I have often referred to California and Hollywood in particular as Granola Land. You know, because it is home to so many fruits and nuts. I have visited Hollywood and Vine on a few occasions and seen a lot of very strange things that have strengthened my opinion.
When I sat down to attempt to watch the Academy Awards presentations Sunday night I realized that Hollywood is indeed a conundrum, at least as far as I am concerned. You see, I love movies. Always have. Ever since I was a small boy watching Bing Crosby play Father Flannigan in “Boy’s Town” and Johnny Weissmuller play Tarzan every Saturday morning, I have been mesmerized by the Silver Screen.
I love the old stars — Gable, Bogart, Heston, Marilyn Monroe, Henry Fonda — and those of my generation — John Wayne, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Jack Nicholson. I love the work of the current crop of stars — Morgan Freeman is my favorite current actor — but I wish they would act more and pontificate less.
Therein lay the rub as I settled in to watch the annual celebratory party the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences throws for themselves every year. By the way, does anybody miss Bob Hope on Oscar’s big night as much as I do? They could at least make Billy Crystal the permanent host.
But I digress. I watched the proceedings Sunday night, wishing the speeches and the awards themselves could be less political. Honesty compels me to admit that I had seen very few of the movies nominated for anything, so I didn’t really have a dog in any of the fights, so to speak, when they started handing out the hardware. Nonetheless, Sunday’s show was not one of my favorites, until …
When they called out Matthew McConaughey’s name for Best Actor in a lead role the evening took a definite turn for the better, at least from where I was sitting. Until Dakota Fanning and Jack McBrayer win their first awards I suppose Matthew McConaughey will remain the only Best Actor winner that I have encountered in an up close and personal way. You gotta hear this story.
It must have been about eight or nine years ago. McConaughey was in Atlanta, filming “We Are Marshall,” the incredibly uplifting movie about the rebuilding of the Marshall University football program after the disastrous plane crash that wiped out their entire team in 1970. McConaughey was staying in a motor home out at Stone Mountain Park, to avoid the hustle and bustle and aggravation of downtown Atlanta.
I was speaking at a camper’s rally. Having arrived early, I had set up my book display under the pavilion in the campground and was just hanging out, waiting for my function to begin. A familiar looking man in jeans, sneakers and a T-shirt wandered up and began perusing my books. He looked very familiar but I couldn’t quite place him. I went over to talk to him and asked the inevitable question, “Have we met before?”
He laughed, flashed that gleaming smile, and let me off the hook by introducing himself. We chatted a little while about the movie he was filming and why he was living in a motor home. He bought a book — “Need Two” — and wandered off into the woods. I’ve seldom met a more genuine and down-to-earth person than he seemed to be.
Naturally, I was thrilled when he won Sunday night. When he made his acceptance speech he renewed my faith in Hollywood — at least the part of it he represents. He stated that he needs three things in his life — someone to look up to, something to look forward to and a hero to chase.
Matthew McConaughey was not ashamed to say that he looks up to God and acknowledged that he could have achieved none of his accomplishments except through the grace of God. He said he looks forward to coming home to his family every day and got choked up when he started talking about his mama and them. And he explained that his hero was himself, 10 years down the road. What he meant was that he hoped to keep growing and to finally become a man that he could admire.
What a great speech. What a great actor. What a great person.
I had not seen the movie, “Dallas Buyer’s Club,” for which McConaughey won his award, but I rented it Monday night. It is an excellent film, but not for the prudish or the faint of heart — or spirit — because it tells the gritty true story of a homophobic IV drug user who contracted AIDS during the terrible early days of that epidemic.
Matthew McConaughey was magnificent. I would not have recognized him, except for the unmistakable Texas twang in his voice. He lost 40 pounds — from a frame that didn’t have 40 to spare, to be able to play the role of emaciated AIDS victim Ron Woodruff who, at the beginning of the movie was given 30 days to live.
I won’t give out any spoilers, but the story told by the film was one of courage, dignity and human perseverance — with the emphasis on human. Like I said, it ain’t for everybody and I wouldn’t watch the movie with my mama or my daughter, but man what a performance!
And what a breath of fresh air to know that nice guys don’t always finish last — not even in Hollywood.