The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences got the show it deserved last night. The members own it and one day, trust me, they won’t feel so good about that. As usual the show felt a little schmaltzy, a little out-of-time in a gay Las Vegas-y sense. The show’s producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, got to remind us what a great film Chicago was and how much we miss films of this type. And…I don’t know what else to say. I really don’t. Somebody help me out here.
The engagingly adult, nicely crafted Argo won Best Picture, and apart from the fact that Zero Dark Thirty and Silver Linings Playbook were, are and always will be far more vital and alive and crackling…why am I going through my routine again? It’s over. On to 2013.
I didn’t file a reaction piece right after the Oscar telecast because the only persistent thought I had during the show was “what is this? Why do I feel so removed?” I agreed with or accepted many of the calls, but I felt it wasn’t my type of Oscar telecast. At most my investment felt marginal. When the show ended I knew I needed to get out. I went down to Canter’s and ordered some vaguely unhealthy food. A grilled-cheese-and-tomato sandwich and potato chips and Diet Coke and a coffee. You’re not supposed to eat after 9:30 or 10 pm, and yet there I was. Not “bummed” but vaguely unhappy, for sure.
I’ve been through Oscar shows that made me feel amazed, elated (i.e., Roman Polanski‘s Best Director win for The Pianist) and sometimes outraged (the Brokeback Mountain Best Picture loss) but I can count the emotional current moments from last night’s show on one hand, and none were especially intense. The Les Miserables sing-out, Jennifer Lawrence falling on the stage, Adele‘s confident delivery of Skyfall (and Seth MacFarlane‘s quip about Rex Reed‘s forthcoming review)…what else?
I know that not long after Quentin Tarantino‘s mystifying win for Best Original Screenplay I started playing Jimi Hendrix‘s “I Don’t Live Today” in my head. I shrugged at the William Shatner future-forecast routine and “We Saw Your Boobs” number. Many seem to agree that MacFarlane, who has taken it in the neck from at least one female columnist so far, should have been less “ceremonial” and gone for broke.
I fully respect and in most cases sincerely admire the efforts of the winners, but are you going to tell me that Christoph Waltz didn’t deliver the same kind of curt, deflecting, dryly verbose performance (i.e., “I’m having an enormously good time saying these droll but florid lines while at the same time standing outside my character and in fact outside the film itself”) in Django Unchained that he gave in Inglourious Basterds? Two Oscars for essentially the same performance. Waltz played a good guy in Django and a monster in Basterds, but there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between them. He knows it, Tarantino knows it, you know it, the Academy knows it.
Are you going to tell me that Brave was the cleverest, most original or most spiritually engaging animated feature of the year? From a 12.26 post: “I’ve experienced moments of satisfaction and even uplift from the best Pixar films, but nothing suffocates my spirit like a glossy, connect-the-dots mainstream animated feature (i.e., big-name actors doing the voicing) looking to sell an empowerment fable about a young person being tested and fulfilling his/her destiny. I half-liked the big cowardly bear but it went no further. Every exaggerated expression and every gut-slam visual or aural effect felt like a tiny cyanide capsule.”
We’re living in aesthetically degraded times. There are an awful lot of unsophisticated, not especially sharp or knowledgable people out there today. That is incontestable. And, it appears, the sensibilities of this group are being expressed by a certain portion of Academy voters. I’m trying to think of another explanation.
Did you see that expression on Joaquin Phoenix’s face when the camera cut to him during the Best Actor sequence? Did you feel what he was feeling a bit? I went there from time to time.
Here’s a pretty decent account of the Vanity Fair after-party, written by Chris Rovzar.
I just can’t think of anything to say beyond this. I mostly feel relieved that the season is over and we can now push our way into 2013, free and clear.
But beyond this I think I missed the absence of any fire-in-the-belly stuff by way of strong political current. There was no sense of cultural conflict, no Michael Moore-ish rants. Everyone in the audience seemed to be on the same go-along page. And on some level I regretted the absence of…if not rancor then at least something a tiny bit uncomfortable.
Consider this recollection, posted this morning, from The Nation‘s Rick Perlstein:
“And then there was 1975, the most bizarrely political Oscar night of all.
“Late in 1974 a director named Peter Davis showed a documentary called Hearts and Minds briefly in a Los Angeles theater to qualify it for Academy Award consideration (watch the whole stunning thing here). It opened with images of a 1973 homecoming parade for POW George Thomas Coker, who told a crowd on the steps of the Linden, New Jersey, city hall about Vietnam, ‘If it wasn’t for the people, it was very pretty. The people there are very backwards and primitive, and they make a mess out of everything.’ General William Westmoreland, former commander of U.S. forces, in a comment the director explained had not been spontaneous but had come on a third take, was shown explaining, ‘The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient.’ (Thereupon, the film cut to a sobbing Vietnamese mother being restrained from climbing into the grave atop the coffin of her son.) Daniel Ellsberg was quoted: ‘We aren’t on the wrong side. We are the wrong side.’ The movie concluded with an interview with an activist from Vietnam Veterans Against the War. ‘We’ve all tried very hard to escape what we have learned in Vietnam,’ he said. ‘I think Americans have worked extremely hard not to see the criminalities that their officials and their policy-makers exhibited.”
“A massive thunderstorm raged outside at the Oscar ceremony at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion on Oscar Night, April 8, twenty days before the final fall of Saigon to North Vietnam’s Communist forces — where after Sammy Davis, Jr.’s musical tribute to Fred Astaire, and Ingrid Bergman‘s acceptance of the best supporting actress award for Murder on the Orient Express, and Francis Ford Coppola‘s award for best director (one of six Oscars for The Godfather Part II: ‘I’m wearing a tuxedo with a bulletproof cumberbund,’ cohost Bob Hope cracked. “Who knows what will happen if Al Pacino doesn’t win’), Lauren Hutton and Danny Thomas opened the envelop and announced Hearts and Minds had won as the year’s best documentary.
“Producer Bert Schneider took the microphone and said, ‘It’s ironic that we’re here at a time just before Vietnam is about to be liberated. Then he read a telegram from the head of the North Vietnamese delegation to the Paris peace talks. It thanked the antiwar movement ‘for all they have done on behalf of peace… Greetings of friendship to all American people.’
“Backstage, Bob Hope was so livid he tried to push his way past the broadcast’s producer to issue a rebuttal onstage. Shirley MacLaine, who had already mocked Sammy Davis from the stage for having endorsed Richard Nixon, shouted, ‘Don’t you dare!’ Anguished telegrams from viewers began piling up backstage. One, from a retired Army colonel, read, ‘WITH 55,000 DEAD YOUNG AMERICANS IN DEFENSE OF FREEDOM AND MILLIONS OF VIETNAMESE FIGHTING FOR FREEDOM…DEMAND WITHDRAWAL OF AWARD.’ On its back, Hope madly scribbled a disclaimer for his cohost Frank Sinatra to read onstage. Sinatra read it to a mix of boos and applause: ‘The Academy is saying we are not responsible for any political utterances on this program and we are sorry that had to take place.’ Upon which, backstage, the broadcast’s third cohost, Shirley MacLaine, berated Sinatra: ‘You said you were speaking for the Academy. Well, I’m a member of the academy and you didn’t ask me!’ Her brother, Warren Beatty, snarled at Sinatra on camera: ‘Thank you, Frank, you old Republican.'”