Monday, February 28, 2011

83rd Annual Academy Awards: A Review

The 83rd Annual Oscars fell flat.  The yin and the yang of hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway didn’t work: he was far too subdued and she was too hyper.  At the same time, I didn’t object to anything they did, and as neither of the two are comics you can’t fault them for not being funny enough (Hathway actually did get in a few “ad libs” [”I thought “F” stood for "Fighter.”]) Hopefully we now have— at long last— learned our lesson: one host, who’s a comedian, please next year.  As further evidence, I offer the appearance of Oscar host extraordinaire Billy Crystal who came out halfway through the show and immediately hit a home run with his gag about how the show is running late (“And so, the nominees for Best Picture are…”).

Despite the hosts, everything about the show seemed old hat.  The opening with the hosts inserted into the Best Picture nominees has been done to death; and the auto-tuning bit also seemed (at least 2 years) old.  And yet this was supposed to be the “young and hip” Oscars.  The problem is the writers are old and phoning it in.

The Bob Hope “time machine” wasn’t bad but seemed a non-sequitor.  On paper, Hope plus Kirk Douglas might have seemed a nice way of bringing back the history of the show, but both cases backfired.  Kirk Douglas offered a cringe worthy start, even if, after all, it came out OK.  Thankfully winner Melissa Leo was able to mix it up well with Kirk when she came up to accept.  Leo’s drop of the f-bomb, which I believe is a first on an Oscarcast, only offered interest due to Christian Bale’s follow-up that he wouldn’t do the same since he’s done it enough.

The ABC pre-show was the usual disaster, with lame-o interviews and an unfortunate preview of things-to-come with a completely zonked James Franco.  Tom Hanks, old pro that he is, is the only one who came off well in the pre-show, chatting just moments before he was to take the stage.

The start of the show was pretty rocky.  After that far-too-long hosts-in-Best-Pictures piece Franco and Hathaway stumbled through a monologue of sorts with one tried and true winner— the old person gag: “Grandma” Franco’s standing up and professing her excitement at seeing Marky Mark. 

Some well-played “side” business of the presenters is worth noting.  Firstly, I liked the fact that Matthew McConaughey when reading the winners for the technical awards said the name of the movie title before the obscure names of the winners (i.e. he said “The winner is Inception…” first, so you knew what won, more important than who won to the viewing audience); Cate Blanchett’s ad-lib after seeing The Wolfman’s make-up (“Gross!”) was hilarious; Jake Gyllenhaal saying you should watch the short films because it can help your chances at winning your Oscar pool; Spielberg listing the “losers” of Best Picture as good company to the nine films that wouldn’t win.

None of the speeches were particularly standout, save for Randy Newman’s saying that he “wants to be good television” by not taking the producer’s advice and “listing” thank-yous but wasn’t able to, and King’s Speech director Tom Hooper who said his mother discovered The King’s Speech when she went to a reading of the unproduced play (“listen to your mother”).  Speaking of Randy Newman, I’ve said for years that the Best Song category needs retirement and following his win for the upbeat and cheery but clearly mediocre “We Belong Together,” my point has gained further evidence.

Odds and Ends section: I believe the obits reel was misguided with clips of the deceased “smiling” to Chaplin’s “Smile”— disturbing.  My favorite performance of the year was Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine, but her “Oscar clip” looked like one for co-star Ryan Gosling.  I liked Jeff Bridges and Sandra Bullock’s “first name basis” intros of the nominated lead actors and actresses, gave a personal touch.

All in all, not the train wreck it’s being made out to be in the media, but an unmemorable show… plus a little-too-perfect choice for Best Picture, and far too much “spreading of the wealth” this year (I do believe this is actually the first time in Oscar history that six films got multiple awards).