Monday, March 8, 2010

The Moment Of A Lifetime

Yes, at one point before the Academy Awards began I made the crazily bold prediction that INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS was going to win. I was being ornery, what can I say. I was going out on a limb and it’s what I was hoping for anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I really did think that THE HURT LOCKER was terrific, I just wasn’t sure that the Academy was going to give the award to what would be the lowest grossing Best Picture winner in modern times. And coming a year after SLUMDOG MILLIONARE this makes it two years in a row that the Best Picture winner probably came close to getting next to no theatrical release at all. It would be nice that all this would mean that the studios wouldn’t put all their resources into making nothing by mammoth tentpoles in 3D and start releasing a few films that could use this sort of attention but by this point I think we all know better. By the way, I saw ALICE IN WONDERLAND in 3D over the weekend. But let’s move on. Some might say that THE HURT LOCKER didn’t get much of a release anyway. Maybe because of the economy, I never felt like Summit tried to get the film out there as much as they could or should have. Ultimately they probably put more effort into the Oscar campaign than actually getting it into theaters which kind of annoys me. But it’s on DVD now and everyone can see it. So it’s all over now. I don’t have to worry about the handful of titles that I never got around to. I no longer have to pretend that I might go see AVATAR a second time. I can watch my DVD of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS all I want. Or just see any movie that I want to see for my own reasons like I usually do anyway. Truthfully, I thought the Oscar show itself was pretty terrible but not in a horrific Allan Carr train wreck kind of way—it was as if lots of little things were arranged in such a haphazard fashion to make it all feel totally lumbering and out of control before even the first hour was up. Yes, there were plenty of gorgeous women looking great (looking at the tape again a few really do stand out) but I couldn’t care less what they were wearing so I’m the wrong person to talk about that stuff anyway. It makes you ask the question what are the Oscars in 2010, what does the show want to be? Because I’m not sure it wants to be about movies.

Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin are almost always very funny doing this sort of thing and I’ll admit I laughed a number of times during their monologue (face it, jokes about Meryl Streep and Hitler are funny) but by a certain point that section began to feel way too shapeless, feeling like it was building up to something—a big musical number? A surprise appearance? A joke on the joke?—that never happened. Anyone who’s seen their running ‘feud’ on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE knows that the two of them can play off each other but there wasn’t enough of a chance to do that here, although I did enjoy the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY spoof. Maybe the room is too big for that sort of interplay, maybe stuff got cut. Way too often in these shows the host(s) seems to disappear for long stretches of time and we wonder where they’ve gone. Shouldn’t the host always be around to, I don’t know, host? When Billy Crystal made all those running Jack Palance jokes back in the day it’s because he was actually on stage to make them but somehow those fun chances have been squeezed out of this show in an effort to keep things moving and it still runs long. What we did get at the beginning was a musical number featuring Neil Patrick Harris that I guess was designed to introduce these guys who were going to be around all night—except they really weren’t and I’m not sure why that number was needed at all. Couldn’t we have gotten one of those Chuck Workman history-of-movies montages to get us all excited? Instead of that we got a line in the song about dropping the soap in prison—thank you, Marc Shaiman! That’s the glamour of Hollywood for ya.

And part of it just felt like the rhythm and pacing of the whole thing was off, which made it all seem even longer than it was. The camera seemed to be continually swooping around presenters as they were opening the envelopes like someone behind the scenes was trying to show off a new camera rig and shots of the audience showed people who looked as if they had been told that family members had just died. I guess the joke of the Steve Carell-Cameron Diaz bit was that it was intentionally awkward but the timing wasn’t sharp enough so it just became confusing. Miley Cyrus tried to excuse her nervousness by saying it was her first time there except it wasn’t. Meanwhile George Clooney had some kind of runner with Alec Baldwin that really didn’t work but by a certain point he even acted goofy for the camera so maybe by staying seated he clearly had the right idea. Maybe someone needed to pump more oxygen into the room to keep everyone awake. We also got interminable clips showing the actors and actresses in the supporting categories along with the displays of sound editing and those short film segments with Zoe Saldana and Carey Mulligan which seemed to go on for hours (plus the crazy lady rushing the stage) then certain other things were raced through way too quickly as if somebody had suddenly decided to pick up the pace. And they cut the songs? How was this whole thing timed? By the time we got to friends of the lead acting nominees singing their praises it felt like whiplash with everything slowing down when it actually did need to get moving so the whole thing could just end already. The John Hughes tribute felt like it happened way too early in the show, coming at a point where things needed to get going not stop for this long digression and things just felt out of whack. Plus, Judd Nelson was really scary looking.

