Oscar Night Wrap-Up

The 82nd Oscars ended Sunday night at a few minutes after midnight, clocking in at around 3.5 hours, and undoubtedly media writers will be playing up Katherine Bigelow's historical new position as the first woman to win an Oscar for Direction. (I won't, but maybe there's some symbolic goodness in that her win on Sunday preceded International Women's Day, the following Monday.)

Much like Mo'Nique's winning Best Supporting Actress for Precious, when a performance or film is that good, race or gender or persuasion makes no difference. Of course, an Oscar win is also a mishmash of what's deserved as well as who deserves it based on other criteria. It certainly helped that Best Actor Jeff Bridges is a veteran with an excellent body of work (Fabulous Baker Boys is still one of maybe 5 films I'd want to have with me if stranded on an island, plus, uhm, a solar powered portable DVD player to watch the things), as well as part of Hollywood royalty – brother Beau and late father Lloyd are/were fine actors (with Beau also appearing in Baker Boys). Jeff Bridges' win for Crazy Heart made sense (as did Heart's Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett nabbing the Best Original Song Oscar).

So were the winners a big surprise?

I did expect Hurt Locker to nab Best Picture, Best Director, and maybe another upper-tier award (like Editing and Original Screenplay, which topped the film's win at 6).

I caught the film at a quiet preview held by Canadian distributor Maple, and I don't know if I'd say I didn't expect the film to do better on video, but its length and hyper-focus on the job of bomb disarming would've demanded average theatrical moviegoers be more patient with the film's hard style. That desert dune sniper attack is still one of the most tensely cut sequences around, and not much really happens. Crafting intensity from what's mostly a few people looking at each other through binoculars is pure editorial skill, plus the filmmakers trusting their intuition that what they're doing will ultimately work, and people are smart enough to get it.

Michael Giacchino's win for Best Score was lovely, as Up is a beautiful, lyrical score that also evokes the best of vintage fifties travelogue films, like Victor Young's Around the World in 80 Days (for which the composer was awarded a posthumous award). No surprised Up also won Best Animated Film, but it's really not a kiddie film. Two kids become friends, fall n love as youths, get married, live into their old age, and husband is left alone when wife dies. Beautiful, brutal opening sequence that sets up the character's life, his grumpiness, and his eventual bonding with the boy stowaway (Asian-neutral child #12) that rides with him to South America and meet a talking dog and a bird named Kevin.

As for the show itself, it was typical back-slapping, with luvvy odes among the artists that often went on too long, and left hardened hunks of sugary goo on the stage. (During the ad breaks, a team hurried to remove the encrusted goo with wide spatulas and dolphin-friendly bleach.)

I think the same ploy was used last year where the friends/associates/colleagues of nominated Best and Supporting actors actresses walked up to the edge of the stage and said their 'You're so wonderful' speeches, making sure they included words like elegance, bravery, admiration, awe, and so on.

The reason the luvvy orations were given so much airtime stems from a number of honorary awards being handed out months earlier. In past years, some winners were presented with their (often belated) Oscars, but this year the lot were blown off via a montage.

What that alone signalled is that film history and the members who furthered the art of filmmaking is only of note if it's recent, tied to enough living colleagues, or their significance can be explained in a few easy sound-bites.

Roger Who? Lauren Who? Gordon Who?

Those blown through in the who-were-these-people-again montage included producer/director and indie icon Roger Corman (The Intruder), cinematographer Gordon Willis (The Godfather trilogy), producer (Angels and Demons) and former seventies Warner Bros. executive John Calley, and actress Lauren Bacall (Key Largo), who was at least singled out by Queen Latifah for the audience's benefit.

The dead celebrity montage (“In Memorium”) was underscored by a solo rendition of The Beatles' “In My Life” by James Taylor, and the list was much more compact than in prior years.

The only technical blunder was the decision to cut from the montage to a wide shot of the darkly lit stage, where one could glimpse an elder gentleman conducting an orchestra in the projected film footage. No captions appeared on the TV, so most probably didn't know the composer being slighted was Maurice Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago). A simply Google query also reveals a number of artists left off the roster, including Farrah Fawcett. (Anyone remember Sunburn? Or that famous poster?)

The sole dead notable given a space of stage time was writer/director/producer John Hughes, who died suddenly in 2009. The tribute began with Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller's Day Off) and Molly Ringwald (Sixteen Candles), and as expected, when the curtain rose, there were more members of the Brat Pack who paid their respects to the man who redefined (if not created) the teen film for all ages.

