March 8, 2010

10 Obligatory Thoughts on the 2010 Oscar Ceremony

 "Yep, believe it or not, that was the result of months of planning..."

I really didn't plan on continuing the Oscar discussion here into the "new year", but enough people asked me about my thoughts on the Academy's annual TV ratings grab during the last week that I felt compelled.

1. The opening - Horrendous. Neil Patrick Harris joked about why he was there before leaving us all to wonder: why was he there? I thought it was a fluffy, feeble, tasteless attempt at reclaiming some kind of Oscar showmanship that nobody is really nostalgic for. I longed for the pizazz of Billy Crystal's openings in 1997, 1998, and 2004.

2. The speeches - Stunningly dull. It didn't help that so many of these winners were giving the same speech they've given at dozens of award shows since December, but come on, people, mix it up a bit! Two other notes here: 1.) More than most years it was painfully obvious who was surprised by their win (Adapted Screenplay - very, Best Costume - not at all); 2.) What happened with that Best Documentary Short speech? How humiliating for that filmmaker in his one moment in the spotlight. All five of those documentary shorts looked outstanding, by the by.

3. The hosts - Completely underwhelming considering their pedigree. The script certainly didn't help them, proven by the funniest joke being Steve Martin's ad-libbed quip that he wrote Geoffrey Fletcher's bumbling acceptance speech. Also liked the Sarah Jessica Parker "single pound" punchline.

4. The Hurt Locker - Nothing against the production of this movie (though you can read my thoughts on its inaccuracies if you like), but there was something just a little too self-congratulatory about its win. I believe Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow respected their sources and the subject at hand, and dedicating the awards to the soldiers was a nice touch, but I still didn't feel the gravity of the situation was acknowledged. And by "situation" I mean the hundreds of thousands of veterans walking by us on the street, potentially traumatized by the pile of trash we just stepped over.

5. Kathryn Bigelow - Well I guess I can't make the "Best White Male Director" quip anymore about this category, but don't get ahead of yourself in thinking any kind of glass ceiling has been broken here. Bigelow has made a career from making movies for men, and I'd argue the irony of her relationship to The Hurt Locker is being recognized as much as the merit of the direction itself (which was still excellent). It doesn't prove my point, but you'll notice that the highly acclaimed films Bright Star and An Education - films made by women "for women" - were nowhere to be seen in this category. And yet Jason Reitman gets in? Explain.

6. The dancing - If you're not aware, the decision was made to abandon the Best Song performances to make time for this outrageously distracting, completely out-of-place spectacle. To say nothing of the incredible talent of LXD, this was wrong for the occasion on so many levels that it's not worth further discussion. Here's a guaranteed prediction for the 2011 Oscar ceremony: we won't be seeing this dance performance again.

7. The acting nominee council of friends - This idea has devolved a bit over the last few years, and it's time to hang it up now that it's so nakedly becoming a sycophantic session of Hollywood actors calling each other "amazing human beings". Kind of a distillation of the entire show in most people's minds anyway, right? While it's a nice moment for the one-and-done nominees like Gabby Sidibe and Jeremy Renner, do we really need to hear someone tell us how awe-inspiring Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep are for the umpteenth time? Running out of hyperbole with these speeches. Go back to showing extended clips from the performances - you know, the reasons they were nominated.

8. Sandra Bullock - Over the last few months I've pretended that I didn't care this was going to happen. At some point last night watching clips from The Blind Side, however, I had to finally admit that this was an unconscionable choice. Ironically, the two most ridiculous Best Actress awards of the last decade (Julia Roberts and now Bullock) have been given to performances where perky American sweethearts have played perky, blond, busty, heart-of-gold American heroines. In both cases, highly deserving yet significantly older and more experienced actresses (Ellen Burstyn, Helen Mirren, and Streep) have gone home empty-handed.

9. The Cove - As I wrote last week, this predictable win was essentially a rubber stamp on all future "agit-docs". Find a cause, get mad about it, stick a camera in someone's face and try to make the most persuasive argument you can about some social issue without considering bias or journalistic integrity. Indeed, the state of documentary filmmaking in 2010.

