March 2, 2009

Oscar 2008: What Went Down

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 7:58 am
Tags: , ,

So another Oscar night has come and gone, and as I won $60 and saw most of my personal preferences emerge victorious, I was happy. But what of the show itself? Behold my musings.

Okay, I know its been a week and you probably don’t care anymore, but this is how long it took me to get some comments together, and by the Power of Grayskull, I will be heard! Or at the very least, I will send this to people, thus giving me the illusion that I am being heard. So then…

I thought it was a pretty great show, overall. The new producers did a nice job and brought some real inventiveness to a familiar formula.

The production design was great. It was a nice move, shifting the orchestra onto the stage and bringing the proscenium right out to the audience with that small, round extension and having the nominees and presenters arranged in a semi-circle. It looked good, and made it appear more intimate for the nominees.

I also liked the way the stage changed to reflect the awards being given, from the soundstage look of the pre-production awards (Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup) to the camera equipment signaling Best Cinematography to the multiple, Matrix-y screens decorating the post-production awards/Will Smith Show (Visual Effects, the two Sound awards and Editing). And on a related note, I liked he idea of the awards being presented in the order of when in the process they happen. It gave a nice flow to the presentation.

Hugh Jackman wasted little time before moving into a song, which was a clever jab at the Academy’s claim of toning down the excess to reflect the struggling economy. It was a fun number using boards of card and chalk, and while the song itself wasn’t as memorable as some of Billy Crystal’s numbers, the low-budget gimmick was creative and made the bit work. And kudos to Anne Hathaway for a great cameo.

This segment kicked off with a great intro, as the screen presented a script describing the arrival of Steve Martin and Tina Fey. It was a pleasant surprise to see Fey there; I think of her as a TV actress, but I guess with the success of Baby Mama she now has legit movie cred. She and Steve Martin were aces, and Milk winner Dustin Lance Black gave a moving speech.

Next year, I want Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder to present these awards. I already have the whole bit worked out, and I’ve got 11 months to get it to the Academy!

First off, I gotta ask: did the movie Space Chimps actually get some play at the Academy Awards? Seriously?

These were presented by Jack Black and Jennifer Aniston, and l must address the entertainment media fucktards who insist on creating drama that doesn’t exist. It is true that twice during Black and Aniston’s banter, the cameras cut to Angelina Jolie. The next day, everyone was talking about it. Ooooh, it’s shocking because Jen used to be married to Brad!  Ohhhh, it’s controversial because now he’s married to Angie. Awkward!

Let me explain this to you like the soft-headed infants that you are. Jack Black made two jokes referencing his voice work in Dreamworks’ animated films. After these two jokes, the camera cut to Angelina Jolie…because she did voice work in the same movies. Do you get it? Did that even occur to you? No, of course not. Why would your job actually depend on knowing something about the fucking industry you’re “covering?”

But wait, there’s more! While I’m addressing the buffoons of the entertainment media, can I point out this article, suggesting that Mickey Rourke is now going to drift back into obscurity because he didn’t win the Oscar? What friggin’ planet are these people on? Rourke is fielding offers left and right, including a major role in Iron Man 2 (though Marvel appears to be skimping on the budget, which could cost them Rourke and several other good actors). Everybody in town wants a piece of Rourke, and he seems determined to make good on his comeback and the industry’s renewed faith in him. So to the writers of these articles: step away from the keyboard until you have a clue about the field you’re reporting on. Just because you’re covering show business doesn’t mean you have to be utterly vapid and uninformed.


I love that Bill Maher was there to present these, partly because of the irony stemming from how much contempt he likely has for most of the people in that room (well, for most of the actors, anyway), and partly because Bill Maher has balls. His balls got him fired from his show on ABC some years ago (no, he didn’t actually show them on TV, although that might have gone over better than the comment that did cost him the job), but he made a welcome return to the network on Oscar night.

Maher couldn’t resist shamelessly plugging his own, non-nominated documentary Religulous, nor the chance afforded by that reference to quickly and sharply express his opinion about God and religion. Even through the TV you could feel the discomfort that drifted around the Kodak at that moment, but I applaud him for saying it. I also thought he paid respectful tribute to the work of documentary filmmakers, and the producers made a nice move this year by spotlighting the documentarians on camera in the audience when their names were being read. We had already glimpsed them in the Documentary 2008 tribute reel that preceded the award, but acknowledging them in the room was a nice gesture that should be done more often.

Oh and friend of the blog Grantland G. is right – Man on Wire‘s Philippe Petit balancing the Oscar on his chin was an instant classic that will be part of all future Oscar highlight reels – like Jack Palance doing one-armed-push-ups, the streaker behind David Niven, etc. Also, tell me when he walked up on stage and glanced upwards around the room that he wasn’t asking himself what feat of high-wiring he could do in that theater. Maybe at next year’s ceremony…

The Baz Luhrmann movie musical tribute number was a mixed bag. It was well staged, infused with old fashioned movie musical pizazz. But the medley-style, blending all the various songs together, didn’t work that well for me; the presence of Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper seemed like an unnecessary afterthought distracting from Jackman and Beyonce; and let’s face it – Oscar musical numbers are inherently kinda hokey. Yes, Jackman helped by framing it as a “the musical is back” celebration, which gave it some relevance and kept it from being taken too seriously. But when you look back at some of the big production numbers from Oscars past – I’m looking at you, 1970’s and 80’s – they’re pretty cheesy, and this one was sort of in the same vein. It wasn’t a disaster by any stretch, so I’m okay with it, but let’s hope the musical isn’t that back.