Hughes' family was seated in the front of the audience and observed the mix of verbal and montage material, but the handful of spoken words by the Brat Packers seemed trimmed for time. (Click HERE for a blog regarding supposed sudden interest in some of Hughes' unfilmed screenplays.)

Marc Shaiman's position as conductor ensured the music was energetic, and the seamless transitions between many themes throughout the telecast made longer awards segments less lumbering than they really were.

The night's oddest moments: George Clooney looking strangely glum in several creepy close-ups, and Quentin Tarantino looking ashen after Bigelow was anointed Best Director. Was QT deep in thought, or was some of his ego voiding into the seat cushion?

Awards shows are a thing that can't really be improved because the basic formula is people talking, clapping, walking to accept awards, and ad breaks. The interpretive dance vignettes for Best Score are always ridiculous, the Best Song medley are often patently awful, and someone important often gets ignored in the ceremonies because it's the stars that are the main attraction.

Last night's luvvy orations could be seen as offshoots of reality TV: the stars are There. It's their friends 'unexpectedly' telling the world why Gene Bibbleford is a humanitarian, and Sally Hoofengrubber-Shutzmiller has inspired millions of actresses to believe in Art, love short brown people, and fight for the rights of thumbless ex-hookers and the reunification of lost pet rocks in the province of Pinikindu.

The idea reads noble on paper, but it's dull in real-time TV, and it robbed the aforementioned Honorary Oscar winners of their limelight in front of millions. Besides, from the extracts of that ceremony and dinner, everyone seemed to be having WAY more fun, telling wild tales of working with Roger Corman, his legendary cheapness, the mass of young filmmakers he inspired, Calley's creatively rewarding tenure at Warner's, and Bacall's dry persona at the podium. People were laughing and drinking that night, which looked far more amusing than the luvvy sessions last night, and one wishes the Honorary Awards Dinner was telecast instead.

The only real surprise: Sandra Bullock winning Best Actress for The Blind Side, which I understand is a populist feel good film that engages broad audiences from right, left, and centrist politics (but probably nauseates cynical writers, or those feeling the movie was Oscar bait that hit paydirt. No doubt it'll rent very well on DVD).

The expansion of Best Picture nominees from 5 to 10 isn't some 'restoration' of a great tradition scrapped by the mess of WWII in 1944. '43 was the last year they had 10 nominees because the Oscar body likely felt it was too many damn movies, and made the awards festivities longer than necessary. Some probably felt a few in the tally weren't deserving of being called 'the best that Hollywood had to offer' and knocking it down to a top 5 was an improvement, which is why it endured for over sixty years.

During that slab of time, winners were announced to the general public by radio, newsreels in theatres, and after the invention of TV, Oscar telecasts, satellite TV feeds, and online streaming.

The 'Top 10' syndrome was a dumb marketing ploy that allowed more producers/studios to slap pictures of the bald statue in poster and DVD art, let ABC promote the night not as a celebration of artistry but a smack-down between 10 titans, and give the impression the night was more embracing of commercial successes rather than critical darlings.

The Academy will probably try out the Top 10 for another year, and if it proves to be too unwieldy, it'll get scrapped due to a re-imagining and rebooting of the awards formula (which would be code for AMPAS members unwilling to sit though ten nominated movies, some of which run close to three bloody hours. Just wait – they'll be whining cum the fall of 2010).

Bullock winning a bald statue probably makes her the only actress to win both an Oscar and a Golden Razzie Award in the same year. So, to end off this editorial blathering, those wanting to check out Oscar winners and see some video clips of the speeches et al, there's the official site. Those wanting to see nominees and winners of rotten filmmaking, as well as Bullock's other acceptance speech for All About Steve can find further details at the official Razzie site.

Those expecting comments on Barbara Wawa's final Oscar Special will find none from me because half of Walters' hour-long show consisted of clips from prior interviews that were interminably boring, but at least they were less grating than the Red Carpet feeds run by various affiliated and starstruck networks and cable stations, like Canada's CTV, who pushed their team of plastic eTalk dollies onto the carpet to extract useless verbal chatter from stars.

TCM's own programming featured Oscar winning films in February and early March, culminating in one of the most infamous stinking turds ever made, 1966's The Oscar, which aired Sunday at 8pm. I'll have a review of this brilliantly awful lump of coal shortly, as well as several soundtrack reviews.



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