Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"It sucks to be a Storm Trooper with a heart..."

Oscar Post-Mortem

Five Things about the Oscars, plus (a blog first!) a reader mailbag...

1. My picks:
I went 16 for 24 this year (just like last year, oddly), though I should note that, after I posted my picks online, I went back and listened to the two nominated songs from Slumdog and realized that I had the titles mixed up, and the one I thought was going to win (and did win--"Jai Ho," from the closing credits) was not the one I selected. (Yes, I included it as part of my sixteen, since I picked it correctly in the Oscar night pool).

2. Films, by number of Oscars won: Slumdog: 8 (picture, director, adapted screenplay, original song, original score, cinematography, sound mixing, editing); Benjamin Button: 3 (visual effects, makeup, art direction); Milk: 2 (original screenplay, actor); TDK: 2 (sound editing, supporting actor); Wall-E: 1 (animated); The Reader: 1 (actress); VCB: 1 (supporting actress); The Duchess: 1 (costume--nailed it!); Man on Wire: 1 (documentary). For anyone keeping track, my Top Five of '08 hauled in a measly three awards--supporting actor, sound editing, animated--or, the same number as Benjamin Button. Even more impressively, my Top Ten bagged...three awards. Goddammit.

Of note is that, according to my research, Slumdog is only the fourth movie in the last fifty years (I didn't go back beyond Ben Hur) to win Best Picture without receiving any acting nominations. Guesses for the other three? Hint: they've all happened in the last 25 years. (Here's the list of winners, but no cheating beyond that.)

3. The show itself--what I liked:

(a) Steve Martin and Tina Fey: hilarious (as always).

(b) the movie from start to finish gimmick: (though as Viktor, who I watched the show with, pointed out, that means they really should've done Best Picture immediately after the Screenplay awards, since "without a producer getting involved, these things just don't get made"--fair enough). Although I have to admit that I didn't even realize they were doing it that way until about an hour in...and it really didn't add all that much to telecast (though it did help move things along, since the same presenter would often give out consecutive awards).

(c) Hugh Jackman, for the most part:
The cheap opening set was a pretty good gag, as was bringing out Anne Hathaway (as many may know: I'm a big fan). I also liked the bit where Jackman "admitted" he hadn't seen The Reader, which was pretty hilarious. (I'm more or less positive, btw, that Billy Crystal used that same bit during one of his eight stints as Oscar host, but I perused the Best Picture nominees for each of those years, and nothing jumped out at me. Does anyone remember this? Here's the master list if you're interested--he first hosted in 1990, last in 2004.)

(d) Apatow's comedy short: funny, funny stuff, especially the parts where they were laughing at the serious movies. This five minute segment is, somewhat uncomfortably, more entertaining than the last hour of Pineapple Express.

(e) that Jerry Lewis's lifetime achievement (him?) acceptance speech was mercifully brief:
I still have flashbacks to Warren Beatty's interminable speech after receiving the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the '07 Globes (this was compounded by his clip package being tremendously awkward, as it stopped abruptly--or, at least, should have--after Bugsy). Nice work, Professor.

(f) that the guy that wrote the score for Slumdog Millionaire (A.R. Rahman) actually sang (on the soundtrack and during the show) the two original songs that were nominated: impressive. Suck on that, Hans Zimmer.

4. What I didn't like

(a) the second musical number: Oh, my. How many different ways can I describe this as unnecessary? (Several...fortunately, I won't subject you to it.) Suffice to say, it's somewhat hypocritical of the Powers That Be to publicly fret over running time*, then subject viewers to an incredibly self-indulgent musical number about musicals themselves. Also: I tuned in to watch the Oscars, not the Tonys.

* = including only offering the three Best Song nominees three minutes (total) to perform their songs. (And, yeah, earlier I bagged on Peter Gabriel for not participating, but I've come around on this one.)

(b) the fact that Jackman didn't even attempt a monologue:
if only so I could've criticized him for paling in comparison to Jon Stewart. (Note: stop blaming JS for the shitty ratings. You want big numbers, try nominating a $100 million movie for Best Picture...)

