Archive for the ‘oscars’ category

Oscar Night 2023

March 13, 2023


For us fans of Everything Everywhere All at Once, it was an embarrassment of riches. Even those of us who love Jamie Lee Curtis didn’t expect her to prevail over Angela Bassett, yet there she was, posing with her trophy alongside co-star Ke Huy Quan and then Michelle Yeoh and then “the Daniels,” who won for writing, directing, and producing the multiversal comedy-drama-whatsit. The fecund playfulness of the night’s most-honored film was about the only bright spot in an otherwise bland, dignified, somewhat tight-spirited ceremony. Ironically, for haters of EEAAO, the show will live in infamy; for the rest of us, we were glad it won, but little of the show itself is likely to stick with us.

Hosting for the third time, Jimmy Kimmel presided over a sober-sided, respectable evening. The subtext was, We’re not going to let The Slap happen this year. And it didn’t. But the Oscars need that underlying buzz of this-is-live anxiety to thrive and to draw viewers. Every few years, something unanticipatable and awful needs to happen, to keep people hooked. Kimmel didn’t host last year, but the first year he hosted, 2017, was also the year the wrong Best Picture winner was read out. Oddly — perhaps not, because nobody blames the host for mishaps like that — Kimmel was asked back the following year, then stayed home for a few seasons. Anyway, Kimmel acquitted himself solidly, his jokes neither sharp enough to invite wayward palms nor bad enough to stink up the joint. He set the tone, and the tone was, Let’s go easy this year.

I ended up seeing seven out of the ten Best Picture nominees (how’d you do?). Most of the movies in which I had a rooting interest got something to take home, though The Banshees of Inisherin now has the same number of Oscars as Elvis (zero, sadly). I was happy to see Ke Huy Quan and Brendan Fraser win, though in terms of Oscar-season narrative they were sort of the same story: comeback kids after years in the wilderness, pointing out the comeback and the wilderness whenever feasible, until one got tired of hearing their eager, grateful, tremulous voices and wondered if they would burst into tears if denied the Oscars they so clearly wanted. They got verklempt anyway. Jamie Lee Curtis, who looked genuinely surprised to win, was more affecting. She’s having a hell of a third act.

I wasn’t a fan of the new All Quiet on the Western Front, and though I rejoiced that it lost Best Adapted Screenplay to Sarah Polley and Women Talking — how are you gonna give Best Adapted to a movie that so widely misses the mark set by Erich Maria Remarque’s classic? — I kept grumbling as it picked up various other prizes, including one for Best Score. The most memorable part of that score is that “whonk whonk whonnnk” thing it does whenever war things are about to happen, sounding like Hans Zimmer’s pet goose. But Sarah Polley, once the tiny little girl Terry Gilliam almost got killed on Baron Munchausen, now has an Oscar for writing one of the year’s quiet triumphs. Women Talking is fine drama, maybe not great cinema, but good theater. Polley is intelligent and emotionally attentive, and she will make more good-to-great films; that future, with her win, got more likely on Oscar night.

Do I have to watch Elvis or Avatar 2 or the prestigious vomit-fest that is Triangle of Sadness? Nobody’s telling me I have to, so I’m gonna pass. The low-key shocker of the night, though, is that Spielberg’s The Fabelmans went home with bupkis. Once upon a time, an autumnal Tribute to the Magic of Movies by perhaps Hollywood’s most successful director/producer in history, with sentimental nods for Judd Hirsch and John Williams as well as for Spielberg, might have cleaned up. Not this time. The Oscars — I don’t mean to sound ageist — may be becoming a youngster’s game. Were they ever gonna make the 91-year-old Williams, the 87-year-old Hirsch, or the 76-year-old Spielberg creak their way up to the stage one last time? 

The downbeat tone of this year’s Oscars might owe to Hollywood’s essential insecurity, now more than ever. As Kimmel pointed out, 2022’s top ten box-office winners were all sequels or franchise movies. Something as stubbornly original as EEAAO seemed like the thing to reward, even though Hollywood doesn’t really understand it. Spielberg is out, the Daniels are in. And though it’s easy to cave to cynicism and say the Oscars are more about rewarding a campaign narrative than a work’s given qualities, it does appear that the good guys mostly won this year — even All Quiet makes war look grim and not fun, unlike Top Gun 2, with its invisible enemy from Somewhere, Planet Earth. That sequel, incidentally, lost Best Song, apparently composed by Lady Gaga in the highest anguish in her basement. I dig Gaga, but man, couldn’t she just have said “Here’s a song I wrote for the money”? (I for one would’ve respected that more.) When Gaga gets all dolled up to sit in the audience but then dials it way down to take the stage, something’s off. Bring back the Oscars where Gaga comes out looking like beef or a Blaupunkt car stereo. Give us back our ridiculous, our Monday-morning water-cooler gossip, our Oscar legends. 

