The Oscars

February 24, 2009

Oscar

Oscar


Yup, I admit it. I’m an Oscars junkie. I love the Oscars, even when I hate the show. I am a cinephile, I love cinema as a powerful contemporary art form. And I love the movies, and the tradition and history and glitz and glamour of movies and their stars. And the Oscars invariably represents the best and worst extremes of these disparate and often divergent elements.

I also love second-guessing the Oscars, via my entry in a longstanding Oscar pool. This year, I got 18 picks right out of 24 — respectable but not remarkable, and this was an easier, more predictable year than the last couple. A pool tests one’s knowledge not merely of film, but of the business and politics and other ephemerals that enter into the process – an exercise in informed cynicism. In the last week before the show, I saw eight movies – I like to try to see all nominees in the top eight categories, and usually come close. My own preference for best film would have been Milk, but I correctly predicted Slumdog Millionaire. I agree with David Denby who said that Milk was the only film in the Best Picture category that truly deserved to be there. Compared with the previous two years, 2008 was not a great year for movies, or for the Oscars.

I hated most of the changes in this year’s show. The only significant improvement was giving winners more leeway in the running time of their acceptance. I’ve long felt that the insistent cutting short of these speeches has been a terrible choice, considering that these are the only genuine and human moments the show produces, and therefore – it should be obvious! – the best moments the show has to offer. I will gladly tolerate some rambling and boring speeches in return for Penelope Cruz’s ecstasy, Kate Winslet’s genuineness, Sean Penn’s bully pulpit and gracious nod to Mickey Rourke, director/co-writer Andrew Stanton, accepting Best Animated Film Oscar for Wall-E, giving credit to his high school theater teacher for casting him in Hello, Dolly!

But beyond that, the changes were a consistent bust. While I like the idea of bringing the veteran winners on stage to present the acting awards, the notion of them speaking directly to the nominees was ponderous and pretentious, not to mention generally excruciating for the nominees, who are left with no reasonable way to react during these pronouncements. DeNiro gave one of the best of these speeches, but overall the effort was a bust.

But the worst of all goes to the abandonment of long tradition and hiring an actor instead of a comic to host. Despite the flaws of some recent comic choices, such as Chris Rock (and the notorious Letterman appearance), Steve Martin was superb, very much in the Johnny Carson mold (and Martin was also very funny this year with Tina Fey, a bright spot in an otherwise woefully unfunny show), and I thought Jon Stewart did a fine job last year.

Instead, they hire an actor who is not a comic and cannot sing, so that he can do a monologue, and sing. Despite the communal hug of a standing ovation from his colleagues in the seats, I thought he was awful and the material – laden with props and sets – was worse. A comic can provide the two or three ad-libs in the course of the night that can really make the show. This show was sadly devoid of humor, and became ponderous, pretentious, and self-important — always impending risks at the Oscars, but the defense lost to it all this year, when essentially the lunatics were allowed to take over the asylum.

I would also like to have seen a Paul Newman tribute of some sort. And the most important question of all:

WHERE WAS JACK?!?

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