(c) the "five former winners announcing the nominees in the four acting categories" thing
: because there's nothing more endearing than actors lavishly praising other actors (endearing means "douchey," right?). For one thing, these segments went on forever--they did the Best Supporting Actress one almost immediately after the show started (at, say, 8:45), and, for a moment, I was panic-stricken that we would miss the last subway* home). Furthermore: we didn't get to see clips from the performances! Major misstep...and something I hope they scrap next year.

* = 1:44 a.m.

(d) Stiller's wandering during the Best Cinematography presentation:
Look, the Joaquin Phoenix impression was actually pretty good (though it has a shelf life of approximately 70 days--it's almost instantly dated and will make absolutely no sense to anyone in even five years...), as was Portman's throwaway line about Stiller looking like he worked in a "Hassidic meth lab" (which didn't get the response it deserved), but Stiller deciding to wander around aimlessly while Portman announced the nominees for Best Cinematography, thus leading to the unfortunate situation wherein the crowd appeared to be laughing at the kick-ass footage from The Dark Knight, Slumdog, et al.? Totally shitty. Are you so fucking egomaniacal that you have to take attention away from cinematographers (Vik informs me they're technically "directors of photography")...who are lavished with praise for all of four minutes every year (two minutes at the Golden Globes, two minutes here)? Kind of a dick move.

(e) Penn over Rourke:
bums me out. Will Mickey ever get this close again? The odds are stacked against him. My big thing is, while I thought Sean Penn did a great job as Harvey Milk, I feel like several other people could have played this role (Jon Hamm?) without the movie suffering much at all (or: at all), while The Wrestler only works with Rourke.

(f) BB > TDK: twice. Let's recap. The makeup people for BB: made Cate Blanchett look old; made Brad Pitt look very old; made Brad Pitt look like Brad Pitt; then, later, made Brad Pitt look like a slightly younger version of Brad Pitt. The makeup people for The Dark Knight, on the other hand: were responsible for the Joker (arguably, the best use of makeup in the past quarter century). That said, the guys over at /Film (a site and podcast I highly recommend) are adamant that Hellboy II (a movie I haven't seen) should've been the clear winner, so who knows?

The visual effects snub is even more infuriating. Are we really supposed to believe that digitally transferring Brad Pitt's face onto a tiny old man's body is even in the same realm of impressiveness as the cold open bank robbery in TDK, or the chase scene through Gotham City?? Carrie, Shuk, and I went opening night, and the entire theatre burst into applause when Batman did that jump turn off the wall on his Batbike (is it really called that?)--and that was like the 8th or 9th coolest part of that scene. Can anyone vouch for something similar in Benjamin Button? (I do believe Misha applauded when the credits started, but he was being facetious, so that doesn't count...). Gah.

(g) that I didn't bet the over on Slumdog taking home 4.5 or more Oscars: I'm obviously an idiot. I mean, I projected seven or eight on Saturday night. Totally gutless.

5. Reader mail
(which, admittedly, is actually just the comments to my Oscar preview that I'm pretending are mailbag questions):
Quesion Mark Said...

1. Fincher's SIXTH best movie (yes, I'd put Button behind Panic Room)

2. Wow, I didn't know they used some CGI for Eckhart's makeup. Huh...that's a bit of a 'corked bat' moment. Hellboy 2 really should win this hands-down, but it may have been hard to tell exactly what was makeup and what was CGI.

3. Wow, did I really miss the boat in not seeing the new Hulk movie? Top twelve? Wow.
1. I dunno man, Panic Room was kinda lame. The most intriguing part of the movie was whether or not that was supposed to be Jodie Foster's son or daughter. (Answer: daughter...it turns out that girl was Kristen Stewart. Huh.)

2. see 4(f).

3. If you can get past Liv Tyler's inexplicable decision to whisper every single line she has, I think you'll find The Incredible Hulk to be very satisfying. The climactic battle--shot on the streets of Toronto--is the closest I've seen a superhero movie come to rivaling the awesomeness of Superman vs. The Kryptonians street fight in Metropolis (my major beef with other movies that have attempted this: when incredibly strong entities throw other incredibly strong entities into objects, the damage should be catastrophic.)
Per Dog Per Day said...

