Oscar post-mortem: better late than James Franco

(Blogger’s note: this post should’ve been up Monday.  Unfortunately, I came down with a 36-hour something-or-other and was barely functioning.  But, to quote the not-dead-yet guy from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “I’m getting better.”  My apologies for the tardiness regardless.  And look on the bright side: at least I’m not going to be writing about Charlie Sheen …)

Well, I made my goal.

Going into the Academy Awards this year, I had my predictions ready (see here, here and here if you missed them earlier) and had a goal in mind.  I correctly picked 16 out of 24 two years ago, 17 out of 24 last year, so this year I was hoping for 18.  And I got it — 18 out of 24, right on the money.  Which is pretty good, I think.  Steve Pond of the show-business website The Wrap, who’s historically very good at this sort of thing, apparently only got 17 this year.  If that’s the case, wow — beating Steve Pond in Oscar predictions is like edging out Kobe Bryant for the NBA scoring title.

I’ll get to the picks themselves in a little bit — but for starters, let’s go into the highlights of the ceremony.  Or maybe the lack thereof.

I was pretty pumped about the Oscar broadcast in advance, thinking that James Franco and Anne Hathaway would inject some youthful enthusiasm into the proceedings.  Well, I was half-right.  Franco was so stiff and unresponsive through almost the entire show that everyone I’ve heard from or read has assumed that he was a) on some sort of drug, b) suffering from a massive case of stage fright, c) trying to make an ironic meta-commentary on the vapidity of award shows, or d) some combination of the above.  Regardless, every time he was reading from a TelePrompTer (and given that it was a televised award ceremony, that was pretty much every time he opened his mouth), he LOOKED liked he was reading from a TelePrompTer.  And that’s the kiss of death — it just looks so bad.  If I were Anne Hathaway, I’d sue him for non-support.

Poor Anne, following in the long tradition of dysfunctional partnerships, fell into the trap of overcompensating for Franco’s corpse-like non-performance.  Basically, as the show went on she slowly morphed into a one-person episode of Glee.  It didn’t work — unbalanced relationships like that rarely do — but you have to give her credit for trying.  I think she’d be spectacular if she was teamed up with a co-host who, you know, actually showed up.  Even if you’re as talented as Anne Hathaway, you have to have something to work with …

A few other things I noticed:

* Y’know, maybe choosing a 94-year-old stroke victim who can barely speak to be an Oscar presenter isn’t the best idea?  I totally respect how Kirk Douglas has managed to get his voice back and stay vital at his age.  That’s great — so honor him with a special award.  Give him a round of applause.  But you don’t have him speak extemporaneously anymore than you’d have Aron Ralston juggle.  It’s not fair to ask someone to do something they’re not capable of doing well, even if they’re willing.  And when you have them do it in public, it’s not just unfair, it’s somewhat cruel — to both the person and the audience.

I think that, coming as it did near the start of the program, Kirk’s struggles set a tone for the show … and the tone it set was “the producers really didn’t think through the details very well.”

* Same with all the clips of old Oscar-winning movies, which never seemed to tie in to what came immediately before or after them; every time, they felt like well-narrated interruptions.  It’s one thing if you do a bit from Titanic as a lead-in to Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet presenting an award; that would rock.  It’s another thing if you just do a bit about Gone with the Wind, hog-tie it to a bit about Titanic, and then move on to the next thing or to a commercial break.  Which is pretty much what happened.  The whole thing felt disjointed — some good parts, a lot more bad parts, but no coherent whole — and I think that’s why a lot of people are now saying they got bored.

* But no mistake, there were some good parts.  Anne Hathaway roasting Hugh Jackman in song was kind of funny.  (Though it would’ve been better if Jackman had come on stage in response and joined her.  Why is it that I can think of this stuff and professional producers can’t?)  Sandra Bullock was a delight presenting the Best Actor nominees, and it was so classy of Steven Spielberg to mention some of the movies that didn’t win Best Picture before announcing who did.  The “In Memoriam” montage/tribute to Lena Horne was well-done.

