Monday, February 26, 2007

Oscar Observations

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Last night's Academy Awards ceremony was something of a mixed bag, both in terms of the choices of the nominees and winners, as well as the speeches and performances. Among other things, we had to sit through some confusingly lame shadow puppet people, Celine Dion butchering Morricone music, some misty-eyed theological hypothesises from a former American Idol contestant, and the usual two or three personal favorites of the year that sadly got shafted. Eventually, however, the end truly justified the means.

Let me first say that I know the Oscars is nothing more than a popularity contest, and is more about the politics of stardom than artistic merit. The list of great films that got snubbed throughout history is enormous compared to the list of times I have actually agreed with the Little Gold Man. And yet, my opinion is still what it is - one man's opininion. So I watch the Oscars in hopes that my opinion will be shared by the people who are making the movies. Usually they don't, but when they do, it makes it all worth it. In any case: the ceremony itself, which was the 79th in the Academy's history.

I'll start with the bad, to get it out of the way. Ellen Degeneres, while not especially grating or obnoxious, was a serious step down from Jon Stewart last year. The perfect Oscar MC is someone who knows that the whole thing is Hollywood's High School Prom, not someone who's giddy to recieve the honor of being asked to host. Degeneres attempted to do her daytime TV schtick, but appeared so nervous in front of the mighty Tinseltown community that most of her jokes felt bland and flat. When Jerry Seinfeld got onstage to announce one of the numerous montages, I really wished he would stick around longer.

As a rule of thumb, the Academy must always give out at least one award to a young upstart who never did anything before their movie in question, and said upstart must compensate them with a bubbly, teary-eyed, and borederline-hysterical acceptance speec. This year, Jennifer Hudson thanked God, for willing her Best Supporting Actress turn in Dreamgirls to happen. Surely he's a vengeful, Old Testament God if he not only allows so much suffering and pain in the world, but has that much of a grudge against Abigal Breslin.

Another embarrassing blunder occurred just after Ellen made a speech about how culturally diverse this year's Oscars were, with so many British, Japanese and Mexican actors and craftspeople nominated, as well as three American-produced films in languages other than English. Then, when William Monahan approached the stage for his Best Original Screenplay award, the announcer proclaimed that his script for The Departed was based on the Japanese film Infernal Affairs. Nice job, guys.

Children of Men won neither of the meager three nominations it got for Editing, Cinematography and Best Adapted screenplay. It's a shame, especially for the Cinematography, although Pan's Labyrinth was also worthy of winning for its gorgeous color useage. Pan's, which walked off with Best Makeup and and Best Art Direction, I was sure would win Best Foreign Language Film, but it lost to The Lives of Others. Probably more of the Gold Man's long-running distaste for genre pictures, since I don't know anyone who saw the latter film outside of critics for the Village Voice. It's still playing around here, though, so I'll probably check it out.

Ennio Morricone's Lifetime Achievement Award, which I had been looking forward to all night, was also something of a letdown. The orchestra's muzak-sounding versions of some of his greatest hits was played over a half-hearted montage of film clips (they really should have let Quentin Tarantino or somebody cut that thing together), followed by an abysmal performance of "Debora's Theme" from Once Upon a Time in America by Celine Dion. Is it just me, or does that woman strangely resemble the giant skeleton-ghost at the end of Poltergeist? The Maestro's speech, however, which was translated into English by Clint Eastwood, was wonderfully heartwarming.

Didn't get around to seeing The Queen or The Last King of Scotland, but both Helen Mirren and Forrest Whitaker are tremendous actors who I'm sure deserved their awards. Peter O'Toole really should have gotten the "Elderly Veteran Actor Who Is Totally Awesome" award, but instead it went to Alan Arkin, who I can also live with - his heroin-snorting, foul-mouthed grandfather in Little Miss Sunshine was one of the highlights of what I thought was a somewhat mixed and calculated film.

Of course, the event that made the whole evening worthwhile was the double-whammy of Martin Scorsese, the Greatest Filmmaker On The Planet, finally getting a Best Director award for The Departed. After jokingly asking them if they could "please double-check the envelope," he was whisked back out again when a chrome-domed Jack Nicholson announced that The Departed had also been voted as Best Picture. Marty looked completely stunned, and so was I - I was certain that either Babel, The Queen or Little Miss Sunshine would walk off with the award, but it was Scorsese times two. A wonderful evening which turned itself around, going from a self-congratulating celebration of cheese to an event honoring true heroes. Congratulations, Mr. Scorsese, and godspeed.