Monday, February 28, 2011

2011 Academy Award Wrap-up: March of the Underachievers

Has there been a less interesting Oscars in recent memory? I’m not sure that I’d go as far as many folks have and call it the worst in history, but almost everything about the show screamed “We’re not really trying!”

The hosts: I haven’t been a big fan of replacing the atypical Oscar host with these newfangled experiments of having various pretty people do the job. I’m almost inclined to offer Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin an apology for picking on them last year. They were Abbott and Costello compared to James Franco and Anne Hathaway. It’s strange. I had a good feeling about these two. When the show started with the obligatory homage to all of the year’s big movies, I felt genuine hope that this show was going to be really fun. Hathaway’s “dance of the brown duck” was hilarious, and the montage as a whole had a nice rhythm to it. What’s more, IT WAS FUNNY, which was a luxury that Franco and Hathaway would soon be no longer capable of affording. The opening “monologue” (or should I call it an “opening dialogue?”) was ludicrously short and woefully unfunny. Hathaway was quick to establish herself as the purportedly funny one to Franco’s straight man, but she came across as much too hammy, while Franco just didn’t show up. I’m not sure if he was high or what was going on, but a guy with a lot of natural energy/charisma was doing his best Dustin Hoffman impression. One bright spot: Hathaway’s zinger of a song directed at Hugh Jackman. THAT was funny. I just didn’t know that it would be the last laugh the hosts would provide. Having two of Hollywood’s prettiest, most charming people host was a nice idea, but this experiment was a gargantuan dud. Grade: D.

Bad Ideas:

  • Letting Melissa Leo speak without a script. She reprised her Space Cadet role from the Golden Globes without a second thought. I know that she’d just had one of the biggest shocks/surprises/gifts of her life thrown in her lap, but c'mon.
  • Kirk Douglas going on and on and on and on. I’ve got a lot of respect for the man, and it was funny at first, but then it just kept going to the point that I started to feel sorry for him.
  • The strange segues back to classic films. Wait, wait, we need to present an award, let’s talk about Gone With The Wind first! I love that film, but what’s going on???
  • Turning the backdrop for the Animated film categories into Far, Far Away and teasing me with “Look, there’s Shrek!” . . . WITHOUT ACTUALLY PRODUCING A GREEN OGRE. Look, having a character or two present that category is a time-honored tradition, so why must they torment me with something that might have actually been entertaining???
  • Having all of the night’s winners pop out on stage at the end. I dug the kid’s choir, but having everyone come back to the stage with their little gold men almost makes you expect to hear, “Ladies and gentlemen, the graduating class of 2011!”

Now, I’ve got to take some time to point out some particularly egregious decisions. These are things for which a simple bullet point just won’t do.

The telecast’s direction: Once again, the folks in that little truck let us down. I’ve spent some time directing various things live in studio, so I do have some concept of how difficult it can be. That said, these are professionals with about 2 million cameras/shots to choose from. Should they really need to be told that a shot of people walking in front of the camera during a montage is a bad idea? When Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin walked out, they stopped for a few seconds to waltz. Did I get to see it happen? No, because we cut to a reaction shot of some star or another. Gee, don’t you think it’d make more sense to show us what’s going on and THEN cut to the crowd for about a second or two before cutting BACK to the action? Just saying.

Tom Hooper: The decision to award this man the Best Director Oscar is a baffling one, but I’ll tell you exactly how he won. Dude got lucky. Right place, right time, right movie. It’s still a bad choice. Hooper’s annoyed me as a director for years. Elizabeth I is one of the worst miniseries I’ve ever seen, and John Adams (mostly) succeeds despite his decidedly questionable direction. (I swear, if I have to look at ONE more establishing shot tilted by 45 degrees . . .) I’m hard-pressed to find anything about The King’s Speech that sets it apart from any other WWII period piece, aside from the wonderful script. Darren Aronofsky made Black Swan what it is. The Coen Bros. made True Grit what it is. David Fincher had a large part in making The Social Network what it is. What did Tom Hooper do exactly? I sure don’t know.

