Tuesday, 01 March 2005
The 77th Oscars
By Joseph Planta
VANCOUVER - This year, the Oscar telecast was well paced, and it ended at a decent hour, with the producer's eternal goal that best picture be presented before midnight, met, with the credits rolling to a finish before 11.45 on the east coast.
Chris Rock was as expected, edgy and took few prisoners. You could see he was restrained by ABC censors and the staid Academy, but he did well under duress. Surely, there were some television viewers shocked by his un-Billy Crystal-like hosting, but who cares. He was refreshing. He was a bit too quick though, often not taking a breath so that one-liners could be appreciated.
There were so many black people on the Oscar telecast, not just the presenters, winners, and host, but in those taped pieces, that it seems there were more blacks on this telecast than in the awards's previous 76 years. It's a long way from Hattie McDaniel, that's for sure.
Whatever critics will say about the show, it will all depend on the ratings. If ratings suck, well, they'll blame it on the colourless nominees, or Rock himself. But we'll have to see how the audience reacted to the Oscar innovations like presenting statuettes in the audience, or having some of the nominees on stage. I would think, having to stand on the stage like that would be extremely nerve racking.
The innovations, like having the nominees on stage, or in the audience, were a bit too new to get used to. Perhaps some of the branches of the Academy who were slighted with the changes, are angry, considering that the same branches have always felt slighted by the constraints put upon them by the show's producers in the past. Still, as Rock noted, it was silly to cut off a winner, especially when he had already participated in that silly line up on stage as they read the nominees. Seeing the winner emerge from the line-up, sure as heck looked like the Miss America pageant.
As for the awards presented in the audience, it was actually good to look at on television, but I am sure that those in the audience at the Kodak were confused. Do they turn around to watch the proceedings going on behind them? Or do they watch it on the big screen on stage? And the winners, when they'd grab their Oscars from Cate Blanchett, Jeremy Irons or Laura Linney, and they'd have to walk to the microphone erected in the aisle, it looked awfully like some were about to run down the aisle like on the Price is Right. Plus, seat fillers and other non-nominees in the shots, either waving to the audience or just being in the shot is a bit much, if not tasteless. You're supposed to honour nominees, not the guests they bring along.
The Academy ought not to punish sound mixers and documentary filmmakers, by subjecting them to these telecast innovations, while letting actors and directors hang out as usual. The Academy should work on organising their seating better. Sure it's annoying to have to watch a bunch of sound editors step over the feet of their seat mates, and then have to take that long walk to the stage, but hey, it's once a year. It's not like ABC is going to cut you off. They never have, so just go on. And if you want to present best picture before midnight, then have the bloody show on earlier. The Oscars on at 7.30 in the evening for the east coast doesn't seem odd, considering that red carpet nonsense is on hours before that. And that wouldn't be a terrible invoncience for those of us on the west coast, because as it is, they start at 5.30 when it's still light out here. Plus, the Oscars are on a Sunday, so it's not like most of the audience will be rushing home anyway.
Pairing up Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek, was a visual dream; especially for the sound geek nominees standing behind them. Perhaps the two Latina babes were creeped out with all those nerds behind them? Cruz and Hayek reading off of the TelePrompTer was painful, and sounded like a remedial English class. Not as bad though, as when Sean Combs took the stage. Also, Adam Sandler, it's adaptation, not 'adaption'.
Besides the contingent of blacks on the show, there was a noticeable Latin flavour, with many Spanish speakers on the telecast, performing, presenting, and winning. With Rock as host, you'd have thunk he'd make mention of the increased number of stabbings at the Kodak Theater this year. Blame Susan Futterman for that one.
That extra who donned the Phantom's mask as Beyoncé was performing the nominated song from the Phantom of the Opera sure as hell looked like a reject from the Scream set.
The song, that had its composer Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber tinkering at the piano, was serviceable. But Beyoncé had to employ the requisite diva theatrics. It's the Oscars, sweetheart, not American Idol.
