Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My favorite Oscar of the night

Early on in last night's show, when we paused to prepare a cocktail, put an appetizer in the oven or put our son to sleep, my wife told me that she didn't feel like she had a horse in the race this year.

"I mean, there were a lot of really good movies this year," she clarified. "But there's no one that I'm really pulling for, like when Bill Murray was up for Lost in Translation."

I nodded my head at that one -- Murray's loss to Sean Penn that year is one of those things that still stings me when I think about famous Oscar misses. The rest of my response was kind of a non-commital affirmation, the kind you give you when you generally agree, but don't have anything more to add, or are otherwise distracted and can't be bothered to contribute a response.

But a few minutes later, thinking on it, I realized I myself had a horse in the race this year -- a horse I may have been pulling for more than any horse that's ever run in the Oscars.

When the Best Original Score Oscar came up to bat, I felt myself get nervous and jittery. Trent Reznor, the erstwhile Nine Inch Nails frontman, was nominated alongside collaborator Atticus Ross for the unforgettable score for The Social Network. I felt reasonably confident he would win, but as I heard snippets of the scores of films like The King's Speech and Inception -- composed by formidable talents like Alexandre Desplat and Hans Zimmer -- I got nervous. Since the conventional wisdom was that The Social Network had "peaked too early," I was told to fear its prospects in any and all categories -- especially those categories where frontrunner The King's Speech was also nominated.

All it took was the "Tr" sound to come out of Nicole Kidman's mouth, and I let out a little cheer for my boy Trent.

At this point I should probably give you a little background.

Two thousand eleven marks the 20th anniversary of my awareness of Nine Inch Nails -- and about the 19th anniversary of when I started calling them my favorite band. I heard NIN's seminal album Pretty Hate Machine in the fall of 1991, when I was a freshman in college. I bought the CD that Christmas, and as they say, the rest is history. I have been a die-hard fan of the band through all its ups and downs, its interminable periods of inactivity (it's taken as long as five-and-a-half years for Trent to release a new Nine Inch Nails album -- not once, but twice), its periods in and out of rehab for Mr. Reznor (which probably coincided with some of those periods of inactivity). Throughout all that, never once has any other musical act chipped away at the title of my favorite. For musical genius that seems to approach Rain Man status in terms of sheer outside-the-box complexity, Trent Reznor has been my musical hero for nearly two decades. I've seen him perform live five times, and I've purchased pretty much everything he's ever been involved with, even soundtracks for movies I have still never seen (David Lynch's Lost Highway).

So when Nicole Kidman said his name last night, and those six signature notes of "Hand Covers Bruise" (the Social Network "theme song") played as he got out of his seat, I was as thrilled as a proud papa. No longer the angry depressive and nihilist who burst onto the scene in 1989, Reznor was a dapper 45-year-old with facial scruff and a handsome tuxedo, proud but modest, embracing the ceremony without irony. To paraphrase Vince Vaughn from Swingers, I thought, "My baby's all grownsed up!"

When he got up there, he gave an eloquent, composed and grateful speech, one that never for a moment seemed self-indulgent. Not only that, but he allowed equal time for Ross, a collaborator who -- let's be honest -- Reznor probably didn't need in order to give birth to the haunting brilliance of the Social Network score. I may never know the quantity of Ross' contributions to the project, but I'll always know that Reznor gave him equal credit for their masterpiece.

And if you haven't listened to the Social Network score in its entirety, you should go do that. Yeah, it probably speaks a little more to a Nine Inch Nails fan like me than it would to a regular person, but not a lot more. The compositions are both beautiful and catchy, rarely containing any of the fury of Nine Inch Nails, but displaying all the craftsmanship and musical experimentation in the best Nine Inch Nails work. And the thing I was most amazed about, upon first listen, is that I didn't miss the lyrics. As a good preview for his work on Social Network, Reznor made a massive four-disc Nine Inch Nails album called Ghosts a couple years back, which is entirely instrumental. I think the music is really good, but I've only listened to the whole thing all the way through once. I'm sure that has something to do with the imposing length of the album (over 40 tracks), but it's also that without lyrics, you can't really "attach" to the specific songs. I thought I needed those lyrics to keep me involved -- until I heard The Social Network.

