Is it just me or was that the most boring Oscars presentation in the history of the awards? Is it because they only had a few weeks to prepare for the broadcast? Maybe they would have been better off with the clips show they were working on in the event that the strike hadn’t ended. Apart from some of host Jon Stewart’s zingers (and I’m sure he brought his own writers), the show seemed as if it were put together by some very rusty folks. YAWN.
Last year I tried to be positive in my Oscars post mortem, and I listed the ten best things about the show. This year I can’t even come up with ten comments, good OR bad. But here are some random ramblings:
Jon Stewart scores. I used to resent when non-film people hosted the show but now I see that the job requires some very unique and specific skills, all of which Jon Stewart has in spades. What works best, in my opinion, is someone who can pull off a balancing act between reverence and cynicism. The host needs to take the awards seriously, but with a wink and a healthy dose of awareness about the absurdity of the evening. Bob Hope could do it. And Stewart is a worthy successor. “Before we spend the next four to five hours giving each other golden statues, let's take a moment to congratulate ourselves.” Perfect line to start things out with. I think Jon Stewart did a good job throughout, I only wish he’d been able to goose up the bland proceedings even more. He touched on some political humor but didn’t go very far with it, and I was surprised there wasn’t more mention of Obama-mania. The best joke of the evening, and the only one that had me screaming with laughter, was at poor Hillary’s expense. After referring to nominee Julie Christie, he explained that her movie “Away From Her” was about “a woman who forgets about her husband. Hillary Clinton called it the feel-good movie of the year.” Now that’s funny.
I also liked his reference to the incredibly violent slate of Best Picture nominees with “Juno” as the one exception. “Tonight we look beyond the dark days to focus on happier fare—this year's slate of Oscar-nominated psychopathic killer movies. Does this town need a hug? No Country For Old Men, Sweeney Todd, There Will Be Blood. All I can say is: thank God for teen pregnancy!” And I’m glad he pointed out the absurdity of Vanity Fair canceling its big Oscar party in deference to the writers. Huh? They did this AFTER the strike ended, it made no sense. “You know another way they could show respect for the writers?” Stewart asked. “Maybe one day invite some of them to the Vanity Fair Oscar party! Don’t worry. They won't mingle.” Worse joke of the evening? A tie between introducing Harrison Ford as a car dealership and the crack about John Travolta parking his airplane on La Brea Avenue. I did like the nod to new technologies. Coming back from the commercial to find Stewart playing Wii Sports on the gigantic screen was funny, as was seeing him watching “Lawrence of Arabia” on his “widescreen” iPhone. I just hope those were topical gags and not product placements. But despite his talents, Stewart wasn’t enough to save this dreary show. Is Billy Crystal finally ready to come back?
The perils of presenting. I know I’m kvetching about the lack of spice on the show, but giving the presenters stale comedy bits to read mechanically off the TelePrompter is so NOT the answer. Every one of these routines was cringe-worthy, especially the tired trick of announcing one set of presenters and then bringing out two “substitutes” as they did last night with Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen arguing which one of them was Halle Berry and which one was Judi Dench. NOT funny, and I really felt for the guys, especially Jonah Hill who we met last year at "The Tonight Show" and who seemed like such a nice guy. These bits are impossible to pull off, why can’t they just allow the presenters’ own personalities to come through. I remember those rare occasions in Oscars of yore when someone broke from the script and had a spontaneous moment (Bette Midler and Jack Nicholson come to mind). It was like getting a breath of fresh, clean air in a collapsed mine shaft. Even the brilliant Helen Mirren, who could make a recitation of the ingredients on a can of Spaghettios sound like Shakespeare, faltered when she tried to deliver the joke that was handed to her about Hollywood studio heads. Bring ad-libbing back to the Oscars!
Make me cry, damn it. That’s what it takes for me to really enjoy an Oscar broadcast—some genuine moments of sincere emotion. I was only moved to tears twice last night. First, when Javier Bardem launched into rapid-fire Spanish for the sake of his mother who was his date at the show and was obviously choked up at seeing her son up on that stage. Second, when “Juno” screenwriter Diablo Cody broke down while accepting her Oscar and thanked her parents for “accepting me exactly as I am.” I had no idea that the tattooed screenwriter was a former stripper. She definitely seems like a unique character for Hollywood and so hip that I hope we don’t find out she’s really a Harvard MBA student who fabricated a more interesting past.
R.I.P. American actors. This is the first Academy Awards where not a single American actor won an award (oops, it happened once before at the 1965 awards—see below). I didn’t hear anyone comment on that last night, or the fact that two of the awards went to British actors playing Americans. Is this a statement about our country’s actors? About the Academy’s love affair with Europeans? Not that I begrudge any of the winners their awards. I admit I was shocked that Tilda Swinton won for her role in “Michael Clayton.” She was great in the part, I just didn’t think she had a chance in hell. Neither did she, apparently, I’ve never seen someone look so shocked. And apparently she already made good on her promise to give her Oscar to her agent (and Oscar-lookalike) Brian Swardstrom. I love Swinton, she definitely marches to her own drummer and I admired her decision to wear that schmatte and not a stitch of makeup. God love her, with those blaring lights in the Kodak Theatre, she looked like she was auditioning for the opening scene in “Six Feet Under.” And one of my favorite moments of the evening was when Daniel Day-Lewis went up to accept his Oscar from Helen Mirren and kneeled down to be knighted by the Queen. “That’s the closest I’ll ever come to getting a knighthood,” he quipped. I doubt it, I bet he gets that honor in due time, if not by Queen Elizabeth then surely by the future King Charles or William.