This is super childish, and I'm not going to get into an analysis, but how is Pineapple Express worse than Young People Doing It?
It has a lot to do with expectations, frankly. PE was billed as this riotous stoner comedy/legitimately entertaining action movie, when, in reality, it was only half of that...and only about half the time. I was openly checking my watch during the second hour (and, if I recall correctly, trying to get Carrie to knock me unconscious every time Rosie Perez--how did she not win a Razzie?--was onscreen).

YPF, on the other hand, didn't seem to promise a lot (small, Canadian movie) but delivered a fair bit. Of the five stories, two worked pretty nicely (The Roommate and The First Date), one was legitimately sweet (The Best Friends), one was mildly forgettable (The Exes), and one kinda fell flat (The Married Couple--which had a couple of good laughs, but was fairly uninspired). All in all: there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes. I'm curious why you're so down on this one.
Taylor said...

First off,
Benjamin Button was excellent. I've heard people say there was not much to it, but it was a good drama. Did you want him to go to war to make it even more like Forrest Gump or something? Not sure what you guys were expecting.
My brother...and erstwhile blog commenter...who only seems to comment when he appears to deliberately misread my comments. First of all, given that I thought TCCOBB was already too much like FG, why would I want it to be more like it? (Also, he did sort of go to war...during that hard-to-follow boat shootout with the Germans.) As for it being "excellent," well, I mean, I pretty clearly disagree. It wasn't terrible by any stretch, but was entirely too long (did we really need the stuff in present day New Orleans? Or the extended sequence where we were shown the chain of events leading up to that thing that happens to Cate Blanchett in Paris? Thank Christ Slumdog Millionaire--which, if you liked Button, you will find so good that you may actually poop your pants in the theatre--won best editing. I don't even know if it's good drama. What was dramatic about it? Were you at all surprised that he, ultimately, got the girl? What was the point of him aging backwards? What did we learn from that? I would argue that the only part that qualifies as dramatic is the final thirty minutes, which isn't so much tense as fucking agonizing (and that's not meant as an insult--it was well done, but very difficult to watch).
Secondly, your top 30 list has a few surprises:

1) I would have thought you'd like
Burn After Reading more.

2) I'm going to call bullshit on your #1 pick, mostly because I think you wanted to shock us by picking
Iron Man over The Dark Knight. There's no way you enjoyed it more than The Dark Knight or, say, Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
1. First of all, don't steal my "I'm going to call bullshit..." line. I won that fair and square from Television Without Pity in a truth-telling contest two counties over.

BAR was pretty funny, but not terribly memorable (and doesn't so much end as just stop).

3. First, there's a difference between "best movie" and "most rewatchable movie." Comedies tend to win in the latter category. For instance, Step Brothers is (to my mind) clearly the most re-watchable movie of '08--FSM is #2...then probably TDK. Putting Dark Knight third may seem unfair, but you have to remember that it clocks in at 160 minutes, so you have to be pretty motivated to want to watch it at 2 in the morning. But, more importantly, why in the world would I want to fool people into thinking that Iron Man was my favorite movie of the year? Who am I trying to impress? (Travis?) I went back and forth between Wall*E, Iron Man, and The Dark Knight probably a dozen times between July and now...and I eventually settled on Iron Man because I remember walking out of the theatre and thinking: "I couldn't possibly be more satisfied with a movie." The Dark Knight, undeniably, has better set pieces, is the more "serious" movie, and more epic in scope, but it wasn't funny like Iron Man (I'll submit that the scene where Stark flies for the first time--which ends with him crashing back into his mansion--is the funniest scene in any movie last year). Nor did it capture (because, well, Batman's really not built that way) that rush of adrenaline that the hero gets from fighting crime. Nor did it have RDJ.

(What's especially intriguing about this discussion is that I know for a fact that you weren't bowled over by the third act of
The Dark Knight, so it's not like comparing the two films is totally outrageous.)


Jesse said...

Perhaps you've slipped and hit the nail with your head; I had high expectations for YPF (as in, I thought it would actually be funny), and low expectations for PE (I hate stoner comedies).

