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Film Talk: Oscars

With Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 22, 1999


Rita Kempley By Craig Cola/
Todays' special Academy Awards talk has ended with Rita Kempley, who has been reviewing movies for The Washington Post for the past 20 years. Here's her top 10 of 1998.

Today's questions covered Roberto Benigni, why "Shakespeare in Love" beat "Saving Private Ryan" for Best Picture and Whoopi Goldberg.

Come back 2 p.m. Friday for Rita's weekly film talk. Below is a transcript of today's talk.

Washington, D.C.: Don't you think "Eraserhead" creator David Lynch should have received an honorary Oscar? After all, he never named names.

Rita Kempley: Yes, I do think David Lynch was robbed of yet another honorary Oscar. Thanks for reminding me. Somehow I just keep forgetting about "Eraserhead's" impact upon society.

Washington, D.C.: "Shakespeare in Love"? Ok, it was cute. I laughed a bit, it was well made, but is it one of those films that I'm going to take with me in my heart for years? No! Epic? No! Memorable? No!

Isn't this a first for a comedy to win best picture?

Rita Kempley: "It Happened One Night" swept the 1934 Oscars, actress, actor, picture and so on. But comedies seldom go home with the little naked dude.

Burke, Va.: Why do you think "Saving Private Ryan" generally got passed over? That it came out almost a year ago? That the Academy thinks Spielberg and Hanks have won enough Oscars? Discomfort with war movies?

Rita Kempley: I think the Miramax publicity machine out-manuvered Dreamworks. Maybe Spielberg was overconfident, too..

New York, N.Y.: why are producers given the award of the best picture instead of the director?
(I'm French and in France the director is the one who receives the Cesar of the best picture)

Rita Kempley: The producer provides the money, plain and simple. Do they also give best director Cesars?

Arlington, Va.: What was with that dance sequence for the Best Dramatic Score? Don't you think it would have been better to show the scores with the movies they represent? Also, why the shut-out of Thin Red Line. I thought it definitely would have won Cinematography.
Back to the caffeine.....

Rita Kempley: It looked like disco night at a bondage nightclub. Yes, but then it we would have missed the "Life Is Beautiful" flamneco. Thin Red's prize was being nominated. Enjoy the javene.

Vienna, Va.: What was the deal with John Glen & the tribute to historical figures in movies.

And I found the Debbie Allen dance routine embarrassing.

Rita Kempley: You have lots of company re Debbie's dance routine. It harks back to the Rob Lowe-Snow White pas de deux, don't you think? The biopix thing was weird and I haven't a clue what that was all about. .

Bethesda, Md.: I don't understand why Val Kilmer trotted out that lovely horse?? Did I miss something?

Rita Kempley: I think the horse was some relative of Trigger's and Val was leading into a tribute to Roy Rogers and other stars gone to Hollywood Heaven.

Arlington, Va.: Do you think Roberto Benigni was really deserving of the Best Actor Oscar?

Rita Kempley: I think all the actors were deserving this year. But I liked both Nolte and McKellen were more so than Benigni. His acceptance speeches were the show's highlight, don't you think. He was so joyful.

Washington, D.C.: Didn't "A Thousand Clowns" also win Best Picture?

Rita Kempley: Nope. Don't think so.

Washington, D.C. : Pardon me for departing, but just WHAT impact did "Eraserhead" make on society?

Rita Kempley: That's a question for the "Eraserhead" guy. If he's still with us, I am sure he will be happy to offer a detailed response.

Washington, D.C.: I kinda like that no film swept this year. "Shakespeare," "Saving" and "Life Is Beautiful" were all good, and none really rose well above the others. Are you surprised that momentum didn't veer toward just one?

Rita Kempley: Me, too. I am surprised that "Saving Private Ryan" didn't win more awards. Especially best picture and adapted screenplay. I'm delighted to see that Gods and Monsters at least won the last. We have about 30 minutes left in this live talk with Rita Kempley. Please keep your questions and comments coming.

