlooking the “best” is basically what the Academy does best.

Which brings me to my second, and sorer, point.

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Affirmative action for Martin Scorsese
If Chris Rock had stopped there in the interview I doubt I would’ve cared enough to write this article. “Oh, okay, he’s rooting for Jamie Foxx. Not very classy for a host to mention that, but whatever. Now let’s get some coffee.” But the comedian doesn’t stop there. Instead he decides to play film critic for the day. His target? Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator.”

“It's a weird movie,” he says. “It’s well made, but a story about a rich guy who gets things done doesn't excite me. Oooh, he overcame obstacles, like how much money to spend. And he washed his hands a lot.”

At the moment, “The Aviator” is the odds-on favorite to win best picture. Because it’s the “best” film of the year? Please. It’s an over-long historical biopic with epic sweep (and the Academy tends to favor those) directed by a guy who’s considered one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation and who has yet to win an Academy Award for best director.

Let’s talk for a minute about Affirmative Action. I assume Chris Rock is familiar with the concept. He jokes about it in his recent HBO concert film “Never Scared.” So what’s a good definition of Affirmative Action? Perhaps…an attempt to right a past injustice? Does that sound good enough?

If so, then here’s the news: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences invented the concept of Affirmative Action. Because they are constantly attempting to right past injustices they’ve committed against this or that actor, or this or that director. Whoops, we haven’t given anything to Al Pacino yet! Here you go, Al. (Whew.) Whoops, Henry Fonda’s one of the greatest American actors in film history and we haven’t given him anything, and he’s about to die! Here you go, Henry. (Whew.) At the moment? They’re eyeing Martin Scorsese.

His film, “Taxi Driver,” is number 47 on AFI’s list of the 100 greatest American films of all time; he didn’t even get nominated for it. His film “Raging Bull” is number 24 on that list. He lost to a pretty boy actor directing for the first time (Robert Redford). “Goodfellas”? Lost to another pretty boy actor directing for the first time (Kevin Costner). He’s 0-4 with the Academy. He’s been screwed worse than Andy Dufresne in “The Shawshank Redemption.”

This was supposed to be Marty’s year. Payback. Affirmative Action for Martin Scorsese. And what happens? Chris Rock goes and opens his big mouth. Plays movie critic. Yeah, Mr. “Head of State,” Mr. “Lethal Weapon 4,” Mr. “Bad Company," I'm sure you know what a good movie is. How about this, Chris? I don’t do any stand-up, and you don’t do any movie criticism. Everyone’s happy.

What’s heart-breaking about all this is that I love Chris Rock. In his stand-up he’s unloaded some of the most pointed, spot-on commentary about American culture in recent memory. But messing with Martin Scorsese is just plain stupid; and, as a comedian once observed, “There’s no rehab for stupidity.”

Erik Lundegaard recommends “A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies” for anyone who cares about the history of film.

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