I was more satisfied with Wall-E than with TDK or Ironman. Ledger was ridiculous, but I didn't think the ending was successfully teased out (why, precisely, did Batman have to be blamed for those murders instead of Two Face? Wasn't the Joker on the loose? Didn't he have a gang?), and, as previously noted, Christian Bale sucks, his Batman voice sucks, and Christian Bale sucks. And Ironman was solid; funny, interesting, etc. But I wasn't blown away.

Wall-E, on the other hand, was really something else. I'm outraged it didn't win original screenplay, by the way; even though I know "original" just means "not adapted", there should be points for originality. And Wall-E was brilliantly original.

Looking forward to your next mailbag.

The R.O.B. said...

Agree with Rosie. Love the mail-bag format.

Completely agree with your comments on Rourke/Penn thing. I said before, I was a little disturbed my Penn's - I Am Sam retarded manerisms - and thought it was a really moving story, but I'm not sure how big a part Penn had in that.

I think the - who else could've played Rourke's character comment - was right on...

Hal Incandenza said...

Thanks, Robbie. Dunno how frequent the mailbag thing will be (unless I start making up questions...which I'm pretty sure is what Simmons does on occasion now). Next one will probably be for the NCAA Tourney...so start brainstorming.

Jesse, I'm with you completely on the Third Act problems in TDK (I'm not with you at all on the Bale thing, as I've only really disliked him in one film--American Psycho--though the Batman voice was a bit much at times). Aside from the ferry subplot (which was kinda cool, but seemed to belong in a different movie), the real problem is I don't think Nolan did quite enough to set Dent up as Gotham's savior. Basically, he holds one press conference and the city falls in love with him? Not terribly believable (it's very much a FOTC-esque "We'll never make it. There's thousands of them and only nine of us...[beat] We made it" moment, to my mind). Consequently, when Batman and Gordon discover what Two-Face has wrought, and Batman insists he has to take the blame (lest the city be crushed), it doesn't quite resonate like it should.

My one other beef--alluded to in my response to Taylor--is that, Joker's occasional moments of levity aside, TDK takes itself so brutally seriously. Contrast this with Batman Begins, which I think is a bit more light-hearted (Katie Holmes as an ADA? I'm laughing already!)

And, yeah, Wall*E was fucking fabulous.

Hal Incandenza said...

Oh...and it's been my experience that HIGH EXPECTATIONS + CANADIAN-MADE FILM rarely yields positive results.

Jesse said...

I'll refer you to a little film I like to call "Men With Brooms", sir.

I suppose I thought they'd done enough to establish that Harvey Dent was really important by "just telling us", but I can't disagree. My issue was that they didn't bother explaining why Batman had to take the blame, instead of blaming it on someone else. Like the Joker.

Taylor said...

I think the point is that he's willing to take the blame because he cares more about Gotham City than he does about himself.

You're right: the third act was not as good as the first two. It was mostly the ferry scene that bothered me because there was nothing to it. As evil as this makes me sound, if both ships are going to blow up at midnight unless one blows up the other, then (it's not rocket science) blow the other one up first!!! I also wasn't a huge of Iron Man's ending fighting scene. It reminded me of the fighting scene at the end of Transformers: for the climax of the movie, it wasn't that great of a fight and not all that easy to follow.

BB - Drama: To see if, while ageing backwards (i.e. while living a different style of life than others), he could still enjoy and experience a somewhat normal life (examples: his relationship with Tilda Swinton, and growing and learning under the wing of the captain of the boat before becoming a man (after the submarine encounter)). I guess I'm just surprised that neither you or Mark are willing to even call it "good".

And you're a jerk for making me look up "erstwhile".

Kyle and Mark, check out sourmath.com for a great article about the various themes in BB.

Sean said...

While Rourke might have deserved best actor, we all should have seen a Sean Penn victory coming after the SAGS. Oh, and because he's Sean Penn. I suspect that Rourke has burned a lot of voting-academy-member bridges in the past.

I took my Oscar pool with 19/24, despite getting shut out of the sound categories with an ill-advised decision to go Slumdog for mixing and Wall-E for editing.
I redeemed myself with Departures for Foreign Film.