Monday, March 06, 2006

Oscars Smoshcars or Has the New Yorker Become a Jaded Bitter Fool?

Last night’s 78th annual Academy Awards were a testament to just how vital TiVo has become to my life. I don’t think I would have been able to make it through the SEVEN hours of coverage (that’s one hour of pre-show red carpet, three hours and fourty minutes of actual award show, and about two hours of post show commentary and interviews), without making use of the fast forward button for commercials and stodgy portions.

Was it just me, or were the Oscars damn near unbearable this year? It’s true my opinion of them are often colored by how many of the films I liked in a given year were nominated, but I usually get some enjoyment out of watching the Hollywood royalty process out and about, amongst all the pomp and circumstance. But much this year felt forced and strained. Jon Stewart’s brutal opening monologue which fell a bit flat, was made ten times worse because of the chagrin radiating from the audience. I found it painful when the camera would cut to annoyed looks from the like of Keira Knightly and George Clooney in response to some of his jokes. I like Jon Stewart, --I think he’s a funny guy and the Daily Show is good, and all these things made watching him bomb in front of Hollywood’s cream of the crop torturous. Also the opening monologue seemed excessively long, and in fact lasted about fifteen minutes. Granted they had the opening video clip showing various former Oscar hosts turning the job down. There were several funny moments in this video, including Steve Martin’s silver haired children, and Jon Stewart’s dreams of waking up next to celebrities Berry and Clooney.

In fact the funniest moments in the show for me, were the pre-taped video bits. The lobbying for the best actress race, and in particular for the sound mixing race was hilarious. Yes, it was done in Daily Show’s psuedo-political format, but it worked and added a fresh, new feel to the Oscars.

What didn’t feel fresh or new about the Oscars were the four film montages that played over the course of the evening, with a range of generic themes like, “biopics are good, haven’t we done a lot?”, “Movies can tackle issues!”. “Film Noir is cool!”, and last but not least “Movies are better on the big screen, (so please stop buying Video Ipods and downloading movies on your computer)” Don’t get me wrong, I love a good montage when it’s done well, but this Oscars represented montage overkill. While I appreciated the gestures that the Academy was trying to make with some of these clips, i.e. honoring the stylishness of film noir, it seemed neither here nor there within the context of the show. I love the Film Noir genre, but I thought most of the montage was a jumbled mess of credits over a lot of poor quality clips without much direction or climactic build. There really wasn’t any particular reason to include this montage in there. No neo-noir films were nominated this year, the honorary award was not going to a director of noir films, nor was it any sort of special anniversary in the history of film noir. Even the justification that the theme of the Oscars this year was “the glamor of Hollywood” doesn’t really fly, because when you get right down to it, the genre of “film noir” was not glamorous. In fact it was the antithesis to glossy Hollywood musicals and sprawling gradiose westerms. These were low-budget, gritty, dark, fly by the seat of their pants productions, which didn’t even get much attention from mainstream audiences in the states, until French film enthusiasts coined the phrase “film noir”.

The “biopic” montage and “issues” montage were at least a little more applicable to the films that were nominated this year, but the “big screen” montage was another one that felt extremely general and disconnected from the rest of the show. Honestly how many more times can I see that clip of Henry Fonda from Grapes of Wrath giving his “wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat” speech, which might be poetic and moving, but has been in every movie montage ever. As has the Sydney Potier line “They call me Mr. Tibbs” from In the Heat of the Night, as has the music from West Side Story, as has the “I coulda been a contender..” speech from On the Waterfront. These films and moments are classic cinema. I get it. But when time and time again they are used they begin to loose their ardor and grow hackneyed. I don’t understand why the montages rarely include anything from the past twenty or so years of cinema. Without being updated with newer films, everything just feels tired and old. Which is what most of the show felt like to me.