Oscar Night 2022

March 28, 2022


And here I thought I’d have very little to write about this year’s Oscars. At least it looked a bit more like a typical Oscar show, after last year’s weird COVID-deformed ceremony. There were the usual bumps and awkwardnesses, but there always are. I figured the big take-aways would be Troy Kotsur’s signed acceptance speech (which was amazing) and the much-cherished-on-social-media detail of Zack Snyder’s Justice League winning the Best Cheer Moment (or whatever) for “The Flash entering the Speed Force.” 

Then Will Smith entered the Speed Force and got upside Chris Rock’s head for cracking a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head (she has alopecia). I spent a while thinking it was just a bit.

Truthfully, I was almost expecting Smith, when he went up to collect his Best Actor Oscar, to chuckle and say “Y’all thought I really smacked Chris, didn’t you?” But the longer and weirder his speech got, the more I realized it wasn’t a bit. All that exchange getting muted on American TV should’ve tipped me off, though that could’ve been part of the bit. (When I caught the uncensored footage on Twitter from Japanese TV, that’s when I knew for sure.) 

Where do I fall on this? Rock was being a prick. Smith lost his shit. I don’t think either one deserves a parade for his actions. But when your life partner has been living with alopecia for years — often a painful and traumatizing illness to treat and deal with — and along comes some asshole to snark about their head … I’m sorry, I can’t bring myself to condemn Smith. An offense had been rendered, and it needed to be answered. (It occurred to me during Smith’s harrowed “protector” speech that there may be something direr wrong with Pinkett Smith than just alopecia. We don’t know.) Wherever you fall on this, though, it was a powerfully strange moment, probably now part of the canon of “whoa” Oscar events already. 

As for the reason we were all supposedly there, eight of the categories were awarded before the show proper started, were taped, and were aired during the course of the night. Dune ended up with a good armful of technical awards — I guess I have to see it now. Jimmy Fallon will now have to introduce his bandleader as “Oscar winner Questlove.” The Power of the Dog may be the rare movie to win Best Director and nothing else. Lin-Manuel Miranda didn’t have to fret about not being there to complete his EGOT (his wife has COVID so he sent his regrets), since he lost Best Song to Billie Eilish, who now has a GO and just needs an E and a T. Prior to the Slap Heard ‘Round the World, the most emotionally fraught moment belonged to the puppy Jamie Lee Curtis was holding while memorializing Betty White. The puppy did not enjoy the lights and the noise one little bit and just wanted to quiver in his blankie. This might also describe Rami Malek.

The stuff the Academy thinks will pull in more or younger viewers — the fan-favorite “awards,” jettisoning almost a third of the awards from the live broadcast — are always beside the point. The Oscars are supposed to be overlong and clunky and corny, with lots of things to complain about. I would say it’s the rare Oscar-watcher indeed who watches the show with unconditional love and no roasting the outfits or the scripted presenter banter or the bathetic acceptance speeches or Sean Penn. Penn wasn’t even there, I don’t think, but earlier in the week he made a big show of announcing he’d smelt his Oscars if the show didn’t invite Volodymyr Zelensky to speak. Uh, Sean, I think the guy has two or three bigger fish to fry. 

The three hosts (Wanda Sykes, Regina Hall, Amy Schumer) were fine, and Schumer gracefully nodded at the elephant in the room — someone had to. The thing everyone will possibly still be talking about as you read this, though, will be a man defending his wife’s honor. Really it’s a classic movie moment. If you saw it in a movie you’d applaud Smith. But during this night about movies, about illusion and bullshit, came a moment that was very real. Approve of it or not, it was a clarifying belt across the chops, and a reminder that real, flawed humans make these films. Some wondered why the Academy didn’t disqualify Smith, or have him arrested. I didn’t wonder. That slap is the biggest thing to happen to this creaky-ass ceremony in years. The Academy better send Smith and Rock big fucking gift baskets. 

Oscar Night 2021

April 26, 2021


I have no special inside knowledge on why the Oscars ceremony did what it did how it did. So if there was a point to putting the Best Picture award before the two lead acting awards, I wouldn’t know. Some have said that Chadwick Boseman was expected to win Best Actor posthumously and that the show was leading up to that surefire emotional climax. And then … it didn’t. Best Actor went to Anthony Hopkins, who wasn’t there, even remotely. For me, a weirdo, this represented the final panel in a trilogy of matches between Hopkins and the also-nominated Gary Oldman, after Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Hannibal. Too bad that Hopkins couldn’t have been there for it. Too bad that the show itself couldn’t have been there.

