I am reading all these bloggers who’ve pledged to see all the Best Picture nominees, or all the films with a non-technical nomination (that’s Sarah Bunting, and she almost did it). Some of them spent two Saturdays in a row parked in a movie theater seat watching five wannabe Best Pictures back-to-back. My major regret going into Oscar night is that I haven’t seen enough of the nominated movies. Living virtually across the street from a limited-release haven like the Cedar Lee, just about every one of these movies has crossed my path (not something I could say back when I was living in Lansing, Michigan--sorry Lansing). I went to an Oscar party in which the crowd was generally well-versed in movies—not just the big ones, but independents, foreigns, documentaries—and I wished I could have given more opinions instead of continually saying, “That looked really good. I heard that was good. I was going to see that. Everything I’ve read online says that was overrated, actually.”
The real problem is this whole being-in-grad-school thing, which will be over soon enough. I’ll be a cultural civilian again by May, and then it’s seeing movies all the time, reading books all the time, just because I damn well want to. And maybe next February I’ll plan my own Oscar film binge.
This year, I had to content myself watching the Oscars having seen only Inglourious Basterds, Up in the Air, Julie and Julia, and one-third of The Hurt Locker. I'm catching up on the other movies at my usual snail’s-pace rate. (Oscar-nominated or Oscar-winning movies I have seen in the past few months: Valmont, Mrs. Brown, Frozen River, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, Gangs of New York.)
Anyway, here are my totally uneducated thoughts on the proceedings.
Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin made me laugh, although I agree with most next-day commenters that each of them would have been a bit edgier and more interesting on their own. I did enjoy the bit where the show cut backstage and the two were on a couch, sharing a Snuggie. I also continue to find Ben Stiller funny; I don’t know. The next day everyone complains about his intensely unfunny antics, and I think, “well, I was laughing.” Come on! He integrated “I’m king of the world” into his ramblings in that made up Avatar language. Tina Fey and Robert Downey Jr. were the most unfailingly funny pairing, but they were bound to be.
It took me a long time to figure out why Robin Williams handed out the award for Best Supporting Actress. “Who won Best Supporting Actor last year who couldn’t make it to the awards ceremony this year?” I asked myself, as well as the group of people with whom I was sitting. It took a good ten minutes before we figured out who it was. Why Robin Williams was the go-to guy to fill in, I do not know.
Some people didn’t like the peer introductions of the nominees that were introduced last year; I thought it was really kind of cool. I did miss clips of the movies, though, and that was something they brought back this year, at least for the supporting categories. The clips for the first category, Best Supporting Actor, were so incredibly long that I knew the show was going to run overtime. That’s the one real production thing that I feel like you can blame the director of the Oscars for. You can’t even gauge the appropriate length of a clip? It’s not two and a half minutes per actor. The peer intros were returned for best actor and actress—I think at that point we’d seen clips enough of just about every nominated movie, that we didn’t really miss anything there—but some of the introducers needed more rehearsal on their stories. Or even for someone to have edited them a little bit. Forget being off-the-cuff and spontaneous—I love Michelle Pfeiffer, but she was really rambling.
I never really get tired of seeing how the show is going to integrate movie heritage into the proceedings. Who or what will we be saluting this year? Regarding the horror montage: I’m not the only person on the internet to point this out, but you can’t say that the Oscars haven’t rewarded a horror movie since the 1970s with The Exorcist, and then include Jaws, Silence of the Lambs, Misery, The Sixth Sense, and a ton of other movies that were decorated with statuettes much more recently than that. Also, the compilers of this clip did not understand the nuanced differences between “horror movies” and “movies with Gothic themes.” It doesn’t matter, I won’t quibble because I know that the only reason they included this bit was so they’d have an excuse to trot out the Twilight kids.
As for the John Hughes tribute—yeah, that was kind of weird. Not that I don’t love John Hughes movies--girl says to Molly Ringwald: “Last night at the dance my little brother paid a buck to see your underwear”--but other directors died in the last few years without getting treated to a ten-minute salute. Here are three.
Also, why did they choose to end the clip on that line from The Breakfast Club about when you get older, “your heart dies”? OK, maybe it was kind of Hughes’ mission statement, a least for that movie, but didn’t Hughes die of a heart attack? Did no one think that was...in bad taste?
As to the ridiculousness of the dancing during the best score montage, I'm going to let one of the commentators from Monkey See's live blog of the event handle that one. Marc Hirsh of Monkey See: I don't understand this. Which of these breakdancers is [Sherlock Holmes's] Moriarty?
