Monday, February 28, 2011

Oscars 2011: Nothing to see, folks

A friend of mine described this year's Oscars thus: "pretty much a misfire on all levels: host(s), movies awarded, speeches given, red carpet. A quadrifecta (pretty sure not a word but I don’t care) of suck."

(The word he's looking for is actually superfecta, but his works just as well.)

My verdict isn't quite as harsh, but I have to agree that it was a disappointing ceremony and, for the most part, an awfully dull one. I blame the flatness on the writing more than the hosts - except that only one of the hosts really showed up. Props to Anne Hathaway, whom I love more than ever, for her goofball charm and for valiantly resisting the deadly pull of the black hole by her side. Franco - and you know I love him - looked as tuned out as most of his audience probably felt. Some have speculated that he was stoned for the whole thing, but I think that's just how he looks. (Danny Boyle thought he was stoned when he auditioned for "127 Hours.") If he wasn't, he was probably wishing he was - I'm sure he, as much as anyone, would gladly have passed the baton off to Billy Crystal when the latter made his brief appearance.

-They kept it short! (Comparatively speaking. Just a smidgen over three hours ain't bad for the Oscars.)
-The opening montage with AH & JF inserting themselves into the Best Pic nominated movies. (Billy Crystal did it better, though.)
-The autotuned Best Song parody video. That was pretty damn funny.
-The return of the acting clips. Yay, no more stupid, painfully awkward introductions by the nominees' "peers"! Hated that innovation, so glad it's gone.
-All of Anne Hathaway's outfits; yes, even the space-age sapphire-blue number. She made 'em all work. And girl can SANG - though anyone who watched the year Hugh Jackman (sigh, Hugh) hosted knew that already.
-The dude with the crazy hair who won Best Live Action Short. Pure awesomeness, though I haven't seen his film.

-Melissa Leo's dress. (Seriously looked like she was wearing a giant doily.) And her train wreck of an acceptance speech. I did love that she dropped the f-bomb - an Oscars first, apparently. And Christian Bale's little self-mocking reference to it in *his* speech.
-"The King's Speech" winning both Director and Picture. It deserved neither. It *especially* did not deserve Director. At least Tom Hooper gave a nice acceptance speech.
-Roger Deakins ("True Grit") being denied AGAIN for the Cinematography Oscar. What's it take, Academy?
-Randy Newman singing AND winning "Best Song." Can the Academy get rid of that category already, or stop rewarding such insipid pap?
-The children's choir at the end: call me a Scrooge, but wtf do they have to do with movies or Oscars?

MOST MEMORABLE DRESS: Cate Blanchett's. It was a fright, and you know we'll all remember it long after we've forgotten what everyone else wore. Almost approached Björk swan territory.

MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE: This is obscure, but I was delighted to see "The Lost Thing" win Best Animated Short; I saw all the animated short nominees this year, and that was my favorite. Also happy to see "The Social Network" win Best Score over "The King's Speech."

LEAST PLEASANT NON-SURPRISE: Annette Bening losing the Oscar AGAIN. She's now O for 4 nominations at age 52. Well, she's in excellent company. She and Roger Deakins should go on a bender with Peter O'Toole.

AWKWARD BUT KIND OF AWESOME: Kirk Douglas hogging the stage and flirting with both Melissa Leo and Anne Hathaway. Stroke? What stroke?

JUST AWKWARD: Christian Bale appearing to forget his wife's name in his acceptance speech. Maybe he was just too choked up to say it; however, the majority of the people in my living room voted memory lapse. And was it mere coincidence that just about every married male winner (and one female) after that made a point of naming and thanking their wives?

BOTTOM LINE: I miss Hugh Jackman.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Oscars Predictions

If conventional wisdom proves correct, this will be the year Harvey Weinstein gets up on stage at the end of Oscars night and tells the world, "All of you who thought I was over, done, finito...can suck on DEEZ NUTS." Ok, he probably won't say that. But he'll certainly be thinking it. After a decade of languishing in an Oscar-less, hit-deprived wilderness, his Miramax glory days of the '90s far behind him, the producer Hollywood most loves to hate started to recover his mojo last year with the unexpected success of "Inglourious Basterds" and "The Reader." And now the Harvster is officially back with a vengeance, doing what he does best - convincing the Academy to vote a polished, charming trifle of a film Best Picture of the year. Only this time the film is "The King's Speech" rather than "Shakespeare in Love."

(Note: I'm quite fond of "Shakespeare in Love" and personally enjoyed it much more than "Saving Private Ryan," the movie it defeated for Best Picture. So I don't share the outrage of many regarding that particular Oscar surprise. But it's pretty much a truth universally acknowledged that SIL won that year thanks largely to the aggressive campaigning tactics of the Weinstein bros - especially Harvey.)

