As promised, here is the place I will comment on the Oscars as they happen. Feel free to chime in throughout the evening…or not.
Well, I said I wasn’t going to do a post-mortem on the Oscars, and I’m really not all that interested in doing one. OK, in my perfect world, The Grand Budapest Hotel would have gotten Best Picture, Wes Anderson would have gotten Best Director and Best Screenplay, but that didn’t happen. The thing is I’m not in the least unhappy with what did win. I think Birdman is a brilliant film on every level — and about as far as you can get from the “safe” choices the Academy usually goes with. I’m actually surprised they didn’t go for Boyhood, which is a “safe” movie disguised as a bold experiment — a having and eating your cake moment for Oscar if ever there was one. Yet they passed it by. And despite the fact that I have friends who are still complaining that Boyhood was robbed, I’m glad they passed it by. Those same friends should take heart that at least American Sniper lost. (I’d add The Theory of Everything and Whiplash to the list of “at least they didn’t win” consolations, but some of them wouldn’t.)
I could certainly name things I thought were idiotic — like giving Feast an Oscar for Best Animated Short, or singling out Whiplash for Best Editing (sure, if we’re talking the last 15 minutes, but otherwise…). On the other hand, I do not get the idea that Boyhood should have been given the editing nod. The idea that there were “billions of feet” of film to sift through is absurd. Plus, there’s nothing all that complex about the way any individual segment was put together. If you had to go for a gimmick, why not the sleight of hand that made Birdman offer the illusion of being one long take? Or the changing aspect ratios of The Grand Budapest Hotel?
Truthfully, I’m more intrigued by the post-Oscar reactions than anything else at this point. Maybe it’s always this bizarre wild west show and I’m just forgetting previous years — and that’s not impossible, since I had to look up last year’s Best Picture winner. Nothing is as forgettable as the Oscars. Always remember what Josef von Sternberg said when he resigned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1932 — that it “has nothing to do with art and even less to do with science.” (OK, so he was probably pissed off over losing for Shanghai Express at the time — hard to blame him — and after his outburst, he was assured of never being nominated again.) I honestly don’t know what they have to do with — or why, except habit, we pay attention to them. I had, in fact, pretty much stopped watching or paying more than cursory attention after Ann-Margret in Tommy lost to Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Next at the 1976 awards. Then I started being a regular critic and realized — somewhat to my horror — that they kind of went with the job. (I have one friend who won’t even read my columns during Oscar season, because he just doesn’t want to hear about them.)
Some of the reactions this year I expected. I expected the Boyhood Oscar backlash. It was inevitable. I certainly expected the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the right-wingers over American Sniper going home all but empty-handed. (Winning for the Best Sound Editing hardly counts.) I was fully braced for all the “liberal elite” remarks and the how Hollywood “hates America” and the how “an American hero has been snubbed” guff. I was more surprised by some non-right-wingers opining that voters remembered Clint Eastwood’s rambling “empty chair” speech at the Republican convention. It seems to occur to no one — perhaps because it’s made a lot of money (so did Transformers: Age of Extinction) — that it might have something to do with the fact that it’s a truly mediocre movie and historically as blatant a whitewash job as Aunt Polly’s fence. That it was nominated at all certainly suggests that a chunk of the Academy has not gone off Eastwood. At least no one seems to have issues with the Production Design and Make-up Oscars that went to Grand Budapest Hotel.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing is the way the award show itself has been scrutinized. Was it bad? By definition, all Oscar shows are bad. Some just have more notable grace moments than others. This was no exception. Was Neil Patrick Harris a bad host? Think back to Anne Hathaway and James Franco and seriously ask that question again. And was there anything as shameless as the Samsung commercial disguised as Ellen Degeneres taking a “selfie” with lots of famous people? Not really, no. Harris was probably fine, which is to say he didn’t annoy me. But the writing was bad and the direction (what direction?) was even worse.
However, the ratings were down, so it must be Harris’ fault, right? It couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that seven out of the eight nominated films were art/indie titles. The only mainstream title up there was…well, American Sniper. I suppose a case could be made that the Oscars finally did have something to do with art, but that strikes me as a stretch. I would never seriously call Whiplash or The Theory of Everything art. Would it not have made more sense to nominate Guardians of the Galaxy and Gone Girl? Both strike me as nearer art and both were popular. They’d have given the general public a shouting interest in the awards. Yes, I’m fully aware that this goes against the idea of the ballot. I’m even more aware that it’s apt to give us a set of nothing but hoi polloi titles next year. Of course, it’s worth remembering that 2014 was a particularly strong year for art/indie titles — and Oscar didn’t even appear to notice a lot of them. The prospect for 2015 duplicating that seems slim, especially since most of the filmmakers responsible will be between pictures.
And by the way, lighten up a little, you folks who are all bent out of shape over Sean Penn’s quip, “Who gave this sonuvabitch a Green Card?” concerning Alejandro González Iñárritu’s seemingly endless string of wins. Come on, it was a joke — made by a friend to a friend.