Steven Soderbergh was running the show this time, and his influence was evident at the start, with the camera following Regina King to the stage as funky ?uestlove music played and the credits flashed as in a Soderbergh film. A lot of other choices just seemed weird. The idea, I take it, was to produce a cinematic show, and when groups of nominees were announced, the camera would swoop between them fluidly, as if Scorsese were moving it and it would pause on Jimmy Two-Times as he went to go get the papers, get the papers. Some of it fell into the deep Drawer of Nice Tries, and some will never be attempted again. But oddly, away from the discomfort of it, I admire whatever it was that Soderbergh tried. He did his damnedest with what must have been a logistical clusterfuck even without the complications of live musical performances.

It’s just that whatever has gone wrong with the Oscars precedes COVID-19 and the prohibitive protocols the show needed to observe. I miss the bold, terrible, tasteless Oscars of my younger Oscar-watching days. Those Oscars are long gone; so are the films that fueled them. The show has become timid, too reflexively recoiling from anticipated blows from Film Twitter. They’re going to try to be woke, or at least to look woke, but they’re going to do it in a pallid, half-surly fashion. Soderbergh and his director Glenn Weiss tried to muster some sincere engagement; more than once the camera caught sign-language interpreters working for the benefit of deaf attendees, adding the disabled to the diversity project in a way the voters didn’t — witness the nominated Crip Camp, which lost to what quite a few commentators referred to as “the fuckin’ octopus movie.”

As happens more often than not, Best Picture went to one of the nominees I least wanted to get it (at least it wasn’t Mank). So fine, the crypto-corporatist uplifting meme of a movie goes home with the big prize. I love Frances McDormand, but man, she had two of these things already and I would’ve been happy with a Carey Mulligan win. At least Promising Young Woman got Best Original Screenplay, shutting down Chicago 7, the only one of the Best Picture nominees to go home empty-handed. There were choices I hated and choices I didn’t, but an attempt was made to spread the wealth a little. No one film clocked more than three wins.

The thing about Boseman is sad the more I think about it, though. Yes, his performance was perhaps not his best, but people win all the time for not their best work. Putting him in the running for Best Actor was, one would think, an easy way to reward his fine work during his tragically short career. A great movie-movie ending to the show, hearts swelling up as the sparse audience rises in ovation for someone who won’t hear it. Did they put all their chips on Boseman getting the sympathy vote? And, not to overthink, but could it be that voters resisted or resented being manipulated into voting for someone who can’t benefit from it any more anyway, or saw through the attempted narrative and wanted to short-circuit it?

Whatever the reason, I can’t find any angle to feel good about this. Hopkins was great, he’s always great (maybe Riz Ahmed, also great, could’ve used it more), but what this means in the starkest and most basic sense is that Chadwick Boseman never won an Oscar and never will. That’s done. He’s done. Now, that part is reality, and it’s surprising to find the Academy acknowledging reality. The magic of movies can’t bring Boseman back, nor can the encomia of his peers in the craft. On the other hand, it shows the Academy doesn’t quite have the woke thing down yet. Snazzy as the sets were, the optics were sometimes terrible. Laura Dern at one point was way over to the left on your screen, and Daniel Kaluuya was way to the right, and she started talking to him, and the Black man had to crane his neck awkwardly to listen to the white woman talking to him about him. I promise you that this never crossed either of their minds, and I cherish Kaluuya and Dern. But … not a good look.

Oscar Night 2020

February 10, 2020

oscars 2020 As do many movies, the Oscars ended with a bang (or a Bong), but you had to sit through a lot of dross to get to it. I can’t be the only one who flashed back to one of those “secret Oscar voter” interviews where the subject said she didn’t want a foreign film to win Best Picture like a “regular film.” Well, what Bong Joon-ho and Parasite pulled off was the loudest clapback to that mindset imaginable. First it won Best Original Screenplay, and that’s when I first started thinking, Hmm. Then it took Best International Feature (formerly Best Foreign Film). Fine; everyone thought it would. Then Bong won Best Director — whoa, that shut down a couple of films, but this just happened last year (Alfonso Cuaron for Roma), so it’s not unheard-of. And then it happened: Parasite made Oscar history by being the first non-English-language film to win in the non-English-language category and Best Picture.

Before then, though, it was another bland Oscar night without many surprises. It began with a meant-to-be-rousing number by Janelle Monae about representation in movies that might’ve gone down better in a year that offered representation in movies. Honestly, though, a lot of stories about the less privileged are being told — just not in movies. In this moment, you’re more likely to get a human-scaled story financed on one of the streaming outlets. Just ask Martin Scorsese and Noah Baumbach, nominated for their work on movies bankrolled by Netflix. Of course, being on Netflix didn’t help Eddie Murphy or anyone else involved with Dolemite Is My Name. Then people wonder why some folks resented the Oscar love for Netflix movies about old white men or rich white couples.

