Monday, February 29, 2016

Reviewing the Oscars: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly,and the Unexplainable

As has become a TMROJ tradition, I'm going to weigh in this morning with the good, bad, and the ugly of last night's broadcast.  This year, though, I'm substituting the Indifferent, however, for the Unexplainable as there were too many moments in what amounted to a hot mess of an Oscar ceremony to have much to be indifferent about.  Let's just jump right in and do this thing, shall we?

The Good

-This isn't going to be what one would consider a wonderfully-received review, as I didn't have a great time compared to your average Oscars (I always love the Oscars, but last night was more miss than hit).  However, it's impossible to ignore a few of the great highlights, and one of them was surely a couple of surprises that got lobbed out in terms of wins.  My second favorite victory of the night was surely Ex Machina taking Visual Effects, as the film felt completely out of its element against blockbuster Best Picture nominees like Mad Max, The Revenant, and The Martian (not to mention the gigantic Star Wars 7), and I didn't think it stood a prayer.  Chalk this one up to the Academy genuinely picking substance over box office.  Additionally, I will say that the myriad trophies for Mad Max (six in all) felt deserving for such a marvelous film.  I would have liked to have seen these wins translate into the Picture or Director category, but at the very least Spotlight bested the insufferable Revenant, so there's that to smile about as well.

-I say second favorite up above because nothing could top the win for Ennio Morricone, particularly as he sat next to John Williams while taking his first competitive Oscar.  I was yelling "get up" ala Kathy Griffin when he won (I was doing the same for Joe Biden-thank you Lou Gossett, Jr. for having some class there) and was so glad he got a very well-earned standing ovation as the oldest person to ever take a competitive Academy Award.  Bravo!

-Easily my favorite moment of the entire night was the presentation of the sound categories.  Every year while doing Oscar prediction contests or discussing the ceremony, the question of what the difference between sound mixing and sound editing is shows up, and this year rather than a tedious discussion of the topic, the Academy appropriately let your ears do the learning, as they played clips of all ten nominees first minus the mixing and then minus the editing.  It was clever, sharp, and inventive, and whoever thought of it in the editing room has earned my gratitude.  The only other presentation that came close was Louis CK's hilarious rundown of the Documentary Short subject winners and how much the trophy actually changes their lives (appropriately and quite Oscar nerd-pandering-ly it then went to a woman who already had an Academy Award).

-The speeches were largely a snore, save perhaps for Leo's (though he had the most confidence he'd get to deliver one) as he went into a healthy diatribe against climate change deniers and greedy politicians who take money from corporations (Joe Biden awkwardly got panned to during that portion of the speech, though it wasn't clear whether Leo grouped the Vice President into that conversation).  It was a wonderful way to use a moment he knew the world was watching and waiting to see.

The Bad

-Why precisely were Lady Gaga, The Weeknd, and Sam Smith given their full song rather than the more traditional 90-second clip of what was actually performed when the Academy didn't "have the time" of day for the nominees for Racing Extinction and Youth?  After all, for a ceremony that desperately wanted to trumpet diversity it says something that they cut the Asian woman and transgender woman from getting to perform alongside the rock stars.  Also, while I liked the song better live than I did in recording (though I didn't care for either that much, TBH), who was working the psychotic camera-angles during the Lady Gaga performance?  It felt like I was getting whiplash, which is unfortunate since the Academy was clearly trying to emulate last year's moving "Glory" performance.  Also, don't you hope that Diane Warren, Roger Deakins, and Thomas Newman were off in the bar by the time Best Picture was being rewarded toasting Ennio Morricone after yet another chorus of losses?

-This will literally be the only time I ever complain about Sylvester Stallone besting stage titan Mark Rylance in an acting race, but really Academy?  In what has to be one of the most bizarre acting upsets since Juliette Binoche bested Lauren Bacall, Sly looked forlorn as he lost his third bid for an Oscar, one nearly everyone was expecting him to take.  It'd be one thing if this was a Bacall/Binoche situation where the latter was clearly the superior, but Rylance wasn't better than Stallone, who gave the performance of a lifetime in Creed.  In hindsight we'll probably be fine with this (Rylance being the better actor in almost any other competition and he could now become a staple in acting ala Geoffrey Rush or Chris Cooper), but it still stung.

-A few other things that don't qualify as ugly, but should still be mentioned.  The girl scout cookie bit was funnier when Ellen Degeneres did it a few years ago with pizza, the scrolling marquee of people to thank felt like they cut it halfway through (seriously-did Brie or Leo even have one?), and while I applaud the diversity in the presenters, occasionally it felt a little eyeroll-y in terms of whom they selected (Dev Patel and Sofia Vergara stick out in particular), and the overall ceremony seemed pretty lacking in major movie stars.  Also, would it kill them to let a woman present Best Picture or be the final star in the In Memoriam?