And I guess we could debate singling out John Hughes at all when you and I could easily name all the worthy people didn’t get such treatment when they passed away either this year or during years past. One of the only other ones I can think of is Kubrick so maybe you need to become a recluse. Of course, John Hughes hadn’t directed any kind of movie for twenty years and a fair amount of the things that his name appeared on—stuff not featured in this montage which included scenes from only six of the eight films he directed as well as several he wrote—were total garbage. I can’t dispute what these movies meant to people and hey, I grew up on them too. I just know that this didn’t happen when Billy Wilder died. And lots of other people as well. The weird thing is it felt like such a digression maybe because it was a segment that was actually trying to be about someone who made movies. Maybe they could have tried a few more of those while they were at it. And hey, a clip from WEIRD SCIENCE got shown on the Oscars.

Which makes this as good a time as any to discuss the Montage Of Death which featured all the people who apparently didn’t deserve their own segment and all the things wrong with it. For starters, they brought back last year’s massive screwup by placing the segment on a screen within the stage at the beginning, making it more about who was performing this number (James Taylor) than about the people they were supposedly paying tribute to. Patrick Swayze I could make out, but one or two others seemed to get the shaft (Mark Evanier says they were Maurice Jarre and Monte Hale). Not to mention how the visual layout of the segment looked ugly and the way they were obviously trying to race through each name didn’t go well with the tempo of the song. Not included were people like Dominick Dunne, Arnold Stang, Dan O’Bannon, Zelda Rubinstein and, as everyone seems to be talking about, Farrah Fawcett who though she’s mainly remembered for television did appear in a number of films during her career. The omission of Bea Arthur seems to make more sense to me considering how the actress really was more famous for TV (honestly the only film appearance of hers I can think of is the HISTORY OF THE WORLD PART 1 cameo) and you could argue that several of those absent like Gene Barry and Edward Woodward are also remembered more for their TV roles so—hey, you know what? I’m not gonna cut them a break. These people starred in legendary films like WAR OF THE WORLDS and THE WICKER MAN so they deserved to be included. You know who’s also known mostly for TV? Neil Patrick Harris! So what the hell was he doing on the show? And, maybe most unforgivable of all was the omission of Henry Gibson who deserved to be in there if only for work roles in Altman’s NASHVILLE (he wasn’t nominated for it, but he deserved to be) and THE LONG GOODBYE alone. Points however for including Fellini collaborator Tullio Pinelli, who I wouldn’t have expected to make the cut, among the screenwriters.

Barely getting more time themselves were lifetime honorees Roger Corman and Lauren Bacall, who received their awards at a non-televised ceremony in November (as did Gordon Willis, who probably declined to fly out from New York again just for the privilege of sitting in the Kodak). The two of them received a cursory introduction last night that wonderfully resulted in what felt like a completely spontaneous standing ovation which was almost the emotional high point of the night. Of course, it probably made the show’s producers break out in hives considering how quickly they shut it down so Robin Williams could come out to present the next award. Is there anyone who wouldn’t have loved to hear Bacall speak, however briefly, about what working in Hollywood with the legends she knew intimately meant to her? Wouldn’t an appearance by some of the legions of famous people who got their start with Corman have been one of the classic Oscar clips of all time? These two people from different worlds of the industry combined could have been a historic moment. It should have been. And the people putting on the show just didn’t care.

We all knew Christoph Waltz was going to win and he delivered a variation on the speech he’s given a number of times the past several months but it was still deserved and sadly just about the only time the film was heard from all night long.

I was glad that UP won, but that bit of interviewing the “stars” of the animated movies kind of made me wish that Dug the Dog from the film was hosting the show. He probably would have brought more energy to it all.

