You blew it, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. As talented as Daniel Day-Lewis, Hugh Jackman, Denzel Washington, Bradley Cooper, and Joaquin Phoenix are, the nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role should have included the United States Congress for its astonishing performance in Fiscal Cliff Fiasco, a mash-up of the thriller and horror genres. As I watched Congress’s virtuoso display of the theatrical arts, I felt a range of emotions: outrage, sorrow, fear, but mostly utter disbelief. You have to hand it to an actor when he can make you feel so deeply, especially when the script is so lousy; after all, the outcome of the picture was clear from the beginning.
Perhaps the reason you overlooked Congress is that you would have had to mint over 400 Oscars for a single category. It’s one thing for Barbra Streisand and Katharine Hepburn to have split the vote in 1969 for Funny Girl and Lion in Winter, but the cost of producing so many golden prizes while the country is still mired in a recession would understandably have given you second thoughts.
Making matters worse is that you would have had to throw in almost a hundred more trophies to cover all of the nominees for Best Actress in a Leading Role. It’s only fair that the female members of Congress should share the glory with their male counterparts. The last time we saw such indelible performances by both genders in a single motion picture was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (an apt comparison if ever there were). Unlike the liberal bent of that film, however, the story enacted by Congress was truly nonpartisan; both Democrats and Republicans took command of the stage and delivered what Variety would call “boffo perfs.”
In spite of being stuck with a so-so screenplay, the entire cast of Fiscal Cliff Fiascogave what may very well be the greatest performance in the history of cinema. I’m reminded here of Jack Lemmon’s work in John G. Avildsen’s 1973 film, Save the Tiger (the apt metaphors roll on). That picture was widely regarded as middling at best, but Lemmon’s turn as Harry Stoner, a dispirited middle-aged businessman coming to grips with life’s disappointments, was rightly seen as a career topper. He showed that it’s possible to move an audience deeply, even though the story in which he participated was merely “meh.”
It’s not news, of course, that you have snubbed so many deserving performers. John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Nancy Pelosi, and the rest of our national representatives now join the ranks of Joseph Cotten, Errol Flynn, Rita Hayworth, and so many others whose talents you never formally acknowledged. Maybe you can get it right next year, since the sequel, Tax Reform Terror, is sure to be a humdinger. It’s too bad, though, that the producers won’t be able to make use of the marketing slogan for another noteworthy horror picture, Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left: “To avoid fainting, keep repeating, ‘It’s only a movie, only a movie, only a movie….'”
Is it any wonder why Congress is routinely near or at the bottom of Gallup’s annual poll of ethics and honesty in the professions?
A version of this post was published originally in USA Today.