Two speeches seem to stand in for the whole night, and are also two sides of the same coin. Joaquin Phoenix’s speech started off bumpy and nervous but gradually resolved itself into an expression of hope that we can do better. Renee Zellweger … yeesh, I think her speech is still going on. The speeches existed on either side of the line between basically good self-indulgence and bad, presuming-your-patience self-indulgence. I almost felt sorry for Bong Joon-ho having to keep going up there for more trophies — leave the man alone to get a drink. A good problem to have, I guess. I don’t envision any circumstances under which I would voluntarily watch Judy, so I can’t speak to whether Zellweger deserved her second twirl in the lights. I was good with Joker winning exactly what it did (Actor, Score) and no more. I was fine with Pitt’s triumph, and I dig that Laura Dern now has an Oscar (maybe I’ll have to watch Marriage Story for her now), though was disappointed she didn’t thank David Lynch in her speech. Lynch had nothing to do with Marriage Story, but a lot to do with her career being what it is. Maybe YouTube or Instagram should offer to host videos by winners thanking people they forgot to mention on Oscar night.¹

In brief, this Oscars show didn’t leave me much to complain about, and complaining is always the most fun. The announcement of the nominations absorbed most of the outrage (Gerwig snubbed?? Hulk smash!), so what was left was watching people win whose joy you didn’t exactly begrudge, but you saw it coming. The acting categories were in the bag, but the big dogs — Director, Picture — seemed up in the air, though history will record there were some who actually expected 1917 to prevail. The Irishman went home empty-handed, Tarantino left prizeless — this year, with the exception of Zellweger and Roger Deakins (winner for photographing 1917), was not a year for most anyone who had previously won. Sometimes even that was predictable — I have yet to meet the person who thought Elton and Bernie weren’t a lock for Best Song. But aside from making one of the year’s genuinely great films, Bong Joon-ho threw one hell of a wrench into the way the Academy usually works. Your film isn’t supposed to win Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature and Best Director and Best Picture — except now it can, because there’s precedent. That opening Janelle Monae number meant well enough, but what it was trying to say, the success of Parasite actually showed.

¹As it happens, there is such a protocol in place; apparently when winners go backstage post-speech, they can thank whoever they left out onstage.

Oscar Night 2019

February 25, 2019

spikeoscar Well, I guess I have to see Green Book now. It’s hard to remember the last time I hadn’t already seen a Best Picture winner before it won — it could’ve been The Last Emperor, those many decades ago. The Academy thought it might be fun to sport with us, lulling us with exciting early wins, letting us watch Black Panther or BlacKkKlansman or even If Beale Street Could Talk rack up some gold. In the end, though, Roma — tiresome, pompous Roma riding its water motif hard and putting it away wet — got a literal embarassment of riches. If I were Alfonso Cuaron (let’s pause to give thanks for Children of Men and Gravity and Y Tu Mama Tambien) I would’ve been too self-conscious to go up and accept that third award. You already gave the man a Best Director Oscar five years ago (for Gravity), you just gave him one for cinematography and one for Best Foreign Film — now you want to give him another Best Director Oscar?

But Oscar night is also always full of weird details and stats: Cuaron is now the rare director to win multiple Oscars for directing while the movies he directed were snubbed for Best Picture. (John Ford will probably hold the record forever: four Oscars for directing, only one of them — How Green Was My Valley — a Best Picture winner.) Meanwhile, Green Book is now the 27th Best Picture that apparently directed itself. Its director, Peter Farrelly, will have to be content with a shared Best Original Screenplay trophy, one that it wrested out of the deserving hands of Paul Schrader.

The Oscar theme this year appeared to be white Oscar making dorky, trembling attempts at awkward reconciliation with black Hollywood. If not for Black Panther, Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler might not now be historic Oscar winners. And Spike Lee finally won a competitive Oscar (he was given an honorary award in 2015, though you didn’t see it on the show), and both Supporting Acting awards went to African-Americans. Even Roma, which I guess it’s obvious I didn’t care for, is a movie about non-whites in a non-white country (but with political and class tensions of its own). And Rami Malek, slurping on his damn dentures in Bohemian Rhapsody — I didn’t think he was bad, he did what he could in a crap movie — is the son of Egyptian immigrants. In a lot of ways, #OscarSoWhite has become #OscarNotEntirelyWhite, anyway.

In the end, though, Oscar gave its ultimate imprimatur to a movie widely criticized for its soft-soap racial comfort. Green Book will probably get millions more eyes on it as a result of its Best Picture win, but its resurgence was fairly recent; it spent a while looking like a box-office non-entity whose reach for Oscar exceeded its grasp. I’m not qualified at the moment to speak on what it does or doesn’t do as a narrative. But based on what I’ve heard from supporters and detractors both, Green Book seems to be the kind of racial-unity movie in the form of an amiable buddy movie that Hollywood used to make. It’s a throwback that expresses yearning for a time when racism was simpler for well-meaning white people. Now that more diverse voices are emerging in American film, something like Green Book looks even more beside the point than it might have a few years ago. (When it won, people were already calling it the new Crash, after the gosh-we-mean-well 2006 Best Picture winner, of the forehead heavily creased in racial thought. It’s probably closer to the new Driving Miss Daisy, though.)