When Antonio Banderas and Carlos Santana performed the nominated song from The Motorcycle Diaries, one couldn't help notice the sheer abject terror on the face of the nominated composer, Jorge Drexler. He was in the audience despite having been pulled from performing his own song. They slotted in Santana and Banderas when producers decided Drexler wasn't well known enough. It was about ratings, and they tried making it up to the nominee with the appalling employing of his name in the painful introduction by Salma Hayek, and those equally painful cutaways to Drexler in the audience. And of course, revenge is best eaten cold, especially when you've got an Oscar. Who won the Oscar for best song? Jorge Drexler. And good on him for singing his song instead of giving a speech. Take that Gil Cates.
By the way, when Drexler won, Antonio Banderas was spotted in the audience making the sign of the cross. Is this one of those deals like in baseball when someone hits it out of the park, they start pointing to the sky or thanking God? Did God really have anything to do with it? What do you tell the losers? God didn't like you that much? Please.
What I found distressing were the requisite shout-outs that Chris Rock and Academy President Frank Pierson did for armed forces serving overseas. It reeked of insincerity.
Kudos to the National Film Board of Canada, less than an hour after it's short, Ryan won an Oscar, they fired off a press release on the wire lauding their victory.
The sign that the Oscars are modernising? That Whoppi Goldberg was alluded to once by Rock, and featured in that film tribute to Johnny Carson, while Billy Crystal wasn't mentioned. Perhaps Crystal is now considered too old school, and old fashioned. I won't be surprised if they bring him back next year.
Sean Penn's appearance to present best actress is perhaps the winner of the best attempt at making a Paddy Chayevsky-esque moment on an Oscar telecast, but of course miserably failing. In the monologue, Rock made light of Jude Law, asking the audience just who the heck he was. Perhaps instead of watching Closer, Rock was out at the Cineplex buying tickets for White Chicks. Anyway, Penn's response to Rock was incoherent at best. It doesn't look good that a white man goes after the perceived ignorance of a black guy like that. No wonder Red State Americans loath Hollywood phonies.
The presentation of the Honorary Oscar to Sidney Lumet was perhaps the most emotional moment of the evening. The entire presentation by Al Pacino-the film, the standing ovation, and the speech-was what this night was all about, the best of film, and the heritage of film lauded so.
Being an ardent viewer of Oscar telecasts, yearly for the last 13 years, and a fan of Oscar telecast history, I was disappointed that there were no big surprises in terms of presenters. There was no Woody Allen or Olivia De Havilland, as there were the last couple of years. Prince was perhaps the closest, and some forget that he does have an Oscar on the mantle.
A bit of Oscar trivia, as was alluded to on the telecast. In 1973, when The Godfather won best picture, Clint Eastwood presented the Oscar to its producer Albert Ruddy, his co-producer on Million Dollar Baby this year. And when Eastwood won the Oscar for Unforgiven in 1972, it was the same Barbra Streisand who presented the Oscar then.
Oh and one more thing, Martin Scorsese's loss of the Best Director trophy is interesting when you consider the director's he lost to. Three of the five directors he lost to were actors: Robert Redford (Ordinary People, 1980), Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves, 1990), Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, 2004). The other two, by the way, were Barry Levinson (Rain Man, 1988), and Roman Polanski (The Pianist, 2002).
It was conceivable during the Lumet tribute to picture Martin Scorsese up there one day, perhaps next year. Then again, as has been lamented in op-ed piece in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, as well as Liz Smith's column, perhaps they should give it to someone like Doris Day, or Richard Widmark. Then again, the Academy has a good point. If they gave Oscars according to the desires of film fans all over the world, each of the Three Stooges would have one. Nonetheless, and not taking away from the recipients this year and in years past, Doris Day getting an honorary statuette, and Jerry Lewis getting the Jean Hersolt Humanitarian award, wouldn't be too bad.
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