Saturday, March 05, 2011

Chewing the Oscars: Getting Down and Dirty

When I was a little girl there was a tradition in our small farming community. The minister/ preacher/ brother, the title varied, was invited to a parishioner’s home for dinner every Sunday after church along with his wife and children. We will use Preacher Man here, because the preacher was always a man, and he at least attempted to preach. The Preacher Man’s invitations were rotated among the members.

My grandmother was known for her chicken and dumplings, or fried chicken, fruit cobblers and chocolate banana pudding, but mostly her biscuits. That meant she cooked dinner, served shortly after noon, for the Preacher Man about every six months. When the Preacher Man was coming to Sunday dinner, we were assured of an interesting afternoon whether any children tagged along, or not, and it grew more interesting as I got older.

After the dessert, Preacher Man would loosen his belt and say something like, “Well, I guess it is time for us grownups to chew the sermon.” That was the children’s cure to skedaddle.

I never went into the hallway or out into the yard to play with the others. I hid behind the kitchen door and listened. Preacher Man would ask, “What did you think?” Sometimes, the conversation became heated but it never came to blows. After all, everyone at the table pretty much had the same religious beliefs.

Why am I writing this here? Because, after viewing the 83rd Academy Awards, I really feel like "chewing" the recent awards. For the winners, please read the previous post.

First of all, the hosts for the evening, Anne Hathaway and James Franco, have been taking a lot of flack from the critics for a boring show. In my post, December 4, 2010, “Not Thrilled with the Oscar Host Picks,” I wrote much less strongly than I felt about the choice of the inexperienced Hathaway and Franco. I decided to walk lightly, but I definitely had my doubts that either alone, or both together, could carry the show.

Franco and Hathaway were chosen and hired by the producers, Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer, and as Craig Ferguson said so emphatically on his show the following night, “The blame for their performances rests squarely on the people who hired them.” I want to add that some of that blame should also go to the writers for the lines and “stage business” they wrote for them say and do.

A little over half way into the show, there was video of the late, great Bob Hope, the best television host the Oscars ever had. It was meant to be a tribute, but I immediately thought, “Oh, gee, I wish we had Bob Hope tonight instead of . . .” The producers chose Billy Chrystal to give the tribute, pouring salt into the wound. I think Chrystal follows behind Hope and Johnny Carson in the pantheon of great Oscar hosts of all time. What were they thinking?

Then, there was the elementary school chorus at the end of the show. Why? Sure, they are cute and very talented, as is their director, but the pint-size YouTube sensations have a long way to go to earn the Oscar spotlight. It was a vaudeville moment and did nothing to enhance to show.

The most abhorrent thing to me about the recent Oscar broadcasts is the deterioration of the acceptance speeches. In this recent broadcast there were 30-something speeches and they were almost all exactly the same. Except for a couple, only the names of the thanked were changed. Early on, I was yearning to hear a speech from the likes of Charlton Heston, Elizabeth Taylor, David Niven, Bette Davis, Ben Kingsley, Maureen O’Hara, or Laurence Olivier. I did not.

It seems to be in vogue now that every person is obligated to thank their spouse or significant other. Plus, there is their agent, the director and cast of the movie, their co-nominees, their parents living or dead, their children, and sometimes, their favorite elementary school teacher. Heck, they may even praise their dog. Enough is enough. Really!

I think the best speech of the evening was that of the writer for the original screenplay, The King's Speech, David Seidler. He opened with, "I have been told that I am a late bloomer." The story behind Mr. Seidler's writing of the screenplay is almost as interesting as the movie. That story was not told during the Oscars, but it is worth a Google. 

There are two other problems that must be mentioned. The Academy opened the Best Feature Motion Picture up to 10 films in order to give more movies a chance and, hopefully, increase viewership in the process, but I do not see it working well at all.

One director friend quipped to me, “It is so much better to be ranked one in the five best films of the year than one in ten.”

I agree. I think they should go back to five. Ten are more expensive to showcase than five, and they are not gaining anymore viewers with those additional nominations, so adding five more films has not been cost effective. Also, more than five films muddles the nomination process since the supporting categories only allow for five each (director, etc.)

