Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Oscars

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I used to care about the Oscars, even while seeing right through them, back when I was in college and wrote Oscar previews and reviews for The Tufts Daily, back when I used to go see pretty much every major release in the theaters, back before I had kids. Now I wait for them to come out on DVD (and now, even more eagerly, on Blu-Ray for my big-screen HDTV). And so I haven't yet seen most of the nominated movies. Still, I'm watching, while blogging, and here are a few thoughts:

1) Hugh Jackman? Very well done. A really entertaining opening number. I even liked the Mamma Mia! ode-to-musicals number. (I actually liked Jon Stewart, and am a huge fan of his, but he just wasn't right for the Oscars.)

2) Heath Ledger? Of course. It's one of the few performances I've ever seen that actually lives up to the hype. I also liked Robert Downey Jr., one of the very best actors of our time, in Tropic Thunder, an otherwise overblown, if occasionally quite funny, satire.

3) Another Best Supporting Actress Oscar for a Woody Allen film. I'm actually looking forward to this one -- and I haven't for some time. (I love Woody Allen and have a whole shelf devoted to my Woody Allen DVDs, but his last several films have been, for the most part, disappointing, to put it mildly.)

4) Tina Fey and Steve Martin presenting the screenplay Oscars. Very, very funny. Too bad Martin isn't funny anymore otherwise, at least judging by his recent movies.

5) Man on Wire. Yes! I'm eager to see the other nominated documentaries, but I loved, and was terrified by, Man on Wire. A fantastic, fantastic film, one that stays with me long after seeing it.

6) How is it possible that Springsteen wasn't nominated for his song from The Wrestler? Oh, right, because the Academy often doesn't have a clue.

7) Couldn't Will Smith host the Oscars? (I'm not always fan of his movies -- in fact, I'm usually not -- but he's a funny, talented guy who gets what the Oscars are about: Hollywood's self-aggrandizement.)

8) Looking ahead:

-- Movies I'm most looking forward to seeing (in order) Milk, The Wrestler, Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Doubt, Rachel Getting Married, Frozen River, Happy-Go-Lucky, The Visitor. Add to the list the foreign language nominees. All of them.

-- Three movies I'm not looking forward to seeing whatsoever (but probably will, and will probably complain about): The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Pitt playing Pitt, and all so predictable), Revolutionary Road (seriously, how much more suburban angst/anger do we have to endure?), and The Reader (letting the German people off the hook for the Holocaust). No, I'm not much of a Kate Winslet fan, as good as she is (I suppose).

-- One movie I have no interest in seeing whatsoever (and not just because I dislike Angelina Jolie): Changeling. (I don't much care for Clint Eastwood-as-director anymore, with the noted exception of Letters from Iwo Jima, a truly brilliant film, and one of my favourites of recent years.)

9) Why haven't I seen Wall-E yet? It's surely at the top of my must-see list. I'd also like to see Hellboy II. But then I suppose I should really see the first one first. And I suppose I should see the un-nominated Gran Torino, even though I'm not really looking forward to seeing Eastwood as an aged Dirty Harry caricature (not that Dirty Harry himself wasn't a caricature).

10) Where can I find the Short Film (Live Action) nominees? They look great, as usual.

More later.

11) Alright, no surprises in the major categories. I thought the Best Actor race was about even between Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke (though I thought Rourke might just pull it off). Interestingly, Penn was the safer pick for once, given that he was up against the out-of-the-mainstream eccentricity that is Rourke. And I suppose a movie about gay rights (if also about what happened to a specific person, Harvey Milk), particularly in the wake of California's Prop 8 vote in November, plays better to Hollywood's sensibilities (and political inclinations) even than the undeniably inspirational art-imitates-life story of Rourke's comeback from oblivion.

12) I'm still not a Kate Winslet fan.

13) And Slumdog wins it (both Best Picture and Best Director, for Danny Boyle), as expected, in a year that seemed to lack a truly great picture, like No Country for Old Men, and that was, overall, from what critics have been saying, fairly disappointing. It's hard to imagine that, years from now, Slumdog will be remembered as one of the great Oscar winners, but, well, who knows? I'll give it a shot. I suspect it's better than some of the Oscar winners I've disliked (Forrest Gump, The Departed, Million Dollar Baby) or truly loathed (Braveheart, Titanic) or thought were mediocre at best (Shakespeare in Love, Chicago, Crash). In other words, it's not like the Oscars are always, or even usually, about excellence, or that the winners actually merit their awards, which they often don't. (For true cinematic excellence, we have The Criterion Collection.) As for the Oscars, well, at least tonight's show was entertaining.

And that's it. Good night.

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