A movie about a pig gets best film nod glow figure

February 19, 1996|By Mike Littwin

DON'T THINK less of me for this, but I haven't seen the pig movie. And since I have no children under the age of 12, I don't intend to see the pig movie.

This is a risk, I know.

Usually, I see all five Oscar-nominated movies, just so I'll have something to say in case I'm met with this question: "Dude, are you down with the pig?"

You see, it's a columnist's job to have something pithy to say on all topics, no matter how arcane.

For instance, say somebody walks up to me and says, "Whaddya think of Pat Buchanan?" I'm ready with "New Hampshire today, Sudetenland tomorrow." (Which, admittedly, is not as good as columnist Molly Ivins' line at the '92 GOP convention when she said Buchanan's speech was better in the original German.)

But what do I say about a pig movie?

To tell you the truth, I never expected it to come up, especially since I spend surprisingly little time walking elementary school hallways.

The weird thing is, we were having lunch some months ago when actual grown friends of mine were discussing "Babe." You should have seen the warm glow on their faces. Don't you hate a warm glow on a grown man?

When I heard the word "Babe," I figured they were talking about Babe Ruth. Or maybe Connie "News Babe" Chung. The kinds of things guys talk about.

"No," says one of my friends, still glowing. "It's a movie about a pig who thinks he's a sheep dog."

I'm waiting for the punch line here and all I'm getting is glow. It's like Three Mile Island visits the lunch table (now, that could be a movie).

Look, there are many great animal movies. "Bedtime for Bonzo." "Duck Soup." Not to mention the famous lobster scene from "Annie Hall."

What gets me is that "Babe's" nomination for best picture is being hailed as some kind of breakthrough. Supposedly, this nomination shows that stodgy, old academy voters are hipper, less traditional, younger. Yeah, I'd say much younger. How many votes did Macaulay Culkin get?

It's not that I'm against kids' movies, per se. I saw "Toy Story" because I figured any kids movie that uses Don Rickles has to have some subversive quality to it. This movie had it all. It made you laugh, it made you cry. It made you wonder if anybody will ever be as big as Tom Hanks is right now.

What was the problem? Was the lead character too wooden? Was the movie too techno? Was it Rickles?

No, the academy was as traditional as ever, meaning it overlooked some of the best movies in favor of, well, "Braveheart."

The three best mainstream movies of the year were "Leaving Las Vegas," "Dead Man Walking" and "The Usual Suspects."

"Las Vegas" may have been overlooked because it was the 100th movie on Las Vegas made this year. And yet, both lead actors and the director were nominated. Also the screenplay. Like, what's left?

Here you've got the story of a drunk determined to kill himself with drink and a prostitute who finally decides to let him. Yeah, it's a love story. If there's any justice (there isn't), Nicolas Cage has to be best actor.

Tim Robbins directed "Dead Man Walking." In his last stint as director, he made "Bob Roberts," a look from the left at media and politics. It was self-indulgent. It was sophomoric. I loved it.

This time Robbins made a grown-up movie about capital punishment. It's no polemic. It tells both sides of the story with such evenhanded poignancy that you forget which side you're supposed to cry for.

It's a powerful issues movie that makes you think and also entertains you. No wonder it didn't get nominated. That would have been a real breakthrough.

"The Usual Suspects" was just fun, even more fun than the also-overlooked "Get Shorty."

Which brings us to "Braveheart." I didn't see that either. I saw "Rob Roy" and figured I had the Scottish revolution oeuvre covered.

Of course, Mel Gibson put a new face on it. It was a blue face, the blue paint he splattered all over his face. That's called directing.

Hollywood loves stud actors who want to direct. Not only does somebody give them $50 million to make a movie, they get nominated for best director as if they'd actually done something wonderful.

The worst example of this phenomenon would be Kevin Costner, who made the insufferable "Dances With Wolves," the kind of movie that made politically correct into dirty words. It was revisionist hooey and Costner came out of it with a coronation.

There were some good movies nominated this year. Start with "Sense and Sensibility" in the "Masterpiece Theatre" category. Then there's "The Postman" in the foreign category. And "Apollo 13" in the ain't-America-swell category.

Who's going to win?

I don't know what to say.

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