The King’s Speech: Look, it’s a nice movie and all, but that’s it. I’m surprised to see the Academy fall for such a clear case of Oscar bait. British? Check. Period piece? Check. WWII? Check. Nazis? Check. Hero overcoming adversity? Check. The King’s Speech is very much a by-the-books historical drama that doesn't do anything that hasn't already been done. Even in the case of Slumdog Millionaire, another winner I felt was undeserving, I can at least see why the film won. With this one, I just don't get it. It's not that I dislike the film. I just don't think that it's anywhere CLOSE to being the best film of the year. It sure pays off to be under Harvey Weinstein’s wing.

Bright spots ('cause there actually were a few):

  • Cate Blanchett going off the script by saying that the makeup/visual effects used in The Wolfman were “gross.”
  • Billy Crystal showing up. It was like tossing a line to a drowning audience. They were so excited to see him that you could almost hear the wheels turning, “YES YES YES! A host who knows what he’s doing! Can you stick around for the rest of the show?”
  • Aaron Sorkin’s speech. They tried to play him off, which was remarkable. You do not play AARON SORKIN off the stage. To his credit, he never missed a beat in a well-paced, articulate speech that actually seemed to thank everyone he wanted to.
  • David Seidler’s speech. Funny, charming, and touching, which is everything an Oscar speech should be.
  • Luke Matheny’s speech (Best Short Film – Live Action). “I should have gotten a haircut. . . I want to thank my mom, who did craft services” Gold.
  • The decision to have a song performed during the “In Memoriam” segment. It eliminates the CLAP CLAP CLAP for the big names and the golf-like pitter-patter for people most folks hadn’t heard of.
  • Florence Welch and A.R. Rahman’s performance of "If I Rise." After a several less-than noteworthy performances, that one hit the spot. See what you get when you throw in some Eastern influence?
  • Randy Newman’s speech. His performance was a bit of a mess, due to that silly backing track rendering his voice unintelligible, but his speech was gold. Irreverence at its best.

By the way, I went 18/24. Should have entered the Outguess Ebert contest, ‘cause I outguessed the guy. There’s always next year.

Let's start the Billy Crystal 2012 campaign. It's gonna happen, kids. Bet on it.


Adam Zanzie said...

That they tried to play Aaron Sorkin off the stage gives me strange feelings that the Academy almost wanted to conspire against The Social Network. They did give an award to Trent Reznor, however, which was a good sign.

I din't like A. A Raman's song performance, but then again I thought all the songs were mediocre to awful. I am soooo glad the Country Strong song didn't win.

It was nice to see Kirk Douglas again, but the gags they had him playing onstage were a mistake. He obviously treated those comments about his supposed senility with jest, but it shows you how mean-spirited some speechwriters can be when they take the legendary actor of Ace in the Hole, Paths of Glory and The Fury and then embarrass him onstage. Even when Anne Hathaway "swooned" at his remark directed at her, it felt incredibly condescending. If they want to put Douglas onstage, let him be sentimental or something--don't reduce to him to unkind jokes that can only expedite his death. Or, at least, expedite the public's hopes to see him dead, and real soon. Hell, by the end of the speech *I* hopes he'd die soon because it was depressing just watching that, which, consequently, makes me feel like a douchebag. See what you did to me, Oscars? SEE?

Adam said...

I'm not sure how much of the Kirk Douglas bit was prepped by the writers, and how much was him ad-libbing. I identify with you in that I felt bad for him, because it seemed that he was either being played for a senile old man or might actually be one. I don't like to think of Kirk Douglas like that. At all.

It's strange too, because it wasn't all that long ago that he co-presented Best Picture (to Chicago) with Michael and it was wonderfully charming. "And the winner is!" :-( Sad state of affairs.