September 18, 2019

Academy Awards — not the greatest night for the Tribe

Sunday evening’s Academy Awards ceremony wasn’t all that great for the Jewish and Israeli film talent present, but it could have been worse.

“Lincoln,” the early frontrunner in the Oscar race avoided a near total shutout with a best actor trophy for Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role.

The half-Jewish actor is the son of actress Jill Balcon, whose parents immigrated to Britain from Latvia and Poland.

The film’s other top nominees, director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner, were less fortunate and went home empty handed.

On the brighter side, “Argo,” which chronicles the rescue of six American hostages during the Iranian Revolution, came on strong at the finish, wrapping up the best picture title.

Grant Heslov, the picture’s co-producer with George Clooney and star Ben Affleck, accepted the golden statuette and film editor William Goldenberg did likewise in his category.

Two documentary features centering on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were among the five finalists in their category, but failed to garner the top prize.

In “The Gatekeepers,” Israeli director Dror Moreh interviewed six former heads of the Shin Bet anti-terrorist agency, none of whom had any good words for the policies of the primer ministers under whom they served.

The second entry, “5 Broken Cameras,” jointly directed by Palestinian Emud Bernat and Israeli Guy Davidi, viewed the confrontation between Palestinian villagers on the West Bank and Israeli soldiers protecting a new settlement.

Carrying off the documentary Oscar was the predicted favorite “Searching for Sugar Man,” about an American folk singer unrecognized in his own country, who becomes an idol in South Africa.

In the recent past, Israeli movies have scored well in the foreign-language film competition, making the top five shortlists in four of the last five years.

This time around, Israel was represented by “Fill the Void,” a sensitive portrayal of life and love in a haredi (fervently Orthodox) enclave in Tel Aviv.

Probably none of entries from 71 countries could have topped the winner, the superb Austrian film “Amour,” which examines the marriage of an elderly French couple, tested when the wife suffers a stroke.

However, “Fill the Void” was eliminated in the first cut and part of this disappointing showing can probably be attributed to the film’s anemic promotion effort.

While less accomplished films from other countries staged press screenings and arranged interviews with their directors and actors, the Israeli movie’s producers and distributors failed to make such rudimentary efforts, treating their product almost like a national security secret.

On Oscar night, in the absence of Billy Crystal and other Jewishly attuned hosts of previous years, first-time master of ceremonies Seth MacFarlane stayed away from the typical Jewish Hollywood jokes during the introductory monologue.

The show made up for this omission in the second part of the evening, when Ted, the X-rated stuffed teddy bear of the same titled movie, made an appearance.  In a skit, Ted “revealed” that his birth name was Theodore Shapiro and he was actually born Jewish, which he figured would assure his acceptance into Hollywood’s ranks.

He followed up later with a joke about Hitler, of all people, and a puzzling shtick involving the von Trapp family of “Sound of Music” fame and a black-uniformed SS man.

After that, it was a relief to welcome back Barbra Streisand in a soulful rendition of “The Way We Were” in a tribute to the late composer Marvin Hamlisch.