Sunday, February 22, 2009

I love the Oscars!

I love them so much, in fact, that I finally finished watching last year's telecast a few seconds before midnight last night. Now I have plenty of time to catch up on other important business before this year's— ... oh, right ... it's tonight.

I do love the Oscars. Actually, "love" is too strong—I like the Oscars. I used to be obsessed with movies and wanted to make them and be in them, so I did look forward to the Oscar telecast every year from, say, eighth grade (1990) to my senior year of college (1998). But my obsession faded after college, so now I watch the Oscars for ... the suspense? No, that can't be it; I can't think of any big surprises that have happened since Roman Polanski won for The Pianist in 2003. I do watch for the speeches the older I get, and I even tear up a little when I hear some of them. (I promised myself I wouldn't cry like Paul Sorvino when I typed that, but look at me now!) Not the speeches where the winner almost loses it onstage and gives the impression that his or her life had no meaning until this very moment, like James Cameron (Best Director, 1998) and Halle Berry (Best Actress, 2002) did when they won. I'm talking about the speeches where there's genuine emotion on display that the winner is embarrassed to be showing but can't help it, like when Diablo Cody won for Best Original Screenplay last night— I mean, last year. I shouldn't tear up, but I do.

I also like speeches like the one Best Supporting Actress winner Tilda Swinton gave last year, where she teased George Clooney about wearing his old Batman costume under his Michael Clayton suits. She was having a good time and enjoying herself; the only thing being validated that night was her limo's parking stub. I also enjoyed Joel and Ethan Coen's two acceptance speeches for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director(s)—it seems to me that if you watch the Oscars every year and you know how long some speeches can go but you also know how frustrating it can be to see multiple winners for awards like Best Sound Editing get cut off by the orchestra two seconds after they step up to the microphone, then the best thing to do is just say "thank you" like Ethan Coen did.

I read in the New York Times last month that the telecast's new producers, Bill Condon and Laurence Mark, the director and producer of Dreamgirls (2006), respectively, wanted to shake things up this year (last year's ceremony was pretty dull, in spite of host Jon Stewart) by allowing more room for "mistakes," or unexpected moments. One of their examples was Network screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky coming onstage in 1977 to accept Peter Finch's posthumous award for Best Actor but deciding at that moment that Finch's wife, who was in the audience, should accept it instead, which must've thrown off the show's director and cameramen.

I haven't read yet who will be accepting Heath Ledger's award for Best Supporting Actor tonight if he wins, which seems likely. According to Roger Ebert in Friday's Chicago Sun-Times, his partner on TV for two decades, the late Gene Siskel, once said that when the Academy voters cast their ballots, they're essentially scripting the Oscar telecast. "It's hard for them to resist certain nominees because they know how dramatic it would be if they won." There's no suspense in Ledger winning, but if he does, it will be dramatic.

He's not the only posthumous nominee: Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack both died last year as well, and they're nominated for Best Picture as two of the four producers of The Reader, but no one expects it to win in that category. Some critics seem angry that it's even nominated or that Kate Winslet got a Best Actress nod for it instead of Revolutionary Road, which has also gotten mixed reviews. I haven't seen either film, but I do know that Minghella and Pollack have good taste and good instincts for quality material, and it must be some sort of record that The Reader's director, Stephen Daldry, has directed three movies so far in his career (2000's Billy Elliot and 2002's The Hours are the others) and been nominated for Best Director for all of them. The Reader marks the final nominations for Minghella and Pollack, of course, but it's Pollack's second nomination for Best Picture in two years—last year he was nominated for producing Michael Clayton, which he also starred in alongside Swinton and Clooney.

I'm curious to see how Hugh Jackman will fare as host. I'm actually looking forward to the first time since I've been watching regularly that a current or former stand-up comedian won't be the emcee. I'm also looking forward to being home to watch the Oscars for the first time since 2003—I've had to tape the show each year since 2005 because of Sunday-night performances or rehearsals, and as you can see, sometimes it takes me a while to actually watch the thing. (In 2004 I watched the Oscars with some friends, but they weren't that interested in it. Good thing I taped the show that year as well so I could see what I missed the next day.)

I'm looking forward to one other thing, but I expect to be disappointed: You know how nearly every time a winner finishes saying "thank you" and begins to walk offstage, he or she turns to the left instead of the right and runs into the presenter and the statuesque Oscar-statue model, who then redirect him or her to the "correct" exit? Why don't the people in charge just switch sides and let the winners go left? Clearly that's the natural instinct in a situation where you're disoriented and fumbling with your words, whether you're winning an Oscar or explaining to a one-night stand whose name you can't remember that you'll call her tomorrow. You and I would go left too if we were winning an Oscar, but luckily most of us on this planet will never have to worry about that sort of thing.

But now that I think about it, maybe it's a symbolic thing. Hollywood, after all, is a liberal town, so going left comes naturally to most of its inhabitants. Now I'm kicking myself for having erased the 1993 and 2005 Oscars—I can't see if two-time Best Director winner Clint Eastwood ended his victory speeches by moving immediately and proudly to the right.


  1. What a dullfest that was (the Oscars, not your insightful post). It was encapsulated by the Luhrmann tribute to the musicals: innovative, energetic, competent – and I couldn't wait for it to be over.

    The TV direction in the In Memoriam segment was criminal – I almost wish that the director will feature in it next year for messing up the best part of the show. Long angle shots of screens on which the writing was too small, and sometimes the image of the late subject. Unlike certain child actors, I couldn't see dead people. And then the camera zoomed in and out and left and right; I nearly got seasick. What pretentious rubbish.

    And when will the producers figure out whether to have the female voice announcing the next presenter on or off? Why not leave her on, so that I know which random vapid starlet is going to amuse me with spontaneous banter?

  2. Thanks for the comment, Halfhearted! I'm going to use part of it in my next post.

    I'm not sure I follow you on "the female voice." I know who you're talking about, but what do you mean about leaving her "on"? Remember the year when Peter Coyote was "the voice" and they showed him before the commercials in front of shelves full of Oscars? Some critic said that the shelves and the microphone headset he was wearing made him look like he was the drive-thru guy at McOscar's.

    I kind of missed the female voice telling us if the winners had been nominated or had won before on their way up to the podium. That information was interesting to me, especially if there was some composer who'd already been nominated 12 times.

  3. I couldn't stick with the whole Oscar ceremony. I think for me what was missing were the film clips. I've always enjoyed the film clips playing while the nominees are called. The "tribute" from previous winners was a nice idea, but didn't hold the same impact for me.

    Going back to The Lady from Shanghai: yes, fun house mirrors. Another film of his, though, that suffered from heavy edits to the final cut, I believe. It had a lot of potential. Maybe the complex narrative is what drew Wong Kar-wai's interest?