Talking Pictures: Oscars devotion

Peter Warden recaps the 88th Academy Awards

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Peter Warden (left, in a Ross Valley Players production of ‘Arms and the Man’) says that he cares more than he should about the Oscars. Photo by Robin Jackson.

By David Templeton

Better than the Super Bowl.”

That hyperbolic declaration appeared the morning of February 28, on the Facebook page of local film fan, actor and blogger Peter Warden. It was the morning of the Oscars, and after a “friend” noted that for Warden, the Oscars were very likely as exciting as the Super Bowl, Warden affirmed that, yes, he was excited, and that, actually, to him, the Oscars are even better than the Super Bowl.

“I care about the Oscars a lot more than I should, probably,” Warden confessed, a few days later.

Ratings for the Oscars telecast were down a bit from last year, but critics and film fans are still discussing, debating and analyzing the show, from the matter of who won what and how racist the Oscar Academy is, right up to the show itself, which had its share of highly discussable, hilariously odd moments. There may have been fewer viewers than in the past, but the 2016 Oscars will go down as one of the strangest ceremonies in its 88 years. Warden contributed to the experience by running constant ongoing commentary on his Facebook page, making jokes, offering observations and reacting, with clever asides, to every major Oscar award announcement.

“It was well-done, I thought,” Warden says of the show, one day after the broadcast. “It was pretty enjoyable, overall. I thought Chris Rock, as the host, was pretty funny, though I had no idea who Stacey Dash was when he brought her out on stage with him.”

Dash is a FOX News commentator who recently claimed that Black History Month should be abolished. She also didn’t think much of the #OscarsSoWhite campaign that arose to protest the lack of diversity in this year’s nominations and to call for change. During the show, Chris Rock announced that, in response to the lack of non-white actors in the nominations for acting, Dash had just been named the new head of diversity for the academy. When she appeared on stage to say, “I cannot wait to help my people out,” you could have heard crickets, were it not for the resounding thud the joke was making all through the auditorium.

“I eventually did some research, and figured out who Stacey Dash was,” Warden says. “It’s still kind of hard to find that funny, I think.”

Warden is fairly well known, by face anyway, in Marin County, especially to cineastes and bibliophiles. In addition to being a steadily cast Bay Area stage actor, he works at the downtown San Rafael Library, seeing to the needs of the reading public, and also serves as assistant manager of Corte Madera’s Century Cinema Theater—one of the only remaining single-screen movie emporiums in the country, and also one of the best, according to a vast number of Bay Area film lovers.

“I work at the library in the morning, and the theater at night,” Warden says. “It’s kind of a busy schedule, but I work with it. And working for a library and a theater, I definitely get the full spectrum of pop culture.”

Which brings us back to the Oscars.

Spotlight won for best motion picture,” he says, the shock still audible in his voice. “I really didn’t see that coming. I was kind of rooting for Mad Max: Fury Road to win, just because it was the dark horse. “Spotlight was a better movie though, overall, so I was happy to see that happen, though based on past years, I’m not really used to the actual best film of the year going on to win the best film award, so it was a lot to adjust to.”

Warden’s personal favorite nominee was Room, the story of a kidnapped woman (Brie Larson) who is locked in a tiny shed and impregnated by her rapist; she creates a fantasy world to keep her son’s spirits alive until they might have a chance to escape. Gandhi it was not.

“It didn’t have a shot,” Warden admits, “but I was very happy to see Brie Larson win for Best Actress, because she did an amazing job in that movie.”

Despite his delirious devotion to the Oscars, Warden believes that most award programs are a bit pointless, and possibly harmful.

“When it comes to acting and to art, it’s hard to choose what is really best,” he says. “Giving a performance in a movie is not like doing a gymnastics event at the Olympics. How do you judge a piece of art, claiming that one actor’s choices—or the depth of her emotions, or the believability of their line deliveries—are better than another actor’s choices? If they’ve all done good work, it’s hard to pick a best, so it comes down to popularity, or timing or something else.

“And that’s just not really very fair,” he continues. “But aside from that, the Oscars are still fun, because it’s important to honor the contributions of the artists who create all of this entertainment for us every year.”

And this year, as had been widely discussed, some of those actors risked life and limb to bring us that entertainment.

“DiCaprio, in The Revenant, withstood freezing temperatures and all kinds of horrible things,” notes Warden, who nevertheless felt that DiCaprio’s nearly wordless performance—which won him the Best Actor trophy—was perhaps less deserving than the almost-as-silent performance of Best Supporting Actor winner Mark Rylance, in Bridge of Spies.

“Both actors spent a lot of time staring into space,” Warden says, “but with Rylance, you could always tell what he was thinking, and with DiCaprio, I was never sure when he was acting and when he was just sitting there looking miserable.”

It’s funny, isn’t it, that the big winners this year were those actors who spent most of their screen time acting silently. It was not too long ago, at the 84th Academy Awards, that the Best Picture winner was the silent film The Artist. Does Warden think that films might be making a return to less wordy scripts, with more long shots of actors staring into the camera?

“I hope not,” he says with a laugh. “As an actor myself, I have to say, I like words. The more the better, usually. But I have to admit, it’s harder to communicate emotion without speaking, so, I don’t know, maybe the Oscars are onto something.”

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