Probably because of the supposed, rather than actual, political incorrectness of GRAN TORINO, Clint Eastwood has fallen out of favor with the Hollywood liberal elite. INVICTUS, clearly and, in my opinion, undeniably the best American fillm of the year, wasn't even nominated. Nor did Eastwood receive a nomination for Best Director. Going just a bit deeper and more speculatively, I wonder if his masterpiece, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, although far too fine a piece of film-making to not be nominated in its year, began to cause his downfall in the eyes of the self-righteous Academy. That film, along with its companion, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, stand, when combined, head and shoulders over and above anything ever to have come out of Hollywood. Eastwood never has received recognition for his work as an actor. He should have been nominated for GRAN TORINO last year, and the omission of INVICTUS, an inspirational film, shames the Hollywood Academy. Of course it is unlikely that Hollywood would honor a film in praise of a successful revered contemporary communist.... The rugby sequences in the film have been called "poetry in motion" and there is an excellent interview with Julian Lewis Jones, the Welsh actor and rugby enthusiast who plays Etienne Feyder in the film @ www.dailypost.co.uk (January 26th). Eastwood is the first director since Lindsay Anderson (THIS SPORTING LIFE, with Richard Harris) to accurately portray the game. (Note that rugby League was portrayed in This Sporting Life and rugby Union in the Eastwood film, and as Jim Pennington of North London reminds me: this is important because of the "class" difference between the two, not simply that League is "professional" and Union is "amateur".) Several world class rugby players participate in the film, most notably Isaac Feaunati as the incomparable Jonah Lomu.... Matt Damon (coached in his rugby by Chester Williams) as Francois Pienaar gives the best performance of his career, and Morgan Freeman (who initially had purchased the book rights) as Nelson Mandela, melds into the role (as one critric had put it) as the film progresses until he seems to become, uncannily, the man himself. They at least were rightly nominated.
I will watch the Academy Awards, however, if for no other reason than to see what will doubtless be only a brief mention in their honor role of "people who died" this past year of the passing of a great genius of comedic writing, Larry Gelbart, truly one of the last, as they say, of the "good guys" who I had the pleasure of meeting in London in 1965, where he played shortstop (I think it was) in the weekly American expatriate Hyde Park softball game. He was kind enough to invite me to lunch with his wife, Pat, and then young family, and his grace, charm, and self-deprecating modesty (he was about to leave for Buenos Aires for the stage premiere there of A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM), and his desire to help a fledgeling writer like myself, remain in my mind images of nobility.