My Oscar Night Impressions

As I get older, watching the Oscars every year feels more like sitting through a high school auditorium assembly. It's not a lot of fun, usually packed with hype that rarely delivers, is woefully predictable, but the occassional unscripted moments are enough to keep you holding on. And, needless to say, the whole pageant runs at least an hour too long.

The Oscars play out like a marathon, and a certain level of endurance is required. You can see this with Neil Patrick Harris, this year's host, who began bursting with energy on the stage, only to feel exhausted and almost overwhelmed by the end. I remember the terrific opening number and some of the impromptu zingers; I can't remember anything memorable in the final hour, aside from the "locked envelope" gag that fizzled in the end. By that point, it's past 11:00 pm, and we're all trying to get to bed. Today, I'm still struggling to wake up after two cups of coffee (which normally is enough caffeine to trigger existential panic attacks).

That said, this year's Oscars telecast was okay-ish. Pretty good. It had a few nice moments, one or two genuine surprises (provided you didn't catch the other awards shows or check the betting odds). Let's see if I can compile a short list of last night's show:

The Good:

1) The opening song number was very good, with Neil Patrick Harris singing and dancing through a pastiche of classic movies. The Jack Black cameo added a much-needed satirical bite and made me smile. Jack Black should host the Oscars; he has a manic, boundless energy that's infectious. He might actually last all twelve hours of the show without gasping for air by the end. Also, is it just me, or is he slowly turning into Orson Welles? He could pass for Citizen Kane's caffeinated grandson.

2) Birdman took the top honors (Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, and Original Screenplay), but Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel also scored four Oscars (Best Costume Design, Makeup, Production Design, Original Score). Whiplash captured three (Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons, Film Mixing and Sound Mixing). All of the top pictures came away with something, owing to the Academy's current goal of "fairness."

3) The "Everything is Awesome" number was terrific, and felt like a vindication for The Lego Movie's inexplicable snub this year. Bonus points for Will Arnet's Batman cameo. Double Bonus Points for Mark Mothersbaugh's Devo cameo, complete with the red "energy dome" hat. Did you also notice the "Lego" logo behind him was taken from the 1980 "Dev-O Live" album? This performance is packed with tiny, fleeting details that require multiple viewings on YouTube. Highlight of the show for me.

4) Congratulations on Citizenfour's Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. I expected the Academy, in its usual toothlessness, to avoid such a charged political movie. Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 is another solid win

5) Common and John Legend's "Glory" brought the house down. We all knew they'd win an Oscar as compensation for Selma's ignoble snubbing, but they still played their hearts out. The audience was moved to tears. Kudos to Common for highlighting the modern scandal of African-American men in prisons. The United States jails more of its citizens than any nation on Earth; something is clearly wrong with that statistic, and must be very critically examined.

The Bad:

1) My reaction over the Best Animated Feature Oscar on Twitter: "WHAT?!" Need I say more?  Most of us cynically expected Dreamworks' How to Train Your Dragon to win the award because we assume, with good reason, the Academy voters don't give a damn about animation, and only see it as The Electric Babysitter. Turns out we weren't cynical enough. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is an expressionist masterpiece of art; Big Hero 6 is a box of Cap'n Crunch.

2) The awards are too damned predictable. If you follow the awards ceremonies leading up to the Oscars, you'll have a virtual lock on all the major awards. The official odds on the winners were almost 100% correct, aside from Disney's Big Hero 6, which just blindsided everybody. Something needs to change; either schedule the Golden Globes and SAG Awards at different times of the year, or change the Oscar voting perameters, or expand the Academy membership for more (and younger) members.

3) The show ran an hour too long. Why did the main show begin at 7:30? Who made that call? A looong tribute to The Sound of Music seemed to drain all the energy out of the theater. Lady Gaga gave a good performance (her Kitchenware rubber gloves were thankfully lost). Julie Andrews looked fine. But the whole sequence just dragged, and coming after the "In Memorandum" sequence, just put me to sleep. I don't think the show ever recovered its earlier energy after this.

4) Only one Oscar for Richard Linklater's Boyhood, one for Selma, one for The Imitation Game? We'll have to check back in 15 years to see how badly those decisions have aged. The Oscars are notorious for snubbing the true classics. But, as the saying goes, it's good just to be nominated. Arguing the results is always the most fun part of any Oscar party.


Anonymous said...

Have you seen the "Brutally Honest Oscar Ballots" posted on Cartoon Brew? After reading the gems on that, I knew Kaguya wouldn't win. One moron Academy member referred to it as "some Chinese f***in' thing no one saw." This eliminates my last vestige of interest and respect for the Oscars.

J.R.D.S. said...

For the sake of the girls at the Suicide Prevention Center, I like to believe the more representative of the members interviewed for that article is that who said of Song of the Sea and The Princess Kaguya "… both of [them] I loved very much — they were really unique," and then gave their vote to Big Hero 6.

So long as drawn and non-US or British-produced animated features are viewed as "unique", instead of as contenders, I cannot imagine one ever winning this award again. What I can't understand, and would love to know, is what were these same people thinking in 2002?

^I find that a quick scan of the BAFTA nominations (I would not recommend exposing one's brain to them for any longer than that) in comparison with the AMPAS ones instantly restores my faith in the latter's voting procedure. As a Brit, I don't see what Americans have to complain about in a system which, unlike its UK equivalent, has allowed The Secret of Kells, The Illusionist, Chico & Rita (both, ironically, UK co-productions), A Cat in Paris, Ernest & Celestine and The Wind Rises to receive the not-to-have-sticks-shaken-at-it exposure of nominations and for the likes of The Grandmaster and Two Days, One Night to break out of the Foreign Language ghetto (here it took something as truly singular as Ida's cinematography for BAFTA to nominate a non-English-language work for an aspect of it unrelated to its dialogue). That, and this article by Jerry Beck on the, in the long view, surprisingly encouraging history of the AMPAS' animation categories.

Neurodisco77 said...

"What I can't understand, and would love to know, is what were these same people thinking in 2002?"

It is a known fact that Pixar's John Lasseter lobbied very much in favor of Spirited Away.
Considering the low rate of morality in the entertainment industry,
I'm inclined to suspect that some money envelopes helped some Academy members to make the "better" decision.

*I put "better" between brackets because "Spirited Away" is the Miyazaki movie that satified me
the least (I always found Ponyo a better movie despite what majority, even among Ghibli fans, thinks).
I think The Wind Rises was really more Oscar worthy, but I don't want to complain that much:
an Oscar for the wrong movie is probably better than no one.


Neurodisco77 said...

By the way, I couldn't find a better definition
"The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is an expressionist masterpiece of art; Big Hero 6 is a box of Cap'n Crunch"

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