Archive for the ‘oscars’ category

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.

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.

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.

Oscar Night 2013

February 25, 2013

oscars2013For those of you who keep score, I got four out of six predictions right. Go me. The ones I missed were arguably the toughest to call: Best Supporting Actor and Best Director. And those were about the only surprises for me on Oscar Night 2013. The show itself was … boringly agreeable. There was nothing hideously inappropriate, despite what many feared when Seth MacFarlane, creator of the raunchy Family Guy and Ted, was announced as the host. MacFarlane understood that the only way to host these things is to put quotation marks around everything you do; in short, to do a routine about “a guy hosting the Oscars.” (The “We Saw Your Boobs” bit, for instance, was a way of “doing the joke” without really doing the joke; it was a Family Guy-style “Remember that time when I actually did that joke on Oscar night?”) I could see why the Academy picked him: he’s funny, he’s slick, he’s presentable, and he can sing. As the night wore on, the quotation marks faded and MacFarlane became a real guy hosting the real Oscars, making the time-honored jokes about the show running long (guys, the show always runs long; not a one of us expects to be out of there before 11:30 at the earliest).

Still, MacFarlane acquitted himself smoothly, and I don’t think he has to worry about those “Worst Oscar Host Ever” headlines Captain Kirk warned him about. Like MacFarlane, the show was restrained, even though the night’s theme was “movie musicals of the last decade,” which meant we got a number from Chicago and a cast reunion from Chicago, because one of the show’s producers, Craig Zadan, also co-produced Chicago. There was no shortage of divas: Shirley Bassey performing “Goldfinger” and flinging a gauntlet down for Adele (“Let’s see you do that when you’re 76” was the subtext); Catherine Zeta-Jones and Jennifer Hudson; Adele herself, of course, performing “Skyfall” and then winning for it; Barbra Streisand bringing some Broadway bathos to her tribute to Marvin Hamlisch; and Kristin Chenoweth joining MacFarlane for the end-credits song “Here’s to the Losers,” surely the first Oscar-night number to tease viewers into thinking they might hear a very R-rated synonym for female anatomy. Oh, Seth, such a card.

The night was disappointingly short on tackiness and incomprehensible moments; even Quentin Tarantino minded his manners and kept his speech brief. As always, I was annoyed by the “lesser” winners being rudely played off — by the theme from Jaws, yet — while more famous people get to blather with impunity. You might not care about the guy who wins for Best Documentary Short Subject or the lady who wins for Best Costume Design, but they’ve worked hard for many years to get up there, they may never get up there again, and they deserve better than to have the orchestra cutting them off during their moment in the lights. Every damn year, I grumble something like “They have time for montages” — in this case, a “fifty years of James Bond” thing — “but they don’t have time to let people talk.” Ah, well. That’s the Oscars.

It’s rare for a Best Picture winner not to win Best Director as well. Rarer still is when the director of a Best Picture winner isn’t even nominated. It hasn’t happened since Driving Miss Daisy 23 years ago, and Argo became only the fourth such Best Picture winner in the history of the Academy Awards. As one of the film’s producers, though, Ben Affleck got to hold a trophy and say a few words anyway. A rare tie happened, too (“No B.S.,” said presenter Mark Wahlberg, “there’s really a tie”), in the Sound Effects Editing category. Life of Pi emerged as the clear winner of the evening, taking home four awards; Lincoln, with 12 nominations, had to content itself with two wins. All of the nine Best Picture nominees got something for their troubles except Beasts of the Southern Wild, shut out in the four categories in which it was nominated. Maybe next time, Quvenzhané.

I don’t know that expanding the number of Best Picture possibles from five to nine or ten has helped much. Most observers say this was done as a response to the disappointment that The Dark Knight wasn’t nominated in 2008. The reasoning was that, by creating a larger playing field, crowd-pleasing hits could make it onto the roster, which they couldn’t have when the field was limited to only five, and that this would help give the mainstream audience more of a rooting interest in the Oscars and thus increase the number of eyeballs. Of 2012’s ten biggest hits, though, only Brave won anything significant (a surprise to some, since it wasn’t considered one of Pixar’s best), and the biggest blockbuster, The Avengers, garnered but one nomination (which it lost to Life of Pi).

I’m not saying the Oscars should become a way to throw awards to big moneymakers on top of their piles of cash. That’s what the People’s Choice Awards are for. The Oscars ostensibly reward excellence (although we still live in a world where master cinematographer Roger Deakins, a loser again this year for Skyfall, has no Oscars), and though we may quibble over what constitutes excellence, we can probably agree that Argo has a more solid claim to excellence than do, say, Snow White and the Huntsman or Hotel Transylvania. Both of which, incidentally, made more money than Argo. But now that it’s officially Best Picture, Argo may make another million or two in a theatrical re-release, and will likely sell that much better on DVD and Blu-ray. That’s what the Oscars can and should do — bring more attention to movies that deserve it, rather than fawning over movies that don’t need it.