The Best Song nominees presentation was decent. The Slumdog songs don’t work as well out of the movie, but they made for an energetic sequence. And all respect to John Legend, but it was too bad Peter Gabriel declined to perform his tune from Wall-E, as his voice does particular justice to that song. The blending of “Down to Earth” and “Jai Ho” wasn’t ideal, but they made it work well enough. If only this segment had been as good as, say, oh, I dunno…Bruce Springsteen’s halftime show at the Super Bowl.

Maybe if they had nominated him, it could have been. Morons.

One musical number I did like was Queen Latifah’s live performance to the In Memoriam reel. I thought that was a nice change from the usual instrumental presentation. I also liked how several screens, large and small, hung down and displayed the work of the individuals. But on the downside, the desire to showcase the staging often made it difficult for the TV viewer to read the name of the deceased. Still, it was a nice tribute overall, and it ended the only way it should have: with a rousing round of applause for Paul Newman.

I still can’t believe he’s gone.

The presentation of Best Supporting Actress at the beginning of the show kicked off one of the best surprises of the night: the presence of five former winners coming together to anoint their next companion. These were well staged, and while I wish clips had still been shown (they’re the best way to hook uninformed viewers into performances and films they might not have seen) the personalization of a former winner directly addressing a nominee was really nice. It seemed to make the experience more special for all the nominees, and for the winners it did give the sense of joining the ranks of a pretty cool club.

But where were last year’s male winners, Javier Bardem and Daniel Day-Lewis? Joel Grey even mentioned Javier in his remarks to Josh Brolin. Great to see Joel Grey there, but wouldn’t that bit have been better coming from Javier himself? Also, Christopher Walken addressing Michael Shannon – how perfect was that? If Hollywood has any brains, there’s a screenwriter out there right now devising a movie in which these two play a creepy father-and-son duo. As for Kevin Kline, I love any and all reminders that he won an Oscar for A Fish Called Wanda, so I was glad to see him there.

I was really glad that Heath Ledger’s family was there to accept his award. He’s won a bunch leading up to this, and his director or co-stars have accepted for him. But this is the Oscars, and it was great to see his family there to honor him. I wish the camera had cut to the audience a bit more to give us a read of the room during their touching acceptance. Good on ya, Heath. You deserved it.

Kate Winslet’s dad whistling (and looking eerily like Inauguration Day Dick Cheney) was a good moment, as was her whole speech. She’s taken some flack throughout the awards season for being too emotional, but each time she’s taken the stage she has been grateful and effusive toward the people she’s worked with and loves. I appreciated her tributes to her early supporters Peter Jackson and Emma Thompson, to The Reader‘s late producers Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack, and to her fellow nominees. She should have thanked Nicole Kidman too, for getting pregnant and having to drop out of the film.

As a host, Jackman did well. He’s a great showman and he’s got a good sense of humor, but I did miss the presence of a comedian and the run of jokes they would typically employ to help keep the show moving. There were funny bits throughout – like Judd Apatow’s hilarious Comedy 2008 tribute with Seth Rogen and James Franco reprising their Pineapple Express roles, or Natalie Portman’s presentation with a Joaquin Phoenix-ized Ben Stiller – but it would have been nice to have a comedian’s touch guiding the ship. Oh, and Portman had one of the best jokes of the night when she described Ben Stiller as looking like a “Hasidic meth addict.”

Just because I’m a guy doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate Oscar gowns. I like seeing what the ladies are wearing as much as anybody, to appreciate both the craftsmanship of a beautiful dress and the craftsmanship of the woman inside it. So I’d like to give a shout-out to the hottest stars of Oscar night: Penelope Cruz, Natalie Portman, Angelina Jolie, Marion Cotillard, Freida Pinto (who gets the gold star for the season, having looked gorgeous in every dress at every event she’s been to), Angelina Jolie and of course, Kate Winslet.

Ladies, I salute you, and to paraphrase my favorite TV weatherman Brick Tamland, I cordially invite you to the afterparty in my pants.

Just a few quick comments on the other awards show of Oscar weekend, the always entertaining Independent Spirit Awards:

-Penelope Cruz – Another win, another opportunity to look super hot, this time in a casual, simple brown dress. What a stunner she is…

-Robin Wright Penn – This woman deserves a shout-out, because she’s totally underappreciated – for her acting and her beauty. She presented an award, and reminded me how awesome she is.

-Mickey Rourke – He won the Best Actor award, and took full advantage of IFC’s uncensored ceremony, dropping F-bombs left and right and showing his gratitude in a long, hilarious speech. Way to go, Mickey.

-Christian Bale and Joaquin Phoenix – This one must speak for itself. Check it out, but not in the office…

And so the 2008 awards season draws to a close. In the interest of trying to follow all the advice I’ve been getting lately about starting a blog, stand by for a taste of what I’m looking forward to in ’09.

Thanks for reading…

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