Monday, February 25, 2013

Here's to the Losers!

I have to endorse the sentiment of the Oscars-closing song that Seth McFarlane and Kristen Chenoweth performed.  Rather than last night's winners, I want to praise the losers. 

There were some deserving winners, no doubt, but those were largely identified and known from their wins in the previous award shows:  Daniel Day-Lewis and Jennifer Lawrence in the lead acting roles (Lawrence was not the certain choice, but she was the likely one, and in my view an acceptable one), Anne Hathaway as supporting actress, "Amour" for foreign language film and "Brave" for animated feature, and Adele's for original song.  Les Miz for makeup and sound were well signaled, and "Life of Pi" for visual effects and cinematography were reasonable choices (though I would have picked "Zero Dark Thirty"--not nominated--in first place for cinematography, and "Skyfall" second).  Not having had opportunity to view them, I had no opinion about the shorts or documentaries.

The results in the contested, uncertain categories were the ones that struck me as perverse, misguided, or shallow. The award for Best Director was clearly up for grabs:  there had been a consistent avoidance of the obvious choice, Spielberg, through the award shows, and that Ben Affleck was unavailable for the award was too well known:  that omission had sparked the reaction which--everyone somehow knew--was bringing "Argo" from also-ran to favorite for Best Picture.  Both the selection of "Argo" and the voting for Ang Lee seemed a willful rejection of the "great film", one that was viewed as overly praised for its virtue but lacked sufficient Hollywood characteristics--"Lincoln", of course.  "Argo", on the other hand was a "great flick"--entertaining, fast and loose with its history, implausible but somehow true (at least, partially true), and so was the other surprising multi-award winner, "Django Unchained".   I had a beef with Christoph Waltz for Supporting Actor--it was a highly-competitive category with all five being both worthy and previous award winners, but for me his performance was the least of the five.

The greatest outrages of the night for me, though, were the two awards for screenplay.  Tony Kushner's painstaking,  brilliant script for "Lincoln" and Mark Boal's for "0D30" were overlooked for "Argo" and "Django Unchained"--if anything, those movies' greatest fault was the flawed execution of their storylines, redeemed in the voters' eyes by their abundant punch lines.

As for McFarlane, I would give his jokes about a 60% hit rate, not bad for a fairly stuffy audience.  He did a good job of anticipating the responses to most of his jibes (the reference to "loser" Christoph Waltz was, I think, a genuine editing mistake, but he fit most of the other notable ones into his closing song successfully).  For example, he foresaw the mixed reaction to his "I SawYour Boobs" ditty (yes, with a "d"!), and I think his dodge by putting it on tape was genius.  Recognizing the quality of the field, the idea to recognize the inevitable set of high-quality losing films and performers in the closing song was also a good notion.

I think he and the Academy would come to love each other, as happened with his wise-cracking long-term predecessor, Bob Hope. McFarlane is a post-modernist Hope, full of old-fashioned singing, dancing, and an abiding respect for old school values (including misogyny, respect for elders) well-disguised by his willingness to mouth off in nearly anyone's direction. He will have to grow up a little to hold the job long; he may not need or want to do that, as he has other, more lucrative gigs. Finally on the topic of McFarlane, something about his hairstyle--his hairline a little too regular--also stuck out; is it possible it was a toupee?  He better watch out if he wants to preserve his status with the coveted age 17-29 male demographic.

To close, I have to agree with Mick LaSalle, the San Francisco Chronicle's film critic, in his review of the award decisions:  "It's a far better thing to have good movies and bad Oscars than the reverse." So, like his, my complaints are of a lesser variety:  I would call the Oscars show, and the Academy's awards decisions, to be mediocre rather than bad.

It is high time to bring the excellent 2012 season to an end (still want to catch "Life of Pi" and "Anna Karenina", though; the former at the cinema and the latter on DVD).  As McFarlane said, just in time for the 2014 awards.

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