As for the winners? I’ve already made my feelings on some of the nominations clear in previous posts. I still haven’t seen a couple of the big contenders, including Crash, so I can’t really comment to that. I was pleased with several of the wins, however. I was glad Wallace and Grommit beat out the tepid Corpse Bride for best animated film. I was happy King Kong won three technical awards, including visual FX, for its outstanding work. Whatever story problems it might have had, I thought Memoirs of a Geisha was absolutely stunning to look at, and I thought it deserved it’s awards in Cinematography, Art Direction and Costumes. I thought Phillip Seymour Hoffman was well rewarded for his acting work in Capote, and Resse Witherspoon was good enough in Walk the Line. And even though I STILL (and yes I’m embarassed to admit it) haven’t seen Brokeback Mountain, I was content that Ang Lee took home best director, because based off his previous work I think he’s a very talented, competent director, and besides doesn’t he just seem like the nicest guy? Sure it would have been nice if Speilberg had won, but I also understand he can’t win EVERY year.

This wasn’t a very big Oscars for me. In the past I’ve gotten very wrapped up in the ceremony, either rooting heartily for one film to sweep or torn between a duo or trio of films I respect. I suppose part of it was that I was ill prepared this year, and didn’t end up seeing several of the nominated films in time for the show. But are these really the only reasons I was unexcited throughout? Is it just me, or was this particular Oscars fairly weak all around?


Anonymous crazymonk said...

I like French film enthusiasts.

I also thought that the "big screen montage" looked rather good on my television. What a desperate-looking attempt it was.

5:12 PM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...


5:25 PM  
Blogger XSuzanne said...

I wish that I had Tivo so that I could have fast forwarded through all the commercials and boring parts. I love Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, but I have to agree that the Academy Awards was not the best forum for him. I used to love watching the dresses on the red carpet. But now it seems so long and drawn out. I would rather watch a sitcom or detective drama for an hour than the Oscars. This year though I had a couple favorites that I wanted to win so I made an effort to tune in and watch. After about an hour, I just went to bed because it wasn't worth watching. Later I looked online and say that Kiera Knightly and my other hopefuls had lost and I was kind of glad I hadn’t stayed up to see that and be disappointed. I think from now on I'm just going to look online to see who won the next morning. I can’t imagine spending so much money on a dress so walk to red carpet and then sit for almost 4 hours.
I agree with your view on the film noir montage. It really didn’t fit with any current events or styles this year and just seemed like filler. Ang Lee is an amazing director. I haven’t seen Capote, and the reviews were pretty mixed so I’m not sure if Phillip Seymour Hoffman deserved the Oscar, but who knows. I also am happy that Wallace & Grommit won (I saw Corpse Bride and it pales in comparison).

11:57 PM  
Blogger Daddy Background said...

I haven't felt the same about the Academy Awards since "Saving Private Ryan" lost best picture to "Shakespeare in Love". Every year since there's been some part of the awards show that makes me seriously question the Academy's choices. This year not so much except for Best Song (which is pretty much really only a chorus).

Jon Stewart transcended his uncomfortable opening monologue and made me laugh out loud a number of times during the night. His joke to Speilberg about "can't wait to see what comes next" was a highlight. Scorsese 0, Three 6 Mafia 1. Critiques have been mixed, but noteably, Roger Ebert gave Jon a big thumbs up.

All in all, you probably could have turned the set off after George Clooney accepted his Oscar and read about the rest the next morning. The high point came early and the rest of the show was never as good. I said late in the evening to my wife, "You wait here and keep watching just in case someone says something interesting." But nobody did.

There was one overlooked part of the show, I thought. I haven't seen anyone else's recap include a mention of it. That was when the creators of Wallace and Grommit got to the stage and put little matching bow ties on their Oscars. Simple and delightful. Just like their movie.

4:16 AM  
Blogger The New Yorker said...

Yes, I think I may have given up myself if I hadn't had TiVo to help me out.

The Scorcese, 3 6 Mafia joke was hilarious, and he had another couple funny ones, but overall as xsuzanne put it --not the best forum for him.

As for Roger Ebert, ever since he said that the Lara Croft Tomb Raider films were good, I've had a bone to pick with him...

I adored the film makers of Wallace and Grommit and their little ties, it was truly awesome!

9:45 AM  
Anonymous The Rodenator said...

Saving Private Ryan losing to Shakespeare in Love is one of the best Oscar moments that I have ever witnessed.

11:21 AM  

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