For history there was a montage to show the history of horror films or something but I’m not sure what the point of it was—it also included THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS which, in case you forgot, did come out after THE EXORCIST. It sure wasn’t to show off the greatness of horror films, considering how the person who assembled it (not Chuck Workman, the master of these things) thinks that BEETLEJUICE and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS qualify and it also contained way too much of a focus on early appearances by future stars (hey, it got LEPRECHAUN in there). At least there was a quick shot from EVIL DEAD 2 as well as CHILD’S PLAY but very little Romero or Corman (a shot of Nicholson in LITTLE SHOP and that’s it) and absolutely no Lewton let alone anything from the worlds of Hammer and Bava. For the most part, it was a wasted opportunity that probably existed only to give the stars of TWILIGHT time onstage. Maybe they should have just run a few minutes from TERROR IN THE AISLES.

At least we got Bob Murawski, one of the editors who won for THE HURT LOCKER, who in mentioning his obvious love for horror films (they should have gotten him to cut that package!) and Roger Corman, showed more genuine enthusiasm for movies than anyone else during the whole night. He’s one of the heads of Grindhouse Releasing and he’s also the editor on Sam Raimi films (a friend and I met him very briefly at a DRAG ME TO HELL test screening last year—we complimented him on all the sound effects culled from SUSPIRIA) so all congratulations to him.

Ben Stiller—less is more. Please.

Speaking of which, hey, STAR TREK won an Oscar!

After screenwriter Jeffrey Fletcher gave his moving acceptance speech upon winning for PRECIOUS one of the people they cut to, in addition to the film’s stars, was Morgan Freeman. Because it’s a black film, you see. And Steve Martin made the joke to Christoph Waltz about all the Jews being there they cut to one of the Coen Brothers. Oh, I get it! He’s a Jew! Why do they do this sort of thing year after year? It’s one thing to cut to George Clooney when someone makes a George Clooney joke, but STOP THAT.

Whenever groups of acting nominees were lined up together all I thought of how George C. Scott called the whole thing a “two hour meat parade” back when he declined to show up and yet I wondered how much more dignified it must have been in those days. Try to imagine a universe where George C. Scott would be up on stage in this sort of thing. Try to imagine George C. Scott even getting a job in a movie today.

Getting some people who had previously worked with the directors of the nominated films to introduce the clips—Keanu Reeves for THE HURT LOCKER, John Travolta for INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS—was a nice touch.

What is up with these dudes with their floppy hair and not-really beards? They’re not all Mark Boal and/or Jason Reitman, are they? That’s it, I’m not shaving today. The hair, however, there’s only so much I can do about that at this point.

Doesn’t it feel like there were people missing from this show? Some type of movie star who didn’t bother showing up? Are there movie stars anymore? Am I just really cranky?

I still wish that Tarantino could have won screenplay if BASTERDS wasn’t going to get Best Picture. Just wanted to toss that in there. That said, congratulations to Mark Boal.

The choice of what to play as presenters appeared mostly seemed to be classic songs—some connected to beloved films I guess, but not songs that came from films and certainly not any selections from actual film scores which isn’t exactly any sort of way to go about celebrating movies—one exception to this was when the theme from AMARCORD played as Tarantino and Almodovar came on to present Best Foreign Film, which was the most respectful nod to actual film scoring the show made all night long.

And that includes the interpretive dance thing to present the Best Score nominees which was godawful, yes, and certainly bizarre in how it had nothing to do with anything we tuned into this show to see but it came off as disrespectful to film scores and the people who create them—hell, not to mention the people who actually enjoy them—as well. Does anyone think it’s actually a good idea to somehow relate THE HURT LOCKER to dancing? I guess show producer Adam Shankman did. I just had to look up who actually won Best Score (congratulations to Michael Giacchino) since I think I had blocked this part of the show from memory. Wasn’t this sort of thing outlawed due to the Debbie Allen Act of 2002?

Come to think of it, maybe Tarantino and Almodovar should host next year. These guys actually like movies.

