Monday, February 26, 2007

Oscar Telecast Report Card

This year's Oscar telecast was richer in its emotions and more fleet and creative in its execution than almost any of the movies that opened last year, and while that sounds like a backhanded compliment, what I truly mean to say is that I was touched and entertained by the show, moved to moments of very fond reflection on movies to which I don't otherwise feel much connection, deliriously happy to see The Departed emerge as the big winner in all four categories where it absolutely deserved to, and impressed by the candor, sincerity, and concise eloquence of so many winners.

As of 4am, I've already watched the telecast twice, and I'm sure these won't be the last. Fair enough—that's pretty much how I roll anyway. But this year actually felt special. Tomorrow or the next day, after I've caught up on some sleep, I might run through some more of the particular highs and lows for this broadcast, but I can't go to bed without sharing Numero Uno:

The Focus on Film Somehow, Oscar almost never takes this obvious lesson, but the Academy Awards show should entertain a wide audience while also serving an ambassadorial, gently informative purpose for all of the arts it recognizes within commercial filmmaking. Repeatedly, Laura Ziskin's telecast bridged the gap between insider know-how and popular perspectives by bringing the "technical" awards (which really are artistic awards!) to clear, thrilling life: through the brilliant use of the Sound Effects chorus, the multi-screen demonstrations of film editing, the well-staged tableaus of the nominated costumes, the snapshots of sound engineers and visual effects supervisors practicing their crafts in quick, clear glimpses. The montage of scenes from Foreign Language-Film winners ceded a well-earned spotlight to a perennially trivialized category, making a good case for viewers to follow up on La Strada and Z and Dersu Uzala and Closely Watched Trains. Errol Morris' opening montage of nominees was also equalizing and accommodating of a full range of nominees, ranging from celebrity actors to documentarians to composers. For once, this show actually seemed to love the cinema, not just the clothes and the self-congratulation, and it demonstrated an eagerness to explain and to share that love.

Otherwise... Hooray for Marty and The Departed and the lovely, articulate Thelma Schoonmaker, Hooray for the heartwarming win for The Danish Poet in Animated Short Film, Hooray for new Oscar winner Ari Sandel's lovely stump-speech on behalf of live-action short films, Hooray for Al and Leo's earnest pitch about Greening the Oscars and resisting climate change (which made its point beautifully without coming across as flaky or empty idealism, like Richard Gere turning on his heart-light to Mao Tse-tung), Hooray for Ellen, Hooray for deft play-along improvs from Scorsese, Streep, Eastwood, and Wahlberg, Hooray for Robert Downey Jr. shucking the TelePrompTer and cracking a great joke, Hooray to Ennio Morricone for expressing his gratitude and generosity in Italian, Hooray to Clint Eastwood for translating on the spot, and a huge Hooray to the speeches by Forest Whitaker, Melissa Etheridge, Alan Arkin, Michael Arndt, Milena Canonero, and all of the others that implied a strong sense of the winners' individual personality while also saying something clear, admirable, diplomatic, and impassioned that all of us could relate to. A shame about Jerry Seinfeld, the writers-on-film montage, the Jack/Will/John schtick, and the same old boring-presenter twaddle, but all in all, this was an exemplary telecast. A–

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Blogger tim r said...

Really? Admittedly I only skim-watched after landing this morning, but if ever it looked, to these jaded and jet-lagged eyes, like an Oscar year I could miss without too much chagrin...

I take your point about a sincere love of film there and some proper, intelligent commentary on a lot of the categories, rather than the usual trite blather. But where was the controversy? The knockout jokes? The suspense? The off-the-cuff weirdness I want?

Kinda seems both of us feel about this year's ceremony (and awards) the exact same way we feel about The Departed -- for you energising and peppy, for me predictable and a little anonymous. Or maybe I'm just in a post-NYC funk.

Pleased, all the same, for Scorsese, Arkin, Arndt, Whitaker, Canonero, those Pan's Labyrinth make-up guys...

