Monday, February 28, 2005

Kodachrome Memories

The 77th Annual Academy Awards, conducted at the Kodak Theatre in the Hollywood and Highland complex in Hollywood last night, were a big disappointment. The chief highlight was the early (relative to most years) finish, the show wrapping after three hours ten minutes.

I've not seen enough of Chris Rock to have an opinion. I recall he was on Saturday Night Live but he didn't make much of an impression. I saw him as Rufus the forgotten apostle in Kevin Smith's Dogma, but that's about all. The Academy and the press had been building him up like it was the Second Coming and as most things hyped are, he was a let-down. Samuel L. Jackson as host of the Independent Spirit Awards, held the previous evening, did a fine job. Funny jokes and gags and helped by Megan Mullally et alia singing about the best picture nominees. Very light and casual. And good television even if ninety percent of Americans couldn't have seen most nominees even if they wanted to.

He simply wasn't funny. The declaration that some people weren't stars sounded harsh to my ears. The joke against himself, that if you have him, don't make the picture and wait for Morgan Freeman, of course works. The stuff against Bush needed polishing. As delivered, it felt too raw and unfocused. Humor at the Oscars should singe, not burn, and Rock burned a lot of people. (Witness the uneasy laughter to his monologue and Sean Penn coming out to explain who Jude Law was.) And after his monologue, he disappeared except for the schtick with Adam Sandler about Catherine Zeta-Jones. I did get a chuckle when he introduced "comedy superstar Jeremy Irons" to present the best live action short award. That was good because Irons can be very funny, a dry humor well shown in Die Hard With A Vengeance and Reversal of Fortune. (In the latter, Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver) tells Irons's Claus von Bulow "You've got one thing going for you. Everyone hates you." Irons waits about two beats and deadpans "Well. It's a start.")

The hosts in the past decade (David Letterman, Steve Martin, Whoopi Goldberg, and now Chris Rock) show the need to sign Robin Williams (who stole the show with his mimicry last night) or Billy Crystal to long term contracts. Crystal was the last host who knew how to do it. He's got the jokes, he's got himself inserted in the nominated films, he's got the wonderful songs (e.g. Secrets and Lies to the theme to The Brady Bunch and The English Patient to "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" from My Fair Lady).

I felt sorry for many of the technicans who were denied their moment in the sun by the producers' decision to put a number of them in a line-up and then call the winner. We didn't even get to see most of their faces. And I'd sure feel gypped if I'd won an Oscar and didn't get to make that walk up on stage as was done to the short subject winners.

Was it a little joke by the producers to have the two sound awards presented by Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz, two unintelligible actresses? Hayek I do like but Cruz is absolutely incomprehesible. See Eyes Wide Shut or Woman On Top. Or, rather, don't actually.

As usual, I found myself watching the late reel, introduced by a wooden Annette Bening, and wondering who'd get the most applause. An unseemly bit of business as always. I didn't detect a winner, but Tony Randall and Jerry Orbach did very well, as did Rodney Dangerfield. (I wonder if the Academy ever gave him any respect. A decade or more ago he applied and was turned down for membership and told to "improve his craft". Philistines.)

I haven't seen Million Dollar Baby but I'm glad it beat Sideways. I saw the first two films of Sideways's director, Alexander Payne, and they were both nasty, vicious little films. Clint Eastwood was his gracious self. I'm pleased to see him win. I'm not bothered in the slightest that Martin Scorsese has been shut out. I don't approve of the auteur theory and find that when a film touts who directed it, it usually isn't very good.

Cate Blanchett winning supporting actress for her portrayal of four-time Oscar winner Katherine Hepburn (The Aviator) makes a nice bookend to Maggie Smith, the only actor to receive an Oscar for playing an Oscar-loser. (That was California Suite.) Jaime Foxx I've liked for some time. He's got a good, albeit small, role in The Truth About Cats and Dogs. The announcer said he was one of ten actors to receive both lead and supporting nominations the same year. Julianne Moore is one. Barry Fitzgerald is another--he got nominated for lead and supporting for the same role in Going My Way!

My candidate for best song, "Accidentally in Love", sadly lost to a tune from The Motorcycle Diaries. Salma Hayek's praise for that biopic's hero, Ernesto "Che" Guevara as a "young, passionate idealitst" was disgusting. He was a thug who relished torturing his victims. She sounded not unlike the parents of Charles Graner, the U.S. Army soldier convicted of abusing prisoners in Iraq, defending their son. Why is it Che is a cult figure to those on the left?

I'll give the producers' credit for eliminating the time wasting montages and interpretive dance numbers (which for years were the Academy's sop to the choreographers for the lack of an Oscar for that field). But in all a big disappointment. What should have been a night of excitement was a snooze.

For photos and the list of winners, check out the official site.

Read Tom Shales's opinion from The Washington Post here, he being similarly unimpressed with Chris Rock.


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