Monday, February 25, 2008

The 80th Academy Awards: The Day After

So what did you think of Oscar night? Here at “The Cooler” we sure had fun. And thanks again to all of you who stopped by and joined in the live-blogging good time.

My only regret is that I didn’t invite Tom Shales of The Washington Post to pay a visit, because, wow, that home-skillet sure wasn’t digging last night’s doodle. Not even close. In his grumpy-old-man review of the festivities, Shales indirectly refers to the broadcast as at least nearly “The Worst Oscars Ever in the History of Hollywood.” Yikes.

That’s quite a statement. So let’s see what he didn’t like …

Shales’ primary complaint is that the show was “overstocked with clips.” And I can’t disagree there. The Oscars ceremony has always been fond of clips montages and pre-recorded bits, but this year’s abundant crop was dishearteningly dull. The all-digital opening was flat. The 80-years-of-Oscar-highlights montage soon after that took itself about as seriously as George Clooney took the act of announcing it (which is to say, not at all). And then there was the montage of all the Best Picture winners, presented chronologically and with their titles attached. That one really got on my nerves because every year I look forward to the mental exercise that comes with trying to identify as many films as I can within a given montage’s visual assault. This time there was no such thrill of the hunt.

It didn’t help that the presentation of these montages was so unimaginative, or that the duds came on the very same night that host Jon Stewart presented the “Binoculars and Periscope Montage” parody. Meanwhile, Jerry Seinfeld proved yet again that his Bee Movie humor is only cute as a concept. So, yeah, the clips reels sucked. But, on the other hand, we didn’t have to suffer through a single interpretive dance number. And that’s something.

The only insufferable portions of the show were the three tiresome musical numbers from Enchanted (I’m sure they’re cuter in the actual film). But Shales doesn’t take issue with any of that. Instead he contends that “there were hardly any emotional moments from winners on the stage.” Really? Well, let’s see: Marion Cotillard practically wet herself when her name was called for Best Actress and went to rubbery-legged pieces in a way that seemed totally genuine. Daniel Day-Lewis, in winning Best Actor, was gracious and succinct. Diablo Cody blubbered out a final thanks to her parents after winning Best Original Screenplay. Marketa Irglova made good of her unique post-commercial-break second chance at the microphone with some thoughtful words after she and Glen Hansard took Best Original Song. And Javier Bardem delivered a message to his mother in Spanish, which Shales must have enjoyed because the critic gets crabby with Stewart for openly declaring Bardem’s special speech “a moment.” “As if we were all too dumb to figure that out for ourselves,” writes Shales.

Based on the above, I suppose what Shales wants from Oscar winners is spontaneous combustion, or at least some Cuba Gooding Jr antics, or some Julia Roberts “stick man” foolishness. But what Shales obviously doesn’t want is more Stewart, whose performance last night he grades at “fair-to-middling … mostly middling.”

Actually, I thought Stewart was better than average. No, he didn’t deliver a single memorable one-liner. But he was affable, respectful and inoffensive, and that’s at least half the battle. When Stewart called Bardem’s message to his mom “a moment,” it wasn’t because he thought we missed it, it was because he knew that we didn’t. Stewart noted it because we were all thinking the same thing and weren’t quite ready to move on yet. And so he acted as our representative at the Kodak Theatre and gave us a voice. Stewart would do the very same thing later, in the best moment of the night, when he – like us – noticed that the orchestra had unintentionally played Irglova off the stage before she could speak. So he brought Irglova back on stage to let her have her moment in the spotlight. That’s a great host, folks!

I haven’t even mentioned yet that 14 different feature-length films took home awards last night. It was hardly a runaway bore as provided by Lord Of The Rings or Titanic. So even though the ‘favorites’ mostly won, yeah, the awards race was interesting right to the end. I also saw it reported this morning that this year’s Oscars marked the first since 1964 that no American won an acting award. And that’s at least somewhat interesting, right?

So I’m savoring last night’s Oscars. But not without a few parting shots:

1. Javier Bardem is an enormous talent who more than deserved his recognition as Best Supporting Actor. But the most painful part of last night was seeing the look of dejection on Hal Holbrook’s face. Remember how terrible you felt for Holbrook’s Ron Franz when the drifter he loves like a son decides to drift again in Into The Wild? Seeing Holbrook lose last night was that heartbreaking and then some. I don’t want to say that it can’t happen, but the look on Holbrook’s face said: “It ain’t gonna happen.” He isn’t going to win an Academy Award before he joins the ‘Those who left us…’ montage. And poor Hal had to digest that bitter pill while looking up on stage and seeing “Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson.” Ouch.

2. Another guy you’ve got to feel for is Paul Thomas Anderson. Look, I’ve got some problems with the third act of There Will Be Blood. And we can all agree that to consider that movie a masterpiece you must first buy into the genius of Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance, and some people don’t. So, that said, it was nice to see There Will Be Blood pick up Oscars for Best Actor and Best Cinematography. But Anderson has earned Oscar nominations as a writer and/or director for three different pictures: Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood. And he’s oh-fer on little golden statuettes.

