Rants And Raves: Reflecting On The 85th Oscars
Highs, Lows, Behind The Scenes Pics
Last night the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented its 85th annual Oscars and San Diego had a winner.
The documentary short “Inocente” was shot in part in San Diego and focused on a homeless teen, Inocente Izucar who was 12 when she started attending the San Diego Organization ARTS: A Reason to Survive. She is now 19 and is proof of the transformative power of art. The film, along with all the other nominated shorts (live action, animated and documentary) can be seen at Landmark Theaters at least through this Thursday. Take advantage of the opportunity. “Inocente” was produced by Shine Global and directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine.
Now to the Oscar pre-game show.
When I was in high school I got to go to the Oscars and see "Star Wars" lose to "Annie Hall." That may have tainted my view of the Academy. Don't get me wrong, I had a blast going to the Oscars as a teenager and being close enough to touch George Lucas and Marcello Mastroianni. But the more films I see, the more disappointed I have become with what gets nominated and what wins. So I have a sort of love hate relationship with the Oscars. It's like a car wreck I have to watch every year.
Red carpet was predictable. Mostly talk about who was wearing who and how great or horrible people looked. I noticed a lot of trains on dresses and lots of pale colors. Perhaps the blandness of dress color reflected what seemed a rather bland year in films. There were some definite bright spots in nominated films – mostly “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “Django Unchained” – but for the most part the films nominated reflected a bland predictability on the part of the Academy and that seemed partially reflected in the wardrobe of the nominees. Kudos to tiny and talented nominee Quvenzhané Wallis, she looked gorgeous and still managed to be herself with her stuffed animal purse. I had the pleasure of interviewing her when she came to San Diego last year and she seemed untainted by the whole awards process. Too bad this youngest actress to ever be nominated in the Best Actress category lost.
On to the Awards show. I did not go to the Oscars this year but watched from home with a bunch of snarky friends and many of us live Tweeting through the show. Misery loves company... although the evening didn't start badly. Seth MacFarlane was the new solo host for the show and that seemed to be a good choice. All the pre-show gags that ABC was using to advertise the Awards were funny and on par with the entertaining skits Billy Crystal used to do. Then there was the great and hilarious use of The Shat (“Star Trek” original Captain Kirk, William Shatner) in an opening gag about trying to prevent MacFarlane from bombing at the Oscars.
A promising start that fell into a wildly uneven evening of snappy one-liners and painfully miscalculated jokes. Final analysis: MacFarlane has great potential but the scripted moments need considerable fine-tuning.
The first award of the night gave me great – and what proved to be false – hope for an evening of deserved awards. Christoph Waltz won his second best supporting actor award for yet another role for Quentin Tarantino. This time for playing a German bounty hunter in pre-Civil War America in the controversial “Django Unchained.” Based on the size of the role and the importance of his contribution to the film, he should have been in the best actor category, which was in much need of spicing up.
Disappointment soon followed though as “Brave” nabbed the best animated film award beating out the far superior “Frankenweenie” and “ParaNorman.” It’s not that “Brave” was bad but like so much else nominated at this year’s awards, it just wasn’t very exciting because it relied so much on proven formula. Plus, presenters Paul Rudd (whom I love) and Melissa McCarthy bombed so painfully as presenters in this category that you could almost hear the audience wince.
On a lighter note, Claudio Miranda’s win for best cinematography for “Life Of Pi” started a trend of male winners with flowing and mostly blond or white locks. The jokes on Twitter likened the winners to Edgar Winter and the Allman Brothers. Miranda’s retro hair style was joined by sound editor Paul N.J. Ottosson’s shoulder length coif. Ottosson won for “Zero Dark Thirty.” Side note: Roger Deakins lost for the 10th time in cinematography. He was up for his glorious work on “Skyfall” and has excelled on multiple Coen Brothers films and yet the Academy keeps snubbing him. This needs to be addressed… and soon.