The Ugly

-You'll notice the name Chris Rock hasn't shown up yet, and that's because I wasn't impressed.  Listen, I was well aware that the biggest part of his monologue was going to focus on #OscarsSoWhite, but it was literally the source of every single joke, break, and monologue.  It felt in many ways like Rock hated being on that stage, and that he felt he was doing everyone a major service by showing up.  I think some of his jokes stuck (the White People's Choice Awards was biting, and he'd already basically done it on Twitter, but it still set the tone), but after a while he went too far (the lynching joke in particular felt egregiously in bad taste, and kind of horrifying in its flippancy), and he wholly abandoned the idea of celebrating any of the nominees.  In fact, he never, not once, highlighted any of the twenty people who actually did get nominated, despite major movie stars (Jennifer Lawrence, Sylvester Stallone, Leo DiCaprio, and the K/Cates all being highlighted) and a number of notable first-timers (Bryan Cranston, Rachel McAdams, and Jennifer Jason Leigh all come to mind) being included in the running.  It felt after a while more like a shame-on-you roast and not a night of celebrating the movies, and we already have enough of that on late night and Comedy Central.  Again, I do want to stress that some of his comments were valid, but there was no celebration of some truly great films and performances last night at all during the show, and that felt wrong in one of the few places we still get to celebrate the movies and not be smugly sarcastic about everything.

-I also loathed his bit about how people don't watch films like Room, Carol, and Bridge of Spies-this is a time to champion people seeing complicated films that aren't superhero movies or blockbusters.  He did this eleven years ago as well, and he ended up appearing like a bully in both skits.  A cheer within a jeer though to the woman who said By the Sea was her favorite "white people" movie, as that caught Rock off-guard enough that he got in his best line of the night: "that wasn't even (Brad and Angelina's) favorite white-people movie of the night."

-One last note on Rock, but it would have felt a lot more genuine if he'd championed diversity issues outside of just the lack of African-Americans nominated.  While he did chastise a few actors like Jada Pinkett Smith during his monologue, some of his most cutting barbs felt like they toed the line into bullying and offensive, such as lambasting those who decried sexism on the red carpet after spending almost six minutes calling out the definition of racism.  It felt like he was trying to have people think more complicated thoughts about racism, but when sexism came onto the stage he said women's complaints weren't important.  He did the same thing with Asian-Americans (that cringeworthy moment with three young children coming out as accountants), transgender people (the skit with Tracy Jordan as The Danish Girl was played for "man-in-a-dress" laughs), and gay men (comparing Sam Smith to George Michael just because they're both gay and British).  Without these sorts of additional discussions, his ask for more inclusion and diversity fell flat.

-A couple of other notes before we get into the three most baffling moments of the night.  Whoever is in charge of selecting the music for presenters needs to be fired, as it took until Louis Gossett, Jr. to get someone paired correctly with their songs, and resulted in uncomfortable moments like Whoopi Goldberg walking out to "What's Love Got to Do With It" despite that role being played by a different black actress, Angela Bassett.  Come to think of it, can the orchestra also find a way to not play off important political speeches, as trying to get someone talking about climate change or their film's subject's horrible oppression played off is wrong and we shouldn't be taking away that voice of a winner?  Finally, the GIF that circulated everywhere on the internet was of Jenny Beavan walking down the aisle after winning her second Oscar and watching as a slew of men randomly judged her on her outfit and didn't applaud.  You can see it here, and I don't see anything but a shame moment for the likes of Tom McCarthy, Quincy Jones, Lou Gossett, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (there were others there but I couldn't pick them out).

The Unexplainable

-What the hell was with the Stacey Dash sketch?  I don't even mean this as an obvious slam on Stacey Dash, who probably wanted to show she was in on the joke of her being a pariah in the African-American community, but it felt rushed and it wasn't really obvious what was supposed to be funny to all of us in that moment.  I don't even think Rock or Dash really got what was going on there, but just wanted to throw out a WTF moment to confuse the audience once they both found out they'd be game for such a situation.  This actually could have been funny, but it probably would have been a video-scripted moment and Dash would have had to lampoon herself a lot harder to make it work.

-What Sam Smith meant to say was that Ian McKellen complained about no openly gay men having won an Oscar for acting, and Sir Ian is right there.  Just to clarify before I point out how ridiculous Sam Smith, whose song I don't actually mind (I've never gotten the vitriol over it), looked as his live performance was laughably bad and who clearly should have prepped his speech a little better before dismissing the likes of J. Roy Helland, Elton John, Dustin Lance Black, and I'm sure myriad others.  At least the beard was working for him.

-Finally, if there's a way to ban Sacha Baron Cohen from ever presenting at the Oscars again, can I please sign up for it?  His skit was stale years ago and felt like a horribly timed moment to coincide with Room, which is a psychological study that he totally dismissed with callousness.  Thank goodness Brie Larson won later on if only to remind people it's a marvelous picture that deserved a lot more respect.

There you have it folks!  I'll do a fashion rundown tomorrow, but in the meantime what did you think of last night?  What are your thoughts on Rock's provocative hosting gig?  And where did you land on the winners?  Share in the comments!

No comments: