Monday, February 25, 2008

80th Annual Academy Awards: A Review

Jon Stewart has become the Johnny Carson of Oscar hosts with this year’s awards. He brought a low-key classiness to the show, which was mared only by less-than-memorable speeches and few genuine “moments.” In fact, it was Stewart himself who engineered the best speech of the night by bringing out slighted ONCE singer-songwriter Markéta Irglová to speak after she’d been cut off unjustly.

Both “parts” of the ONCE Best Song acceptances were the highlight of the show. “Make art” said Glen Hansard; “no matter how far out your dreams are, it's possible,” said Markéta Irglová. And the performing of “Falling Slowly” was so charming: love that Glen Hansard used the damaged guitar from the film.

Stewart was not the right choice I thought a couple years ago, but this year following the WGA strike and it being an election year, he was perfect. I can easily see him becoming an Oscar-show-host fixture: the heir to Billy Crystal following the reigns of Bob Hope (40s, 50s, 60s), Carson (70s, 80s), and Crystal (80s, 90s).

The evening was off brilliantly with Stewart zeroing in on the VANITY FAIR party as the target for humor (rather than going for the studios or producers). His political jokes fared well too (AWAY FROM HER is about a woman who forgets her husband— Hilary Clinton thought it was the “feel good” movie of the year; Oscar is 80 which makes him the front-runner for the Republican nomination.)

The use of old Oscar footage (which dated back to the 1939/40 ceremony and Hattie McDaniel) was well played and gave the show the sense of history it always seems to be missing. The only famous clip I missed was Art Carney kicking his foot up in the air when he won in the 70s: they hit ALL the biggies though. Oddly the reel that DIDN’T work for me was the Best Picture rundown, and I think I know why. Because there have been so many oddball winners over the years, the reel should have included sound-ups on the BIG winners: the CASABLANCAs and the LAWRENCE OF ARABIAs to cover the CIMARRONs and the BEAUTIFUL MINDs. The way they did it gave every film equal weight: but time has exposed the duds. The “interview” bites with Barbra Streisand and Michael Douglas/Catherine Zeta-Jones actually worked, but they were dropped halfway through the show: it would have been better not introducing these at all, if they would just be in the first half (you know others were done but cut for time).

What we could have done without is the Jerry Seinfeld “Bee” from BEE MOVIE! Can we be finally be freed from this movie? It wasn’t even nominated for Best Animated Film: doesn’t this tell the Oscar producers something?

Jennifer Hudson’s appearance was a little startling in a way we all could have predicted last year: it was like oh yeah Jennifer Hudson has an Oscar, weird. Liked John Travolta’s entrance even if his hair is totally bizarre. Nominee Viggo Mortensen resembled Michael Douglas in KING OF CALIFORNIA. Katherine Heigl was a bundle of nerves. Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen’s Halle Berry/Judi Dench thing went on far too long and was barely amusing. BIZZAREST cutaway of the night: Cameron Diaz (for several seconds) during the Robert Boyle tribute.

Robert Boyle: nice speech and actually his extreme age didn’t really come off that badly, which I had feared. It was nice that he rattled off directors that he was honored to work with. This is EASILY the last hurrah for Mr. Hitchcock at the Oscars.

Winner Tilda Swinton’s paleness, particularly in a black dress, was disconcerting. Note to nominess: try to look AT LEAST as good as you did in the movie you’re up for. I will say this for Swinton though, when she was harassed on the red carpet about who she’d thank if she won (TRANSLATION: you have no chance), she declined to answer. And then Richard Roeper had the nerve to say that SHE didn’t think she’d win: no bonehead, she didn’t want to answer a question that ASSUMED she wouldn’t.

And now, the Coens. Yes, their speech(es) were cocky and mostly pointless. But, then again, it would have been worse if they suddenly weren’t themselves, just to please “Oscar.” So, I’ll just say I’m mixed on their acceptances.

Marion Cotillard is as cute as a button. I think she expected to be clapped off sooner, which is why the end of her speech got a little rambly and overdone. Still, she was genuinely overwhelmed and she was sweet. And her win was groundbreaking, since it was a foreign-language performance. The Oscars have slighted foreign-language performances more than any other “minority” through the years— they’re only just getting around to honoring them. I also liked Javier Bardem’s speech when he talked about (and to) his mother, and included a little Spanish.

Diablo Cody wisely stepped away from the mike when she began to cry at the end of her speech: it made for a heartfelt moment rather than a potentially awkward one.

Other funny Stewart bits: LAWRENCE OF ARABIA on the iphone, the Angelina Jolie “and the baby goes to” award, playing Wii tennis with young actress Jamia Simone Nash.

This was the best Oscars in recent history. Not very many AMAZING moments, but quietly classy.

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