I’ll go into Green Book with an open mind, regardless. With that acting teamwork, it’s got to have at least something going for it. It’s just that a nostalgic view of a white guy and a black guy learning to like each other seems haplessly inadequate for harrowed times that demand the provocation of BlacKkKlansman or the daydream of an all-black Shangri-La in Black Panther or even, yes, the humanization of Mexicans (see, some of them are kind and devoted servants, and some are even rich, like white people!) in Roma. We can, I suppose, be mildly grateful on some level that this year’s prom king thinks that the races should be able to sit together, ride together, etc. Better than thinking they shouldn’t, or not thinking at all. But the time of giving people or movies credit for not being overtly morally grotesque should properly have been up a long time ago.


Looking over my blabbering from last night, I see that I didn’t really mention how the Oscars were as a show, after all the foofarah.

It went like a shot but it was so dull — it was like any other awards show. There was none of the excess that really marks the Oscars. They’re supposed to be long and have embarrassing musical numbers and competent montages and a host whose hosting style we can analyze. The ratings were better than last year, most likely because there were more hits in which more viewers had a rooting interest.

Bring back my overlong, stupid, out of touch, laughable, lovable old Oscar show (but keep trying with the diversity in nominations and wins). Or as Greta Garbo supposedly said when watching Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bete, “Give me back my beast.”

Oscar Night 2018

March 5, 2018

90th Annual Academy Awards, Show, Los Angeles, USA - 04 Mar 2018The most Oscar-y part of the 90th Academy Awards came when there was a comedic bit so long and unwieldy it had to unfold across either side of a commercial break. In it, host Jimmy Kimmel and a variety of celebs from the ceremony (Guillermo del Toro, Armie Hammer, Mark Hamill) took a stroll over to the nearby TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman’s). The bit was largely pointless and self-congratulatory (good fellows, let us favor the groundlings with our presence!), especially when you consider the moviegoers in the theater were probably there because of indifference to the Oscars in the first place. But then that’s Oscar: bloated and self-regarding.

And I say that as someone who loves movies, and as a bleeding-heart liberal who agrees with many of the progressive, inclusive ideas espoused in the nominated films and by the presenters and winners. Even for me, the sanctimony got a tad thick — imagine how it played for those in the middle or right of same. At times, one might have taken the temperature of the evening by trying to divine which nominee would most piss off the current president. Among the nods for Best Director were one woman, one African-American, and one Mexican. That the race between directors, and between their films, broke down thus is, I would say, encouraging (the two white men, Paul Thomas Anderson and Martin McDonagh, contented themselves with “your nomination is your award”).

In the midst of all this, it seemed, the show needed to feint at rapprochement with red-staters via a pro-military montage. There was also a good deal of #MeToo rhetoric, but as for its real-world efficacy, we shall see. (Do we know of any upcoming major-studio, big-budget films willing to cast Ashley Judd, Mira Sorvino, or Annabella Sciorra in significant roles to make up for what Harvey Weinstein did to their careers? That, I think, would be more helpful to them and to similarly insulted and injured women than feel-good lip service.) If these Boomer and Gen-X filmmakers don’t know the younger crop of #NeverAgain activists has left them in the dust, it can only be because they don’t want to know. The future belongs to Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg.

But we were talking about the Oscars, weren’t we? It got in before the midnight curfew, but I’ve never really minded the length. The Oscars are long. They will always be long, and there will always be things we wish weren’t there, at the expense of things we wish were there. They should really stop doing In Memoriam, since we all find things to hate in it (no Tobe Hooper??). Bitching about the Oscars is as big a sport as just watching/enjoying them. There’s really no difference. Again, as in recent years, there wasn’t much of anything enormously ill-advised; even the wrong-envelope debacle last year was a mistake, not something that people actually sat down and planned, unlike the infamous Snow White Incident of 1989. There hasn’t been anything that indelibly wrong-headed in a while.

Which is a little sad. Jimmy Kimmel has been a perfectly competent host (it lost something this year without Matt Damon for Kimmel to spar with), but no one will remember his gigs the way they remember David Letterman’s tour of duty, excoriated at the time but now seen as more or less an appropriate response to the glitz factory. What the Oscars have lacked for years is a certain sense of are-we-live? danger, the knowledge that anything can happen. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway found that out last year, and they returned this year, because Hollywood loves a comeback, and because they probably didn’t want the last thing they’re noted for on this earth to be fucking up the Oscars.

