Monday, March 15, 2010

One Week Later: A Final Look at the Oscars

It's all over. And in the interim, while Cinema Squared has been toiling away at dealing with some debugging issues, we've all had time to think back on the Oscar season that was.

Awards season functions in a six-month cycle -- six months of Oscar build-up, and six months of rest and relaxation. We have just entered the off-season. And it feels simultaneously freeing and frustrating, exciting and empty. Plenty to talk about, not a lot to get excited about. For better or for worse, Oscar season hones the focus of entertainment journalists of all stripes, and gives a context for the entire discussion for nearly half the year. In the case of Cinema Squared, I have always felt like it brought out the best in our content -- always fascinating items to bring up, discuss, and analyze. And, of course, there are the Oscar movies, which may not all be perfect, but that strive for perfection in a way early 2010 releases like Edge of Darkness or Dear John would never dare. (I can't stress enough in this first quarter of the year: Thank God for Shutter Island).

So, in honor, in remembrance, in a quiet yearning for the return of...the Oscars, here's a final look back at this year's ceremony, based on some of the notes I took throughout the ceremony.

Extended Actor Excerpts: Good
In the supporting categories, viewers were given extended sequences of each nominated actor's performance, allowing us to fully understand the depth and complexity of each work and get an insight into each character. It was one of the few real changes this year's producers decided to make, and it was a successful one. I would have preferred the same strategy be applied to the lead acting categories instead of the "former co-stars take stage to shower praise on each nominee" format, but that was decent enough as it was.

Wrap-Up Music, and By Extension the Decision to Race Through the Show: Bad
Contrary to popular belief, this year's show raced by with uncommon zeal, obviously an attempt to capture viewers' attention for the entire broadcast and to finally combat accusations that the show runs long. But the show still ran long, so it didn't matter that they rushed the entire ceremony, which felt less intimate and more business-like than usual. The most offensive arm of this strategy -- even more offensive than in past years, even -- was the use of wrap-up music to cut off any attempt at a lengthier acceptance speech. The Oscars are supposed to celebrate every facet of filmmaking, thus reinforcing what a group effort the filmmaking process really is...except that preferential treatment was given to those higher on the totem pole. No one would dare try to interrupt Bridges or Bullock, and why should they? Both gave wonderful speeches that deserved to be heard in full. But the same holds true for the filmmaking team behind The Cove and the special effects team for Avatar, yet they were cut off the same way a dozen others were cut off throughout the night. Sorry, but that's bullshit. The shooting gallery will take their shots about length no matter how short the ceremony is, so allow these filmmakers -- at ALL levels -- to finish their speeches. This moment is supposed be special. Don't spoil it for them.

Martin and Baldwin as Hosting Duo: Good
Because the hosts only do real hosting for the first 10 minutes of the show, it's hard for any of them to really exude consistent greatness. With his forceful musicality, Hugh Jackman sustained greatness for nearly four hours, making him the best Oscar host in years, and if next year's producers know what's best for them, they will make him an offer before anyone else. But, as a comedy duo, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin did a fine job. Their old-school rapport was one of the only elements to work really well in this year's show. Their back-and-forth shtick worked really well for them and for the show.

Horror Dedication Montage: WTF?!
What was the point? If you wanted to do an extended dedication to genre, and horror was one part of a much larger whole, then fine. Or if one or two of the prominent Best Picture nominees were horror films, that might even work. As it was, there was no rhyme or reason. It was a strange montage that included films that weren't even horror pictures. It stopped the show dead in its tracks.

Best Picture Intros: Decent
The use of frequent breaks in the action to introduce each of the ten BP nominees worked pretty well, with a separate stage for the presenters to stand apart from the rest of the action and a card at the bottom of the screen that listed each nominated film's primary credits.

Best Picture Announcement:
Tom Hanks did a fine job presenting the Best Picture award (and I kinda liked the suppressed smirk on his face as he read the winning title, as if this was rooting for Hurt Locker all along), but the actual moment was so truncated that it felt like one rushed afterthought at the end of a rushed night.

shut-out in major categories: Good
We all pretty much knew this was brewing for weeks, thanks to the overall critical love for Hurt Locker and the David vs. Goliath story that resulted from it. But it was nonetheless satisfying to see a film that didn't deserve to win any of the major awards lose in every major category. Amazing thing is, Avatar also lost in some of the smaller categories, getting shut out of the sound categories by The Hurt Locker. Cameron's epic walked away with three awards, but only two of them -- visual effects and art direction -- were deserved. I had predicted The White Ribbon to win Best Cinematography, and actually assumed if it lost, it would be to Hurt Locker. But it's not a ridiculous win for Avatar, so...whatever.

So funny that watching the Oscars brings out the cutthroat, "rah-rah" mentality in all of us. I was actively rooting against Avatar for the entirety of the Oscar broadcast, even though I actually really like the movie. The Hurt Locker wasn't my number one for the year, but I feel like it was a big victory that it took home so many awards. Kinda ridiculous.

Up in the Air
shut-out in all categories: Embarrassing
The biggest jaw-dropper of the night was Up in the Air losing the Adapted Screenplay Oscar to Precious. It is utterly shameful that the year's best, most enlightened and important film failed to win even one Oscar, especially for the core of its profundity, Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner's beautiful screenplay. the worst way. For his part, Geoffrey Fletcher was also shocked by his own victory, so much so that he literally couldn't muster a word without ample stuttering. The guy was in awe and I admire his genuine happiness, but of all the awards to give Precious, Screenplay was the least deserving, in my opinion. Fletcher's speech did provide fodder for the evening's best joke, when Steve Martin took the stage upon Fletcher's exit and proudly stated, "I wrote his acceptance speech."

The Hurt Locker
mini-sweep: Very Good
Six Oscars for Kathryn Bigelow's masterpiece, which is a nice haul for one of Oscar's lowest-grossing Best Picture winners ever. The film charted an interesting trajectory, from little indie picture to critical favorite to Oscar dark horse to a victim of Avatar's expected dominance to the odds-on favorite. But this was one instance where the film in question deserved all the praise and came out on the proper end of the spin machine. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound impressive showing.

Bigelow Making History: Wonderful
Don't forget this may not happen for a while. But it has been done, which means it can be done again. The glass ceiling has been broken, and the road has been paved for future female filmmakers. Kathryn Bigelow could not have been more gracious in her moment of glory -- which, for me, was the ceremony's high point. She also could not have been more deserving. Politics come into play in any Oscar campaign, but Bigelow always stayed above the fray and let her work speak for itself. Make no mistake: this award was earned. And I can't wait to see what Bigelow chooses to follow up this momentous achievement.


oozer said...

Hi! hope you don't mind if i comment on your blog...

That horror salute was almost a horror insult. I can't believe they had the twilight kids present it. The Paranormal Activity spoof was pretty entertaining but was quickly ruined as soon as those two baby faces stepped out onto the stage. The montage was actually kind of fun (minus the short clip of twilight).

Twilight is just not horror. I don't know when people will finally realize this but I sure hope it's soon.

K McKiernan said...

Thanks for leaving a message. Hope we don't mind? Its why we write on this blog! Keep your comments coming.

I agree... the Twilight clip seemed totally added for the tweenies who may have been watching.


Unlike J, I kinda thought the Horror montage was fun.