Oscar recap: And the dead frog goes to...
It was almost the Oscars that weren’t, the first time since age seven where I couldn’t invite Hollywood’s elite into my living room for its annual epistle to everything that’s wrong with mainstream cinema.
Last year, with little but Match Game reruns and TCM to justify the cost, I traded in my pricey satellite dish for an Apple TV box and HDTV antenna. ABC’s signal doesn’t reach my Escondido rabbit ears and for some inexplicable reason, the over-the-air network defeats its own purpose by making it impossible to watch free TV online without first subscribing to a cable or satellite service. My equally provider-deprived partner, Matthew Lickona, faced a similar problem when trying to wrangle a signal, making his La Mesa abode an Oscar-Free Zone.
A quick call to friend, North County neighbor, fellow Chicagoan, and Reading Cinema’s event and promotions guru Lindsay Wallis did the trick. A proud Apple TV owner and Oscar devotee, she faced a similar nightmare. As fate would have it, there was a giant TV in the upstairs lounge at the Angelika Film Center opposite a center table and a “Reserved” card that had my name on it. The thought of watching the Oscars in a movie theater proved impossible to resist.
Even more deflating than three-and-a-half-plus hours of nonstop messaging and the host’s relentlessly unfunny pre-recorded schtick was how many people actually went to the movies on Oscar night. I was half expecting to find a ghost town, but the lobby was abuzz with patrons from the time I arrived to the time I dragged my battle-scarred carcass back to the parking lot.
Chris Rock came out swinging as expected, but his kid-gloves treatment of the Academy’s lack of racial diversity (“Welcome to the White People’s Choice Awards”) seemed tame compared to the handful of knockout punches squarely aimed at blasting the wind out of Jada Pinkett-Smith. (“Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties,” Rock sniped. “I wasn’t invited.”) It was Smith who sparked this year’s controversy by coming to the defense of hubby Will after his performance in Concussion was not deemed worthy of Academy honors.
From the canned commercial tribute to Jack Black History Month to a running-time-devouring pitch for Girl Scout Cookies, most of Rock’s post-monologue material fizzled. But none landed with quite a thud like the brief appearance by Stacey Dash delivering what could amount to the greatest in-joke in Oscar history. Rock introduced the Clueless star and current Fox News pundit, banking on Dash’s recent denial of the need for a Black History Month and her dubbing the threatened boycott of the show “ludicrous” still being fresh in viewers’ minds.
As E.B. White so eloquently put it, “Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better but the frog dies in the process.”
What follows are random observations culled from this year’s live Oscar-blog:
It was doomed from the start, as regular Reader reader Colonna observed, “Two Will Ferrell clips in the first three minutes is quite enough.”
Rock took time to single out Charlize Theron’s alabaster bark without once stopping to consider that she was probably one of the few in attendance of African descent.
In addition to asking that Ali G host next year’s ceremony — I second the motion — Ward Porrill Ward found himself upset by the dwindling number of Hollywood’s old guard in attendance. Perhaps it was past their bedtimes, but instead of relying on a solo host to carry the load, why not simply bring Nicholson, Beatty, Burstyn, Pacino, etc. out of mothballs to act as revolving hosts/presenters? It makes more sense than showcasing peripherally related small-screen stars (I’m talking about you, Sofia Vergara) or comics who have little to show for themselves movie-wise other than an embarrassing string of box office flops.
While picking up his Best Adapted Screenplay golden door stop for The Big Short, Adam McKay thanked Paramount for taking a risk on a film about financial esoterica. What the hell was The Wolf of Wall Street? And as much as I dislike “hand-held” McKay as a director (and winners using the time allotted to push personal agendas), credit his, “If you don’t want big money to control government, don’t vote for candidates that take money from big banks” as a smile-bringing slam against Mrs. Clinton.
Viewers were no doubt puzzled by on-screen brands that read “‘Winner’s Name’ Wants to thank...” Longing to shorten the running time, each of this year’s nominees was asked to provide a list of coworkers and/or family members they wanted to single out. Instead of winners reciting a laundry list of names, the Academy deemed it more efficient to simply run those “thanked” across the bottom of the screen. Better luck next year.
Biggest intentional laugh of the night: Tracy Morgan noshing on a Danish.
The evening’s meanest and most personally gratifying snicker: Spielberg’s Earl Schieb hair dye and Kate Capshaw’s Moe Howard mullet.
Charlotte Rampling and Joshua Oppenheimer, two of my favorite recent interview subjects — and the only two horses I had in this year’s derby — both went home empty-handed. It’s clear that Brie Larson, Ms. Rampling’s key opponent, entered the proceedings with the award all but sewn up. And at the risk of sounding like my father, the PC Academy’s decision to honor a middling documentary that glorified a drug-addled songstress over a work of art that helped to heal the torn fabric of a society was just as thoughtless as it was dumb.
Kevin Hart could very well be Rock’s heir apparent. Controversy didn’t translate to viewership; Deadline reports ratings hit an eight-year low.
Javajoe25 “always suspected Joe Biden of being a Lady Ga-Ga fan.” We live in a country where the Vice President has to take to the stage during a self-aggrandizing movie awards show to tell people that rape and spousal abuse are bad. After a thundering set-up, the Academy chose to go ga-ga over James Bond. No wonder the rest of the world hates us.
On a positive note, of the eight films up for best picture, for the first time since Million Dollar Baby, the Academy made the right choice.