Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Oscar Post-Mortem

Wrote my last post the night before the Oscars. Now it’s the night after and I’m back with a few reactions. The show was actually okay for me. As Woody Allen’s character in “Annie Hall” said, even the worst sex he had was still sex – and therefore pretty much on the money. This was the Oscars, after all. Playing out at that venue that’s not the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion anymore. But still looks pretty deluxe. There were wall-to-wall movie stars on display and Academy Awards did get handed out.
I actually found the comedy from Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin pretty terrific (“Over here is the Inglourious Basterds section, over there the people that made Inglourious Basterds” or “That Damn Helen Mirren”). And their targets generally seemed to be pretty good sports about it. The show could’ve actually used a lot more of the Baldwin-Martin patter. When they weren’t around, things seemed to be a little detached and unfocused. Certainly that fizzless female voice from the network that wearily wrangled us into and out of commercials was no help.
Among the young set, Zac Efron came off as a junior Tyrone Power. Putting him leagues ahead of his peers. Kristen Stewart managed to look lifeless and annoyed at the same time. And Taylor Lautner? I don’t get it. Does the world really need a watered down version of Robbie Benson? Miss Miley Cyrus, who co-presented with Amanda Seyfreid, screwed up her entrance. Then had the nerve to say “we’re nervous”, unfairly implicating the perfectly professional Seyfried in her doofusness. Or maybe at this point, the royal “we’ is the only pronoun she knows. Whatever the case, I’ve seen her here before and she always looks inelegantly pissed off that they still haven’t given her the Academy Award she’s got coming to her. I’d predict a great many years of testy Oscar night dissatisfaction ahead for her.
I like the way they highlighted the screenplay awards, with script pages juxtaposed against the pertinent scenes. George Clooney had star quality to burn. It was great to see Sigourney Weaver, ageless, beautiful, classy. Also Michelle Pfeiffer and Julianne Moore, with their warm tributes to Bridges and Firth respectively. Vera Farmiga looked great. And I loved her dress (even though that scary Cojo from ET pronounced it awful the next day, using it as an excuse for one of his annual post-Oscar catfits ).
The musical segments were mainly duds. Poor Neil Patrick Harris (whom I like) had to come out and flail his way through that mess of a production number that almost kicked the whole show into life support mode right off the bat. Poor guy. You could almost see the flop sweat. Which made me all the more impressed when Baldwin and Martin pulled it out of the toilet so quickly.
Show organizers managed to gum up the In Memoriam segment for the second year in a row, insisting on live singing to accompany it. Not that James Taylor did badly, but with live performances you’re conscious of every little wobble. Canned, studio-perfected music, preferably instrumental, is what’s called for here. To  enhance the mood without distracting from it. Plus, like last year, they insisted on filling the first few seconds with an establishing close-up of the onstage singer. Leaving home viewers, squinting at a postage stamp version of a monitor image, unable to read the name of the artist being honoured.
Of course, the painfully extended dance routine to the nominated scores was probably the biggest dudpuddle of the night. I’m sure Adam Shankman was happy being able to get so many of his protégés onto the Oscars. But, frankly, it all seemed chaotically inappropriate. Breakdancing to “Sherlock Holmes”? Most of the time – with all the leaping and spinning -  it just looked as if half a dozen competing gym teams were crammed into the same space to warm up for an athletic event.
This year’s “streaker” moment came when the director of the winning documentary short had his acceptance speech hi-jacked by someone the press has now dubbed Lady Kanye. She just suddenly landed in the middle of his business - a one-woman swat team - and proceeded to toss out non-sequiturs like hand grenades. It appears she was a co-producer of the film at an earlier stage, but left following “creative differences”. With an Oscar waving around onstage, she seems to have re-attached herself to the project pronto. Leaving director Ross Williams with an unfinished speech and a world-wide audience wondering (a) what was his film about? and (b) what the f... just happened?
As for the actual trophy dispersal... well, I was okay with it. I’d already resigned myself to the fact that my favourite Colin Firth probably wouldn’t win. And since I didn’t have to see Meryl Streep rewarded for her Julia Child shtick or wince through a Best Picture victory for “Avatar”, I was basically okay with the way things went.
I was still at work till shortly before show time. So the only Red Carpet footage I caught was the official half hour segment that precedes the broadcast. As always, it was strained and phony. Interviewer (and I’m stretching it by calling her that) Kathy Ireland appeared to be about 7 feet tall. Her grinning sugar-charged assaults had most of her victims cowering. Even Mary Hart seemed reticent in comparison. Everytime Ireland finished gushing they couldn’t yank the cameras away quick enough to avoid the obvious beginning of an awkward silence. Even seasoned Hollywood egos seemed a little non-plussed to be that up close  and personal as Ireland relentlessly dialled the perkiness up to 11. Never a good decision for a giantess. Oh, well, even supermodels have to eat. Wait a minute, come to think of it, do they?.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The 82nd Annual Academy Awards

