Monday, February 23, 2009

The High's and Lows of the 81st Annual Academy Awards

Slumdog Millionaire might not have been my favorite movie of the year, but I'll take it as the winner of Best Picture over Benjamin Gump any day.

Several media outlets are calling this year's Oscars 'weird,' what with all the Bollywood song and dance numbers, the fact that non-comedian host Hugh Jackman was something of a non-presence for most of the night, and the pretentious way in which all the acting awards were presented by an intergalactic tribunal of previous winners. That said, there were still a few reasons to stay up until midnight.

When Best Supporting Actor winner Heath Ledger's family accepted the award on his behalf for The Dark Knight, there wasn't a dry eye in the Kodak theatre.

And while accepting their awards for Vicky Christina Barcelona and The Reader both Penelope Cruz and Kate Winslet gave emotional speeches that were also gracious at the same time.

Here are a few high and low points for last night's awards show...


- Man on Wire star Philippe Petit giving a shout out to fellow nominee Werner Herzog and performing a magic trick before balancing the Best Documentary trophy that his movie won on his chin.

-Tina Fey and Steve Martin presenting Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay. There were more laughs in the five minutes they were on-stage than Hugh Jackman could muster during the sparse moments he decided to grace the audience with song and dance numbers. Matter of fact, most of the people who walked on the Kodak stage this year were funnier than Jackman. Even the recipients of technical awards like Best Visual Effects and Best Sound Design were funnier to the point that I wish they had been hosting instead of Jackman. My hope is that the Academy will spring for comedian again next year. Recent hosts Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres, or even the re-animated corpse of Billy Crystal would suffice.

-Sean Penn giving a shout out to his friend Mickey Rourke, after beating him out for the Best Actor award for Milk.

-Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle filling in for the absent Jack Nicholson. The two look very similar to each other, and there were just as many cheesy grins.

-Academy president Sid Ganis bidding adieu to his presidency by NOT making a speech. Thank God.

- And while he was fairly ho-hum for the most part, Hugh Jackman's German techno riff on The Reader was pretty funny. In the song, he jokes about having not seen the film, and the best part of it is that neither did most of America.


-Best Original Song. Without the nominations that Bruce Springsteen and Jon Brion should have gotten for The Wrestler and Synecdoche, New York, the presentation of nominees was bizarre and ho-hum. First off, they nominated two songs from Slumdog Millionaire and that song Peter Gabriel wrote for WALL-E, which is so bland that having it performed by John Legend couldn't obscure that fact. Second, I know Hollywood is currently trying to court India as both a source of funding and revenue for their films, but they should have at least tried to make it seem less obvious. Because of my radio show, all three of the nominated songs are in my iPod, but I promise you they won't be by the end of this year.

-TV host Bill Maher presenting Best Documentary. Not only did he fail his very meager task by ripping the envelope and seeing the winner's name before announcing this year's nominated films, but instead of being funny, he launched into yet another of his trademark bigoted tirades against religion. He also jabbed at the Academy for not nominating his "documentary" Religulous and railed against viewers for not seeing his film because of it's 'controversial' subject matter. It's funny how a guy who prides himself on being non-religious can't stop preaching. Oh, and Bill, I got a couple more reasons why your film didn't get nominated: 1) You being smug in front of the camera while making fun of the nice people who agree to be interviewed by you for 90 minutes isn't a documentary. 2) Regardless of what you might want to call your movie, it wasn't very good.

Would even agree that it was on par with your last movie:

- Jackman's second musical number. The first one was kinda funny, but when Jackman put on a top hat and grabbed a cane tossed by Brad Pitt in order to do a second musical number, it became obvious that the boy from Oz was a one-trick pony. Even worse was the way in which this musical tribute to musicals (nearly as absurd as last year's editing montage salute to editing) used the mild box-office success of Mama Mia! and High School Musical 3 as proof that the 'musical is back.' Having seen both of these films, Hugh, I can assure you that it's not.

-The way in which Best Actor, Actress, and the Supporting Oscars were presented. What happened to the clips? It was spacey, weird, and the only thing that kept this year's show needlessly long. The whole thing reminded me of the opening to Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie. I kept expecting each winner to be launched into the Phantom Zone after accepting their trophy.

See what I mean?


Blogger yanni3003 said...

I actually thought Jackman was pretty good for not being a comedian. I liked the line about being contractually obligated to say Pitt and Jolie five times was hilarious.

I agree, cut out that second stupid number and add the two songs that should have been nominated would have been better. Then get rid of the stupid presentation for acting and it would have been a much smoother show.

And I think you forgot to mention Dustin Black's acceptance speech about acceptance. Great one.

11:23 AM  
Anonymous Jay in (not of) Los Angeles said...

I LOVED the new way that the acting awards were presented, but that may be the only way we differ on our perceptions of the show last night.

Bill Mahr is over. I can't believe I used to like him.

8:53 PM  
Blogger Joe Killian said...

Didn't see Bill Maher's bit of the Oscars - I was working that night - but I didn't find Religilous any more or less grating than any of Michael Moore's films - and he's got an Oscar.

10:25 PM  
Blogger Joe Scott said...

And if I remember correctly, the one and only time Moore won an Oscar, he was booed off the stage.

The problem with the Moore-Maher comparison is that Moore at least has the courtesy not to pick on people whose actions do not hurt anyone. Some say Moore crossed that line when he ambushed a senile Charlton Heston in his home, but Heston's public response to the wave of school shootings in the 90's was rather insensitive.

I had no problem with many of the scenes in "Religulous," but the moment where Maher went too far was when he visited the shop of the Jewish guy who converted to Christianity and proceeded to mock his beliefs and tried to make him look stupid in front of the camera. Was this guy hurting anyone? No. And neither were the ex-meth heads at that trucker church in Raleigh. Given their options, we should all hope those truckers choose the reading Bible over ice any day.

Maher's thesis that the world will become a peaceful place to live in sans religion is absurd. The atheists who parrot this notion need only look at the atrocities happening in China to know they are wrong. Humanity will always find a point of contention, and use that as a reason to persecute or kill somebody else. Whether it's religion, nationality, or the choice of putting butter on the top of our toast or on the bottom.

It's not what we believe that determines our behavior, it's HOW we believe it. I lived in a Southern Baptist seminary in my teens, surrounded by folks who were hateful and narrow-minded in their world view. Then when I moved away from that world, I've met just as many atheists who are the same way. The answer to bigotry isn't more bigotry. And as long as people continue to act like Maher or Jerry Falwell under the flag of any religion or non-belief, nothing that Maher hopes for is going to change.

6:32 AM  

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