Roger L. Simon

An Academy Member Looks at Oscar and Act of Valor

I have to be honest. I was thrilled to be invited into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences back in the early Paleolithic Age (1985). It was a dream come true for a Jewish boy from New York who always wanted to write screenplays like his idol Budd Schulberg. In those days, I would view every movie assiduously and took my vote quite seriously.

A few years later (1989) when I was nominated for an Oscar myself for the script of Enemies, A Love Story, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Never mind that I had no chance of winning. I had been nominated.

But that was then and this is now. These days most everyone hates Hollywood and I’m no longer a good liberal — part of the Tinseltown team. I’m CEO of PJ Media, a notorious right-wing website, and persona non grata in Hollywood.

Well, not really. The truth is — though many conservatives don’t like to admit it — that everyone is discriminated against in Hollywood, not just them. If your name isn’t Spielberg, Scorsese, or Eastwood (himself a conservative, though you couldn’t tell from his recent Super Bowl ad), chances are you’re signing up for a lifetime of disappointment by placing all your hopes and dreams in the entertainment industry. Your parents were probably right and you should have stayed on for that medical degree.

But I really can’t complain. I’ve been more fortunate than most. And even though I have a scarlet “C” next to my name, I’m still a working screenwriter.

In fact, I’m more alive than I expected because, decades after Enemies, I have a personal rooting interest in these Academy Awards. A movie whose early drafts I wrote and that I almost directed ten years ago and for which I still retain the “story” creditA Better Life — is up for the best actor Oscar for Demian Bichir.

He won’t win either. The award will go to Jean Dujardin of The Artist — that film should, deservedly, clean up. And I won’t be at the Oscars myself this time. At $250 a seat for Academy Members it seems a bit much to watch other people win prizes. I’ll be at a private party where, doubtless, everyone will be making jokes and saying that movies are worse than ever, while waiting for some star or other to utter some puerile and self-serving left-wing blather.

Ironically, in the midst of this Oscar weekend folderol when Los Angeles shuts down like Cairo during Ramadan and everyone complains they have to drive fifty miles out of their way just to get to Whole Foods, a movie is opening that promises to be the first successful patriotic film in a long time: Act of Valor.

I caught the film the other night at a screening. (Yes, it’s true — none of us pay for movies. We all go to screenings. But the truth is it’s much better to pay. At least then you can leave when you want. If you go to a screening, you might mortally insult someone you know by exiting early.)

Anyway, I liked Act of Valor quite a bit. For those few who don’t know, it’s an actioner featuring real, live Navy SEALs battling adversaries who are for once actual Islamists who want to blow up America in the service of their deranged ideology, rather than redneck evangelicals or Wall Street fat cats hiding on a Caribbean Island. This is all the more impressive, since the Pentagon evidently approved the film and the upper echelons of our military have often been reluctant to even mention the word jihad (cf. Fort Hood), let alone lend their imprimatur to a movie.

Although no one could mistake Valor for a perfect film — the script is, shall we say, not Sunset Boulevard and some of the scenes with professional actors are more wooden than those with the SEALs — it is the SEALs themselves who make this movie an absolute must-see. Watching them live out their unbelievably terrifying daily work put me on the edge of my seat for ninety minutes. If what these SEALs do in real life is even ten percent of this, we owe them unimaginable gratitude. What amazing people. We are forever in their debt.

Act of Valor is also the first of the independently made “conservative” films actually to work for me. (No, I’m not going to name the ones that didn’t.) And its directors — Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh — deserve kudos, particularly for their action work. Next time they might consider hiring a more experienced screenwriter. (No, I’m not volunteering… Okay, yes I am.)

I would be remiss in not noting that some estimable writers on the right have criticized the film for a seemingly gratuitous bit of anti-Semitism. One of the two main villains turns out, in a moment of dialogue, to be Jewish, although he is in cahoots with the jihadist. This revelation did make me sit up straight for a second, but that part of the movie was by far the most banal and confused, so I kind of shrugged it off, hoping the film would get back to the SEALs quickly. (It did.) Nevertheless, it’s not one of the movie’s high points and another indication the filmmakers could use a little script help.

The critics, not surprisingly, are not liking Act of Valor. They’re wrong. Go see it. (And go rent A Better Life too. The critics liked that one, but don’t hold that against it. It’s a very different movie, but heartwarming. Would the writer steer you wrong?)

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