Oh yes, the Oscars. I feel like saying something about them. The show itself is less than 24 hours away. And, needless to say, I’ll be there with the usual bells on. I’m feeling pretty wary about the broadcast, though. Word is show organizer Adam Shankman is hell-bent on emphasizing comedy, turning the event into some sort of late night talk show meets The Surreal Life. I guess if we must be force-fed comedy, then co-hosts Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin are as equipped as anybody to make it reasonably palatable. I actually thought host Ricky Gervais did a pretty good job avoiding the usual pot-holes at the Golden Globes. So if the Baldwin-Martin combo comes anywhere near his level, I’ll consider it a success. Shankman seems determined to get winners on and off stage as rapidly as possible with a minimum of fuss. But isn’t that fuss exactly what we die-hard Oscar watchers love most? Why not just position the winners at starting blocks, shoot a pistol in the air, then make them holler out their acceptance speeches as they run the 100 yard dash? I believe Shankman and company have also put the kibosh on the traditional performance of the five nominated songs? WTF? Granted the songs are no great shakes. Sue me, but I think that T-Bone Burnett thing from “Crazy Heart” is pretty flipping meh.The one I liked best this year was that strange song mind-blowingly performed by some chick in a 60’s nightclub in “An Education”. But it didn’t make the cut - just so Disney's "Princess and the Frog’ could double-dip. It seems Shankman will, though, be finding time to infest the proceedings with a bevy of his favourite hip hoppers and B-boys from “So You Think You Can Dance.” Get ready for some serious glassing over of the eyes from all those in the auditorium over 60. And, oh yeah, the latest  lifetime achievement awards were quietly passed out in some back room a couple of months ago. So don’t expect to see this year’s winner Lauren Bacall anywhere near a spotlight tomorrow. Will they dispense with the traditional necrology too? On the theory that nothing much happened artistically before Stephenie Meyer wrote “Twilight”?
Anyway, as I said, I’ll still be watching. I hardly saw any new films this year till around October, then furiously started playing catch-up. Still haven’t seen some of the biggies. I fully expect to like “The Road” with Viggo Mortensen. And the trailer for “The White Ribbon” makes it look like – at very least – a visual dazzler. I feel some sort of completist urge to eventually watch “The Blind Side”. I mean, I like Sandra Bullock as much as the next guy. But in the normal course of things, football movies served with a side-order of rightwing religious zeal aren’t generally my thing. “Me and Orson Welles” is still on my “to see’ list – though the nominations some predicted failed to materialize. And I think I’m going to enjoy “Everybody’s Fine’. Although “everybody” seems to be pretending this movie never existed. But, for me, the combo of DeNiro, Drew and Sam Rockwell provides three very good reasons to be optimistic. Jeff Bridges probably should have won already – maybe for “The Fabulous Baker Boys” in the 80’s. I haven’t seen “Crazy Heart” yet but the trailers leave me unenthused. Warmed over beans ladled onto a Tender Mercies Taco. It’s too bad Colin Firth and George Clooney both gave the performances of their lives in a year when the Academy seems determined to turn the Best Actor award into a career-acknowledging pat on the back for (the admittedly gifted) Bridges. Certainly, in the Oscar poll at work, I predicted a Bridges win. I also ticked off the names of Christoph Waltz and Mo’Nique, both of whom steamrolled victoriously through all the precursors this year, leaving their competitors gleaning the fields for stray votes here and there. I expect “The Hurt Locker” (a fine movie) to take Best Picture. An “Avatar” win would definitely stick in my craw. It struck me as a mega-budget mix of noise, lethargy and half-baked New Age platitudes. The 3D wasn’t even that great – except when they showed the 20th Century Fox logo at the beginning. That was the best part of the movie.