In addition to his own original creations, I also love that he reimagined Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" for the Winklevoss crew sequence -- which was also used in the show last night.

As much as I am happy for Trent Reznor the artist, I'm happy for Trent Reznor the person. Sure, being an emotional mess contributed to some of his most brilliant work. But even if it's taken some of the "teeth" out of his music (NIN had an album called With Teeth), I'm really glad Trent has found happiness in his life. In 2009 he married former West Indian Girl singer Mariqueen Maandig, who was with him at the Kodak Theater last night, and they are now collaborating on a musical project called How to Destroy Angels, whose first EP is quite interesting (especially the song "A Drowning," which gives me chills). The future seems bright for a happy Trent -- in an extremely intelligent podcast interview about this soundtrack last year, he told us to expect new Nine Inch Nails material and new How to Destroy Angels material in 2011. Not only that, but I just read something I should have known already -- he'll also do the score for Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, due out later this year. Could Reznor be a perennial Oscar contender, like Zimmer and Desplat? Could he one day become the Randy Newman of nominees, without all the sarcasm and mean-spiritedness in his acceptance speech?

Who knows. For now, I just want to bask in having seen my favorite musician honored at my favorite awards show, by the people who make my favorite passion.

I wanted to hear "Hand Covers Bruise" all night last night, most notably when best picture was announced. But it turned out that I heard it at the most important time, for me personally, to hear it, and that is more than enough.

A couple other isolated thoughts on last night's show, which turned out somewhat decent after a disastrous start. If you've read these observations elsewhere, you can rest assured that I haven't -- I didn't read anything else about the Oscars before posting this:

1) The disastrous start wasn't right at the start. Right at the start was great, with the opening pre-recorded bit of hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway going into Alec Baldwin's dream. Spot on stuff. And it was a delight to see the ever-wonderful Baldwin.

2) The disasters started about the time Melissa Leo won her Oscar. That acceptance speech took years off my life. It was an absolute train wreck. What made it so terrible is that it was already going so terribly before Leo dropped her now-famous f-bomb. That section of the show felt like it took a half-hour, in part because the pacing ground to a halt once Kirk Douglas took the stage -- it was a nice idea and I was really charmed by what he was able to accomplish, but I must admit it made me impatient (which was sort of the point, as he did that bit where he made the nominees wait in agony for the winning name). So then when Leo began her choppy acceptance speech which committed just about every sin a speech can commit, it felt like the show couldn't regain its pacing for the next half-hour. Other seeming casualties of the temporary bad vibe was the awkward banter between Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, which just did not hit.

3) And speaking of Timberlake, his joke about being Banksy -- which I actually thought would get more laughs -- was the only Banksy appearance of the evening, that I'm aware of. A little disappointing. But perhaps I should read one of those articles I haven't read yet, which would tell me where else he may have made his presence known.

4) Is it just me, or did Hathaway seem to be doing a lot more actual hosting than Franco? It was like she was taking the hosting duties seriously, and he was standing there with an awkward grin on his face, like he was playing his stoner character in Pineapple Express. Even putting on the Marilyn Monroe dress did not really "work." Franco didn't embarrass himself or anything, he was just kind of ... "absent." At least Hathaway picked up the slack, though her song about Hugh Jackman was the most obvious thing that could have been lifted out of the show -- it was done well, but it was lacking in context and seemed pretty insiderish.

5) Give it up for the two youngest nominees, Hailee Steinfeld and Jennifer Lawrence, who were both ten times more adorable than I thought they would be from their films.