But my favorite segment was the exchange between Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law before the presentation of Best Visual Effects.  The only thing funnier than someone making fun of RDJ’s past is RDJ making fun of RDJ’s past, which he always seems willing to do.  It just never gets old for me.

* Best acceptance speech: not even close, Tom Hooper’s for Best Director, when he talked about how his mum went to a fringe theater production of The King’s Speech, came home and told him that she’d found his next movie.  It made me wish I could call my mom and share the moment.  Simply terrific.

* And speaking of disjointed … near the end of the show, my wife and I had this exchange:

(Nina:) “How many times has she [Hathaway] changed dresses?!?”

(Me:) “Seven … eight … I’ve lost track …”

This was mitigated by the fact that she looked great in all of them.  Still, she would’ve been better served by changing co-hosts.  I’m sure Downey would’ve been up for it if she’d asked him.

* * *

Okay, a few words about my predictions — specifically the six I missed.  In three of the cases (Cinematography, Score and Director) the award went to my “possible upset” choice; they weren’t really surprises.  (Though I was truly disappointed that Roger Deakins lost again.  They have to give it to him someday, right?)  A fourth (Animated Short) is a tough category to pick, and while I didn’t see The Lost Thing winning, neither did almost anyone else, including the Oscar-prognosticating experts.  So I don’t feel bad about that.

It was the two trophies for Alice in Wonderland — for Art Direction and Costume — that totally blindsided me.  It’s not that I couldn’t figure out why they won; obviously, well-thought-out, highly intricate production design and costuming both play large roles in a Tim Burton fantasia, and this was no exception.  It’s just that a movie like Alice isn’t the sort of flick the Oscar voters usually honor.  Especially when it comes out in March (movies that debut in the fall tend to have an advantage, being fresher in people’s minds), when it’s not nominated in other categories one might expect (it was snubbed in Makeup, where I expected it to be the favorite), when it doesn’t have any major-category nods to boost its profile (its only other nomination was in Visual Effects), and when it’s a seriously, seriously weird film (I did mention it was done by Tim Burton, right?).  The movie clearly earned what it got, both in terms of box office (it was one of the highest grossers of 2010) and Academy trophies.  So I have to tip my (mad) hat to it.

Looking over who won what … among the Best Picture nominees, The King’s Speech walked away with four awards, all in major categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Original Screenplay); the usual “coattail” effect in the tech prizes never emerged.  In part this was because Inception also got four, and all of them were in the technical section (Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and Visual Effects).  Early favorite The Social Network managed three (Adapted Screenplay, Editing and Music), while The Fighter (Supporting Actor and Actress), Toy Story 3 (Animated Feature and Song) and the aforementioned Alice in Wonderland got two apiece.  (Despite Disney/Pixar’s best intentions, Toy Story 3 didn’t break any new ground; to date no animated film has ever won an Oscar outside of Best Animated Feature and the music categories.)  The big loser: True Grit, which lost in all ten categories in which it had been selected.  Maybe too many older voters decided they liked John Wayne’s version better?

Well, that’s all for now.  But if you’re thinking that we’re done with Oscar speculation for awhile, think again — there’s already talk about who might contend in February 2012!  Could Meryl Streep win that elusive third trophy (not to mention a 17th nomination) for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady?  What about the upcoming film adaptation of John LeCarre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy with Gary Oldman and Colin Firth?  Or Brad Pitt’s star turn as Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane in Moneyball?  Or another adaptation, this one of the children’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret that no less than Martin Scorsese is directing?  Or … ?

Because, like baseball, it’s getting to the point where Academy Awards season is year-round.  And also like baseball, everyone who doesn’t win is immediately thinking, “wait ’til next year!”

Including me.  Maybe next time around, 19 of 24?

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