Tuesday, March 1, 2016


Three nights earlier I had been on a podcast saying that the Oscars didn't interest me much anymore because they contained few if any surprises.

So what a surprise the 88th annual Academy Awards ended up having in store for me Monday night (Australia time). A couple, actually.

Unfortunately, they weren't all good.

If you had asked me to pick any one award that I thought was a total lock, I would have told you it was Sylvester Stallone winning best supporting actor for Creed. Yes, perhaps even ahead of Inside Out winning best animated feature and Leonardo DiCaprio winning best actor.

But it did not happen.

Instead the award went to the deserving Mark Rylance, who might have been my second choice, but a distant second to good old Sly.

And yet again one of the acting performances closest to my heart, the one with at least a 50/50 shot at winning, goes against me.

There are likely numerous examples over the years, but the ones that leap immediately to mind are the losses by Bill Murray in Lost in Translation, Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler (both to Sean Penn, actually), and Michael Keaton just last year in Birdman. All three of those men were the leads in my favorite movie of the year. As it happens again with the secondary lead in my second favorite of the year, I guess I have to cover my ass with an ironic #oscarssowhite and #oscarssomale and #oscarssoold to account for my choices for the performances I most wanted to see awarded.

I'm sure in that same time there have been wins that delighted me just as heartily, but it's the tough losses I remember most. I didn't realize how much I wanted Stallone, who is otherwise not a favorite of mine and historically never has been, to win, until he didn't.

But not all the surprises were bad.

Spotlight taking home best picture made for probably my biggest surprise in that category since Crash sucker-punched us all back in 2005 -- a moment I mentioned in that ReelGood podcast as the last time I was really surprised in general by the Oscars. I'd venture I've guessed the best picture winner correctly in every Oscars since then, even at the times I was desperately rooting for a different winner (The Social Network). So it was a nice surprise to see Spotlight beat out presumed favorite The Revenant, which had the in-show momentum of having just picked up best actor and best director, yielding the spotlight (if you will) to a movie that hadn't picked up an award since the evening's very first (best original screenplay).

What wasn't a surprise to anyone who has marveled at what he can do on a stage is how Chris Rock struck the perfect tone for his monologue and ensuing comments about race throughout the evening. He hit hard, but he hit in both directions, which was an incredibly smart and in itself a bit unpredictable way of handling his predicament. He let Will Smith and Jada Pankett have it even harder than those allegedly perpetrating the racism, to the extent that one wonders if those two will ever attend another Oscars. (Pinkett may not have the option, since, as he so bitingly pointed out, she wouldn't have been invited in the first place.)

The most killer segment that had me laughing hardest was when Whoopi Goldberg, Leslie Jones, Tracy Morgan and Rock himself made their way into parodies of some of the most nominated films, there to exemplify the lengths black actors must go to to get cast in Oscar-worthy films. Morgan brought gales of laughter in drag as The Danish Girl, danish in this case being a reference to the pastry he was cramming in his mouth, but then Rock outdid him as the black astronaut stranded on Mars that two NASA officials (played by Martian cast members Jeff Daniels and Kristen Wiig) would not pay $2,500 to save. "I can hear you mother[bleepers]!" Rock says as they do the cost-benefit analysis within earshot over a satellite video link. "I don't see a black astronaut stranded in space. Do you?" Wiig says to Daniels through winks.

Other general thoughts:

- The scrolling of the thank yous didn't accomplish anything, as many of them ended up being repeated anyway and they just gave the whole thing a cable news network feel.

- Why were only three of the five songs performed? Were the other two nominees too busy to attend?

- As moved as we were all supposed to be by the Lady Gaga song, her gesticulations, vocal or otherwise, were just so wild that I couldn't help cracking to my wife that she was reminding me of Barbra Streisand.

- I didn't get the sense that the black actors and actresses who presented felt they had done some kind of deal with the devil. It seemed to be more or less just business as usual, and that was good.

- More of the comedic banter worked than usual. I liked Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe going back and forth about the number of Oscars they had between them, and Tina Fey pretending to be drunk was great. Sarah Silverman and Sacha Baron Cohen (as Ali G) proved just random enough to keep us on edge and never know what they might say next.

- I was interested to note a correction of previous awards biases in favor of actresses over actors. Best supporting actor was plunged deep into the program, as many as ten awards after best supporting actress, and best actress came a whole two awards earlier than best actor (broken up by best director). Maybe they thought that in a year they were being criticized anyway, just go for broke and lean male as well as white?

- The only one of Rock's lines of commentary that left me feeling a little funny was the objection to women being asked about more than their dresses, but it did set up his funniest line of the night, which was: "If George Clooney came to the Oscars wearing a lime green tuxedo and a swan coming out of his ass, I guarantee you they'd ask him: George, what are you wearing?"

- Other than DiCaprio, who gave one of the most succinct and poised speeches I've ever seen at the Oscars, the acceptance speeches were pretty dull. And not only because the music started playing most of them to their finish not 15 seconds in.

- That guy who said he may be the first openly gay person to receive an Oscar pretty much has to be incorrect about that. Even keeping in mind the word "openly," I'd say there had to have been at least five others in the last decade alone.

- Dave Grohl's In Memorium performance of "Blackbird" was a highlight.

- Even if their movie didn't win, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Emmanuel Lubezki set astonishing precedents by winning awards both back-to-back and back-to-back-to-back. I'm not looking this up right now, but I'm kind of wondering if anyone has ever won Oscars in three straight ceremonies like Chivo did this year. Probably Edith Head or somebody. I know for certain that only two other directors have ever taken home back-to-back trophies. Good on them.

- With my own predictions, I was on a roll at the start of the night. I got something like the first seven correct before finally failing to pick Mad Max: Fury Road for the first time when I should have. After that my track record returned to being mediocre.

- Our recording ran out in the middle of the producers' acceptance speech for Spotlight. Oh well.

Okay, now I must go to bed as it is 2:21 a.m. here, and what the hell am I still doing awake.


Wendell Ottley said...

I was pulling for Sly, too. Sigh.

It's my understanding that the other two nominees for Best Original Song were pushed out at the last minute and Dave Grohl was shoved in. They were most certainly not too busy to attend.

Rock was very good last night. I am so glad he was.

Don Handsome said...

But Rock didn't ALWAYS work. I liked that he pushed boundaries, but sometimes he was WAY off.


I thought Blackbird SUCKED. I was just squirming with seething hatred for such a soulless and off-base rendition of the most personality-challenged Beatles song. Why make the remembrances section all about Dave Grohl and his approximation of a personality?

Glad Revenant didn't win.

That's my summary.

Derek Armstrong said...

The part I understood least was when Stacey Dash was brought out to wish black actors a happy black history month. I'm sure I could read a detailed analysis of that moment somewhere on the web, but I have not done so yet. I am therefore left to conclude the meaning behind it was one of the following two things:

1) This minimal effort was the face of the new commitment to greater diversity;

2) Stacey Dash makes a funny person to assign in the role of increasing diversity because she is very light-skinned.

I'm hoping it was the former joke rather than the latter, but neither worked.

So while I agree with Wendell that Rock was mostly a win, I acknowledge Don's realization that Rock (or Rock-sponsored bits) were not always smartly executed or even coherent.