Neither has it been productive to change the voting process from what it was a decade ago. Two cases in point, the Best Foreign Language Feature Film and the Best Feature Documentary.

Starting with the foreign language film, the movie from Mexico, Biutiful, in Spanish, and starring the box office draw Javier Bardem, who also received a best actor nomination for his role in the movie. Biutiful was directed by Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, Amores Perrors). In the final vote, it was passed over for the movie In a Better World (Hævnen) from Demark.

In a Better World is in Danish, Swedish, and some English. It is directed by Susanne Bier, and rated R for language as well as violent and disturbing content, some involving preteens. I do not like the choice.

Bier has directed one American movie, After the Fire, and her Danish movie Efter brylluppet (After the Wedding, 2006) was nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film Category for that year, but lost to The Lives of Others, a German film directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. I saw both movies and After the Wedding did not hold a candle to The Lives of Others. There, the Academy members made the best choice.

I have no idea how the Greek movie Dogtooth received a nomination in this category this year. It is the most vile and disgusting movie I have ever seen.

For one thing, I do not see Americans rushing to see In a Better World, or buying the DVD, so they can frantically read subtitles. I admit the Castilian Spanish and Catalan are not familiar to most Americans, but about 40 per cent of Americans can speak or understand the Spanish spoken in Mexico, the USA, and in the movie, Biutiful.

What is the reasoning for these seemingly irrational choices? For the Best Foreign Language Film Category, the actual selection up until the final vote is done by committees appointed by the Academy. One committee starts with X amount of films submitted to the Academy by countries around the world, and finally, it picks nine.

Then, it gets complicated, but somehow members in New York and Los Angeles vote for their choice, then, another committee picks five from which the nominations come. All Academy members may vote for this category on the final ballot, but only after being certified as having seen all five nominated films, or something like that.

The way I understand it, Academy members are not allowed to vote for the best feature documentary, even if they have seen all the documentary films. Only a small number of individuals form a committee, selected from Academy members who have been involved with documentary film making.

This select group starts with a list of 15 documentaries to consider, and finally narrows the field to five. Then, this committee votes for the winner. So, it is their own kind voting for their own kind, and I think it is wrong. If I am wrong, please enlighten me.

The final choice of the committee was Inside Job, directed by Charles H. Ferguson and produced by Audrey Marrs. Inside Job takes an extensive look at the financial meltdown, starting with Wall Street in 2008, and the causes. Three years ago, Ferguson was nominated for No End in Sight, about the American occupation of Iraq.

This year, he addressed the audience with the statement, "Not a single financial executive has gone to jail and that is wrong." He received a substantial round of applause with the statuette.

What about the documentary feature directed by Davis Guggenheim, Waiting for Superman? It was released to good reviews. It did not make the final list for a nomination.

One major problem with the Academy Awards broadcast is that for almost five years, the Academy has been giving tryouts to various producers and hosts. Few, if any, have passed the test. Each year the producers have gone overboard trying to come up with irrelevant stage business and everything else other than aiming for a sophisticated, interesting, cultural experience.

The Academy dream machine has developed a hiccup by trying to be all things to everyman and every woman. Plus, this year they desperately tried to prove how hip they were with social media, and the set was much too "busy," and distracting. In addition, perhaps someone will have the sense to at least introduce the recipient at the Governor's Ball of the Honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement in Film. That would be a very kind thing, and I miss it.

Therefore, I would like to nominate a producer for next year whom I think has the talent and know how to right the ship of Oscar before it takes on too much pompous bombast and sinks. I think he can not only right the ship, he has the skills to produce a sophisticated first-class show.

That person is Kevin Spacey. He has proven himself at the Old Globe in England, as well as his guiding hand at the Sarajevo Film Festival, and in many other endeavors. I urge the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences’ Board of Governors to ask him to produce next year’s awards show. I encourage them to make the offer immediately. He is a busy man.

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Thank you for commenting! Mimi