Mar 8, 2010

Oscar 2010 Recap

So the Academy Awards were last night.  It was supposed to be a retooling of the event, to bring viewers back and to remember them why they love the movies.  I watch the Oscars every year, so I wasn't going to be drawn in by some goofy tricks.  When the ratings are released today, we'll see how things went over.  Awards shows across the board have been up sharply this year, so I wouldn't be surprised if the Oscars have a huge rating for last night.  But, let's look quickly at the things they tried to "bring in more viewers."

  • Two hosts - Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin.  These two guys are masters at Saturday Night Live.  They should be able to wing it and handle the duties of host, right?  Well, they had some truly funny lines, gags, bits.  But mostly it was awkward and completely dependent on the teleprompter.  Alec especially never looked at the camera.  You know how experts say that modern tools like cell phones and pdas have actually hurt our memories, because now we never have to memorize anything?  I think the teleprompter is like that to actors.  SNL is rife with this issue every week.  The hosts were okay, but no better than anyone else lately.  PLUS, they were upstaged by Neil Patrick Harris from the very outset.  NPH has already shown what a great host he is at the Emmy's and Tony's.  Just give him the Oscar gig and let him have it until he makes a mistake.
  • A Tribute to Horror - Ummmmmm.  Okay, I know that Horror films are money makers and have huge fan loyalty.  But I, for one, detest horror films.  I don't watch them.  I have never been able to understand why people want to introduce those images and thoughts into their mind.  I think the real world can be horrifying enough.  I swear, the short clips of the Best Documentary category last night were terrifying enough to me.  Dolphin slaughtering, evil food producers, abandoned migrant children.  I don't need some scary guy with claws or a hockey mask to keep me up at night.
  • More Focus on Best Acting Awards - This one I don't get.  The whole ceremony is basically Hollywood patting itself on the back.  It is a bunch of rich, talented, beautiful people celebrating how rich, talented, and beautiful they are.  There are 24 awards.  They all are supposed to be important.  And the "most important" are reserved for the end - Picture and Director.  In addition, for years, Hollywood has been shifting to where it isn't a stigma to be up for Supporting Acting awards.  We have seen big stars win the supporting awards.  It isn't supposed to be a stepping stone any more.  So, this year, the Best Acting nominees are brought out at the beginning and introduced.  They we got those ridiculous fawning speeches about each person - complete with long lingering shots of them listening to this ego-feeding.  AND we got the clips of their roles.  AND then they got named.  It seemed a bit like overkill.  Sure, Tim Robbins' send up of Morgan Freeman was funny.  But we also had to put up with Peter Saaarsengaaaaaaard, Forrest Whittaker,  and Colin Farrell.  It just seemed like a bit much - elevating those awards over everything else in the evening.
  • "We're going to streamline the show!"  No more performing the Best Song nominees.  Instead, we are going to do a big dance number to emphasize the Best Score nominees!  (The dance was cool.)  And we're going to have five long fawning speeches.  And we're going to put the smaller award winners waaaaay in the back so that they have to walk forever to get on stage, and then look around trying to see how to get up on stage.  And we're going to have a really long memorial for John Hughes (which was touching) that ends with the on-stage appearance of a bunch of his famous stars.  (Was anyone else terrified by Judd Nelson?)  Way to streamline.
  • Younger Presenters.  The show promised that it would be using newer actors to present awards - presumably so that flocks of teenagers would watch the show to see Taylor Lautner.  So they trotted out Miley Cyrus, Amanda Seyfried, Lautner, Kristen Stewart, Zoe Saldana, Anna Kendrick, Carey Mulligan, Ryan Reynolds, and Chris Pine.  Some of them did fine - some of them were VERY awkward.  Maybe they have always waited to use older actors because they wouldn't be quivering while presenting.  And, we also had to put up with the always-weird Sean Penn and Quentin Tarantino.  As usual, a complete hit and miss deal.
  • History Making Awards.  They kept on mentioning how in the Best Director category, "We could have the first female winner or the first African-American winner  . . . or one of these white men oppressors could win."  That isn't what the said, but it came across pretty clear.  When they started doing that, I knew that Bigelow was going to win.  There was no way they were going to make that big of a deal over the potential for history making and then give it to James Cameron - the very definition of white male establishment.  It was like when Halle Berry was up for Best Actress and they invited all these African-Americans from history to the ceremony.  There was no way she was losing.  And I thought it was cemented by Barbara Streisand presenting the award.  It was kind of funny when she said, "For the first time, it could be a (gasp) woman."  You saw in her face that she wanted to add, "Which I should have won twice."  It is when a woman finally gets elected President - only having Hillary Clinton introduce her.  Kind of like that SNL sketch with Amy Poehler's Clinton and Tina Fey's Palin - where Clinton was incredulous at how the unknown Palin was further along that she was.  That was Babs last night.
  • Ten Best Picture Nominations.  This was to open up the category and bring attention to some films that would normally be neglected.  This was supposed to give voters the chance to acknowledge some more popular films that usually would have been left out.  It was a shameless attempt to guarantee that some popular resonating films would be in play, bringing in viewers.  This is where I have to drop out of bulleted mode.
I am glad they expanded to ten films, if only so that UP could get the nomination it should have gotten anyway.  I addressed this in an earlier post, but this whole concept didn't really make a big difference.  Everyone knew that the five extra films (Up, District 9, Blind Side, An Education, Inglorious Tarantinos) had no shot at winning Best Picture.  In fact, it was a three film race all year.  The only films that had any chance at all were The Hurt Locker, Avatar, and Up in the Air.  And, this year, there was a legitimate big box office picture that already was going to be up for Best Picture.  They should have waited and trotted out the Big Ten in a year when the Top Five was a bunch of films no one had heard of.