In case anyone was wondering, the clip from INTO THE LOOP shown during the screenplay nominations was the most they could show without getting into bleeping issues. Seriously, you should see INTO THE LOOP.

I never saw THE BLIND SIDE (actually I never saw three of the ten up for Best Picture--the other two are AN EDUCATION and PRECIOUS. What can I say, I'm unemployed) so I can’t speak to Sandra Bullock’s performance at all but I’m going to guess that no one who voted for her saw Tilda Swinton’s brilliant, searing work in JULIA which is seriously just about the best performance I’ve seen anyone give in years. Of course, no one saw that film. I only saw it myself on DVD a few weeks ago. JULIA is long, messy, at times a little insane and absolutely amazing. It should be seen. That has nothing to do with anything, I just thought Tilda Swinton’s performance in this film warranted mention.

Jeff Bridges abides.

“Well, Kathryn Bigelow won for Director, I guess they’ll go to commercial. Maybe I’ll get something from the kitchen to drink—hey, there’s Tom Hanks, is he presenting? Wait, what’s he saying? Is he reading the list of nominees? What? THE HURT LOCKER won? It’s over? Hey, wait up!”

To make another slam about music, when Kathryn Bigelow walked off the stage after winning Best Director the orchestra actually played “I Am Woman”. Are you kidding me? Does someone think it’s still 1972? Is Don Draper producing this show? Does someone think it’s cute and quirky that a woman is actually trying to direct movies? Do they think that all she needs to do is find a man and she won’t want to make messy, nasty action movies anymore? Maybe they never saw BLUE STEEL.

So since the actual show didn’t seem to have any real appreciation for the moment I’ll just congratulate Kathryn Bigelow, a terrific director who, even if some of her past films have been flawed, is always willing to push the material as far as it can go. Her work has continually been ferociously cinematic and pulsating with a brutal rhythm that can be tough to shake. She's enormously beautiful, yes, but it needs to be said once again that she didn't get this award because she's a woman who's a director. She got it because she's a damn good director. I truly hope that we have yet to see her best work.

I didn’t notice until I was looking at the tape this morning but the show’s closing credits included a credit for a piece directed by Laurent Bouzereau titled “What Winning An Oscar Meant To Me” but I’m guessing it got cut for time—the show did seem to begin awfully abruptly. Maybe that’s what was missing—not just a love for movies but a love for this tradition of Hollywood and instead what we’re left with are a lot of would-be stars who people watching aren’t really tuning in to see. Those like Bacall and Corman don’t get to speak and moments celebrating them are truncated. It’s embarrassing. It’s short sighted. But I suppose it’s to be expected. The old guard of Hollywood’s golden and silver ages have pretty much died off with those who might take up the mantle today having fallen off the radar or at least aren’t showing up anymore. Those from those eras who are left are relegated to, at best, a quick shot of them sitting in the audience. So I suppose this means that Tom Hanks (interestingly, March 9th marks the 26th anniversary of SPLASH, his starring debut) can now officially be deemed the old guard, beloved by all. At least for now. Maybe someday he’ll be the one sitting out there who the camera can’t wait to cut away from. So congratulations to THE HURT LOCKER, a film that absolutely deserves the exposure it’s going to get from this. Even though the big winner of the night wasn’t the massive CGI spectacle that everyone thought it would be at one point that’s probably where the concept of movies seems is headed anyway so as far as I’m concerned it’s a good thing for something else to be celebrated. But in watching this year’s Oscars I’m very aware that more than ever it’s beginning to feel like history just isn’t what it used to be and the people in charge of these shows aren’t very interested in it anyway. As I long as films are still screened somewhere on celluloid (which I guess as long as I live within driving distance of the New Beverly), as long as I get to watch old black and white noir films, bizarre car chase movies from the seventies, Italian horror movies from the sixties and who knows what else then I’ll find a way to live with it. And now, since this is all over and done with, I’m going to go watch my DVD of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS once again.


le0pard13 said...

