Monday, March 08, 2010

Grouching About the Oscars

Anyone who follows my blog knows that I love movies. I write about them regularly, and view and talk about them even more regularly. So naturally I was excited for the Academy Awards this year, with a wider Best Picture field than usual, and a pending face-off between director James Cameron (Avatar) and his ex-wife, director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker). So last night I settled down in front of ABC for their Oscar broadcast.

Part 1: The Red Carpet

Hands down, this is my least favorite part of the Academy Awards. I think the whole "red carpet" rigamarole is overrated and puts a focus on the star persona (and even more on what they wear) that is totally unnecessary. Why do we deify these actors to the point where a walk up a red carpet into a theater is one of the defining hallmarks of entertainment? Gabourey Sidibe (of Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire) was right when she described it as "Prom Night for Hollywood."

OK, that rant aside, naturally I watched the red carpet broadcast. Obnoxious interviewers and philosophical issues aside, some of the information was interesting. For example, did you know that the last time there were ten movies in the running for the Best Picture award was in 1943, the year Casablanca won? No pressure or anything, though.

Shallow moment:
Favorite male heartthrob sightings: George Clooney and Matt Damon
Favorite dresses: Kate Winslet (nobody classes up an event like her) and Sandra Bullock (a girl after my own heart-- when asked by an interviewer what she wanted to eat after the ceremony, she said a burger, fries, and a milkshake.)

Part 2: The 82nd Annual Academy Awards Ceremony

OK, on to the part that actually matters in my opinion: the ceremony itself. Neil Patrick Harris's over-the-top musical number intro was hilarious and awesome-- "No One Wants to Do It Alone." I really enjoyed Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin as hosts. They had a great (if sometimes awkward) back-and-forth insulting each other and the audience, both at the beginning during their roast of the nominees and during the rest of the show.

So- the awards themselves. Here are the winners in each category, for those who missed it:

BEST PICTURE: "The Hurt Locker"
BEST DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker"
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: The Secret in Their Eyes (Argentina)

BEST LEADING ACTOR: Jeff Bridges, "Crazy Heart"
BEST LEADING ACTRESS: Sandra Bullock, "The Blind Side"
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christoph Waltz, "Inglourious Basterds"

BEST FILM EDITING: "The Hurt Locker"
BEST SOUND MIXING: "The Hurt Locker"

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Michael Giacchino, "Up"
BEST ORIGINAL SONG: "The Weary Kind" from "Crazy Heart"
BEST MAKE-UP: "Star Trek"
BEST COSTUMES: "The Young Victoria"

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Sapphire' by Push"

Full disclosure: I was rooting for Up in the Air to win in every category it was nominated for (Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Picture). I can't say that I actually believed that it would win all of those categories, but I wanted it to. I thought it deserved the awards most for its timely and unique portrayal of the human impact of the economic recession in the US, for its superb acting (by George Clooney, Anna Kendrick, and Vera Farmiga) and directing (by Jason Reitman), and for its clever script. Needless to say, I am quite upset that it didn't walk away with any of the above awards.

I was also rooting for Sherlock Holmes to win the Best Original Score award. I thought Hans Zimmer did a superb job creating a musical atmosphere for that movie, and the soundtrack is one of my new favorite albums to listen to-- atonal and unusual, but still somehow hauntingly beautiful. Still, the eventual winner (Michael Giacchino for Up!) was also an excellent choice-- although I actually preferred his music for Star Trek.

Despite my choices not winning, I am happy with most of the results. Avatar walked away with a handful of much-deserved technical awards but NOT any acting or overall "best" awards. Say what you will about the visual splendor of the movie, and I'll even give you the fact that the music was wonderful (James Horner composed the soundtrack, how do you go wrong?), but it did not have an original plot or good enough script to warrant anything else.

I was very impressed by The Hurt Locker, and am certainly inclined to support its Best Picture win, if Up in the Air couldn't win it. It was a unique brand of film with almost an indie film feel to it, and a relevance for its military content, even as the US pulls out of Iraq and starts to forget about what's happening over there in light of domestic concerns.

What I had not realized about the movie was that the screenwriter had been a journalist in Iraq, and had written the story based on his experiences with the troops there-- although I can't say I'm surprised, given how close the movie strikes to the reality on the ground (as I understand it). I was touched by the very sincere tribute and dedication that the writer, Mark Boal, gave to the troops when he accepted his award for Best Original Screenplay.

The film had a superb cast (especially Jeremy Renner), and a solid director in Kathryn Bigelow, who broke the proverbial glass ceiling last night by becoming the first woman ever to win the Academy Award for Best Director.

The Hurt Locker cleaned up in many awards categories, so the ceremony perhaps wasn't as well distributed as it could have been in that regard. And Up in the Air didn't win anything, which I have an issue with. But I guess I still have to "thank the Academy," as they say, because they fulfilled my hopes and did not give Avatar awards that it simply (in my opinion) did not deserve, just because it is the highest-grossing and possibly most visually stunning movie ever made. Being a Best Picture winner is about more than great visuals. It has to be about the quality and relevance of the story, the articulateness of the script, and the incredible acting-- not the money it rakes in or how pretty the film is.

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