10. The stage - Classy as usual with gleaming lights, shiny surfaces and staircases to nowhere. But...the wall of lampshades? Huh?

Final verdict: FAIL. Here again I will stress that for the most part I don't care about who wins or loses, and that year after year I still love the ceremony as a way to commemorate the hours and hours and hours and hours worth of movie watching and writing I did in the last year. But I can still have an opinion on that celebration, and this was one letdown of a party that rather fittingly capped off a disappointing year in film.


  1. "And yet Jason Reitman gets in? Explain."

    His dad has a lot of pull. Thank you, nepotism! But he got completely shut-out last night which was quite impressive, esp. considering he was a lock to win Best Adapted Screenplay. Ouch.

    All in all, I was very glad to see Kathryn Bigelow win for Best Director. It was a long time coming and as a fan of her since NEAR DARK it was a sweet victory.

    Also, didja notice that Farrah Fawcett was left out of the death montage? WTF?!

  2. Petty as it may have been, my favorite award of the night was Fletcher's win for Best Screenplay - a gutshot to Reitman and a clear message that AMPAS is not prepared to make this guy's head any bigger than it already is. How Up in the Air bagged five nominations was a huge mystery in the first place.

    I should clarify that I am not at all saying Bigelow wasn't deserving, but I don't think this was as much of a watershed moment as most people think. Her next film, Triple Frontier, is "a "Traffic"-like drug parable set in the notorious border zone between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, where the Igazu and Parana rivers converge, making 'la triple frontera' difficult to monitor and a haven for organized crime." Wake me when a woman wins without having to "direct like a man". In any case, good for her - Cameron already has his, Daniels won the Spirit Award, Tarantino would have been unbearable on stage, and Reitman, well we won't go there again.

    And actually I didn't notice Fawcett was missing until reading it today. I don't keep up too much with celebrity deaths so I wasn't really on the look out for anyone, but I do like the "In Memoriam" segment each year. One thing I can't stand is the applause, though. It's really uncomfortable to sit there and essentially hear dead people's "worth" being measured by how loud the cheers are for them.

  3. Both Harris' opening and the original score dance numbers were overlong and pointless.

    However, I actually thought Martin and Baldwin were quite good. The Paranormal spoof was terrific, and they had many one-liners that really stuck.

    While the speeches overall weren't special, a few stuck out in my mind. I thought Michael Giacchino had a terrific speech for Up, very inspiring. Then there's obviously Mo'Nique who did a terrifc job, and kept it surprisingly short.

  4. I agree with most of your observations here. Yes, The Hurt Locker crowd was so self-congratulatory. That Bigelow won over Tarantino is a travesty! In my opinion, their movie is forgettable.

    #7 has got to go - even though Oprah's words about Sidibe made for a genuinely touching moment that the actress deserved - even if she's not a very good actress. This way of mentioning the nominees reminds me too much of a pathetic banquet in which colleagues give testimonials to retiring teachers. Of course, they're going to say glowing, hyperbolic things. I prefer just seeing a single clip form that performer's best moment in the film.

    Glad they did away with the performances of the nominated songs - but I don't like the clips of the nominated films spread throughout the evening. I began watching the Academy Awards during the 60s. I always loved the Best Picture moment when they showed 5 single clips (not a stupid mini-montage) from the nominated films - one after the other - and then the presenter said, "And the Oscar goes to..." I loved that dramatic moment and I miss it. Even with the ridiculous ten nominees, I still wish they would do it the old way! As it was on Sunday, the dramatic moment was totally ruined. They spread the 10 nominees out over the evening and didn't even repeat them when Hanks (my, he is looking puffy) came up and abruptly read the winner.

  5. Danny, I'll give you the Paranormal spoof. That really was pretty funny, but most of the live scripted stuff fell completely flat for me, with a couple of exceptions. And you hit on two speeches I liked (Pete Docter's being another - I think Up wins the day as far as speeches go), and Mo'Nique made a nice point about the politicking of the Oscar race.

