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Monday, February 26, 2007 

The Monkey Has DEPARTED Scorsese's Back

Being a black man, some readers may be inclined to give me a hard time about this blog seeing as how it's not about Forest Whitaker's Best Actor win for The Last King of Scotland or everyone's favorite full-bodied underdog Jennifer Hudson winning Best Supporting Actress for Dreamgirls. I'm extremely happy for them both, Lord knows I am. I am always rooting for "us"; I literally STOOD in front of my television with my fingers crossed for each of them (as well as Will Smith, Eddie Murphy and Djimon Hounsou) as their names were announced. I was moved by their genuine emotion and their recognition that their respective wins mean something not only to themselves personally but to our race as a whole during their humble and heartfelt acceptance speeches. It was an inspirational close to Black History Month.

But please understand, it was seeing Taxi Driver for the very first time that changed how I look at cinema. Talented as she may be, Jennifer Hudson was never on my radar until this year. Forest Whitaker, not to sell him short, has been around much longer and is an amazing thesp but until I actually see The Last King of Scotland for myself, my last memories of the big Texan are his portrayal of Lt. Jon Kavanaugh on this past season of FX's The Shield and the one that initially brought him to my and many others' attention, as a slick pool shark in 1986, in Martin Scorsese's The Color of Money.

In light of that fact, I think Forest would be forgiving of what is about to follow.


I had my fears that Clint Eastwood and his magnificently-directed and acted Japanese-language Letters from Iwo Jima would spoil my joy but it simply wasn't to be. Presented with the Oscar by a triumverate of powerful and influential director friends -- Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg -- 64-year old Martin Scorsese, at long last, won the Best Director statuette from the Academy last night. The film he directed, The Departed, starring Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson, also took home Best Picture.

And I couldn't have been happier.

A remake of the Hong Kong crime drama Infernal Affairs (whose plot always reminded me more than just a little of Woo's '92 kick-ass Hard-Boiled, something not helped by the fact that Tony Leung is in both) I knew The Departed was something special, even for Martin Scorsese, the second it was over. But I'll admit, at first, I was a bit skeptical.

For one, I hate American remakes of foreign film, especially ones from China; we always find a way to screw things up, completely miss the artist's intentions and toy wrongly with their original vision (critics and fans of Infernal Affairs have levied these compaints against The Departed, as well). Two, right from the outset, from the first time I saw the trailer and got a gander at the all-star cast, it felt as though Marty might be pandering to the public, going the extra mile to make this movie more accessible to the masses. Either way, his gambit paid off huge. And even a cynic like myself had to admit he was ultimately satisfied by the time the end credits rolled (Hell, I was grinning in my theater seat by the time the opening credits finally began about ten minutes in). As soon as I could power my cell phone back on, I immediately and randomly began dialing numbers, texting, instant messaging...whatever I could do to get the word out: "I don't care where you are, what you're doing, what time it is...get up off your ass and go see The Departed right now!"

The irony of all this is that I actually missed The Departed on its opening weekend. That particular weekend I made a promise to two female friends that I'd accompany them both to see the Dane Cook/Jessica Simpson vehicle Employee of the Month. I made a last ditch effor to change their minds at the ticket counter but for some reason, even though both consider themselves to be cinephiles, they insisted on sticking to our original plans. Don't think I've let either of them live it down.

And I'll be giving them an even harder time now that the 79th Annual Academy Awards are in the books and The Master, after giving us classics from Mean Streets to Goodfellas, from Casino to Gangs of New York, finally got what he has long and richly deserved. The most talked about losing streak in Oscar history is finally at an end. And it's about damn time.

I'm sorry, but "The Department" is not the best picture of the year. It's over-rated. It's not bad by any means, it's worth watching, but it's flawed. I enjoyed "Infernal Affairs" much more.

Scorsese should have won an Oscar years ago for one of his much superior works.

I'm black, so I'm all for black actors/actresses winning awards, but the Hudson win bothers me. I think you should have to pay dues in Hollywood before winning highest honor an actor/actress can receive. Perhaps this thinking is naive, but I just don't get all the hype around Hudson. Forest Whitaker on the other hand, is the best actor on the planet, so I was very happy to see him win. It was well deserved. I look forward to seeing "The Last King of Scotland".

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