I really appreciate your thoughts on this, Mr. Peel. And, I agree with many of them. I enjoyed hosts Martin and Baldwin, for the times they got on camera (me and my kids laughed the hardest when they showed them backstage in their Snuggie™ blankets). Robin Williams had the best punchline (Governor’s Ball, etc.), but that Paranormal Activity clip was great, too. And, that was such a great line by Bacall from the taped show--we needed more of her and Corman. I couldn't believe I got both screenplay awards wrong (QT and Jason Reitman/Sheldon Turner) Or maybe, it was the Academy that got it wrong ;-). Thanks for this.

p.s., I'm have to check out Tilda in JULIA because of this.

Anonymous said...

Here is how I thought the death montage should have gone. I know Patrick Swayze was hardly a power player, but they had such a golden opportunity.

His face flashed past and then the montage was drawing to a close and I turned to my wife and said ok, here we go, it is gonna be awesome and they missed it.

What they should have done, since they just skipped him at the start, and because though it would have been cliche it would have been spectacular, was show the clip from the end of Ghost when he is finally redeemed and he tells Molly that it is beautiful and that you take the love with you. That would have been amazing and would have made the montage not a death thing but a life thing.

Unknown said...

I thought that Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin were "okay" but I kinda miss Hugh Jackman from last year's broadcast which actually seemed to pay tribute to old school Hollywood more than this year.

And they really need to re-think the wank-fest of having friends of the Best Actor and Actress pay tribute to them unless you have someone like Colin Farrell who tells a hilarious anecdote about Jeremy Renner... that's when that kinda stuff works but do we really need to hear more praise heaped on Meryl Streep? She actually looked embarrassed.

That being said, it was awesome that Kathryn Bigelow won and THE HURT LOCKER won Best Picture thereby sending a message to James Cameron and AVATAR! Not that he's going to care all that much as he's laughing all the way to the bank.

Will Errickson said...

*Great* piece! I couldn't believe those children that introduced the horror salute; they're barely literate. But you wrote: "Keanu Reeves for THE HURT LOCKER, John Travolta for PULP FICTION"--you mean "for INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS." Nice to see a shout-out to Swinton in JULIA. Foxy drunk lady, gotta love her.

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...


Thanks very much. Hope you like JULIA! But maybe don't watch it with the kids.


Hmmm. You may not be the only one to raise that possibility but I wonder if some people would have thought it in questionable taste. Besides, Karl Malden was once Academy President which may have clinched him the final spot.


They need to rethink a lot of things! Seriously, if they brought you, me and a bunch of other intelligent people interested in this together in a room we could probably come up with a great--and reasonable--list of things wrong and what to do about them. But since they're not asking, I'm not going to spend much too much time thinking about it.


Thanks very much for the correction, I hate when I do that. Glad you also liked JULIA--foxy drunk lady that she is, she's pretty damn awesome.

Marty McKee said...

I hope when you say you're checking the "tape," that you actually mean you recorded the show on videotape. It seems so Peelesque.

I believe the "What Oscar Means to Me" montage ran over the closing credits.

I'm pretty much on board with everything you wrote, which is why I didn't watch the Oscars this year for the first time since the '70s. And it sounds like I didn't miss a thing.

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...


Yeah, I recorded it on videotape. Things are still a little low-tech around here.

Now I'll need to go check out those closing credits. And I'll also hope that next year's show is somehow better.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you in that I don't think the people that put on the Academy Awards actually like movies. It's almost if they are embarrassed by the ideas great, fun films put out into the culture. It seems that the very idea of "ideas" or imagination has become an anathema to the (big) powers that be because that gets in the way of commercial time.
I watch the Academy Awards every year, usually at a party somewhere in town, and I do enjoy them, but the TV production increasingly seeks to hide what it is we are watching the thing for anyway. C'mon Hollywood (& Academy) unfurl that freak flag & wave it proudly in America's face. Ignore the fingers flashed in anger at being challenged by the ideas, imagination and hope cinema delivers because you'd probably be surprised at how many salute you right back.

All the best, Mr. Peel!

- Bob

"I think, really, the Jolly Roger is the appropriate course of action. It has a pool."

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...


Well said, that's a very perceptive way to look at it, thank you very much for that. Now I really want to just see A SERIOUS MAN again...