As many have looked to Sochi for the thrill of victory, an overly long Oscars race has roiled in controversies. Most are silly, like: Does the inaccurate science of “Gravity” taint the film? Then there is the argument about “The Wolf of Wall Street” celebrating moral depravity.
The biggest controversy, though, involves 22-year-old child-molestation allegations against Woody Allen, who is nominated for an Oscar for best original screenplay for “Blue Jasmine.”
A November Vanity Fair article about Mia Farrow first revisited the scandal. Then, the Golden Globes tribute to the iconic filmmaker sparked some commentary. But the open letter in tThe New York Times on Feb. 1 by Allen's adopted daughter, and alleged victim, the now 29-year-old Dylan Farrow, set off a firestorm. In her accusations, she even called out Cate Blanchett, Oscar nominee and star of Allen's “Blue Jasmine,” and others for even working with Allen.
Allen, it should be noted, was never prosecuted and has denied any wrongdoing.
Yet many in Hollywood and elsewhere quickly weighed in on the filmmaker's guilt or innocence. Though Allen, 78, responded with a New York Times editorial repudiating the charges, his reputation had already suffered.
Lena Dunham, the 27-year-old “Girls” star, quickly tweeted that Farrow was “courageous” and stood up for women who have been sexually abused. On Feb. 7, Rosie O'Donnell said on “The View,” “I firmly believe Dylan, and I believe Mia.” Barbara Walters, also from “The View,” came to Allen's defense, as have others.
How this affects the Oscar race is the least of concerns. Child molestation is a serious offense, as is any sexual assault. But one of this year's foreign language nominated movie — the Danish film “The Hunt” — is about a teacher who is thought to be a pedophile because of a young girl's confused memory. He's innocent, and never charged, but the stigma remains because many people prefer to think the worst.
Details of the original scandal are too complex to explain here. Allen and his former partner Mia Farrow were in an acrimonious custody battle over Dylan in 1992. All of this is available on the Internet, but often reported with some sort of bias.
More important, sexual crimes in America have been horribly underreported. A study by the National Research Council released last November found that as many as 80 percent of sexual assaults go unreported to law enforcement and support service agencies, which are then unable to give victims the help they need.
Then there's the McMartin preschool case which went on for six years with allegations of massive child abuse and satanism that proved untrue. Coverage was often sensationalized and unsubstantiated, and because of the way social workers asked questions, children's recollections were directed toward creating incidents. Through the 1980s into the mid-1990s there was a kind of hysteria. While untrue or mistaken memories are not unique even in adults, family dynamics are.
The reopening of the Allen-Farrow dispute will never reveal the truth, and celebrities shooting from the hip don't help. Since the matter is long out of the courts, the public shouldn't be involved.
The topic of conversation should be about increasing awareness of all sexual crimes, including the rise in incidents of rape in the military and on college campuses. If celebrities really want to contribute, they should be doing public service ads about that.
Meanwhile, the reprehensible behavior in Martin Scorsese's best picture nominated “The Wolf of Wall Street” has some accusing the film of glorifying the excess it depicts. The movie chronicles the rise and fall of stockbroker Jordan Belfort; starring Leonardo DiCaprio, it is a portrait of white-collar crime and hedonism in the 1990s.
“Three hours of torture,” one academy member wrote after seeing it. Meanwhile, DiCaprio has been spending a lot of time defending the filmand pumping up his own best-actor chances.
The film, which surprisingly didn't get an NC-17 rating for its graphic depictions of sexuality, has problems. Glorifying the excess is not necessarily one of them. If anything, it made disgusting behavior boring rather than titillating, despite hordes of naked women.
The real failure of the film is that it went nowhere. White-collar greed and debauchery is old news. Belfort's story is one note — over and over and over. At least the characters in a great Scorsese film such as “Goodfellas” had their arcs, even if they were mobsters.
As for the erroneous science of “Gravity,” it creates a giant hole in the plot. The spectacular film from Alfonso Cuaron has Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts who had been repairing the Hubble Space Telescope when they are marooned. Their only hope, Clooney's character tells Bullock's, is to head for the International Space Station.
“It's a long hike, but we can make it,” he says, wearing a jetpack. The rub: The telescope is 353 miles high in an orbit that keeps it near the Equator; the space station is about 100 miles lower in an orbit that takes it far north, over Russia.
While some scientists have carped about this, maybe it will get people in this country — especially young people — to actually think about science. According to a recent worldwide assessment, American 15-year-old students are ranked 30th in math and 23rd in science. So maybe “Gravity” will turn on the light for some students or, at least, have them wondering where the light comes from.
So does any of this matter to the average Oscar voter — likely to be about 62-63 years old, white and male? Who knows? Do the Oscars even matter?
What about that magical Oscars box office bump? This year, the nominations have done little for the smaller films. Only “Philomena” (four nominations) has cracked $31 million. “Dallas Buyers Club” (six nominations and on DVD) and “Her” (five nominations) languish in the mid-$20 million range, and “Nebraska” (six nominations and on DVD) has less than $20 million.
“12 Years a Slave,” with nine nominations, has taken in around $50 million, but that is anemic compared to past Oscar-touted indie films such as “Black Swan” (more than $100 million) and “The Fighter” (close to $90 million).
Big-budget films “Captain Phillips” and “Gravity” made the bulk of their money last fall when they were released. The other two major films — “American Hustle” (more than $144 million) and “The Wolf of Wall Street” (more than $112 million) — were likely helped by the Oscar hype because they were released in December. The nominations were anounced in Januray.
And who are going to these films? According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last Sunday, 1,433 Americans were asked if they had seen any of the nine Oscar-nominated best pictures and 67 percent said no. “Captain Phillips” had the highest ranking with 15 percent; “Gravity” had 14 percent, followed by “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “American Hustle” at 12 percent each.
Still, people will tune in to the Academy Awards telecast, which will be hosted by comedian Ellen DeGeneres, but probably not for the races or controversies. It will be, as always, for the glitz, glamour and spectacle. The rain is expected to let up by then, and no one wants anything to be ugly, so DeGeneres will avoid any unpleasantness in her opening segment or anytime during the evening. She likely will talk about what everyone else is talking about in Hollywood, “The Lego Movie.”
Follow Rob Lowman on Twitter: @roblowman1