Tysons Corner, Va.: Dear Rita,
Did you enjoy "Ryan"? I found it god awful violent and lacking in plot. I haven't found other women who enjoyed it.

Rita Kempley: I don't think we're suppose to have enjoyed "Ryan." After the landing at Normandy, I thought it turned into a fairly run of the mill WWII combat drama.

Louisville Ky.: Gwenyth Paltrow. Today's bon bon or long-term meal?

Rita Kempley: I'm thinking bon bon. But then I picked Cate Blanchett to win best actress oscar..

Centreville, Va.: Come on, Rita, don't duck the Whoopi Goldberg question. She was abominable. Surely you don't think she'll ever be asked to host again! Right?

Rita Kempley: Dear Centerville
There sure are a lot of folks freaked by Whoopi. I'll share with you.

Towson, Md.: Can someone please explain to me what's the deal w/ Whoopi Goldberg ?

Why is she still getting work?

Who does she have incriminating photos of in Hollywood, that allows her to be on the TV?

Rita Kempley: Centreville meet Towson. I'm sure she has some incriminating photos of Ted Danson. Who knew he was so powerful?.

Fairfax, Va.: "Annie Hall" won best picture. Was that in 1977? I was also pulling for "Babe" a few years back, man, I wanna be like that pig.

Rita Kempley: Yes, thanks. Rooted for the pig myself..

Baltimore, Md.: Rita, you haven't answered the main question: what did u think of last night's oscars ?
How do u think Whoopi did ?

Rita Kempley: I thought they were on the dull side, too long -- but that's as it should be -- Whoopi was a Hollywood apologist, self-impressed, tacky and changed clothes too many times. But that's what I like about the Oscars. It's just like most years at the superbowl. ESpecially the halftime shows. Also Miss America. A ritual of enormous silliness, America's royalty doing their schtick.

Washington, D.C.: The pig would have been a better MC.

Rita Kempley: Babe was on location and turned down the gig.

Cleveland, Ohio: After all the hype, don't you think the Kazan moment was anticlimatic and a bore?

Rita Kempley: yes

Arlington, Va.: To the Tyson's Corner idiot:

"Saving Private Ryan" was "god awful violent" because it was based on the harsh reality of the Normandy invasion. That's why they call it a "War" film. If you can't handle that, stick to Meg Ryan chick fliks.

Rita Kempley: From one Virginian to another

Sacramento, Calif.: Well, I could certainly see how someone from Centervile would get "de-centered" (to use bad, deconstructionist pseudo-lit crit film talk) over Whoopi. I thought the costume bit was hilarious in some cases and her humor is always a bit off-color... which in Centerville would be a problem. What was the name of Truman's town, Pleasantville... no, that's another American fairy tale. I'd be pretty certain the Academy was getting when it decided on Whoopi.

Rita Kempley: I love your rage

Atlanta GA: James Coburn. Didn't see his performance. Was that sympathy vote or what? He looked dazed and confused all night long.

Rita Kempley: Not a sympathy vote, more like a pocketwatch for year's of long service. But he did give a good performance in Affliction..

Vienna, Va.: Fear I lost interest in the Oscar ceremony early ... More excited to see who wins the Post's "Pick the Winners" contest. Seems like it's anyone's game. How many of your picks won, Ms. Kempley?

Rita Kempley: I'm doing better in the March Madness Pool and I have Gonzaga taking Duke ...

Arcata, Calif:

Come on, Rita, what do you have against Arcata?

Rita Kempley: Next to Bolsa Chica, it is my favorite Ca. destination.

Washington, D.C.: Rita: If you had been in the audience, would you have stood up and applauded or remained in your seat when Kazan received his honorary Oscar?

Rita Kempley: sit on my hands.

Gaithersburg, Md.: I think the academy showed its liberal bias in several ways: having Whoopie skewer only conservatives, denying the war epic a justified best picture, and (some) failing to applaud Kazan (why didn't they object when Hanoi Jane got her Oscar?).