6) As a guy who frequently has bushy hair myself, I loved that "I should have gotten a haircut" guy.

7) Why haven't we heard more about Florence from Florence and the Machine before now? What a voice. Gwyneth Paltrow, on the other hand, looked constipated. I think the Tangled song should have won, and not just because I love Tangled so much. Zachary Levi and Mandy Moore reminded me that that song truly is special -- I would say easily the most strictly memorable of the four that were nominated. (Though I might have liked to see "Mother Knows Best," from the same movie, nominated as well.)

8) Christian Bale's acceptance speech was one of the highlights of the night for me. The tempestuous personality was all charm last night, and I loved his decision to thank people by first name only -- it was intimate and it felt special.

9) The auto-tune bit was one of my other highlights. It was such a good bit that I wanted to see it go on for five minutes longer. I love anything auto-tuned -- I think it's one of the great ways to use modern technology for high comedy.

10) I still love Billy Crystal. And the Bob Hope bit worked pretty well. How did they get "Bob Hope" to "announce" the next presenters?

11) Interesting choice to suppress the applause during the "In Memoriam" section. Without reading more about it, I don't know if that was done by shutting off the microphones in the audience during that section, or a sign that told people not to applaud. I agree that it must seem very sad for relatives/friends of the less famous dead people when no one applauds their person.

12) Sandra Bullock nailed it. Jeff Bridges was good, but Bullock nailed it. Class and humor, in one complete package. And then Colin Firth's acceptance speech was just what we've come to expect from him. Shouldn't he have been an Oscar winner already? Sure seems like it.

13) I loved the decision to do away with the periodic clips from the best picture nominees that run throughout the night. They did a good enough job incorporating that stuff into other pieces throughout the night, most notably what was probably the best highlight of the evening: The montage before best picture was announced, which was cut to Firth's speech in The King's Speech. That was expertly done and I had chills the whole time watching it. Even the words matched up perfectly to the images, such as when Firth says "enemies" and former best friends Eduardo Saverin and Mark Zuckerberg from The Social Network give each other a steely look. Well played.

14) I loved Steven Spielberg's decision to put into context what it means to lose best picture -- that you now have something in common with Citizen Kane and Raging Bull. Great touch.

15) At first I was not sure about finishing the show with the elementary school kids singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," but I ultimately decided that it was nice not to have the hosts give just a few awkward words at the end before the credits roll. It was an attempt to have what my wife and I call a "Saturday Night Live clap clap" moment at the end -- you know, like at the very end of SNL, when everyone's out on stage and the music has this quality of reminiscing about the good times of the evening just passed. I'm not sure if it worked 100%, but it was better than the awkward alternative. (Also, loved that one kid who was totally over-emoting.)

I'm sure there's a lot more I could/should say, but I'm working without notes and going from memory only, so let's just cut it off here.

Besides, I have to go read all those Oscar stores I haven't read yet ...


Nicholas Prigge said...

Glad you had a silver lining and you're right that it's much easier to do that when you have a horse in the race, which isn't always the case with these things. Natalie Portman winning absolved any and all other sins of the show for me.

Oh, and you should so listen to Florence and the Machine. She's amazing.

Vancetastic said...

Nicholas, I know you were worried about that. I didn't really expect Annette Bening to win, but I do wonder what forces have to come together for Oscar voters to determine it's somebody's "time." I'm not immediately remembering who else was nominated last year alongside Jeff Bridges, but surely there must have been some worthy performances that were overlooked because it was Bridges' "time." Couldn't you say the same thing for Bening this year? I mean, Portman was quite good by any stretch, but I don't think her performance had 100% support in the critical community. Anyway, I'm glad it turned out the way it did, since I think Black Swan is a better movie than The Kids Are All Right.

Yeah, I will check out FATM. I have to admit, I was almost turned off to them before I even had the chance to embrace them, after hearing "The Dog Days Are Over" in the trailer for Eat Pray Love.