Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Highs and Lows of Oscar Night

One day we'll look back on this and...Yeah, we still won't laugh.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more muddled, flailing awards show than the one I saw Sunday night at the 83rd Oscars. Almost nothing worked. The youthful exuberance and hip charm that was promised us in the guise of hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway fell completely flat. The choices made by the production team were almost all confusing, from the spotty movie retrospectives to the slew of horribly written jokes. Still, there were bright spots, things we can remember alongside the travesties of the evening. Here’s what stood out, for better or worse.

Low: The Hosts
James Franco and Anne Hathaway are both fantastic actors. They’re young superstars poised to do great things for decades. But put them front and center on an awards show stage and everything you love about them turns into grating hate. Hathaway’s energy and overjoyed charm becomes shrill, overanxious cackling, while Franco’s laid back suave becomes pretentious apathy. To their credit, both hosts seemed to know they were failing almost immediately, and by the end both had a “get me off this damn stage” look about them. We were thinking the same thing.

High: ‘Inception’ takes four Oscars
Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” was my pick for best film of 2010. I knew it wouldn’t win the top prize, but it still managed to prove its worth by taking home four awards in the technical categories, for visual effects, cinematography, sound design and sound mixing. While it’s still a shame that the Academy ignored much of the rest of its merit, going so far as to snub Christopher Nolan in the Best Director category, at least its sensory glories were applauded.

Low: Auto-Tune the Oscars
In an effort to continue you the “Hey, we’re young and hip” campaign that began when Franco and Hathaway were hired, Oscars producers concocted a few bits of tech savvy shtick in a further attempt to hook in the kiddos. Among these was an unfortunate attempt to make songs out of bits of dialogue from films like “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I” and “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” through clever use of auto-tuning. The result was not only bad songs, but bad comedy.

High: Aaron Sorkin
Aaron Sorkin is a genius. The television community has known and acknowledge this for more than a decade now, and Sunday night the film community jumped on board by handing him a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for “The Social Network.” He also gave one of the most eloquent speeches of the evening.

Low: The Honorary Awards are pushed to the back…again
For the second consecutive year the Academy opted to remove its honorary awards, including the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for lifetime achievement, from the Oscars broadcast and instead present them at a special “Governor’s Awards” ceremony. What used to be an interlude in the broadcast to honor legends in the field was instead converted to a smile and nod moment, when Thalberg winner Francis Ford Coppola and honorary winners Eli Wallach and Kevin Brownlow stepped out onto the stage. These are giants among men. They deserve better.

High: The all too brief appearance of Billy Crystal
For much of the night the Oscars audience seemed ready to fall asleep in their chair, but everything changed when legendary Oscars host Billy Crystal took the stage for a few brief moments. His jokes, his poise and his style reminded us what we were missing, and because of that the rest of the evening might have actually seemed worse.

Low: The continued ego-stroking of the acting nominees
If you’re looking for a message among the way the Academy presents its awards, one is always obvious: we care more about movie stars than we do about anyone else. The Academy continued its tradition Sunday night of taking extra time to honor the Best Actor and Best Actress nominees. Last year’s winners, Jeff Bridges and Sandra Bullock, came out and delivered specialized speeches about how special each of the nominees were, and then the statue went to the most special of them all. Even if you eliminate the fact that none of the other categories, including those with other actors, get this treatments, it’s just plain obnoxious.

I could also devote some time to complaining that “The King’s Speech” took Best Picture honors over “The Social Network,” but we have to face that the Academy will always go with the polished, safe choice over the daring one. That doesn’t bother me all that much, but if you’re going to pick the polished films, you can at least polish up your presentation.

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