From: Subject: Date: April 21, 2005 3:53:51 PM CDT Hankblog

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Very belated Oscars take

So I'm just now getting a chance to talk about the Oscars awarded last week, and thought I would scattershoot on a couple of broad topics before taking down the top awards themselves.

Chris Rock was an unconventional selection for MC, and I think his monologue to open was worth the price of admission alone. That being said, what the hell are the organizers thinking by limiting people like Rock and Whoopi Goldberg from winging it during the show. A lot of the scripted jokes fell flat, and there were at least a couple of times where you could see a look on Rock's face where he's thinking "What the hell are you having me read this crap for?" My understanding is that Oscar ratings were down this year slightly from last. Some of what I've seen on the web is trying to lay that blame on Rock's head, not surprisingly at least a little from the right wingnuts, who weren't happy Rock went off on W. during the monologue, and probably fed their persecution complex more than a little. The reason ratings were down had nothing to do with Rock, and I'll talk about that a little more later.

Also sucking bad was the attempts to jazz up the ceremony by either A) having all the nominees appear on stage at the same time; or B) doing the presenting and speech from the seating areas. King Kaufman, the sports writer for, had the best take by far:

For that, we got the spectacle of Cate Blanchett and Jeremy Irons wandering around in the audience like ushers, and the winners of the various best whatever Oscars that got this treatment taking the statuette handoff, then padding down the aisle a few feet to a microphone, looking for all the world like someone about to ask Oprah's guest a question.

If you're in the movie business you spend your whole life dreaming of that moment when you'll get to make that walk, climb those stairs, kiss some movie star and stare out at a sea of faces that looks like one of those pizza-parlor murals, the ones with all the Hollywood royalty from Charlie Chaplin to, oh, those usually end around a youngish Woody Allen and Burt Reynolds, but you know the ones I mean.

Then you finally win one and the experience is a little like getting up to tell the City Council that your neighborhood has quite enough liquor licenses already, only a little less satisfying.

I think that hits it right on the heads just how wrong it felt to do the presentations like that. And you know what ABC, if you're going to have awards for best short, and best animated short, maybe you'd like to, you bits of the freaking short!!

One of the highlights for me was Sidney Lumet's acceptance speech for his honorary Oscar. In summary, his general thanks was issued not to any one person, but rather to the movies in general. As he said, he has one of the greatest jobs in one of the greatest industries in the world. It's one of the few times where I've seen an old Hollywood hand earnestly seem grateful for the fortune that put them in such a privileged position. It put a smile on my face to hear it.

Lastly, I would be thrilled if the Academy and ABC could find some excuse to have Yo-Yo Ma play the cello every year at the Oscars. I just wouldn't have it be because we keep having as many great film people passing be the reason to have him on. His cello practically wept during his number, and seeing how many legends and good solid actors, directors and such passed this last year made it seem like the cello had very good reason to weep.

Now, on with the criticisms. Obviously just my opinion, but for what it's worth:

Best adapted screenplay - Winner: Sideways; who deserved it: Sideways
I have to admit, I was surprised the Academy got this one right. Considering the way Million Dollar Baby was getting so much pub as a favorite, I was certain this award would go that way too.
Best original screenplay - Winner: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; who deserved it: Eternal Sunshine
Again, utterly dumbfounded that the Academy got this one right. Charlie Kaufman has to one of the single most brilliant minds in Hollywood right now. Every single thing he's done has just left me floored (though I haven't seen Human Nature). At this point he could write a screenplay that read like the ingredients in Coke, and I'd go see it excitedly.
Best supporting actress - Winner: Cate Blanchett; who deserved it: Virginia Madsen
Madsen was the only horse I really had in this race, and so can't get too worked up over it. I freely admit personal bias at being in love with the character she played in Sideways, and could just have my vision clouded by that. Side note: ABC chose probably the worst sample clip ever for Sophie Okonedo's nominated turn in Hotel Rawanda. The clips shows her sobbing in the back of a truck as it pulls away from Don Cheadle. Folks, that's the best sample of her work you could find from the movie? Come on, give us a little more here.
Best supporting actor - Winner: Morgan Freeman; deserved it: Jamie Foxx
I'm happy the Academy finally got their heads out of their asses and said "Hey we haven't gotten an Oscar to Morgan Freeman? What are we smoking?" But honestly, there wasn't another actor out there doing better work than Jamie Foxx. He brought such a wonderful level of depth and humanity to his character in Collateral. He should be bigger than any other actor out there right now. I think he should be pulling down Tom Cruise money for anything he wants to do from here on out. Best actress - Winner: Hilary Swank; deserved it - Swank (I guess)
I'd only seen Swank's performance, and Kate Winslet's in Eternal, and of the two, I can't make any quibbles about giving it to Swank. She's also showing the world just how gifted she is, and should be one of the all time greats when her time is done, barring any awfully choices (see Halle Berry, Catwoman)
Best actor - Winner: Jamie Foxx; deserved it - Foxx
More on this one in a bit, with my write up of Ray. We'll just say (with a tasteless joke to be sure) this one was so obvious, a blind man could have seen it.
Best director - Winner: Clint Eastwood; deserved it - just about anyone but Clint
This is one I just can't figure for the life of me. Oscar of late has been all about making up for past mistakes. Getting the statue to people who had been passed over in the past, even if the performance actually winning didn't merit it for the year given (call it the Pacino/Scent of a Woman award). By that criteria, Scorsese winning for The Aviator is an absolute no brainer. And if you're not going to play make-up here, giving the award instead to The Aviator for Best picture, then you have to give it to Payne for coaxing some truly exceptional performances out of his actors to make Sideways something exceptional? Hackford didn't deserve it for Ray, so I can't say ANYONE but Clint, but for God's sakes, where was Michael Mann for Collateral? Brad Bird for The Incredibles? Michael Gondry for Eternal Sunshine? Hell, I wouldn't have even batted an eye over Sam Raimi getting it for Spiderman 2. But Clint? For one of the most overblown pieces of sniveling, begging Oscar fare? Oy freaking vay people...
Best Picture - Winner: Million Dollar Baby; deserved it - The Incredibles (not nominated)
As you can see from my ranting on the director award, I was not happy to see this one go. MDB just didn't have anything to appeal to me as a viewer, and left me feeling manipulated and unimpressed. The simple fact of the matter is that the movie that I think did best at telling the story, involving me in the characters, and keeping me pinned to the edge of my seat wanting to know what happens next did not get nominated in this category. Pixar has been breaking new ground and raising the bar for what children's fare could potentially be head and shoulders above anything else out there (and I say this not as a shill for Apple and Steve Jobs, but just as a movie fan in general). With The Incredibles, Bill Bird and Pixar said a kid's movie can be longer, deal with deeper issues than just simple morality tales, and still be exciting, engaging, fun, and memorable. That deserves to be rewarded, and I think Oscar just completely whiffed on this one. Ten years from now, I can almost guarantee people will still be talking about The Incredibles. MDB will have long since faded from memory. I think this ranks just above Titanic and Gladiator as far as least deserving Best Pictures goes, but not by a huge amount.

As a parting shot, my top 10 for last year were:

1) The Incredibles
2) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
3) Collateral
4) Sideways
5) Shaun of the Dead
6) House of Flying Daggers
7) SpiderMan 2
8) The Bourne Supremacy
9) Closer
10) Kill Bill: Vol 2

Simple fact is this was a really unremarkable year for film, and that's the real reason why ratings were down this year. There wasn't one single film in the top categories that had a whole lot of people invested in it, and as such, it's hard to get worked up over a bunch of overdressed celebrities walking down a red carpet without a rooting interest. Hopefully 2005 will hold more promise than 2004 did. If not, I have fears that Hollywood may be winding down the same path the music industry has blazed over the last few years. Time will tell if things are getting better or worse.

Hope to have a Ray writeup tonight. Until then...