...bummed for Lubezki, Del Toro (even though I'm so-so on that film too), and all four score composers other than Santaolalla. Gustavo completely deserved his win for Brokeback last year, but that Babel theme they were constantly playing was written ten years ago, I tell you! He ought to have blushed, winning for that.

7:47 AM, February 26, 2007  
Blogger Glenn Dunks said...

I also quite liked them too! Although I thought they went overboard on the montages and the costume design bit was actually sort of embarassing.

Agreed on the foreign language thing. I really want to see a lot of those movies! I don't wanna see La Strada again though. That's just too much twee for me to handle.

10:15 AM, February 26, 2007  
Blogger J.J. said...

Liked the telecast very much, but I thought the Arkin win was pretty embarrassing. I'm sure he was embarrassed himself. And a bad speech. This guy helped start Second City? C'mon, where's the ease and improv?

10:37 AM, February 26, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

More than the sincere gratitude of many of the winners, what stuck with me was the completely rude way the orchestra was practically shoving everyone off the stage, especially egregious when it was clear that English was not their native language.

Also, Lubezki's loss took all the wind out of my sails. I was preparing for it, but still ... it was the one award I cared about last night, esp. since everything else seemed to be a foregone conclusion.

10:38 AM, February 26, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I give it a B+. I really, really loved Ellen! I loved the way she'd draw out a joke (like in the opening monologue about how terrible it must be to lose) just a few lines past where you'd think it should end.

Not wild about Michael Mann's montage--it seemed a poor lead-in to the editing award, as it was so badly edited. But so many other things were fabulous, like the foreign film montage and Errol Morris's opening montage. Loved Al Gore and the lame-but-not "are you going to run" jokes. I actually liked the Jack-Will-John song. I liked the way they toned down the "get off the stage" music--I'm against it on principle, but this cautious piano is so much more respectful than the crashing orchestra they used last year.

Overall, I'm very happy, and I hope hope hope Ellen comes back next year.

11:06 AM, February 26, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My primary emotion was overwhelming relief that Little Miss Sunshine or Babel (or, frankly, The Queen) didn't take Best Picture. But I agree about the speeches--remarkably gracious and inclusive. Random details about the ceremony that stuck in my mind:
--Did Mark Wahlberg really appreciate being introduced as playing the sort of cop who arrested him in his truant youth? That seemed a graceless move on the Oscar writers part at this moment of public recognition.
--What was with the floating movie one-liners in the Oscar graphics, and why did it seem that "Well do ya punk??" perpetually hovered right below whatever clip was being shown? It was kind of funny.
--Another Oscar writers' misstep: the Cinematography intro, which said that "thanks to YouTube, everyone is now a cinematographer." I can imagine professional cinematographers grumbling over that.
--Favorite category for that multi-panel Dynasty-credit thing they were doing for each raft of nominees: the five actresses for Best Supporting Actress--with Abigail Breslin staring out owllike and adorably bellyriffic in the center panel.
--Weren't we coming close to a New Agey cultic he-changed-my-life vibe surrounding every mention of Al Gore? I think it was amusing--the result of having the usual issue-blather this time having a focus in a particular mascot.

12:21 PM, February 26, 2007  
Blogger ANN said...

Your summary, par usual, is much more graceful and kind than mine...I was just so happily stunned they were airing over here that I didn't know what to do with myself! Oh...who am I kidding? I was just as catty as I would've been sitting in your living room...

1:20 PM, February 26, 2007  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

i thought it was an exemplary show as well but I was less coherent in detailing why so thank you.

i am so very tired now...

5:42 PM, February 26, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Enough with the Oscars, already. Awards and awards shows are silly. We all know this.

But Nick, what I'm really dying to know is this: why the high grade for the ridiculously overheated and underwhelming (for me, at least, and I admit that I was one of those who thought HUSTLE AND FLOW was, at best, an ABC After-School Special with profanity) BLACK SNAKE MOAN?

11:42 AM, March 04, 2007  
Blogger RC said...

i certainly agree with your appreciation.

--RC of

11:52 PM, March 06, 2007  

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