Stay cool

Posted by · 4:16 pm · March 27th, 2009

Over a month after Sean Penn defeated Mickey Rourke in what was possibly the tightest acting race in recent memory, Cinematical’s Jeffrey Anderson has come up with an interesting take on how the outcome may actually benefit Rourke, and indeed “The Wrestler.” In short, he says, losing the Oscar allows them to retain their edge:

The Wrestler is just a couple of months old now, but it has already gained a certain type of following. It has actual fans; people love this movie rather than just admire it. Milk has become a good movie for students to watch in school, but The Wrestler is a film that they will choose to watch, in their free time. It’s a cult film now. And cult films don’t win Oscars. It automatically disqualifies them from cult status. A cult film is something that people discover on their own. If the Academy acknowledges it, then it has been plucked away and turned into something official. It has a stamp of approval, and cult films are all about not being approved.

I tend to agree, and this encapsulates why the Oscars tend to be antithetical to “cult” status — films seeking the former aim for a majority vote, while films seeking the latter tend to build on minority appeal. You only need look back to, say, “American Beauty” to see how the Academy’s endorsement can temper a once-venerated film’s cinéaste cache, while an also-ran like “The Insider” only gains in critical stature.

As such, a loyal audience’s “should have won” consensus on a film or performer can be more beneficial in the long term than an actual award: as Anderson aptly phrases it, AMPAS’ choices forever become “theirs,” while the beloved losers are “ours.” Of course, the Academy does occasionally luck into honouring an inarguably classic, for-the-ages piece of work — but such winners don’t necessarily attract the same fierce, personalised level of protectiveness from their fans.

Of course, between Rourke and Penn, it’s too soon to tell whether history is conclusively going to favour one over the other. But things can change around very quickly. Three years ago, in another very high-quality contest, Philip Seymour Hoffman eased to victory over Heath Ledger — like this year, an example of a brilliant Oscar-bait performance trumping work that was no less impressive, but in a less Academy-friendly register. However, even before Ledger passed away, there has appeared to be a growing sentiment that he was robbed; that Hoffman’s Truman Capote is “theirs,” while Ledger’s Ennis Del Mar is “ours.”

Does a similar differentiation await Penn and Rourke? In my part of the world, where “Milk” strangely struggled to hit home with audiences, it seems so. In America, it remains to be seen whether the cult appeal of “The Wrestler” will prove more lasting than many viewers’ considerable personal attachment to the legacy of Harvey Milk. Either way, if you love the performance, it belongs to you.

→ 10 Comments Tags: , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

10 responses so far

  • 1 3-27-2009 at 5:30 pm

    James D. said...

    That is a fascinating take.

    Rourke’s performance speaks to the audience, while Penn simply portrayed great craft.

  • 2 3-27-2009 at 7:07 pm

    Michael McKay said...

    It will be interesting to see where the career of Rourke goes from here. It might actually add to the cult status of “The Wrestler” if Rourke’s career goes back down the crapper in a big hurry, and he once again fades into oblivion.

  • 3 3-28-2009 at 10:03 am

    Tom said...

    I fimly believe that in 20 years, no one is going to care at all about “Milk.” People might still talk about Sean Penn’s performance, but once the political hubbub calms down and people look at it as an actual piece of filmmaking, they’re going to realize how mediocre and pedestrian it is. “The Wrestler,” meanwhile, is going to become a cult classic and Mickey Rourke’s performance is going to be iconic. Justly so.

  • 4 3-28-2009 at 12:45 pm

    head_wizard said...

    I have no real idea it is too early to say, I personally beleive Milk is a better movie and Penn is a better performance his best performance(and I am not gay) I watch Milk for fun The Wrestler I will probably never see again. But isn’t the its ours basically only with movies that lose as our comfort? I do that with Brokeback Mountain or Bill Murry’s performance in Lost in Translation. I am not certain that it will make them more beloved later it was a pretty close split on Penn and Rourke I am guessing it will not change that much even over time.

  • 5 3-28-2009 at 1:55 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    Whoa, look at that, my comment got deleted. Well, now I know I can’t go off-topic.

    Anyway, I was rooting for Rourke from the beginning, so hopefully this isn’t the last we hear from him, Oscar-wise.

  • 6 3-28-2009 at 2:12 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Server changeover issues, Robert. Apologies. No one arbitrarily deletes comments here.

  • 7 3-28-2009 at 5:09 pm

    richard said...

    i loved watching milk. it’s not a perfect film, but i didn’t want it to end. i will buy it and rewatch it.

  • 8 3-28-2009 at 11:41 pm

    adam said...

    So a cult film is a film that doesn’t win Oscars? Frost/Nixon is now a cult film then.

    I watched Milk last weekend and I’m not a film student. I would consider myself a fan of the film.

    According to that article a cult film is a film people discover on their own, then The Wrestler isn’t a cult film. Most people who were aware of Milk were aware of The Wrestler.

    There was just as much attention and awareness of Mickey Rourke’s performance and film as there was for Milk. There was far more hype over Rourke’s ‘comeback’ than Sean Penn’s performance. The Wrestler only made $6m less at the box office.

  • 9 3-28-2009 at 11:45 pm

    adam said...

    So because The Wrestler lost one Oscar, it is now a cult film?

    Doesn’t that just make a joke of what makes a cult film and the people who care about cult films.

    All this over analyzing about what makes a cult film a cult film seems very erm uncult.

  • 10 3-30-2009 at 12:38 am

    Troy said...

    “I fimly believe that in 20 years, no one is going to care at all about “Milk.” People might still talk about Sean Penn’s performance, but once the political hubbub calms down and people look at it as an actual piece of filmmaking, they’re going to realize how mediocre and pedestrian it is.”

    I just re-watched it, and I completely disagree with you. It is far from pedestrian. I mean, it very well could have been given the subject matter, but the acting, cinematography, editing, music, etc. were all superb, and this movie thrives, not because of its political message, but the things I just mentioned. No one is going to care about this movie in 20 years? Not gonna happen.