Rita Kempley: But didn't she skewer Clinton? But you're right. Aside from Chuck (NRA poster child) Heston, the movie industry is absolutely liberal. I don't think liberalism had anything to do with "Ryan" thought..

Sacramento, Calif.: Heck, I wasn't even angry with Centerville... just amused. Thought your take on Whoopi was just right. It is a silly, shallow, self-indulgent show. What Hollywood does best every nite on TV, generally speaking, but sometimes movies can be transcendent and takes us to places we could or even sometimes should see.

Rita Kempley: I just thought your answer was fun, so I passed it along. Yes movies should be transcendent and they should take us places we've never been before. I though all five films did that this year.

Washington D.C.: You're being way too soft on Benigni. He was an embarrassment. Thank goodness I'm not Italian, or I'd be hanging my head in humiliation. I'm in despair because now he'll be a presenter in the future...I feel sorry already for next year's best actress.

Rita Kempley: I'm sorry about your despair. But I've been a fan of Benigni's ever since Down By Law

Washington, D.C.:

Don't you think they could cut the show in half if they did a separate program dedicated solely to the dead stars of Hollywood? Geez, the show felt more like a wake than a celebration ...

Rita Kempley: Yes, that's it. The Half Dead Oscars.

Birmingham, Ala.: At the risk of sounding like my mother, I think Whoopi is tasteless and undignified, which might be fine for a stand-up routine, but seems woefully out of place at the Oscars. (PLus, her Ken Starr jokes are several weeks too late.) And at the risk of REALLY sounding like my mother, what's with the stringy hair on Helen Hunt, Rita Wilson and others? On your big night of nights, wouldn't you try to LOOK like something?

Rita Kempley: The string hair is chic, or so they think. I'm still trying to get over Jenna Elfman's hair at the Golden Globes. I call it "don't give a damn hair.".

Herndon, Va.: But Rita don't you admire Kazan for showing up due to the advance bad publicity. I thought that took guts

Rita Kempley: Guts or complete senility. .

Los Angeles: I thought I saw an essay entitled The Lost Art of the Acceptance Speech on the Post website but cannot locate it now. I think it's shameful that the Oscars wastes so much and then winners get rushed -- aren't they the whole purpose of the show? You can find Sharon Waxman's article at

Rita Kempley: yep. They could lose some of terrible patter that's written for the presenters.

Washington D.C.: Speech of the night? Jim Carrey's.

Whadd'ya think?

Rita Kempley: Absolutely correct. Honest, funny and he and "The Truman" Show were robbed.

Washington, D.C.: Rita:

You are the best: the Half Dead Oscars. Sally Kirkland would finally get her due; Bob Mackie could provide 'half dresses' (See Cher ANY year!); and Best Supporting Actress nominees would only have to be on screen for 4 minutes!!

Rita Kempley: Thanks for the vote of support.

Reston, Va.: What was your take for the most striking acceptance speech for the night? My pick, the Japanese woman who won for best short (documentary?) and Benigni's. Paltrow looked like she'd gotten off a roller coaster.

Rita Kempley: I agree. She was a joy. As for Paltrow, I don't mean to be rude, but where are her breasts?.

Birmingham, Ala.: Well, if you ask me, they could all take a lesson from Annette Bening: elegant and chic, without looking like a starving refugee who dressed in the dark. No wonder Warren finally gave up the single life.

Rita Kempley: We didn't ask, but are delighteed to hear from you anyhow.

Springfield, Va.: ME-OW!

Rita Kempley: thanks for your insight. Thanks to you all for your questions and comments. I'd also like to thank my husband for his support, this chat is for him. And my producer, Vic. Love ya, baby ... That's all folks! Please join Rita Kempley again this Friday at 2 p.m. EST for "Film Talk," her weekly live Web session devoted to everything about movies – even "Eraserhead."


© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post

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