Monday, March 06, 2006


Having seen almost none of the films nominated this year for any Academy Award (and how Revenge of the Sith could go un-nominated in the effects categories is unforgivable!), my only real opinion on the Oscars last night is on the telecast itself.

I thought that John Stewart did an outstanding job, after a somewhat rocky beginning. However, I don't think that was Stewart's fault, and having now watched enough of these Oscar telecasts, I think I know why: the Hollywood people are severely humor-impaired. In fact, I think this explains why so many recent Oscar hosts have fallen flat, except for Billy Crystal: one, the Hollywood people don't get a lot of the zanier or more sophisticated kinds of humor (I'm thinking of Letterman in the former and Stewart in the latter), and two, and this is big, they have almost no self-deprecation at all.

When I think about it, every time an Oscar host makes a joke about a specific actor or actress, when they show the obligatory closeup, that person invariably has this tight smile and curt nod -- they're trying to act the good sport, but it's pretty clear that they don't find the joke funny in the slightest. (Except for George Clooney, whom I admire precisely because he always seems to show, lurking somewhere in the back of his mind and visible as a gleam at the corner of his eye, that they whole thing is just a big bunch of BS.)

So when Stewart makes a joke like "Bjork couldn't be here because when she put on her costume, Dick Cheney shot her", I wonder if the laughing audience members get it, or if they're laughing because Cheney just got made fun of. And I literally lost count of how many times, in an audience-response shot after a Stewart joke that would have had his Daily Show audience howling with laughter, some Hollywood personage is blinking and quite clearly saying, "What? Huh?" And that's why, once the camera people realized that Jamie Foxx was getting the jokes and laughing at them and having a great time, they started showing his reaction every time Stewart opened his mouth.

Anyway, maybe that's why the old Oscar telecasts were so much better: because back then, you had Hollywood populated by people who could laugh at themselves at least occasionally (like in those Dean Martin roasts), and you had people who got the jokes.

A few random thoughts:

:: I hated seeing John Williams lose yet again. Even though I haven't heard the other score nominees, Williams had in 2005 his strongest year in a very long time, with at least three outstanding scores. (I haven't heard War of the Worlds yet.) I think that Williams has come to be taken for granted these days, and that's a shame.

:: I had no problem with the rap song winning its award. Rap isn't my cup of tea, but I've never denied that it's a fascinating blend of beat and linguistic rhythm. And I had to agree with John Stewart when he pointed out the rappers' enthusiasm and commented, "That's how you celebrate an Oscar."

:: I found it sad watching Lauren Bacall, whose elegance has sadly eroded into age.

:: Robert Altman's speech upon winning a special Oscar was a very fine moment. The attempted repartee between Lily Tomlin (who is one of the funniest people alive) and Meryl Streep (who is not) preceding Altman's speech, however, was painful.

:: Oh, Christ, give me a break here:

Something caused nearly all the women to wear either black or beige dresses and to pull their hair back into a soft bun. Something caused the presenters to drain the life and playfulness out of their voices. They really do want us to love them, but when we see how they act when they are trying to win our love, we get a sense of what they really think we are like. We're the people in the dark, featureless, mindless. They were trying to fit in with us. A dreary display!

Why you'd bother liveblogging an event celebrating the achievements of people you despise and whom you are convinced reciprocally despise you is beyond my imagination.

:: The point was repeatedly made by various speakers at last night's ceremony that movies should be seen on the big screen. Lots of folks like to assume that the box office "problem" is a function of the movies (i.e., the ludicrous "Make better movies and people will see them!" canard), and Hollywood seems to want to assume that the box office "problem" is a function of the audiences (i.e., the equally ludicrous "Stop downloading all your movies!" canard). Odd that nobody seems to want to assume that maybe the box office "problem" is a function of the theaters. Renting a DVD and buying a box of microwave popcorn costs a fraction of what it does to go to the movies these days. Check out this recent Roger Ebert "Answer Man" column, which focuses entirely on how much of a pain it is to go to theaters these days. As wonderful as theaters are now, with astonishing sound and stadium seating, they've priced themselves well out of being regular entertainment venues. But people still love movies and still find ways to see them, don't they?

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