So how’s this for irony: trot out 5 of the stars from one of the year’s most popular and highest grossing films, “The Avengers,” and have them give out the award for visual effects, the only category their film was nominated for, and have the superheroes lose out to a CGI-ed tiger? A little embarrassing on multiple counts. One, “The Avengers” deserved a best picture nomination far more than “Silver Linings Playbook” or “Les Misérables.” Two, it deserved the visual effects awards. And finally, Oscar really just snubbed this perfect example of a comic book movie. The Academy also ignored “The Dark Knight Rises” entirely. What happened to extending the best picture category to up to 10 nominees in order to be more inclusive of crowd pleasers like this?
ADDED NOTE: After the awards an article came out saying that the acceptance speech for the Oscar-winning visual effects artist for "Life of Pi" was cut short because he was about to make a statement to call attention to problems in the visual effects industry. That may explain why when I was looking for a photo of the visual effects winner I couldn't find any in the Oscar press room.
Oscar tried to right a wrong by paying tribute to James Bond. Dame Shirley Bassey came on to sing “Goldfinger,” a song I so loved as a child that my parents had to hide my LP to stop me from playing it continually. But, in another irony, the song was never nominated for an Oscar. In fact, the Academy waited all the way until “Live and Let Die” before nominating a Bond song, passing over Tom Jones singing “Thunderball” and Shirley Bassey’s lovely “Diamonds are Forever.” The Academy did give “Skyfall” the award for best song and best sound editing, but it refuses to acknowledge the Bond films with anything outside of the technical categories and song. This year, as with the reboot “Casino Royale,” merited at least acting nods for Daniel Craig and Judi Dench. And this year Javier Bardem deserved a supporting nod for “Skyfall.” He should have won best supporting actor and Waltz should have won best actor. Even though Bond is one of the most financially successful and long running film franchises, it gets little respect from voters. So the tribute to Bond was nice but minor compensation. Plus, Halle Berry got to say “Pussy” on national television.
Best documentary and best foreign film were no surprises. “Looking for Sugarman” won in documentary, and Austria’s “Amour” (still playing at Landmark’s La Jolla Village Theaters) took foreign film. This was the first year for online voting (using a system from the San Diego-based Everyone Counts) but the introduction of the electronic voting didn’t seem to change the predictability of the outcome. The Academy said in a press release: “This will be the first time the Academy will provide its membership the opportunity to vote electronically. Together with PricewaterhouseCoopers and Everyone Counts, the Academy has been developing an electronic voting process for more than a year. The Academy conducted extensive research and held numerous focus groups with its members to ensure a smooth transition and widespread adoption.” The online voting did cause a one-day delay as the Academy extending the voting deadline because of complaints about problems voting.
The Awards show gets a well-deserved bad rap for running long and this year the show producers chose to do a focus on the movie musical and ADDED more production numbers. More? Really? This included a number bringing the entire cast of “Les Misérables” out on stage to sing and remind us that the stage version was better. Having Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway on stage together made me fantasize that Wolverine would extend his adamantium claws and cut Catwoman’s throat to put me out of my misery.
Plus, John Travolta in mentioning “Les Mis,” mistakenly pronounced the final “s” prompting a flurry of the “s” is silent jokes, riffing on “Django Unchained’s” famous, “The D is silent.”
The focus on the movie musical, with a number from “Chicago” (another poorly adapted Broadway musical that was much better on stage) only highlighted how Hollywood has forgotten how to make musicals. There are exceptions like “Cabaret,” “All That Jazz” and not from Hollywood, “Once.” But for the most part, Hollywood has lost the art of the movie musical and this Oscar show came across like a failure to recognize that. But this was probably the result of “Les Mis” finding a niche audience and nabbing awards. To me it felt like reanimating a dead corpse. Now if they had included a production number of Brian on the cross with a chorus singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” (from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”) I might have felt differently. But then the producers of "Life of Brian" were not producing the Oscar show but "Chicago's" producers were.
Next up was a little bit of Oscar history: a tie. Paul N.J. Ottosson (“Zero Dark Thirty”), and Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers (“Skyfall”) shared a best sound editing Oscar. The last tie was in 1969 for best actress. That year Barbra Streisand (“Funny Girl”) and Katherine Hepburn “Lion in Winter”) shared the prize.
