LOS ANGELES, Feb. 13 (UPI) -- Just like the judging in Olympic figure skating, this year's Oscar nominations have inspired some puzzled head-scratching. Still, a little sympathy for the 5,600 Academy voters (and even for the Olympic judges) is in order.
One strikingly illogical anomaly in the nominations is the mirror image fates of the unique musical "Moulin Rouge" - which was nominated for Best Picture, but not Best Director - and the realistic war drama "Black Hawk Down" - which failed to receive a Best Picture nod, but earned a Best Director nomination instead.
Now, there's no question that director Ridley Scott did a masterful job on "Black Hawk Down," shepherding an enormous cast and crew through a difficult shoot on location in a Third World slum. Yet, there are probably a half dozen other directors who could have pulled it off.
In contrast, for better or worse, no director in the history of movies besides Baz Lurhmann could have (or, quite possibly, would have) made "Moulin Rouge," a musical set in 1899 Paris whose characters unaccountably burst into the Anglo-American pop songs of the 20th Century.
The Auteur Theory, which asserts that the director is the sole artistic creator of a film, is vastly overblown, but as supporting evidence for it, "Moulin Rouge" would be Exhibit A.
One likely reason for this particular inconsistency is that each category's nominees are chosen only by their professional peers. The Academy's directors are not only overwhelmingly male, but often have dominating masculine personalities. (For example, recent Oscar winning directors include James Cameron, Mel Gibson, Clint Eastwood, and Oliver Stone). Not surprisingly, the men who command huge film crews liked the ferocious war movie more than the outrageous musical.
On the other hand, the entire Academy votes for Best Picture nominations. (For the Oscars, they all vote for all awards.) While the Academy's still primarily male, it includes a vast number of actresses. And, especially in some categories like art direction, the Academy includes more than a few gay men. (Lurhmann, who is married, has always gratefully acknowledged his large gay fan base.)
Luhrmann's problem winning the votes of his macho peers is the converse of Canadian figure skater Elvis Stojko's long-running difficulties with Olympic judges. Stojko's masculine charisma makes him a crowd favorite. Yet, in his heavily gay event (for example, both Olympic male gold medallists from the 70s died of AIDS), Stojko, a karate black belt who often uses kicking and punching moves in his routines, has long been the odd man out with the judges. "The judges said they didn't like martial arts. I was told to get in touch with my feminine side," the macho Stojko once recalled. "I said, 'Buddy, I don't have a feminine side.'"
These examples highlight how hard it is to fairly compare works of art. The fundamental problem is that different kinds of people tend to appreciate different kinds of art.
At least in figure skating, there are rules. Although much of North America appears ready to lynch the five judges who picked Russian pairs skaters Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze over Canadians Jamie Salé and David Pelletier, their decision is at least somewhat understandable under the current guidelines.
The Canadians skated flawlessly, while the Russians made one medium-sized error and several small ones. The Russian pair, however, narrowed the gap in technical merit by skating an objectively more difficult program.
The other half of the marks is determined by "presentation" or artistry. The Canadians, skating to the theme from "Love Story," chose neither a refined classical not a bold avant-garde style. Their middle-of-the-road approach was pleasant enough on the eyes, but they didn't quite attain the beauty of the elegant Russian pair. "Presentation" is the official tiebreaker, so it's not hard to see how the Russians won.
In contrast, there are virtually no rules in Oscar voting. About the closest approach to a guideline is to try to make the movie industry look serious and important by voting for serious and important movies. Still, even that can lead to logical quandaries.
"Black Hawk Down," the most realistic war movie since at least "Platoon" in 1986, is obviously important to anyone wanting to be an informed citizen. As Trotsky, the founder of the Soviet Red Army, observed with tragic accuracy, "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you."
Yet, from a film industry perspective that should not be laughed at, "Moulin Rouge" is also important. It's the closest anyone's come to reinventing for the 21st Century a once glorious but now dormant film genre. Indeed, perhaps what this country needs from Hollywood is a good movie musical.
So, rationality only goes so far in judging art. Ultimately, the voter simply has to rely on gut feeling.