In truth, the Oscars could use more fucking up. As usual, there are mitigating oddities: the director of Blade 2 now has an Oscar, as do Drexl the pimp, Guy Fleegman, and the star of a Chuck Lorre sitcom. I was rooting for Get Out, as much because I’m a horror fan as because I legitimately dug the movie, although there would have been reasons to welcome or at least tolerate the ascension of any of the nine nominees. Get Out spoke incisively about white “liberal” hypocrisy, but it also worked like gangbusters as a new suspense classic. If it didn’t — if it didn’t have that ruthlessly efficient script expertly playing the audience like a piano — no one would be talking about it even a year later. Its Oscar win may or may not increase its viewership, but it will most certainly make any project Jordan Peele pitches more attractive to the beancounters. And the point of the Oscars is more Jordan Peele movies, or movies of comparable energy, originality, and craft. Finally, Roger Deakins — a great talent almost as snubbed by Oscar as Susan Lucci was by the Emmys — won, at long last, for Best Cinematography, an honor he should have won at least seven times before. But he has an Oscar now, so I didn’t have to throw anything at the TV.

Oscar Night 2017

February 27, 2017

oopsThe most enduring image of last Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony will not be that of a tearful, grateful recipient of the golden bald man. Nor will it be clips from any of the winning films. No, the picture that will persist for many years, haunting the nightmares of every future producer of the Oscars show, will of course be the shot of a card held aloft — a card pronouncing Moonlight the Best Picture winner instead of the erroneously announced La La Land. This was, globally, perhaps not a significant moment, but in the context of Oscar Night it was seismic. People from La La Land had time to get up onstage and begin their acceptance speeches, for fuck’s sake, before the error was clarified and made known. Even a Moonlight booster and La La Land detractor like myself couldn’t help but feel a twinge of pity for the hard-working creatives whose dream had been so decisively and publicly ripped away.

Well, drama and excitement were things the Oscars had been missing for too many years, and here were drama and excitement, all right. It was nice to see that the ceremony was still capable of surprise, albeit accidental. After all, La La Land was considered the favorite to sweep, the flagbearer for the Magic of Movies and the Beauty of Artistic Dreams. The irony is that while La La Land paid fawning lip service to those qualities, Moonlight actually embodied them, finding poetry in despair. That it not only won but literally wrested victory from the jaws of defeat will only add luster to the narrative of the little movie that could.

Aside from all that (and the lesser-known goof listing The Piano producer Jan Chapman among the dead in the In Memoriam segment instead of costume designer Janet Patterson), it was a competent enough evening. Jimmy Kimmel had some decent barbs in his pocket, and as usual he got considerable mileage out of his faux feud with Matt Damon. (I can imagine baffled Oscar-night viewers unfamiliar with the Kimmel-Damon beef that’s been going on for over a decade on Kimmel’s late-night show. “Why is he being so mean to Matt Damon?” they might have said.) Kimmel’s Mean Tweets were amusing as always, the bit with the bus tour maybe not so much.

The thing about Moonlight’s win — sorry, but this was the night’s big story — is that it garnered a Screenplay (adapted) award, while La La Land, over in Original Screenplay, lost to Manchester by the Sea. Hindsight is always 20/20, but La La Land not winning a writing trophy may not have been a positive sign for its Best Picture win. A Best Picture not winning a Screenplay award is not unprecedented — it isn’t even that rare (The Artist was the last film to do so) — but it doesn’t exactly help. In the end, Moonlight director Barry Jenkins had to be content with his shared Screenplay Oscar and the knowledge that he’d helmed the big winner, while La La Land director Damien Chazelle settled for Best Director and the five other Oscars it won.

One last thing. Many fans of Bill Paxton, who died right before the Oscar ceremony, grumbled that he wasn’t included in the In Memoriam piece. The reason is simple: the montage is created weeks in advance, and generally covers the period from February 1 of the previous year to January 31 of the current year. This is also why Alan Rickman and David Bowie weren’t acknowledged this year — because they were included last year. Paxton will, one hopes, be remembered during Oscar Night 2018. Know what else will be remembered next year? That card being held up, declaring La La Land’s brief reign as Best Picture winner as dead as Paxton.

Oscar Night 2016

February 29, 2016

88494665_dicaprio_award_2_afp_gettyThe message of this year’s injustice-haunted Oscar ceremony, if there was one, was that abuse isn’t okay. A bold statement, to be sure, but not unwelcome. From the night’s hands-down highlight — Lady Gaga’s ferocious performance of “Til It Happens to You” accompanied by rape survivors — to the surprising number of spoils (six) that went to Mad Max: Fury Road to Brie Larson’s win for Room (I’m calling it, she’s the new Jennifer Lawrence) to the ultimate and, for me, gratifying upset of Spotlight over The Revenant, the theme was very much “Don’t tread on me,” very solidly anti-victimizer, which again is like being pro-water or anti-cancer.

