Monday, February 26, 2007

Oscar Bliss (Part I)

Wow. Jennifer Hudson won and I'm still a happy Oscar viewer. I emerged from my friends' Oscar party the champion of a for-fun-only pool that definitely didn't net me $225. Because gambling's illegal here. After being ridiculed for not picking "Dreamgirls" to win every award it could, I got to laugh in everyone's face when I got 18 of the awards correct—three more than my closest competitors. (I went on the same predictions from the blog, other than deciding on "The Departed" for Best Picture" shortly before the ceremony started.) And on top of all that, Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" won Best Director, Best Picture, Best Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay, ending the curse of America's greatest living director.

As I predicted, the "Dreamgirls" bubble burst. Alan Arkin for Best Supporting Actor? "Marie Antoinette" for Costume Design? "An Inconvenient Truth" for Best Song? Yes folks, you heard it all from me first. (Although I would have preferred Mark Wahlberg to beat Arkin.)

This year's ceremony was fun and well done at times, and baffling at others. Here are a few defining elements:

The Montages: Ever since Gary Ross's fabulous work on the 2001 "In Memorium" (in 2002—the best-produced ceremony I can remember), the tribute to lost talent has sucked. This year, we got faux-classy transparent gray boxes obscuring the departed's faces, no lines of dialogue and not a single shot from a Robert Altman film. I know they gave the man an honorary award last year, but come on.

The other montages, however, were enjoyable collections of scenes. One, by "Something's Gotta Give" director Nancy Meyers, covered the portrayal of writers in movies, and featured some great moments ("Barton Fink," anyone?) in its collection of everything from "Sunset Blvd." to Meyers's own film (because, hey, it's her montage!). Leading into the Best Foreign Film nominations, director Giuseppe Tornatore—who knows a thing or two about montages of old films—cut a tribute to the Best Foreign Film winners of the past 50 years, including his own "Cinema Paradiso" (hey, it's his montage and he won for it!). The piece was a great reminder that as fucked up as the award's nomination process is, the best Oscar winners are often in this category.

Then there was Michael Mann's (notice how Will Smith mentioned "Ali" over "Heat" when listing some of Mann's work) montage. I'm a tad curious about whether the Academy got to take a look at Mann's work before presenting it, or what they asked him to do for his clip collection, ostensibly about the many different aspects of America portrayed in film. The film includes some memorable moments with racial slurs, (including the scene with Joe Pesci from "The Good Shepherd" that seems just as thrown in during Mann's sequence as it does during Robert De Niro's movie), dinner-table comedy from "Talladega Nights" and war scenes from "Pearl Harbor" with Foo Fighters music. I need to watch Mann's collage of old and new movies, high art and trash a couple more times to determine what it's doing and if it succeeds, but I guess for now I'll commend the Academy for doing something interesting.

Awkward cuts: You'd think that the telecast director had never done live TV before. What was with the shots of Jack Nicholson peering out from the corner of the stage in two different speeches? It's alright to occasionally cut to someone other than Jack, especially if the go-to reaction-shot man is out of his seat, looking for the bathroom. Then there was the cut to Best Supporting Actor winner (yes, I predicted it) Alan Arkin's Oscar on the floor, I guess to help viewers determine who was stiffer—Arkin or his statuette. Which brings us to…

Speeches: Hudson gave an ultimate cliché speech about how happy she was, and even tried to sell the "I never thought I'd win after being the favorite since 2004" line. Yet she lacked the exuberance of the best actresses who get all giddy and fall apart. Helen Mirren, on the other hand, didn't pretend that she didn't know she had her award in the bag before shooting wrapped. She offered a nice tribute to "The Queen," complete with the closing line "I give you, The Queen," delivered while she held up her Oscar. I don't know what it was all about, but at least it was interesting. Which is more than I can say for a lot of the speeches, which were mostly lists of friends and colleagues.

Forest Whitaker, who also knew he was gonna win since the award season started and "The Last Kind of Scotland" started sweeping Sacha Baron Cohen's brilliant work from "Borat" to the side, didn't bother to memorize his speech, and clumsily pulled out a heartfelt collection of scribbles on paper that actually turned out to be quite sweet before it ended with a shout out to God for showing him the screenplay (I think).

Thelma Schoonmaker, whose surprise win in editing signaled "The Departed's" triumphs in Screenplay and Picture, gave a loving tribute the work she has done Martin Scorsese for the past three decades. This eventually led to the moment of the night, when the excited Scorsese received Best Director from his three friends, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas (wouldn't it have been really fucking depressing if he didn't win after they all came just to give it to him?). After acknowledging his many collaborators, Scorsese talked about all the people who walk up to him on the street and tell him he should have an Oscar. Right those people were. Glad the Academy finally figured it out, too. It was a nice moment as I reflected—like sports fans must after their long-losing team triumphs, on how rewarding and sadly conclusive it is to finally see a dream realized.

Meanwhile, the orchestra started playing people off with piano noodlings this year. The producers came off looking like even bigger dicks than usual as the sweet, awkward technical artisans stood around one another, hoping to say something before their friends hogged all the time.

I shall continue this recap tomorrow. For now, I shall plot my future complaints about how Alfonso Cuarón has never won a damn Best Director Oscar. (And how did "Children of Men" not win Best Cinematography?)


Anonymous said...

Mr. Mathews:

Upon reading your recap, we at Universal wish to inform you that there is no movie titled "Children of Men," and thus it could not have won for Best Cinematography. It is our position that such a film does not exist, and never has. Furthermore, if it DID exist, it wouldn't have won anything because, hypothetically, we would have pushed it to the side and ignored it, largely on the basis that it didn't have enough explosions. Or tits. Thank you for your time.

Janean said...

So you didn't win any money? Damn, I was hoping you'd buy something nice...

Unknown said...

If only Universal felt "Children of Men" was half as important as any film Harvey Weinstein produces.