Monday, February 28, 2011

Danny's Post-OSCAR Rant O' Doom

- Well, I was way off on my Oscar picks this year.

And here's a little secret: most of the time, I'd rather spend more time thinking about what movies I loved the most in a given year as opposed to what movies will navigate their way through the inherent maze of politics, perception, and longstanding biases that constitute the road to the Oscars.

Strangely, over the last few years, my taste in movies and the Oscars' taste in movies have largely overlapped. Movies like Slumdog Millionaire, No Country For Old Men, and The Hurt Locker - movies that I loved, that I thought were the year's best - were awarded Best Picture. And even this year, I legitimately was a big fan of all ten Best Picture nominees. There was no nominee that I thought was unworthy. Look back at my reviews throughout 2010 - all of the nominees got at least an "A-" from me.

At the same time, I just thought that The Social Network was 2010's best film. Close behind, to me, were Black Swan and Inception. The King's Speech was, in my mind, a great film, but also, clearly, a few notches below the big three I just mentioned.

Now, what I don't like is when people say this movie or that movie sucked just because it wasn't your personal pick at the Oscars. None of the Best Picture nominees sucked, not even close, and if you think that any of them did then, well, it might just be that your taste in movies sucks. I just hate when people overcompensate for liking one movie in particular by hating on others.

That said, I couldn't help but feel that The Social Network was robbed. I know, its chances, in retrospect, might always have been hurt by a couple of key factors. Its heroes were morally ambiguous and not always likable. It was about college-age guys - nerds, geeks, outcasts. None of its lead actors were very established. Its director made his name with dark, nihilistic movies like Fight Club. It was about the creation of Facebook, a phenomenon which many older Oscar voters look at, I'm sure, with a mix of cynicism, disdain, and puzzlement.

Of course, once Tom Hooper won for Best Director, you knew that The King's Speech's momentum was unstoppable. But Tom Hooper? Really? Nothing against the man, he did a fine job with the movie. But for him to beat out the remarkable work of David Fincher? The mesmerizing directing of Darren Aronofsky? That just felt really off to me.

In any case, the overall crappiness of the Oscars telecast this year, combined with some of the (in my mind) questionable award-winners, served as a reality check of sorts on The Oscars. For a while, I really thought that the Oscars were getting better. The last couple of telecasts have been relatively painless and enjoyable, and with the expansion to ten Best Picture nominees, it felt like the awards were broadening their horizons. And certainly, that was reflected in this year's nominees, which ranged from Toy Story 3 to Winter's Bone. But this year was also a reminder that the Oscars can sort of suck. Seeing Anne Hathaway and James Franco try to appeal to the youth demo on one hand, yet having to perform lame sketches and bits written by the same middle-aged writers who have written for the Oscars for decades ... well, it was pretty awful. It felt like the most random hosting duo ever. I mean, James Franco is great, but what made someone think that he was an ideal awards-show host? Plus, even if the hosts were relatively young, everything else about the show felt old and creaky. The jokes felt old, the presenters were old and their banter was stale, and the lame tributes to classic movies were so awkward that they were apparently dumped halfway through the show. I love classic movies, but at least give us a montage or something. The presentation here was just completely boring and pointless.

I don't want the Oscars to become the MTV VMA's, but please, somebody, do something to liven them up. Nix the song performances- they're almost always a complete momentum-killer. Bring back the honorary Oscars / lifetime achievement awards. And make the show less about celebrity and fashion and more about, I don't know ... movies? Show more clips from the nominated movies, do tributes to different genres ... maybe each year, introduce a special honorary category. One year, give honorary Oscars to legends of horror, one year to great character actors, one year to great action heroes. And please, get some new comedy writers to come up with bits that don't feel straight out of some 1950's borscht-belt comedy club. I mean, that opening montage this year was just excruciating. Everyone loves a good "hosts-inserted-into-various-movies bit." But this one fell so flat that it was painful. The Wayne's World Oscar Preview from SNL a few weeks back was way funnier. By the same token, why is it so rare to find the actor or director or producer who can make a short, funny, coherant speech? When someone gets up there and acts like they've just won the award for King of the Universe, it's just hard to watch and horrible TV. I know that actors will tend to be dramatic, but to the Melissa Leo's of the world, please spare us your craziness. Best speech of the night was the kid with the huge 'fro who won for his short film. Imagine - someone who was funny, self-deprecating, and genuinely appreciative of his award.

Conversely, as I said before, I don't like it when people take their dislike for the Oscars and use it to dismiss all of the nominated movies or all of the winners. Don't take the Oscars all that seriously? Fine - no one really should. Don't think King's Speech was Best Picture-worthy? Cool, wasn't my pick either. But, don't try to tell me that The King's Speech and The Social Network are Razzie rather than Oscar worthy either.

One of the most telling lines of last night's Oscars was Steven Spielberg's reminder of all the great movies that never won for Best Picture. And if you think about all of the absurdities of Oscar nominees over the years, it's hard to take them all that seriously. I mean, look at the stunning filmography of the Coen Bros. to date, as an example. Look at all the great movies they've made that received zero nominations. Today we look back and think of Jeff Bridges' most iconic role as The Dude, and yet how many Oscar nominations did The Big Lebowski ever get? The Coens make a great comedy, and few care, but they make a Western with ties to a previous Oscar favorite, it makes a surprising amount of dollars at the box office, and the film gets all sorts of Oscar nominations.

So here is my final point: The Oscars can be fun to watch and speculate on. Emphasis on CAN be. This year's show sucked, and I think they should seriously go back to the drawing board and rethink how their show comes off on TV. I'd like to see The Oscars get better, because in theory they are a way of giving great movies mainstream attention. At the same time, if your cinematic world revolves around the Oscars, then it's time to rethink things. Whether you work in the entertainment biz or are just a fan, it should always be about great movies that entertain and make you think and feel and imagine. Everything else is superfluous.

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