How about the Best Documentary Short category? People are calling that woman the Kanye West of crazy old white ladies. It really was an uncomfortable moment for everybody involved, I think, including those of us at home. Nobody—including her co-winner—seemed to believe she belonged there. If nothing else, it’s ammunition to the argument that you miss out on some of the greatest Oscar moments when you skip the less exciting categories.
Best Makeup did not induce in me an imminent need to see Star Trek. I’m happy for Avatar in that it won just the awards that it deserved—Visual Effects and Art Direction. Those categories represent the actual achievements of Avatar, instead of giving it Best Picture as some sort of default Best Kajillion Dollar-Earning Cultural Event. Some people are complaining about Best Cinematography, which also went to Avatar (as in, the quality of the camera work is a moot point when the majority of what’s being filmed is a blue screen standing in for stuff that computers will put in later). But it’s not like I would have rather that one went to The Hurt Locker (the shaky hand-held camera, while a legitimate stylistic choice, is still the reason I LEFT BEFORE IT WAS OVER).
None of the documentaries (long nor short) really grabbed me. I’d love to see the live-action and animated shorts, though, and both were shown in programs at my local theater which of course I skipped in favor of pouting over a copy of Leaves of Grass or something. “The New Tenants,” which won live-action short, looked kind of rough and cool, with actors I actually recognized in it. Also, was one of them about magicians? ‘cause magician comedy has been made of awesome since GOB Bluth. From the short clip that was shown, I gleaned that Best Foreign Film El Secreto de Sus Ojos is about a murder investigation (SOLD!) and of course no one can stop talking about Up to the point where I feel like I could totally storyboard the action myself even though I have not seen it yet. I want to join in on the heartbreaking montages and dog-related humor, people! I moved it to the top of my Netflix queue and everything but the discs I have are just sitting here...
Christoph Waltz won Best Supporting Actor like everyone guessed he would, Mo'Nique won Best Supporting Actress like everyone guessed she would, and Jeff Bridges won Best Actor, blah blah blah. Waltz was great, I can vouch. I didn’t see Precious, but most of the people I watched the show with did. They all agreed on two points: 1. it was magnificent, and 2. it was in NO WAY an inspiring or uplifting story, and it’s really hacky that the media continues to sell it as such.
I didn’t see Crazy Heart, either, but I’ve been on Team Jeff Bridges since The Big Lebowski. During the show, I was trying to explain to my cohorts the amazingly hilarious reading Bridges manages to give the line, “What day is this?” in the Dude-meets-Lebowski scene. I can’t find a clip online, so trust me: it’s hilarious. Or, you know, watch the movie. (Which I’ve just realized I can’t do, because I lost my copy in a damn breakup! Amazon wish list, here I come.)
I'm going to talk about Sandra Bullock's Best Actress award in another entry. Check back!
Finally, the grandest of finales for the evening: the upsets in Best Director and Best Picture. Again from Monkey See's liveblog (linked above):
Linda Holmes: “It’s not that I wouldn’t be happy for any woman, but I kind of love that she’s this hot, tall lady who won for an action movie.”
Joe Reid: “Seriously, so gorgeous. I’m not saying she and Jeremy Renner have Done It, but if they haven’t, they should, because why wouldn’t either of them? Good God.”
Everyone knows I'm excited about Kathryn Bigelow--I love that one chick can hold up her Academy Award for Achievement in Direction against the 61 men who have one (or more than one; that number accounts for repeat winners). I've written in this very space about Hollywood's double standard for female directors. But Reid (from above), hits the nail on the head. He writes, "[Cameron's] up against The Bigelow Story." It does kind of take away from her victory that everyone’s making it about the Academy hungering to not be thought of as out-of-touch anymore, and not about the intense war movie she expertly helmed. (The fact that Cameron was her ex-husband almost seemed too perfect, didn’t it? If I was a reader looking at that in a screenplay, I would have written “implausible” in the margin.)
It also was kind of a slap the way Barbra Streisand introduced the category: saying that the winner might be the first female Best Director, the first black Best Director, or one of three other white guys. I loved Inglourious Basterds, and if Tarantino (who, incidentally has been robbed a few times himself) had won, I don’t want to feel like it would’ve necessitated a feminist crisis for me. (Both Melanie Laurent and Diane Kruger kicked ass in Basterds, incidentally, so it’s not like Tarantino’s not doing his part for women in cinema.) Also, now I have to feel bad for Lee Daniels! We can either celebrate women or black men this year, but not both.
But that's award shows for you. Everyone who wins, wins at the expense of someone else. That's what makes it so exciting for those of us at home--the narrative of winning and losing and defeat and triumph and underdogs and it's-about-times and next-day armchair commentary.
Maybe I get sports after all. And maybe the Oscars are, in fact, my Super Bowl.