Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Oscars 2009: Shaking up the show

Well, that was certainly different. And overall, pleasant for a change of pace. No, not the outcomes, which were rarely in doubt - the show. Not everything worked, but points to first-time producers Laurence Mark and Bill Condon for trying to shake things up.

THE GOOD

1. Hugh Jackman: The man wears a tux better than just about anyone in Hollywood. Also, he was utterly at ease on stage, which you don't generally see in Oscars hosts. So what if his two musical numbers were rather unremarkable? He sold them with pizzazz and charm to spare. And I'm still laughing at "'The Reader'...I haven't seen 'The Reader.'" (Frankly, my dear, you shouldn't bother - your dance was far better worth watching.)

2. Anne Hathaway: Can really sing. Who knew? And looked lovely - for once her makeup didn't make her look like a clown. And she seemed genuinely happy just to be nominated and praised by Shirley McLaine.

3. Making the Kodak more intimate - something to do with the stage, I think, which was so close to the audience that Hugh could (literally) sit in Frank Langella's lap. It added to the cabaret feel of the show, by no means a bad thing.

4. "Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto." With that closing line, the coolness quotient of the Japanese guy who won for Best Animated Short went up by 1000%.

5. James Franco and Seth Rogen. I haven't seen "Pineapple Express," but that comedy skit was damn funny.

6. The Ledger family's acceptance of Heath's award. Quiet and classy.

7. Danny Boyle doing the "Tigger bounce" for his kids when he accepted for Best Director. Adorable. While I may not be enamored of his movie, I'm totally happy for him. (Aside: doesn't he look a little like a jollier, less crazy Dennis Hopper?)

8. Kate Winslet's dad whistling to her to signal where he was in the audience. That was awesome. And a hell of a whistle.

9. Sean Penn staying true to his colors - yet showing humility. I actually missed his speech because my stupid DVR cut off the recording at Best Actress (yes, I should have known the Oscars would run over; yes, I'm a DVR novice), but as soon as I heard he'd won I knew he would (1) speak out against Prop 8, and (2) bootstrap other, totally gratuitous political commentary. Sure enough, he did both. Sean is Sean, and I kind of love him for his bleeding-heart earnestness. But he was surprisingly subdued (for him), and his comments came across as heartfelt rather than blustering. Though I'm sure half the country probably hates him more than ever. I also loved the self-deprecating observation about how he makes it hard for us to honor him. No question in my mind he deserved to win. At the same time, I'm a little sad that Mickey didn't get it.

THE BAD

1. The "Slumdog" sweep. No surprises there, just disheartening. The only award it didn't pick up was one of the Sound awards (forget which one), and it still got the other one. I ask again, what in the name of Mumbai is the big deal about this movie?

2. Having past acting winners come out and pay tribute to present nominees sounds like a nice idea in theory, but in practice, the speeches were uneven and many of them felt canned. Plus I didn't like the fact that they replaced the clips of the nominated performances. I love the clips! (Even if they don't often do a good job picking them.)

3. I love musicals, but that musical tribute was a bit of a hot mess. The cuts between songs were whiplash-inducingly abrupt (I later learned Baz Luhrmann had directed the sequence - figures). And do we really need Beyoncé, bless her heart, to perform at every Oscars show? Plus, if they wanted to give a shout out to the genre, they should have done it last year when there were more movie musicals that were actually good.

4. The dead people's montage: Epic fail. Queen Latifah sang well, but the camera was moving so much and at such a distance from the montage screen it was impossible half the time to see who was being honored. Except for Paul Newman, who of course closed it out.

5. Futile attempts to appeal to the teen demographic. I've now seen enough of Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Robert Pattinson, and Miley Cyrus to last several lifetimes. Please give them a rest for the next ten years, Academy? Please?

THE UGLY

1. Jack Black and Jennifer Aniston: Worst Comic Pairing Ever. Could their lines have fallen any flatter? And for pete's sake, learn enough about French pronunciation not to butcher the names of the nominees. "LA MAY-ZAHN N PETTY CUBES" is not French, thanks.

2. Reese Witherspoon's dress: gack!

3. Whoopi in leopard print: double gack!!

JURY'S OUT

1. Ben Stiller's impression of Joaquin Phoenix was pretty funny. It was also a little cruel - that is, if you believe, as I do, that Joaquin has seriously gone off his rocker. Guess a Christian Bale impression would have been bleeped to high heaven.