Now, does Hollywood also victimize black actors by neglect? Host Chris Rock spoke trenchantly to the controversy, finally declaring that Hollywood isn’t violently, rabidly racist, just thoughtless and snobby in the style of a sorority. That’s a sharp analogy, and Rock took some other good shots, though the bit where he dragged out Stacey “we shouldn’t have Black History Month” Dash for a quick joke at her expense wasn’t one of them. (I guarantee you most of the audience, at home and in the Dolby Theatre, had no idea what that was about.) By and large, Rock stayed out of the way, like all Oscar hosts do — generally you remember the opening monologue and maybe some shtick during the show (like Ellen sending out for pizza or, this year, Rock shilling for his daughters’ Girl Scout cookies), but aside from that, the guy this time who made me mentally cast him as next year’s host was Louis CK, who riffed beautifully on how poor the winner of Best Documentary Short Subject must be.

I now live in a world where Alejandro González Iñárritu has won two Best Director Oscars back to back, and this annoys me much more now than it did a decade or so ago, when all I’d seen was his terrific debut Amores Perros. Now, please, he needs to go away for a while and not make any more aggressively directorial films. His usual cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki was even more consistent, taking home his third Oscar in as many years, but he did do gorgeous work in The Revenant and I can’t begrudge him the recognition. But he’s become the go-to guy for technically arduous feats that have the faint aroma of stunts (consider also his work on Children of Men), and he, too, may need to chill out and not try to reinvent the wheel every time out.

Nobody doubted Leonardo DiCaprio would grab the gold for The Revenant, and I won’t bore you with musings on why he didn’t really deserve it (I would’ve given it to him for Django Unchained or The Wolf of Wall Street). If ordeals out in the wilderness equalled Oscar-worthiness, the stars of half of Werner Herzog’s films would have won. Alicia Vikander, who seemed to emerge from nowhere to appear in about 27 movies last year, won for The Danish Girl but, in my heart and many others’, she won as much for her more touching and imaginative role in Ex Machina. What hurt was that her win meant a loss for Jennifer Jason Leigh, who might not come this close to Oscar again in her life.

Does that matter? Film history is loaded with people who did great work and were never even nominated. Ultimately the award kicks some careers into overdrive, makes them more bankable and their future work more prestigious. When The Light Between Oceans starts marketing its September release, it will now be able to boast “Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander.” Then again, Trog had Academy Award winner Joan Crawford. Anyway, it would’ve been nice if Samuel L. Jackson had had a chance to add “Academy Award winner” to his business cards, or Michael B. Jordan, or Idris Elba, to say nothing of the generally invisible women of color at the movies last year. I don’t know whether it was boldly relevant or cringingly ironic that the Oscars sent us off to bed with Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” playing over the end credits. With the Oscars, it’s always a little of both, isn’t it?

Oscar Night 2015

February 23, 2015

20150223-100949.jpgPossibly the cruellest thing you can do to someone who’s good at hosting stuff is to suggest repeatedly, after he’s nailed hosting this or that awards show, that he host the Oscars. So for the past few years, the refrain became familiar: “Neil Patrick Harris should host the Oscars.” “How hard would Neil Patrick Harris crush the Oscars?” And so on, until Neil Patrick Harris actually hosted the Oscars, and turned out to be … not bad, but not great. Oddly insecure, and ultimately unmemorable. NPH’s by-now-expected opening musical number traded on the old magic-of-movies trope until Jack Black blasted in and laid down some cynical truths. Jack Black should host the Oscars. How hard would Jack Black crush the Oscars…

Other than Patricia Arquette, whose call for equal pay for women was refreshingly political, Black was the only Richard Linklater confederate to get much satisfaction. Linklater’s Boyhood went home with little, while Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman owned the night … except for Michael Keaton, whose loss of a Best Actor trophy pained me, though I certainly didn’t begrudge Eddie Redmayne’s win. Really, Boyhood and Birdman struck me as the same movie in some ways — both are dramas by temperamentally independent directors, riding on something of a technical high-wire-act gimmick (Birdman seems to run in one continuous take, Boyhood was filmed bit by bit over a period of twelve years), and probably a little overpraised. Also, the odds of the average moviegoer having seen either of them before Oscar night — even on DVD, never mind finding a local theater playing them — were slim to none.

A few years back, the Academy decided not to restrict the Best Picture nominees to five, because a wider playing field might mean a better chance of a popular nominee. In this respect, only American Sniper qualified this year, and it went home with almost nothing, which probably annoyed its many patriotic fans. The Grand Budapest Hotel fared surprisingly well, winning a lot of the “what a pretty movie” awards other than cinematography. I was glad to see two longtime favorites, Julianne Moore and J.K. Simmons, finally receiving their due. My feeling on Inarritu is that nothing he’s done has equalled his debut, the coruscating Amores Perros, though I’m also glad that the director of Amores Perros now has several Oscars.