Why I HATE awards shows. The Best Actress presentation reminded me again why I hate, loathe, and despise these shows (and yet can't stop watching them). As I mentioned in my Oscar predictions (I scored an abysmal 2 out of 5 this year), I thought French actress Marion Cotillard was so magnificent in “La Vie en Rose” that she deserved every accolade she could possibly get. But I also thought Julie Christie gave a remarkable performance in “Away From Her” and I was excited that she was the rumored favorite for the award. When Cotillard’s name was announced, all I could think of was how disappointed Christie must be since so many people thought she would win. I know the actress will be just fine, but situations like that make me ponder the insanity of pitting these apple-and-orange performances against each other to decide which one is “best.” It’s really absurd, why do we do it? What is this insatiable need we have to compete? That said, Félicitations, Marion, j’espère de vous voir dans beaucoup de films dans le futur! Cotillard was delightful in her babbling speech, and such a knockout that you have to marvel at her Oscar-winning makeup people who transformed her into the middle-aged Edith Piaf. I just hope Cotillard doesn’t become the next Audrey Tatou and forsake the excellent French cinema for lousy higher-paying American blockbusters. Oops, too late, I just checked and saw that her next two films are American, but they sound good: one about 1930s gangsters with Johnny Depp and then the film version of the musical “Nine” with Oscar winner Javier Bardem playing Guido and a stellar international cast including Penelope Cruz and Sophia Loren. I’M IN! Is there a part for Julie Christie in the film?
I am dis-enchanted! Look, I am man enough to admit that I LOVED the movie “Enchanted.” I found it to be a charming, poignant, and clever take on the disparities between fairy tale dreams and the real world. I thought Amy Adams was so good in the lead role that she should have been nominated for Best Actress. I admit I was surprised when the film nabbed three of the five Best Song nominations. The songs were perfect for the film, but they were themselves parodies of treacly Disney fare and didn’t exactly stand alone as ballads that would live on as part of our canon of Oscar-nominated standards. But as much as I’ve complained in the past about the overblown production numbers for the song nominees, where did the budget go for this year’s songs? Did they use it for the live feed from Iraq in which five American soldiers in Baghdad presented the award for Best Documentary? Or for the not-very-funny animated bit that had Jerry Seinfeld’s bee character presenting the award for animation? The “Happy Working Song” was one of the best scenes in “Enchanted” because it was a technical tour-de-force. Amy Adams, having left her fairy tale world for gritty Manhattan, enlists the help of her animal friends to clean up Patrick Dempsey’s slovenly apartment. But instead of animated bluebirds, bunnies, and adorable mice wearing bow ties, she brings in armies of real cockroaches, city pigeons, and oversized New York sewer rats. It’s a brilliant scene contrasted against the inane frivolity of the Snow White-like song. So whose bright idea was it to stick Amy Adams on the stage alone in a pretty dress to warble this song without the slightest prop or accoutrement? Ouch. Adams made the best of it, but it was hard to watch. Even Jerry Seinfeld’s bee would have been a help. The other two numbers, while at least they had some costumes and dancing, were still such a bore that if I hadn’t already seen and loved the film, I would’ve immediately deleted it from my Netflix queue. Couldn’t Debbie Allen have been brought back to work something up behind poor Amy Adams?
Bravo, Jon Stewart! One last kudo to Jon Stewart for the classiest moment of the evening. When Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová won the Oscar for their song “Falling Slowly” from the film “Once,” the ruthless Academy orchestra cut Irglova off just as she reached the podium to make a few remarks. Coming back from the commercial, Jon Stewart took a few moments to bring the young woman back to the stage to make her speech. You go, Jon! Will Stewart’s bold gesture finally sound the death knell for that horrific practice of interrupting winners with blaring music to get them off the stage? God, I hate that. Of course most of the winners’ speeches are boring as hell, but I’d still rather let them finish, it’s just embarrassingly rude to give them the bum’s rush in that way. Good for Glen Hansard, by the way, who dropped out of school at the age of 13, and once played with his band The Frames at my sister’s bar in Chicago. And Irglová isn’t even 20 yet!
I guess that’s enough for now. No use following a long, crushingly boring Oscars show with a long, crushingly boring blog post about it. I should stop before commenting on honorary Oscar winner Robert Boyle, who while very much deserving of this award, gave an endless speech that was so awkward you could hear the nominees fidgeting in their seats. The director of the show kept cutting to wonderful, sweet Laura Linney, the only person in the audience crying from happiness as Boyle spoke instead of wincing in pain. And I should refrain from mentioning my lack of interest in this year’s film montages, something I usually look forward to, although I did enjoy Jon Stewart’s tongue-in-cheek salute to films featuring binoculars and bad dreams. And I shouldn’t be a killjoy and say how disappointed I was that the Coen brothers won so many awards for “No Country for Old Men.” I’m just not a big fan of this film, I much preferred Paul Thomas Anderson’s riveting “There Will Be Blood,” if we had to choose between violent depictions of American life. On the other hand, it’s fun to see such un-Hollywood types make it to the big time and it brought one of those much-craved tears to my eyes to see how happy and excited the brilliant Frances McDormand was to see her husband Joel Coen win so many awards. I’m so looking forward to McDormand’s next starring role in “Mrs. Pettigrew Lives for a Day,” co-starring Amy Adams, which opens next week. I hope to see both of those dames on the Kodak stage next year.