2. Overall fashion trends: As at the Golden Globes, the dresses were mostly tasteful and kind of blah; lots of neutrals and soft, fluffy folds and drapings. Loved Frieda Pinto's blue dress - I don't care if people think it was too old for her, it stood out from the pack. And she's so pretty. Old my foot. Also loved Melissa Leo's copper-colored gown. She just looked so poised and elegant.

3. Amy Adams' two-ton necklace, which I've seen referred to, rather hilariously, as the "Skittles necklace." It's a bit much, but it really made her eyes snap. (Speaking of which, for any L.M. Montgomery fans out there - wouldn't Amy Adams have made a perfect Anne of Green Gables?)

All in all, an enjoyable show, but not a barn-burner and still. too. long. And I'm not just bitter because of the DVR thing. Next time I'll remember to tack on that extra half hour.

3 Comments:

Blogger mandingo said...

Congratulations on an outstanding blog; your Oscars post mortem is exceptional.

I agree with what you say about Sean Penn- I think the man has done himself very few favours with the viewing public by speaking out, but goddamm you have to admire his balls. (metaphorically speaking) If your conscience moves you to act in a certain way, life is too short not to do so, and I don't think Sean gives a flying fuck about the consequences anyway.

As R. Lee Ermey said so memorably about Private Joker in 'Full Metal Jacket', 'he's got guts, and guts is enough!'

Plus, I have to agree with you about 'Slumdog'; but then, the Academy loves these kinds of films, don't they? I have heard it said they are swamped with screeners and beseiged with material designed to sway their judgement, it must be tempting to say, as the big event draws near, 'fuck it, this film has underpriveliged brown people in it and a heartwarming message- this will do'. And given the other choices in 'best film' category, it was a pretty even spread, wasn't it? At least that pox ridden disaster 'Enigma of Bobby Button' or whatever it was called didn't win.

I guess it boils down to this; I have reservations about message movies full stop. I can't help but think if you really care about poverty in India, wouldn't you take the millions it cost to make the film and feed a few of them? The film makers usually fall back on the old 'getting the message out there', but isn't the problem not a question of public knowledge, but motivation to do something about it?

Or am I being too harsh?

Keep up the great work, Lylee; I for one will be paying close attention...

9:43 AM  
Blogger LVJeff said...

Pretty much agree with all your point in "The Good," and understand your reservations elsewhere. I liked the idea behind getting past winners to speak about the acting noms, but I definitely think it could've been implemented better. And yes, clips. But I think clips have been MIA for a few years now, especially when the show winds down and they're in a hurry. I can't quite remember, but I recall being huffy about missing clips in past years.

(Comment on the Dead People Montage -- hilarious and totally on point.)

About Slumdog -- what I had been sensing was a backlash against downer-doomsaying films, many of which had been honored in past years. Slumdog turned out to be somewhat serendipitous in nature -- not only is it "uplifting," it's well-made by a now respected director with a good track record; its scope is both global and modern; and yet it's old-fashioned in that way that makes movie vets pleased when they see an old formula working again. As such, it has a strong current, across-the-board appeal. Hence, it wins hearts, and thus it wins awards.

Recently, I've been hearing that Slumdog has been equated with optimism. So, you know, make of that what you will.

1:45 PM  
Blogger lylee said...

mandingo: Thanks! I agree with most of what you say. The thing about "message movies" for me is that I can still admire them and believe they do serve a purpose if they're really well executed...I just didn't think "Slumdog" was particularly. It showed the horrors of the slums just long enough and vividly enough to think "oh, how terrible" before washing them all away with an overdetermined feel-good ending. It was sort of in the Bollywood spirit in that sense, but sort of not, because of the rawness it showed in the "poverty 'n violence" scenes. It ended up being really neither one thing nor another.

Jeff: yes, I've been seeing the optimism argument as well. Some are even saying that "Slumdog" is a movie that embodies the Obama era. Don't know that I buy that, but there's no doubt it's at the opposite pole from last year's winner, "No Country for Old Men" - and indeed most of the movies that dominated the awards last year. Of course, I also thought that the movies last year were MUCH stronger than this year, even at the price of being terribly depressing.

2:05 AM  

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