Oscar Night 2012

February 27, 2012

oscars2012Boy, this was the best Oscar show of 1991. Billy Crystal came back to host (for the umpteenth time) after eight years away, and he pulled out all the old reliable shtick: the opening musical number, the “what are they thinking” skit. After trying something different last year with Anne Hathaway and James Franco (I didn’t think they were that bad), and coming close to an Eddie Murphy-hosted evening, the Academy fell back on the tried and true. Crystal was Crystal: amiable, relaxed, professional. You knew he was going to steer this ship without hitting an iceberg. You also knew he wouldn’t do anything much worth talking about the next day.

The lack of surprise infested the whole evening, though Hugo did win more awards than I expected it to, throwing a couple of spanners in the works of the Artist Oscar juggernaut machine. Nobody who follows these things doubted that The Artist, which seems tailor-made for self-regarding Hollywood insiders to vote for and feel good about themselves, would go the distance. The theme of the evening appeared to be looking back fondly on cinema experiences that, while not dead yet, have definitely seen better days. The question is whether The Artist star (and new Best Actor winner) Jean Dujardin will parlay the wins into a Hollywood career. Like Roberto Benigni, he might be the foreigner who has his day in the American sun and then retreats to his home country, seldom to be seen on these shores again.

Something occurred to me as Cirque du Soleil were performing their death-defying acrobatics and the show cut away to a lingering shot of George Clooney watching them: Clooney may be the new Jack Nicholson, comfortably seated in front and enjoying the many tributes paid to him. He didn’t win anything, but the night seemed to revolve around him and his amused humility. Among the presenters, Robert Downey Jr. got a laugh out of me with his documentary shtick, and Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis clashing their cymbals at least kept me awake. Towards the end, just when I thought we might get out of there in under three hours, the presenters for Best Actor and Actress (last year’s winners Natalie Portman and Colin Firth) had to stop and say nice things about each of the nominees, as if Natalie Portman had seen A Better Life and was qualified to talk about Demian Bichir’s performance.

Possibly I’m forgetting something, but nothing in the show struck me as tacky or incomprehensible this year, which removes half the fun of post-Oscar analysis. Even the standard “in memoriam” segment was tasteful; lately they’ve been telling the audience not to applaud, whereas before you’d get “Joe Schmoe, sound mixer” and there’d be a polite golf clap and then Beloved Film Star would get a loud response. They always leave out a ton of people, but this year they found room for oddball backyard filmmaker George Kuchar, and there was a nod to “Steve Jobs, executive,” who was there because he co-founded Pixar. (Who won nothing; Pixar had an off-year with Cars 2.)

Other than perhaps The Help, did any of the nominated films engender any rooting interest among the normals — the non-film-geeks? Nine films nominated for Best Picture and they didn’t have space for Bridesmaids. One odd, bright detail: Jim Rash, better known as the weirdo dean on Community, now has an Oscar for screenwriting (The Descendants), and he did some funny vamping onstage while cowriter Alexander Payne delivered a gracious speech. And Meryl Streep may sense that people think she’s won enough Oscars, but she hadn’t actually won one since thirty years ago — she’s just been nominated a ton of times. Also, as usual, I heard “Scorsese” pronounced two different ways: “scor-SAY-see” and “scor-SEZ-ee.” For the record, the man himself says it the latter way. Y’know, if you ever meet him.

Oscar Night 2011

February 28, 2011


Random Thoughts on the Oscars After De-Linting the Bedsheets


Rob’s pick as Best Picture of the year: Enter the Void

Number of Oscars Enter the Void was nominated for: 0

Level of rooting interest Rob had in the Oscars race this year: Maybe 15%

Number of years Rob has been a fan of Melissa Leo: 18

Best illustration of the contrast between American and British acceptance-speech styles: Melissa Leo and Colin Firth

Best acceptance speech given by a British actor trying desperately to sound workin’-class, mate: Christian Bale

How many bowls James Franco likely smoked during the show: Three. Maybe four.

How many bowls whoever came up with the Franco-as-Marilyn gag must’ve smoked: Four. Maybe five.

Percent of viewers half-expecting to see Kirk Douglas turn to dust right there on the stage: 93%

Percent of viewers who grumbled something cynical about Natalie Portman getting knocked up just in time to waddle onstage all cute and pregnant, thus giving the Academy an irresistible reason to vote for her: 95%

Number of stunning directorial touches in The King’s Speech: 0

Level of irony in the producers’ wanting to put on a younger, hipper Oscar show, then hauling on Billy Crystal to pay tribute to Bob Hope: Off the scale

Awkwardness of these “personalized” Best Actor/Actress intros by the presenters, given that Jeff Bridges probably wouldn’t know Jennifer Lawrence if he tripped over her: Fairly high

Probable state of Jeff Bridges during the show: Fairly high

When Randy Newman apparently turned into Michael Moore’s twin (visually, not politically): Sometime recently, I guess

Extent to which the ceremonies endangered Anne Hathaway’s adorableness quotient: None

Extent to which the opening montage was saved by Alec Baldwin: 95%

Number of female directors to win tonight: 3

Number of lesbians to win tonight: At least one (sound mixer Lora Hirschberg)

Number of gay men to win tonight: At least one (one of the King’s Speechproducers, I dunno which)

Number of African-Americans to win tonight: 0

Amount of time it probably took to go down for a while after Christian Bale ensured millions of unique hits to its unprepared server: 2.4 seconds

Number of Oscars Trent Reznor has: 1

Number of Oscars Roger Deakins has: 0