Why do I watch the Oscars every year? They so seldom get it right; even when they slip up and actually nominate something original and intelligent, the award usually goes to something else. (Exception: last year’s trophies for No Country for Old Men.) But I watch anyway, out of habit, I guess. I didn’t have much of a rooting interest in this year’s ceremony, aside from Mickey Rourke and WALL•E. But I watched.
• I now have to live with the knowledge that Slumdog Millionaire, the year’s overrated ode to “destiny,” now has eight Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay. Notably absent from awards recognition: any of the actors. Indeed, aside from Resul Pookutty (one of three who won for Best Sound Mixing) and A.R. Rahman (Best Score and Song), the faces at the podium were all lily-white.
• Big disappointment of the night: Mickey Rourke’s loss. Nothing against Sean Penn; he did a fine job reanimating Harvey Milk. But Penn already has an Oscar, and this was probably Rourke’s last best shot at one. Also, I wanted to hear Rourke’s acceptance speech, since the one he gave at the Independent Film Channel Awards (here) was the funniest such speech ever given.
• Hugh Jackman acquitted himself well enough, though two musical numbers were probably one too many. Jackman didn’t do anything very embarrassing or inappropriate or, well, memorable. This means he’ll likely be asked back again next year.
• The Rodney Dangerfield “I Get No Respect” award goes to Best Cinematography, during which the nominees’ names were laughed over when Ben Stiller (in bearded Joaquin Phoenix drag) wandered the stage like John McCain. A better idea would’ve been to have Christian Bale hand out the award and then yell at the winner for five minutes.
• What crack-addled monkey was working the camera during the In Memoriam segment? Often, the camera pulled back so far we couldn’t see who was on the auditorium screen or read the names. Next year, just play the clips for those of us at home. (You can see it without the distracting camerawork here.) And where was George Carlin in the tribute? Last I checked, he had sixteen films to his credit. I mean, damn, they included Vampira (which, as a fan of ‘50s horror schlock, I did appreciate) and various publicists and studio executives, but no Carlin. I could fill this column with other omissions (Eartha Kitt, Sam Bottoms, Robert Prosky, Forrest J Ackerman, Paul Benedict — and that’s just from last December).
• Jerry Lewis’ acceptance of his humanitarian award was short and to the point, and he was looking fit, though the 82-year-old funnyman is beginning to show his mileage; he kept doing a weird thing with his jaw, which I don’t think was meant to be mugging. He seemed a bit pained.
• That new thing they’re doing with the acting awards — having five previous winners stand there and soliloquize about the current nominees — was a nice buffer for the losers, I guess, but it just added minutes to an already-overlong show. I would rather have seen a clip of each actor from the nominated performance, as before.
• Despite all the tweaking to attract more eyes to the show, after last year’s poor showing (lowest-rated Oscars ever), Oscar 2009 only showed a six-percent uptick from 2008. Hugh Jackman shouldn’t be blamed for this; nobody should, really. It’s just that hardly anyone saw any of the five Best Picture nominees (Jackman even sang about how he hadn’t seen The Reader yet; have you? I haven’t) — and though the Oscars shouldn’t turn into a completely populist event honoring only box-office titans, the sad fact is that if most Americans don’t have a favorite or two to win, there’s no drama and therefore no audience. Giving the nominated films a wider release would help, or even making them available for a limited time on-demand on cable — or streaming video online — for about $5 a pop. If the Oscars want to stay relevant, they’d better shake hands with technology.