The supporting actress award went to Anne Hathaway for “Les Misérables”,” proving once again that if an actress just lets herself get dirty and allows the make up folks to make her less glamorous, she can win an Oscar. Shirley MacLaine noted this when she won for “Terms of Endearment” and chalked it up to taking her make up off and looking old. The “Jaws” music was played to signal that winners needed to stop talking. Of course this was only used in the craft category of winners. When the big awards for acting came up and Hathaway insisted on thanking EVERYONE, the “Jaws” music – although much needed – was not played.
Best editing often goes to the longest film nominated (people still don’t seem to know what editors do). But this year it went to the film with the most number of cuts at the end, “Argo.”
Quentin Tarantino displayed only a modest amount of ego in accepting his award for best original screenplay. His was definitely the most original of the nominees. “Moonrise Kingdom” was probably the best crafted and “Cabin in the Woods” (not even nominated) was the year’s most clever. Best adapted screenplay passed over the wonderful “Beasts of the Southern Wild” to give the award to “Argo.” Prompting a reprise of the line from the latter, “argo-f-ck-yourself.” But it was, if you think about it, a predictable win. The story was about how a fabricated Hollywood production company played a crucial role in rescuing Americans from Iran. How could Hollywood not pat itself on the back?
The best director category was a total crapshoot. In the past, the Director Guild of America winner is the likely one to take home an Oscar but this year Ben Affleck won the DGA award and failed to even get nominated for a best directing Oscar. Affleck, who won an Oscar for co-writing “Good Will Hunting,” is an actor turned director, and maybe that hurt his cause. Although actors who do get nominated for best director often win (Robert Redford, Kevin Costner, Clint Eastwood) perhaps because the largest voting body within the Academy is actors. So the surprise winner was Ang Lee for “Life of Pi.”
For acting, Jennifer Lawrence took the gold for “Silver Linings Playbook.” She was the best thing in a likable but highly formulaic film. She did create drama by tripping on her way up to the stage. The crowd gave her a standing ovation, which she dismissed as being because they felt sorry for her for falling.
Daniel Day-Lewis became the first to win three best actor Oscars (the others were for “My Left Foot” and “There Will Be Blood,” both much bolder performances). He won for playing the title role in “Lincoln” and joked that he was supposed to play Margaret Thatcher and Meryl Streep was to play Lincoln. The levity did make me think that maybe he didn’t think so much of the performance. The thing with this year’s actor nominees was that no one nominated was pushing the envelope in any way or delivered anything that was in the least bit surprising.
And this leads to best picture and Hollywood brought out the big guns. Jack Nicholson came on stage to introduce First Lady Michelle Obama, who read the 9 best picture nominees and announce “Argo” as the best picture of the year. This seemed so apt that it made me think the Academy know in advance what film was going to win because the mix of Hollywood and the White House was perfectly reflected in the film that won. “Argo” was all about a successful partnership between the U.S. government and Hollywood (albeit a “fake” Hollywood company pretending to make a film in Iran). I half expected Jack and Michelle to go skipping off together into a CGI sunset.
Well another painful Oscars came to a close after a show that ran far too long with far too few highlights. Here’s looking to next year. But I realize that my two favorite films so far – “John Dies at the End” and “Warm Bodies” – are unlikely to even get considered for a nomination.
85TH ANNUAL OSCARS
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained”
ANIMATED SHORT FILM
John Kahrs, “Paperman”
Claudio Miranda, “Life Of Pi”
Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott, “Life Of Pi”
Jacqueline Durran, “Anna Karenina”
MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell, “Les Misérables”
LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
Shawn Christensen, “Curfew”
DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine, “Inocente”
Malik Bendjelloul and Simon Chinn, “Searching For Sugar Man”
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes, “Les Misérables”
SOUND EDITING (tie)
Paul N.J. Ottosson, “Zero Dark Thirty” and Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers, “Skyfall”
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Anne Hathaway, “Les Misérables”
William Goldenberg, “Argo”
Production Design: Rick Carter; Set Decoration: Jim Erickson
Mychael Danna, “Life Of Pi”
“Skyfall” from Skyfall
Music and Lyric by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth
Chris Terrio, “Argo”
Quentin Tarantino, “Django Unchained”
Ang Lee, “Life Of Pi”
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook”
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”