Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Oscar Wrap-Up

In the titanic battle between the films of divorced couple Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron, the custody of Oscar was awarded to Ms. Bigelow. Awesome! She's Queen of the World! Her low-budget, high tension drama war film The Hurt Locker kicked the lithe, blue ass of the most expensive film (and highest grossing) of all time, Avatar. Who'da'thunk it?!? I thought the Academy was going to split the spoils...with Director honours going to Bigelow and the Best Picture to the too large to ignore eco-conscious sci-fi behemoth. Shows what I know.

A few weeks back, I had read an interesting opinion piece by a film critic who wrote that no film should win the Best Picture if it did not garner nominations in the acting and writing categories. This was Avatar...a visual masterpiece, with a story viewers complained that they had seen before, and CGI characters (but hey, I bet audiences could tell which Avatar was Sigourney Weaver. The look was unmistakeable). In the past few weeks, The Hurt Locker found itself at the center of controversy when veterans of the Iraq War spoke out about its inaccuracies. Uh...hello! The film came out in August...why are people speaking out now? Besides, its a movie. If people thought the character (played by Jeremy Renner) was a bit too reckless, well...his performance added great tension to the role and film. I walked out of the theaters admiring the guy as well as the real life IED-disposal specialists who put their lives on the line every day that we're still over there. I've read that this late-game smear campaign had the fingerprints of one Harvey Weinstein, who hoped his company's financed Inglorious Basterds would reign supreme. Once again, Quentin Tarantino went home empty-handed (though Christophe Waltz won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as a multi-lingual Nazi).

I was actually quite happy for the Best Picture winner. Avatar already has all the attention and money it needs. The Hurt Locker only made $19 million in theaters (it cost $11 million to make and had a hard time finding a studio to green light the project). Its nice to see a smaller picture win, especially one that focuses on one aspect of our current war in Iraq. The film has been on DVD for a few weeks now, so it won't get the usual post-Academy bounce at the box office.

One thing I learned with this telecast is that the Academy last had ten nominees more than sixty years ago, in which the winner was the classic Casablanca. I did not know that (about the ten nominees), so this change wasn't that much of break from tradition. I still think it was ridiculous to open the field that wide. I'm certain The Hurt Locker still would have won in a five picture field of nominees. I understand that the Academy wanted to break from the snooze-fests of the past few years when all the nominees were small films that most people had not seen, but they could easily solve that by alloting one nomination to a popular film. They've shown in the past that they could make quirky selections that defied tradition (such as Ghost for Best Picture in 1991 or Field of Dreams in 1990). There is no reason to include Up or District 9 in this year's race, as they had zero chance of winning.

Also interesting was the Las Vegas-style opening song with Doogie Howser...er, I mean Neal Patrick Harris, who seems to be auditioning for hosting duties in 2011. This wasn't nearly as bad as the late-80s Rob Lowe -- Snow White duet that opened the Oscars, but it was no where near Billy Crystal's songs that featured funny lyrics about the nominated films or even Hugh Jackman's song and dance routine.

Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin are an odd pair together and I'm not certain that their schtick worked. Their jokes about various celebrities were mostly lame and lacked a natural flow. I did like the video spoof of Paranormal Activity (where a sleepwalking Steve Martin gets out of bed to slap Alec Baldwin), but the montage to horror films was unnecessary. Listen up, Academy...there's a reason why you never nominate horror films! Paying tribute to them in a montage filled with gore was only a reminder why I don't like those films and why I'm glad that they never get recognized at awards time.

Sandra Bullock's speech was the most heartfelt, especially when she thanked her mother for raising her to treat people equally, in which religion, race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, or sexual orientation does not make one better than someone else. It was good to see her win, and interesting to note that she also received a Raspberry (the Razzies) for her role in All About Steve. She probably got a kick out of that.

Now about that Kathryn Bigelow. When Barbara Streisand came out on stage, I kind of figured that Kathryn would win. The Academy has a habit of picking sentimental presenters for the Best Director Oscar. If I remember correctly, George Lucas presented the Best Director Oscar in 1994 when his good friend Steven Spielberg won for Schindler's List. And when Martin Scorsese finally won his Director Oscar a few years ago, I think Spielberg was the guy who delivered it to him. So, why Babs? I think it was because she was the first woman nominated in that category (for Yentl). She commented that this could be the first time a female or African American director wins. After she mentioned that, I thought for sure she was going to make a comment or sly reference to the 2008 Democratic nomination. It seemed like the Academy was hyping it that way, but she stayed clear of that and announced the winner.

It was a big night for Kathryn Bigelow, and a well-deserved one at that. What does this win say about our culture and the proverbial "glass ceiling" that keeps women from being fully equal with men? Well, I think its interesting that a female director won for a "guy's film" and not a "chick flick" (that would be Nora Ephron's territory). During the Democratic primary, there were questions on whether a woman could be tough enough to be commander-in-chief. This stereotypical attitude regarding women's lack of toughness pushed Hillary Clinton into hiding her softer side, though there were a few moments when she showed that she wasn't a "fembot" (like when she teared up at one lady's question before the New Hampshire primary, that some say helped her beat Obama to keep her in the game).

What can I say...Kathryn Bigelow kicked ASS at the Oscars, and I bet it was especially delicious that she kicked her ex-husband's ass (though they claim to be good friends and Cameron was gracious to her when he won the Golden Globe for Best Director). Hopefully, Cameron shared in her joy (he already has an Oscar). I liked the Australian costume designer who won her third Oscar. She seemed surprised and mentioned sharing the wealth. Hint to the Academy: don't nominate her again! She basically gave you permission to award someone else in future years. I like that attitude.

The tribute to John Hughes was an awesome surprise. I was never a huge fan of Hughes' films, but its still hard to ignore, because he created some of the most memorable films of our era (for those of us who were in high school in the 1980s): Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Pretty in Pink, the Breakfast Club, and 16 Candles (to name a few).

All in all, it was a good show. My apartment complex had a party in the lobby with a large screen television. When I went down at 4:45 p.m. to watch, I was worried when there were only two people there. Then there were five. But people came later and we had maybe 25 people. Not as many as the sporting events, but a good size crowd that would make the concierge willing to do it again next year (if I'm still living there). Most of us cheered when Kathryn Bigelow won.

It was also interesting to hear people's comments...as some people just love to talk and they don't seem to care if they are right. They'll insist that so and so is named such and such, even though I know they are wrong. I don't correct people in public conversations like that because that's annoying, but I'm always amazed in listening to people how they are casual about their ignorance, and will insist that one person is some other actor. I guess I'm different than people, because I don't have a need to be a "know-it-all" and I generally keep quiet in crowds. I definitely won't say anything where I'm not 100% certain. I have no problem saying that I don't know who that actor or actress is. Thus, I'm baffled by how others just love to run their mouths and have no care in the world if they are right or not. For me, credibility is everything and credibility requires getting your facts right or saying nothing at all if you don't know.

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