    Hokahey, while I won't say The Hurt Locker is forgettable, I will say it didn't deserve to win screenplay over IB. Between Bigelow and Tarantino, eh, a case could be made for either.

    I hold nothing against Sidibe but I really didn't care for Oprah's gushing. I think it was obvious to anyone watching that Sidibe's and Mulligan's careers are going to go in wild divergent directions, and to pretend otherwise is inappropriate. Does Oprah think producers are going to be banging down Sidibe's door with scripts? Please. As optimistic as I am, even I know how Hollywood works.

    You were glad about the song performances?! Ah, I missed them! Especially because I think the nominated songs this year (or at least three of them) would have been really cool to see live.

    I agree that the spread out montages did nothing but make me wonder what was still missing; I couldn't keep track. For that matter they pretty much just played the trailers anyway.

    And the "dramatic moment" - ha! I bet a solid 50% of people might have missed the actual Best Picture announcement, assuming Bigelow just remained on stage for Best Director. I can't believe that was so rushed. On the same token, it appeared that Bullock was prepared to show clips of the Best Cinematography nominees before getting the cue that there was no time. That was kind of awkward - how do you not show clips of the cinematography nominees, considering the craft being recognized by the Academy?

  6. Riverview theater is showing the nominated shorts this weekend. Though I'm sure you already knew that.

  7. Thanks for the tip, anon - I actually didn't see that they were picking up the Animated Shorts after they finish their run at the Lagoon this week. Doesn't look like the Live Action Shorts are going to be continued anywhere, though. For my money I'd love to see the Documentary Shorts after seeing the clips from the ceremony the other night. They played at Woodbury two weeks ago and I missed 'em.

    Oh, and the Live Action and Animated Shorts were also available On Demand as recently as last week. But you can't pass up the opportunity to see the Animateds at the Riverview!

  8. Thanks for your thoughtful comments about the Oscars.

    I said #6 on my FB profile that night as I watched. Then I went and made a snack and checked my friends' status updates and looked at links then trailers for the films I hadn't yet seen.

    #5: As I said to Colin (who said basically the same thing), women who break glass ceilings are always doing things for men the male way. Often women who are the "first" in male dominated fields are at the very least somewhat androgynous (think Amelia Earhart who liked wearing men's clothing, Billie Jean King who is lesbian, Katherine Hepburn who also was described as masculine and liked wearing men's clothing, any woman who is doing a "male" sport for the first time, early female politicians, female managers, and so on) and sometimes lesbian. They're always bold and butch and somehow gender non-normative in some way. Bigelow is a woman who made a man's film.

    Now that Bigelow has broken that barrier, we'll begin to see more women making movies and more women getting nominated, and more women earning awards. But it took Bigelow doing what she did and the way she did it to break the barrier.

    7: I and all my non-film-reviewer friends LOVE this, specifically FOR the speeches like Oprah's for Gabby, who won't win awards but who I want to see honored. I've already seen the film and don't need to see it again. I just don't pay attention to the people who get accolades all the time.

  9. And thanks for your thoughts as well.

    #6 = disaster. I have yet to hear anyone with a positive take on this - at least anyone who is familiar with movies and/or the Oscars.

    #5 - Really interesting thoughts on Bigelow; I didn't fully consider how that phenomenon played out in other ways in society. Yet I wonder how long it will take until a woman director can win the award based on her "own" terms, not that that in any way must be exaggeratedly feminine, but also in a way that doesn't compromise in a way to make men somehow comfortable with it. I contend that it will be some time before another woman wins the award - and even then it will probably take a few nominations. Maybe that's just being pessimistic.

    #7 - Speaking of being pessimistic, hehe, I still can't see much of a silver lining in the Sidibe's career prospects outside of this one-time event. Or at least this one awards season. Wouldn't you know this very subject is being discussed in the press right now. Though I don't think it's a matter of just her weight, really, but more about her lack of experience and the lack of "good" (as in, award and/or box-office worthy) roles for young women of color of any size.


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