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Oscars: You win some, you lose some

Q. Was the academy honoring "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" or the entire trilogy with its onslaught of awards? I'm asking because it seems unfair to ask one film to compete against three. The movie deserved all of its technical awards, I'm sure, but I don't think it belongs in the same breath as "Ben-Hur" and "Titanic."

My personal opinions about the tedious and charmless "LOTR" series aside, maybe in the future, the academy will create a special achievement award for a series of films so that voters won't feel obligated to give the major awards to the final part. They could have saved the best picture award for a film with even a touch of emotional depth, like the delightful "Lost in Translation" or the gorgeous "In America." Jesse Cunningham, Lafayette, Ind.

A. The parade of honors to "LOTR: ROTK" did seem a bit like a retirement banquet. Along with his Oscar, maybe they should have given Peter Jackson a gold watch.

Q. Did you see how upset Bill Murray looked when he didn't win the Oscar? I don't recall the last time a nominee looked so clearly disappointed (everyone else pretended to be happy for the others, smiled and clapped!)

I hope Bill will be all right. I have a feeling he's going to be quite depressed for a while, or perhaps this is just a strategy, so next time when he's nominated, the Oscar voters will remember that he really wants an Academy Award. Antony Chen, Vancouver, Canada

A. A lot of people, me included, predicted he had a chance to win. It was a wonderful, nuanced performance. Billy Crystal was graceful in assuring him after the announcement, "Don't go, Bill. We love you," which inspired an ovation.

At least Murray won the Independent Spirit Award for best actor, given the day before, when his speech was a gem, including the observation: "Half of the people in this room are more dressed up than on any other day in the year, and the other half are more dressed down."

Q. When they started honoring stars who had passed away in 2003 by showing their pictures over the Oscar stage, to my surprise and horror, Leni Riefenstahl was included. OK, I'll be first to admit it: "Triumph of the Will" is one of the most remarkable films I have ever seen, and its propaganda value is second to none. Moreover, as an historian, I can also recognize the film's tremendous influence upon 20th century history.

For many years, "Triumph of the Will" was the official face of the Nazi Party throughout the world, and rivals Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" in terms of its long-term historical impact. That being said, how can we honestly pay tribute to Leni Riefenstahl? This was a woman, who, to my recollection, never once came clean about her activities during the Third Reich, and was as compulsive a liar as any apologist who ever survived the war. This is not to say that we should never forgive anyone who lived in Germany during the Hitler era. Were roles reversed, the fact is most of us would have behaved in exactly the same way as the German people did during the '30s.

Nevertheless, Riefenstahl never had the courage to own up to her legacy. I believe that for the academy to honor such a woman is a disgrace. What is more, for the audience to dutifully clap when her picture was flashed is a testament to its boundless stupidity. Anand Toprani, Ithaca, N.Y.

A. Actually, the way I heard it, the applause dropped off audibly, and might have been even more subdued if some audience members had not been clapping on autopilot. The Academy Award tributes do not, as I understand them, represent a value judgment about the lives of those mentioned, but simply acknowledge the passing of important figures in the history of film.

To make Riefenstahl a "non-person" would have been in the totalitarian tradition of those who erase those they disagree with from history. Her films served evil but cannot be ignored, any more than "Birth of a Nation" can.

Q. Why not put a little perspective on the "Passion" box-office figures by comparing it to the biggest religious movie hits of all time, "The Robe," "Ben-Hur" and "The 10 Commandments"?

According to the Web site (go to, the adjusted, modern-day grosses for those films are $394 million, $590 million and $789 million respectively (and the American population was lot smaller back then).

I don't think Mel's film will even come close. Heck, even the latest "Lord of the Rings" film only clocks in at No. 49 on the all-time list. Jim Judy, Washington, D.C.

A. Wow, you're right. It's three places below "The Bells of St. Mary's."

Q. I just returned from seeing "The Passion of the Christ." Had I been able to wrench my attention away from all of the horrified children gasping in the audience, I might have appreciated it more.

I can understand parents showing up at this film with their children expecting something different, but after a few minutes of the tremendous violence shown onscreen, I would have thought more parents would have spared their children further horror. Shouldn't ticket sellers offer some kind of warning to parents showing up with good intentions and young children? Carson Utz, Novato, Calif.

A. I'll go further than that: No responsible parent would allow a child to see the film. "The Passion of the Christ," the most violent film I have ever seen, received an R rating from the MPAA because the group, which exists in part to quell the fears of churchgoing America, lacked the nerve to give it the NC-17 rating it clearly deserves. This becomes an unanswerable argument for my recommendation of an A (for adults only) rating between the R (which allows parents to take in children of any age) and the NC-17, which is irretrievably associated with pornography.

Because many theaters refuse to book NC-17 films, and many media outlets will not advertise them, imagine the irony if their own policies had forced them to boycott "The Passion of the Christ"! Let the MPAA bring back the X, which everyone understands, for porno and establish a useful adults-only rating for films that are not pornography but are simply unsuitable for children.

Q. In your review of "The Passion," you mention that you review a movie based on its intentions and not your expectations. I'm a 21-year-old college student and I thought that "Bad Boys II" set out to become the most lurid and graphic action movie for my generation to enjoy, for entertainment value only, yet you reviewed the movie horribly. Is it because "The Passion" appeals to you more that you reviewed it in this kind manner? Jon F. Kull, Quakertown, Pa.

A. One can, of course, review a movie based on its intentions and yet despise them.

Q. With incredible dishonesty and misinformation, film critic Roger Ebert used his review of the film "Osama" to launch into a tirade against the Bush administration for letting the Taliban come back into Afghanistan and "not finishing the job."

The fact is that the movie was made about Afghanistan UNDER the Taliban, not the post-Taliban period. If anything, it's a movie that shows just how horrible things were under the Taliban and why an invasion was justified. But of course Ebert felt entirely comfortable twisting the facts for his own political tendentiousness. Bob Schneider, San Francisco

A. I was mistaken, but not deliberately. The movie was indeed filmed after the liberation of Afghanistan, which I applauded. But as the film's official Web site states: " 'Osama' examines the lives of the Afghan people while under the Taliban's control, but the film also highlights lingering problems that exist even though the Taliban rule has ended."

Many believe that the war in Iraq diverted American resources from finishing needed tasks in Afghanistan. There are reports that the Taliban is re-establishing itself in some areas. The Afghan opium crop once again supplies the world with drugs.

Q. In your review of "Twisted," you quoted Oscar Wilde as having said, "To kill one lover may be regarded as a misfortune. To kill three seems like carelessness."

Is that actually a paraphrase of a quotation from "The Importance of Being Earnest," in which Lady Bracknell points out, "To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose both seems like carelessness."

Did Wilde write both or was I witnessing a little poetic license? Name withheld, Los Angeles

A. Have we lost all sense of irony and fun, and are we raising a generation of literalists and gradgrinds? Three people were so humorless as to "correct" me on my little joke.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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