Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar Reactions

So another Oscar season if officially behind us. This season has in a lot of ways, been kind of disappointing and boring to me. There are many reasons for this. From the fact that the 2008 was not the strongest year in movies, and even still the Academy was not very imaginative in their nominees. While I didn’t dislike any of the nominees, I didn’t absolutely love any of them either. But now that the season is behind us, I will still miss it. Why? Because for a few months every year, the Oscar season gets people to discuss what makes movies great, and which ones should be awarded. Now, that is behind us again, until next December. But enough about that, let’s get the Oscar show itself.

My Predictions

I did poorly this year - more poorly than I can ever remember myself doing. I ended up getting 17/24 right this year. Normally, I am somewhere around 20. Yet, I can’t say I feel that bad about my choices despite my poor result. The seven categories I missed - Actor, Original Screenplay, Foreign Language Film, Sound Editing, Animated Short, Documentary Short and Song were all tough calls. And the winners in five of those categories were my number 2 choice, and ones that I wavered on. If I wavered the other way, I could have had my best year. But we cannot really dwell on that. This year, I did merely okay. So be it.

Most Surprising Winner - Foreign Language Film - Departures

This was the only one of the seven misses I had that actually surprised me. While I may not have thought that some of the others would win, I certainly did view each as a possibility. Not so with Japan’s entry in the Foreign Language race. To be fair, I did read two articles late last week that pointed out the fact Departures could win, but I didn’t really pay much attention. Part of the reason for this is because no one had really seen the movie. But I guess this means that there is at least one great film to be seen in the upcoming months - or whenever this film is released.

Best Speech - Sean Penn

Yes, I wanted to see what Mickey Rourke was going to say, but I really do think that Penn’s speech was the best one of the night. Unlike when he won for Mystic River in 2003, this time Penn seemed genuinely appreciative of winning the award, and was, dare I say it, almost gracious. He also proved that he can have a sense of humor about himself, and had one of the best lines of the nights (“You commie, homo loving sons of guns”) and was able to make a political statement, that was actually relevant to his movie. And his shout out to Mickey Rourke was classy. Penn may never actually be great at these things, but here he proved he can do it if he wants to.

Most Emotional Speech - Kate Winslet

It was great to see the best actress working today finally win an Oscar, and even better to see someone who actually seemed to WANT to win, and was overjoyed to do so. And yet, Winslet never melted down into the sentimental depths that many previous winners in this category have done. Well done.

Funniest Moment

Ben Stiller doing a killer Joaquin Phoenix impersonation while presenting the cinematography award with Natalie Portman (who had a killer line in “You look like you work at a Hasidic meth lab”). Yes, it was disrespectful to Phoenix, who if it wasn’t an act could have some serious problems, and it distracted from the award itself, especially as he started wandering around aimlessly during the clip reel, but because it was funny, it didn’t matter.

Hugh Jackman

I think Jackman did what an Oscar host is supposed to - get the show off to a fun start and then mostly disappear, showing up mainly to make a witty remark every now and then and keep the show moving along. His opening number may not have quite had the same wit as the best Billy Crystal numbers, but Jackman is a better song and dance man, so he made it work. The highlight was his tribute to The Reader, a weird, futuristic dance number, where he admitted he hadn’t actually seen the film. Anne Hathaway was a good sport, and did a fine job playing Richard Nixon to Jackman’s David Frost. The second musical number, with “special guests” Beyonce Knowles, Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Dominic Cooper and Amanda Siegfried may have been a bit of overkill, but the performers somehow pulled it off. It was certainly imaginatively staged and scored. Overall, I thought Jackman brought a much needed element of class to the evening - something that the show was missing under Jon Stewart, even if he was much funnier than Jackman.