Here's my beef.  The Hurt Locker is the lowest grossing Best Picture winner ever.  $14 million.  That means that maybe 1.5 million people saw the film.  How in the world can the best picture that came out in a year only draw 1.5 million people?  It just doesn't add up.  And The Hurt Locker wasn't a Christmas release that still will hang out in theaters for months after the ceremony.  It came out last Spring.  So it has had its chance.  It isn't going to add much more money to that total.  I just don't get how a movie that is good enough to be called the best of the year can resonate so poorly with viewers.  Something seems fishy to me.  I have always questioned the validity of Oscar nominations.  Shoot, I have tracked nominee grosses as far back as the year Titanic cleaned up.  I just have a problem with a movie winning Best Picture if no one saw it.  

I am NOT saying the highest grossing films should win - or even be nominated.  I don't want films like Transformers winning.  That is just ridiculous.  But, I honestly feel that if there is a movie with a huge box office that is ALSO a cultural hit and ALSO a high quality movie, it should be recognized for that.  This year they had a film like that.  LAST YEAR they had TWO films like that and completely ignored them (The Dark Knight, WALL-E).  They pulled the same junk on the first two Lord of the Rings films.  I know that people respond with, "This isn't the People's Choice Awards."  You're right.  But shouldn't the people have some choice?  I mean, you want us to go to the movies, support the movies, and then watch the awards shows - but our opinion doesn't matter when it comes to handing out trophies?  

Here's another example - how do movies that have made just about nothing get these acting nominations.  Every year it happens - usually with a older actor.  I remember it happened with Peter O'Toole and the movie Venus a few years ago.  This year, the movie The Last Station earned TWO acting nominations - for Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren.  The movie had earned $355,000 as of the nomination.  It has earned $4.6 million now.  Seriously?  Of all the movies that came out last year, you are honestly going to tell me that two of the top twenty acting performances were in a movie with that little exposure?  You're going to tell me that enough people had SEEN IT when the nominations came out?  There are 6,000 Academy members.  Only the actors get to vote in acting categories.  You're going to tell me all the actors in the Academy had raced out to see The Last Station before the ballots were due?  Or did they just see that Christopher Plummer had done something they could nominate him for?  It doesn't add up.  Those numbers just don't add up!

So with the Best Picture issue, you have a monstrous movie up against a very small movie.  I haven't seen either film.  But, I've heard good things about both films.  I have heard The Hurt Locker was gripping and powerful.  I also have heard it was boring and stupid.  And I have heard Avatar was mesmerizing and jaw-dropping.  And I have heard the characters and story were weak and overpowered by the glitz.  So, you have movies with flaws all over.  (The only movie I didn't hear had a ton of flaws was Up in the Air.  The people I heard from about that said it was basically perfect.  Go figure.)  Somehow, the movie no one saw trumped the one almost everyone saw.  

Here is what I think of with movies when it comes to awards.  Not just, what was the best movie that year.  I also think, which movie is going to be remembered.  Which one is going to be memorable beyond this show?  This year, Avatar was the movie that was going to be remembered.  It made the biggest impact.  There were people ON THE RED CARPET breaking into interviews with Avatar people saying how many times they had seen the movie.  When does that happen?!?  The people at the Oscars had seen Avatar numerous times.  These voters were blown away by the film.  America was blown away by the film.  It took out the domestic box office record - something that people had wondered if it would ever fall.  It single-handedly legitimized 3-D movies.  But it left with 3 Oscars, one less than Terminator 2.  Huh?  How can a movie that has that much impact culturally, technologically, financially, and even in the industry walk away with just tech awards?  And then a movie that no one has even seen waltzes off with 6 Oscars.  It may have been the best movie (though I have my doubts), but I don't think it should have won.  

When it comes to the best movies, that is so subjective.  How do you differentiate between those movies?  All of them are good.  There are little things here and there.   But, you could make a case that any of the films could have won.  Look at a year where there really were some amazing nominees - 1994 for instance.  You had Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, and Shawshank Redemption - with Four Weddings and a Funeral inexplicably weaseling its way in.  Which of those four movies was best?  Well, Forrest Gump won.  But was it the best?  I would say it was the fourth best.  Pulp Fiction influenced so many films after it.  Shawshank has emerged as one of the most passionately appreciated.  And Quiz Show, even though most people haven't seen it, is an unbelievable movie that actually become more relevant over time.  But how are you supposed to really decide?  That year, the voters went with the more profitable and more industry friendly film.  But this year, they did the opposite.  They had several good choices and went with the least profitable and least memorable film.  Yes, it will be remembered because it was the first female director to win Best Director, but will the film itself be remembered?  Unfortunately, it will probably be memorable for the same reason as Shakespeare in Love - for winning over a more deserving film.

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