As for the show itself, it didn’t drag itself out with pointless montages the way it used to. Lady Gaga nailed her Sound of Music tribute, and John Legend and Common’s rendition of “Glory” got an understandable standing-O. Harris had a mostly unfunny running gag about his Oscar predictions under lock and key (guarded by Octavia Butler, giving me to ponder once again that the actress who once played an irascible DMV clerk on The Big Bang Theory now has an Oscar). Eddie Murphy seemed more engaged as a presenter here than he did at last weekend’s SNL shindig. (There were no Cosby jokes or, really, any jokes at the expense of Hollywood, save for an Oprah joke I didn’t really get, and she didn’t either.) Harris steered the ship into port without hitting an iceberg — a metaphor I think I’ve used before with the Oscars, but it applies this year. Harris wasn’t as dazzling as he has been on smaller shows, but all that practice at least ensured a baseline of professionalism. At this point, though, a robot in a clown suit could host this thing and no one would care.

The robot in a clown suit should host the Oscars. How hard would the robot in the clown suit crush the Oscars…

Oscar Night 2014

March 3, 2014

oscars2014Maybe it’s just the movie-buff online gangs that I run with, but there sure do seem to be a lot of folks who hate the Oscars but watch them every year anyway. Some of those folks are younger than I am and haven’t yet developed the equipoise of age, the life perspective that even if a Transformers sequel wins Best Picture it will have zero impact on most people’s day-to-day existence, and the same holds true if your favorite movie of the year wins. It just isn’t that important except to the winners, and you’re not one of them. We watch the Oscars for the shiny pageantry, the often hypocritical lip service paid to the magic of cinema, the great moments and embarrassing moments that will be talked about the next day and then usually forgotten (unless the embarrassing moments are really embarrassing).

Aside from consistent, apparent problems with teleprompters that caused various verbal fluffs (and led John Travolta to make entertaining spinach out of Idina Menzel’s name), nothing in the latest Oscar ceremony was really embarrassing. It was, top to bottom, a night mostly bereft of surprise, though Gravity had a sweep going that seemed to point to a Best Picture win before 12 Years a Slave sat it back down. I found myself fairly sanguine about everything and everyone that took a trophy; it would have been nice if Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises had pulled the rug out from under the Disney juggernaut for the Best Animated Feature honors, but Frozen is actually a good movie, and it meant that the number of Oscar-honored female directors has now been upped to two.

The number of Oscar-winning black directors remains at zed, as the British say; 12 Years aSlave is the latest Best Picture winner that apparently directed itself, though I can’t really begrudge Gravity‘s Alfonso Cuaron’s triumph. In the end, the overrated Nebraska and American Hustle now have exactly the same number of Oscars as Bad Grandpa. There was no tension involved in the acting categories except for Lupita Nyong’o, whose speech was easily the most heartfelt and satisfying of the evening. Matthew McConaughey’s work in Dallas Buyers Club was legitimately great and deserving, but factors larger than his performance were in play; Hollywood loves comeback narratives, and McConaughey has been restoring his credibility as an actor for a couple of years now. The Academy knew it was time to forget about Failure to Launch and embrace the good ol’ boy again. And hey, now 1994’s legendary crapfest The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre can boast two future Oscar winners (Renee Zellweger having won a decade or so back).

Ellen DeGeneres returned as host, and she’s shaping up to be the next Billy Crystal in terms of presenting an unthreatening, safe aura. She’s certainly no Seth McFarlane. Her moment of glory was the selfie of herself and a gaggle of stars, the hilarious resulting Tweet of which actually broke Twitter for a while. I’ve never felt that it truly matters who hosts; past a certain point, the show is its own unwieldy beast, and a host can only hope to ride it across the finish line without getting thrown off its back. DeGeneres kept her hand in throughout, reminding us that she was in fact the host, and that’s about all a host can expect to accomplish with this, the uber-show, the awards ceremony to dwarf all awards ceremonies.

Let’s see, what else? There were pointless-seeming montages and time-eating musical numbers, as there always have been and always will be. To complain about such things on Oscar night is to shake your fist at the sun. It accomplishes nothing and says less. Maybe it’s because nothing truly offensive to my soul won anything (hell, even the dumb new Gatsby at least earned its two Oscars for looking so spiffy — yes, Daisy, those shirts were beautiful), but I don’t see much to get in a tizzy about. Jared Leto was the target of much scorn among the Oscar livebloggers, and I couldn’t stand the sight of him before, but he was more than fine in Dallas Buyers Club — I wouldn’t have sobbed if Jonah Hill, who for me gave the comic performance of the year, pulled an upset. But what the hell, Leto now has an Oscar, and — it bears repeating — this in no way affects the way you will lead your life from this day forth. If it does, maybe you have bigger issues than Jared Leto having an Oscar.