Like Martin Scorsese before him, Anderson’s films are dark and often genuinely unsettling and that’s part of the problem. Neither Scorsese nor the picture he directed won for Taxi Driver, Raging Bull or GoodFellas (to name three). But he eventually got his Oscar, and I think Anderson will, too. However, if not up against the stiff competition of the pretty-darn-dark No Country For Old Men, Anderson might have prevailed this year with what is certainly his most ambitious project to date (if not my personal favorite). I just hope he doesn’t eventually cash-in with something as pedestrian as The Departed.

3. Finally, if you haven’t seen this yet, I’m sure someone will be e-mailing it to you soon. Friend of “The Cooler” ARoss texted news of this event just after it happened last night. But here on the East Coast the Cooler King was foolishly tuned into Barbara Walters at the time and hadn’t yet fired up the live blog, so he missed seeing it and reporting on it.

There are three lessons to be learned from this clip, kids: 1) Stay away from drugs and use alcohol in moderation. 2) Stay away from Gary Busey at all times. 3) Add the 2004 stuntwoman documentary Double Dare to your Netflix queue to enjoy some high comedy as Busey (perhaps even sober; it’s tough to tell) attempts to sweet-talk Zoe Bell at a party. Now that’s a cameo that deserves an award!

This, well, it’s just uncomfortable: for Jennifer Garner, for whatever woman is trying to wrangle Busey and even for Busey himself. Not that he realized it at the time.


Unknown said...

I assumed all the montages were used because they were necessary in the event the writer's strike was still going on, and there wasn't enough time after it was settled to put together a typical show. Did the D-bag from the Post not agree? Guess I should read his piece.

Mark said...

Shales has been washed up for years. Bardem should flip a coin and invite him to call it.

Thanks for posting the Busey clip. I had read about it but hadn't seen it. He's about three steps away from sharing a hamburger with Hasselhoff.

Jason Bellamy said...

Rob: I agree, and I meant to say as much in my post. But here’s the downside: They prepared all this stuff due to the writers’ strike…so was there a montage-makers’ strike, too? If anything, you’d think this year’s montages would have been memorably cool. Instead they were less than your typical YouTube mashup.

Mark: Great line on Bardem and Shales! That’s now my favorite quip of the day, bumping to second something I read at “The House Next Door,” provided by editor in chief Matt Zoller Seitz. Referring to the Coens’ mention of their childhood film "Henry Kissinger: Man On The Go," MZS offered: “How much you wanna bet Scorsese was over there thinking, ‘I saw it. It wasn't half bad.’"

Now, for that line to be even remotely funny, you need to have heard Scorsese talk about movies. Guy is a walking encyclopedia. I’m by no means a die-hard Scorsese fan, in terms of his films, but whenever I am posed one of those questions about ‘what three people would I like to have dinner with,’ blah, blah, blah … I often pick Scorsese. That’s a guy I’d love to wind up and just listen to him go.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Shales: When I read it this morning, I didn't agree with much of what he said, but I did think the ceremony was more of a snooze-year than most. He’s probably just pissed that no American won in ANY best acting category. Let’s hand it to the Noble Brit, Spaniard Ghostly Brit, and Belle Femme for their heart-felt and short speeches. If he takes tacit and meaningful to mean callus, fine. At least they weren’t over-acting or undeserving. Well done all.

I liked the fast pace and lack of dance numbers, but this Oscars-lover usually enjoys the celebration of the five best picture nominees presented throughout the ceremony sometimes in a montage, but often in a funny or unique way. The lead-up to the final “golden bludgeon” of the night could have made the ceremony more fun and given it more structure.

Comments for the Cooler:
1. As someone who’s heart strings pull for the old versus the young, especially in film, I thought there was no comparison between performances and who should win the Oscar between Bardem and Holbrook. Bardem killed, in all respects. If you are basing who should have won the award based on sad reactions or who should win the next lifetime achievement award, fine, but to me statue belongs to the most deserving and he won. In my opinion Halbrook’s performance was just OK and only got a nomination because he’s an elderly lifer.
2. Couldn’t AGREE more about PTA. To me his films have been superb and I think he has drawn the short stick too many times. Let’s hope this gets his blood boiling to make the next great one.

Allison said...

So, Gary Busey went on Ryan Seacrest this morning to try and explain what had happened and he A)was still on whatever he was on and B)was even more awkward. If I wasn't lazy i'd fine the link to his call in.

Jason Bellamy said...

A-Ross: I dub you The Cooler's official Gary Busey correspondent.

Jason Bellamy said...

Ghibli: As I said in the post, Bardem is deserving. But that was Holbrook's last shot (probably) and it was sad to watch him watch it go by.