As far as my personal choices this year go:

Best Picture:

“Outlander” isn’t really eligible this year. Sadly, it went straight to DVD. But it’s a handsomely produced and super-engaging sci-fi fantasy with James Caviezel as a spaceman who crash lands into 9th century Viking country. It gave me the same kind of fun I got (and still get) from the Kirk Douglas-Tony Curtis chestnut “The Vikings”. Plus I’m generally up for spending quality time with Mr.Caviezel. Although I must say I’m no fan of the torture-porn opus“The Passion of the Christ”. I’m paraphrasing, but I remember one observer suggesting you might not learn much about Jesus from the film but you’d certainly come away fully versed on the nuts and bolts of mounting your own DIY crucifixion
Other 2009 titles I enjoyed included Drew Barrymore’s winning directorial debut,“Whip It.” And Roland Emmerich’s apocalypse-around-the-corner epic “2012”. Have we become so jaded about visual effects that “2012” can’t even scratch up a nomination in that category?I made it a point to see it in a theatre , hoping for wall-to-wall spectacle and - as far as I’m concerned - got very big bang for my buck.

More of My Personal Choices:

Best Actor:
1. COLIN FIRTH “A Single Man”
2. GEORGE CLOONEY “Up in the Air”
3. JEREMY RENNER “The Hurt Locker”
5. SHARLTO COPLEY “District 9”
Honorable Mention

Best Actress:
1. CAREY MULLIGAN “An Education”
2. ABBY CORNISH “Bright Star”
4. ELLEN PAGE “Whip It”
5. MAYA RUDOLPH “Away We Go”
(and yes, I did see “Julie and Julia” but I hate loathe and despise Meryl Streep’s comedy technique. Always have. Suppose I always will. Certainly this one didn’t change my opinion one bit. How many times have actors and acting experts said that you should never play comedy as if you’re aware you’re being funny. To me, Streep always seems to be doing just that. “Look at me. Aren’t I hilarious?” This time out she adds an extra-big elbow-in-the-ribs helping of “Aren’t I adorable?” too. No sale.

1. TOM HOLLANDER “In the Loop”
2. DENIS MENOCHET “Inglourious Basterds”
(he’s the French farmer at the beginning and I know it’s technically just a cameo; but if we’re
going by quality not quantity, he’s gotta be included among the year’s very very best)
3. TIMOTHY HUTTON “Lymelife”
4. PETER CAPALDI “In the Loop”
5. FRED MELAMED “A Serious Man” (he’s unlikely homewrecker Sy Ableman)
Honorable Mention
CHRISTOPH WALTZ “Inglourious Basterds”
JONATHAN GROFF “Taking Woodstock”
ANTHONY MACKIE “The Hurt Locker”
BRIAN GERAGHTY “The Hurt Locker”
DANIEL BRUHL "Inglourious Basterds"

1. MO’NIQUE “Precious”
2. MIMI KENNEDY “In the Loop”
3. MELANIE LAURENT “Inglourious Basterds’
4. PAULA PATTON “Precious”
5. VERA FARMIGA “Up in the Air”
Honorable Mention
KERRY FOX “Bright Star”

See you at the ceremony ...