The Presentations - Acting Categories

I have mixed feelings about the new way they presented the acting awards this year. Having five former winners come out, and have them each say something nice about each of the nominees is something that I think probably worked better on paper than in practice. The supporting actress presentation was painful, but that could have just been because it was so unexpected. They got better as the night progressed however; I genuinely liked the actor presentation. What I missed however was showing the clips of the nominated performances. I think to people at home who hadn’t seen all the nominees (and judging on the grosses of the movies, that’s pretty much everyone) this probably was more annoying then it was for me, because at least I could relate to what they were saying. But since this is an awards show, rewarding performances in the movies, shouldn’t they have played some clips of the performances? I did see a clip of Penn and Winslet and Ledger, but did we see any of Cruz's winning performance at all? After all is said and done, I think this is one of those experiments the Academy tries once, and then goes back to normal the following year.

The Presentations - Tech Categories

I liked how they did them this year, grouping them together into like categories, and having one presenter, or team of presenters, give them out back to back. This kept the show moving along at a brisk clip, and yet still allowed the tech guys to have their moment in the sun, without treating them like cattle by herding them up on stage, or acting like they didn’t matter by giving the award out at their seats. I liked it.

The Song Nominees

Sorry, I thought it was disrespectful for a show that had two hugely long musical numbers to shunt the song nominees into a shorter montage that mixed the three songs together. O Saya was drained of all its energy, Down to the Ground was no longer a funny little song, but rather a bland song and Jai Ho didn’t seem like very much fun. This was probably the low point in the show.

2008 Movie Yearbook

In theory, this is a great idea. I like the idea of honoring the films of the current year, instead of celebrating the past. The best one, by far, was Judd Apatow’s short film about the year in comedy, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as their Pineapple Express characters getting stoned and watching the movies. The highlight of that one was Franco tearing up as he watched himself and Sean Penn in Milk. The problem I had with many of the rest of them was that they felt like they were directed by Michael Bay, with quick cutting throughout and never really highlighting the films themselves. This was a good first step, but it needs to be refined next year.

Other Clip Reels

In theory, I like the idea of showing some of the work that was nominated, like they tried to do with many of the tech categories. But I found that many of these clip reels, particularly the in memoriam segment, were not well served with how they were presented. Instead of filling the screen, like they should have done, they simply shot the giant screens, sometimes at weird angles so you couldn’t really tell what they were showing. I couldn’t even tell who all the people who passed away were, because I couldn’t see their names. And having Queen Latifah singing throughout this segment, no matter how good she is, was an unnecessary distraction. The one I really liked was the one for the best picture nominees, which tied the current year’s nominees to the nominees of years past. I did find it odd that they should Braveheart, one of the most homophobic movies I can recall, in the reel for Milk, but whatever.

Other Thoughts

I thought they did the Humanitarian award to Jerry Lewis well - they were respectful, but it didn’t go on for too long. And Lewis himself was gracious, and thankfully short, in his acceptance speech. I often find that these awards, along with the lifetime achievement awards, usually bring the show to a screeching halt, but this time it didn’t.

On the Slumdog sweep, all I can say is that it was expected, and like most years where one film so completely dominated, it got boring after a while. I liked the film as much as the next guy, but there’s only so often I can listen to Danny Boyle being thanked before I get bored.

The Heath Ledger acceptance speech by his family was sentimental and touching, but went on too long. Yes, I still feel sad that Ledger died, and feel he deserved to win, but the constant tributes to him this season were a little much.

Finally, since everyone always talks about these things, I will add one person to the best dressed list. For me, I think Natalie Portman looked the best - great hair, great dress, absolutely gorgeous. But then again, I am already in love with Natalie Portman (and Cristina, being the wonderful wife she is accepts our love), so perhaps I’m biased.


I liked this year’s Oscars probably about as much as I could have considering I did poorly on my predictions, wasn’t overly thrilled with the nominees and was bored by the Slumdog sweep. With a few tweaks, the changes they made this year would have worked much better. Since this is the first year that the show was handed over to Bill Condon and his team, so a few bumps are to be expected. I hope that if the ratings are down again this year, which they may very well be, that they don’t take the blame for it, and that they are given another chance. Because if they are given a chance to make the improvements needed. And Hugh Jackman, with another year or two, could become one of the great hosts. That’s all for now.

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