The big story of this Oscars season was a sharp shift in momentum from "The Social Network," which dominated the critics' awards and won the Golden Globe for best drama, to "The King's Speech," which cleaned up most of the guild awards, commonly perceived to be a more accurate pulse-reader of the "industry" (i.e., Oscar voters) than the encomiums of a bunch of critics, journalists, and wannabe journalists. The latter are already bemoaning TKS's impending triumph as the latest in a long line of Oscar follies, and yet another example of the older, stodgier, more conservative wing of the Academy favoring the sentimental over the cerebral, the past over the present, the square and old-fashioned over the hip, edgy, and socially relevant. I can't say I'm quite as exercised as some of these folks, partly because I'm not convinced "The Social Network" is as groundbreaking as they say, or will even necessarily stand the test of time better than "The King's Speech." That said, in my opinion "The King's Speech" is certainly inferior to "The Social Network," and indeed to every other film that was nominated for Best Picture. So it goes in Oscarworld.

Anyway, here are my predictions for the major awards - subject, as always, to last-minute change.


NOMINEES: The King's Speech, The Social Network, True Grit, The Fighter, Black Swan, 127 Hours, Inception, Winter's Bone, The Kids Are All Right, Toy Story 3

WILL WIN: The King's Speech

MY FAVORITE: The Fighter


NOMINEES: Tom Hooper, The King's Speech; David Fincher, The Social Network; Coen brothers, True Grit; David O. Russell, The Fighter; Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan

WILL WIN: Fincher. This one's trickier, but I think we'll see a Picture/Director split. Hollywood rates Fincher as a cinematic genius, or near-genius, whereas Hooper's background, prior to The King's Speech, was mainly in television (admittedly high-quality, high-prestige television, e.g., the "John Adams" miniseries starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney). There's probably a perception that he hasn't fully earned his stripes yet.

MY FAVORITE: Close call between David O. Russell (The Fighter) and Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan). Both took what could easily, in other hands, have become shopworn genre flicks and shaped them into eminently watchable, indeed, riveting films.


NOMINEES: Colin Firth, The King's Speech; Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network; Jeff Bridges, True Grit; James Franco, 127 Hours; Javier Bardem, Biutiful

WILL WIN: Firth, in a cakewalk.

MY FAVORITE: All are deserving (though I prefer Firth, Eisenberg, and Bridges to the other two), but I want Firth to win - partly, I admit, because I think he really should have won last year for A Single Man.


NOMINEES: Natalie Portman, Black Swan; Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right; Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone; Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine; Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole

WILL WIN: Portman, though Bening has an outside shot

MY FAVORITE: With the caveat that I haven't seen Kidman in Rabbit Hole, my vote is for Bening. While Portman's is certainly the *showiest* performance, I maintain Bening's is the most nuanced. For example, just watch the whole sequence when Mark Ruffalo's character hosts dinner for her and the other characters. Over the course of the evening she starts to warm to him, only to make a terrible discovery that causes her expression, her whole demeanor, to change completely, and completely silently. No hysterics, no shouting, no gesturing. It's all in her face, and something in the quality of her voice. It's remarkable. She's brilliant. And yes, she's overdue for an Oscar.


NOMINEES: Christian Bale, The Fighter; Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech; John Hawkes, Winter's Bone; Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right; Jeremy Renner, The Town


MY FAVORITE: Bale, though I was also quite impressed by Hawkes.


NOMINEES: Melissa Leo, The Fighter; Amy Adams, The Fighter; Hailie Steinfeld, True Grit; Helena Bonham-Carter, The King's Speech; Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

This has turned into the most interesting race among the majors, ever since frontrunner Leo made an ill-advised decision to publish her own "for your consideration" ads encouraging Oscars voters to choose her. A bit tacky, but did it actually turn voters against her - or at least enough of them to make a difference? Hard to say without knowing the margin of her lead. There was always the danger she would split votes with co-star Adams; meanwhile, Steinfeld's stock has been rising rapidly as of late, and Supporting Actress is a category where Oscars voters sometimes like to spring surprises and embrace brand-new, shiny Young Things. Never mind that Steinfeld's character is really a lead and not a supporting role.

WILL WIN: Tough call, but I'm sticking with Leo - for now.

MY FAVORITE: Adams. Leo's excellent, don't get me wrong, but like The Fighter overall, Adams impressed me with her ability to take a cliche (here, the role of the tough but supportive love interest) and make it emotionally effective.


NOMINEES: The King's Speech, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The Fighter, Another Year

WILL WIN: The King's Speech

MY FAVORITE: I haven't seen Another Year, but among the others, I think The Fighter did the best job at crafting a compelling story - though it was obviously assisted enormously by first-rate acting across the board.


NOMINEES: The Social Network, True Grit, Winter's Bone, 127 Hours, Toy Story 3

WILL WIN: The Social Network