'Passion' and Heat BY BRIDGET JOHNSON January 21, 2005 While speaking about Hollywood and politics to a Republican women's luncheon recently, I noted that an oft-heard response among conservatives is, "I don't go see movies anymore; it's all garbage." Most of the audience agreed with this assessment as I launched into my talking points on why modern film isn't all garbage and conservatives need to support what they like at the box office to see more quality films. But you can't blame an audience that has grown weary of the Alec Baldwins and Barbra Streisands, who find too much smut in film for their liking, who feel there's no room at the cineplex for their moral and political views, who are sick of politicized Oscar shows. This year, before the Golden Boys have even been yanked from the carton, before the nominees are even announced on Tuesday, it's all Red-Staters with a distaste for Tinsel Town can talk about. Will Hollywood take revenge on the Bush election by crowning Michael Moore? Will they scorn Jesus in a fit of anti-Christian rage? "Fahrenheit 9/11" vs. "The Passion of the Christ." It's an epic battle of good vs. evil, infinitely more audience-grabbing than "Alexander" and far better at making money. The thing fans of both films have in common is believing it will be a travesty of the highest degree if their film does not win, no matter who else is in the running. The films could face each other in the best-picture or best-director category. But neither was nominated by the Directors Guild of America, whose winner has also picked up the best-director Oscar 50 out of 56 times, nor by the Producers Guild of America for best picture. Both are long-shots for the best-picture Oscar. Mr. Moore eliminated himself from the documentary category, which would force the hand of sympathetic Academy voters toward a best picture nomination, but his awards to date from film critics' circles have mostly been confined to the documentary category. Except for the People's Choice Awards. The People's Choice Awards formerly used Gallup polling to elicit votes from moviegoers and arrive at a result somewhere in the realm of statistical accuracy. But this year it used Internet "polling," which made ballot-box stuffing not only possible but inviting for those with an agenda. It's hard to believe that the warm and fuzzy ogre of "Shrek 2," which was No. 1 at the box office and won the other five awards for which it was nominated, would have gone down to a fuzzy-faced leftist ogre in a Gallup world. Or maybe the campaign blitz for "Shrek" wasn't hefty enough. Either way, Mr. Moore ditched the New York Film Critics Circle awards to get some face and prognostication time on the People's Choice Awards. "He chose the non-award over the award, the patronizing TV show over a dinner with peers, the photo op over the credibility op," wrote New York Daily News film critic Jack Matthews. "He chose to patronize the public as bastions of good taste and to pretend that his anti-Bush screed had captured the fancy of a nation." Mr. Moore has waged an Oscar battle for his screed with a hearty helping of "for your consideration" ads, media appearances and hobnobbing events. Mel Gibson, on the other hand, has refused to take out Oscar ads for "The Passion," for which he can hold his head high. Mr. Moore's ad blitz raises an important question: If you have to beg for the Oscar, do you really deserve it? "The Passion" was not created with a stroll down the red carpet in mind, and who needs awards when you're charged with the task of getting people a little closer to understanding a heavenly reward? As far as awards, the audience jumping to its feet upon the film's People's Choice Awards favorite-movie-drama victory spoke louder than an Internet poll and was immensely satisfying. But many of my fellow conservatives are truly upset that "The Passion" wasn't nominated for a Golden Globe, was passed over by the Directors Guild and Producers Guild, is being ignored by critics' awards, and is being left off top 10 lists for 2004. The main reason is cited as an anti-Christian bent. But I'm not ready to cover all of Hollywood with the same pagan paintbrush. When you give out more than 10 four-star ratings in a year, somehow the list is going to be whittled down. Take Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper, America's most well-known film critics, who both left "The Passion" off their 2004 top 10 lists ("Fahrenheit 9/11" didn't make the cut, either). The pair gave "The Passion" two thumbs way up in their reviews and defended the film both on their show and in print. "What Gibson has provided for me, for the first time in my life, is a visceral idea of what the Passion consisted of," wrote Mr. Ebert, who gave the film four stars. "I myself am no longer religious in the sense that a long-ago altar boy thought he should be, but I can respond to the power of belief whether I agree or not, and when I find it in a film, I must respect it." Said Mr. Roeper: "This is the most powerful, important, and by far the most graphic interpretation of Christ's final hours ever put on film. Mel Gibson is a masterful storyteller, and this is the work of his lifetime. You have to admire not just Gibson for his vision and his directing abilities, but Jim Caviezel [as Christ] and the rest of the cast." Some critics, like A.O. Scott from The New York Times, pummeled "The Passion," some praised it, and many hung on the fence. Reasons the film has been shunned in awards and the accolades season probably range from personal taste, to religious discrimination, to its release date early in the year. And it isn't often mentioned that Mr. Caviezel was nominated for best male performance at this year's MTV Movie Awards. I predict the only thing Michael Moore will walk home with on Oscar night is rolls from the Governors Ball stuffed in his pockets. And this won't be because the hearts of liberals in Hollywood have particularly healed from seeing President Bush elected to four more years, but because "Fahrenheit 9/11" will be bested by a good film. And "The Passion" probably won't be nominated in any of the major categories, to the disappointment of the film audience that made it the No. 3 grossing film of 2004. In grand Hollywood tradition, late-year releases will have won voters' hearts. That doesn't leave a conservative film audience with all stinkers in the running. There's "Hotel Rwanda," bringing attention to the 800,000 slaughtered in the 1994 genocide--one of the greatest failings of the United Nations, the Clinton administration, and mankind in general. Family flick "The Incredibles" surprised many by making the Producers Guild's best-picture nominations. We saw other good, non-political films that just entertained, like Jamie Foxx's magnificent performance in "Ray" or the beautifully crafted "Finding Neverland." As I ended up telling the Republican women's luncheon, I still love modern film and have hope that it can rise to greatness with more ideological diversity in its talent pool. And I love watching the Oscars. When Mr. Moore used his "Bowling for Columbine" acceptance speech to rant and rave about his hatred for the president, he not only elicited boos from the audience but left the TV audience miffed. It's not that we disparage his right to free speech (or free screams); it's that people aren't watching the Oscars to get a political lecture. People watch because they love the movies, because they want to see the dresses and their favorite stars. I thought Tim Robbins and Sean Penn deserved their Oscars last year for "Mystic River," but found myself cringing when they took the stage for their acceptance speeches, and was slightly relieved when Mr. Penn made only one small crack about weapons of mass destruction. Whoever the Oscar winners are on Feb. 27, it would behoove them to remember the immortal words of "Network" writer Paddy Chayefsky. After Vanessa Redgrave prattled about Zionist hoodlums in her 1977 Oscar acceptance speech, Mr. Chayefsky, as a presenter, went off script and said, "I'm sick and tired of people exploiting the occasion of the Academy Awards for the propagation of their own personal political propaganda. . . . I would like to suggest to Miss Redgrave that her winning an Academy Award is not a pivotal moment in history, does not require a proclamation and a simple 'thank you' would have sufficed." That's even better advice today, because a mad-as-hell audience may not take it anymore. Ms. Johnson is a journalist and screenwriter in Southern California.