Monday, February 27, 2012

It's Not Such A Wonderful Night For Oscar


 
People enjoy watching train wrecks.  Perhaps this is why The Greatest Show on Earth, with its then-spectacular and today-still not bad climatic crash, was the surprise Best Picture winner in 1952, beating out John Huston's Moulin Rouge, along with both High Noon and The Quiet Man.  Now, that was the first time the Academy Awards had been broadcast on television, and since then, the Oscars have gotten some things right, some things wrong, but despite the dwindling audience, people still watch for certain reasons:  a true love of film, some good and bad outfits, and the chance for a train wreck.

 
There seems to be some concerted effort to label the 84th Annual Academy Award ceremony/broadcast a disaster.  I don't think this is the case, certainly when compared to last year.  Billy Crystal was asked to do what he's done before: in fact, the whole REASON he hosted was to make it all look like James Franco and Anne Hathaway had never set foot on the Oscar stage.  When he showed up last year, amid the crumbling ruins of that debacle, it was seen as a sign of when the show was good.  He was asked to play it safe, and he did.  Now he's been criticized for...playing it safe. 

 
That's unfair.  He did what he's done in the past and he did it as well as he could.  However, in the past the nominees were fewer and more well-known (for the most part).  On the whole, Crystal shouldn't be held out as an example of what is wrong with the Oscars.  There are other reasons that should be held out as examples of what is wrong with the Oscars. 

This isn't to say that Crystal was up to par to his glory days or the last time he hosted (2004).  Early on it looked like his schtick was wearing thin.  The opening monologue jokes were a bit along the lines of "Take my wife...please".  His first crack, "That was Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" (in referring to his opening sequence of inserting himself into nominated films) was met with all but the crickets.  His second crack, "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.  That's how my relatives are watching", apparently did not register with the theater audience.  Maybe they were unaware that EL&IC was nominated for Best Picture...certainly almost all of America was scratching their heads on how that one got in. 

Jokewise, I think he bombed.  Still, it wasn't as if he really didn't try, but as the show went on, it took on an air of desperation, almost as if he was begging "Laugh, you 1 Percenters who think you're part of the 99 Percent".  I started to wonder if those at the Chapter 11 Theater (a joke that flew over almost everyone...who knew people don't follow the bankruptcy proceedings of the Kodak Company or that the venue was once called the Kodak Theater) or those watching were able to hear some of the zingers that fell flat.

Ultimately, the Academy wanted safe and traditional, so you can't hold Crystal at fault for doing what he did before and expect different results. 

Now, as to the winners, there actually were a few surprises.  I don't think ANYONE expected The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to win Best Editing (since I cannot bring myself to see it, I cannot say if it is deserving).  There were a few gasps when Meryl Streep won her first Oscar in twenty-nine/thirty years for The Iron Lady.  Almost everyone expected Viola Davis to win for The Help, so Streep's third Oscar was both a shock and not a surprise given how much praise it earned (rightly in my view).  Truth be told, it really was a neck-and-neck competition between them, and this was about the only category where the winner was not practically predetermined.

All the odds-makers were picking The Artist to win Best Picture and Director (Actor was a little too close to call but Jean Dujardin's joie de vivre movie star edged out George Clooney's wimp).  Hugo was rewarded with five technical awards, and that appears to be a trend in that Martin Scorsese's films win the technical categories but rarely win big prizes (example: out of The Aviator's five wins only one was in a major category--Best Supporting Actress). 

What few people are noting so far is that the Academy Awards were pretty evenly spread out among various films.  The Help and Midnight in Paris each won one out of four nominations while The Descendants and Girl With the Dragon Tattoo one out of five.  Only The Iron Lady pulled out with wins in both of the categories it was up for, while Iran's A Separation went one-for-two.  Basically, it was a Hugo vs. The Artist fight, leaving all the other films as varied as the Oscar-bait War Horse and EL&IC to the popular hits Bridesmaids, Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part II, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon empty-handed.

Now, I'd like to delve a bit into why people are drifting away from the Oscars.  The big complaint is that no one cares due to two reasons: 1.) no one's seen the nominated films, and 2.) everyone knows who's going to win.  I think on the second charge, there is validity.  With the glut of awards (Screen Actors Guild, Writer's Guild, Director's Guild, National Board of Review, etc.) people get awards fatigue when they finally roll around to the Academy Awards.

However, in regards to the first, I would argue the fault lies not in the stars...

 

 
Christopher Guest is a true comedic genius (screw you Sacha Baron Cohen, Russell Brand, Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride or Dane Cook).  He is always able to mock the situations while making the clueless people in them appear almost endearing. It could be the star-filled dreams of the regional theater's Waiting For Guffmann, the dog lovers of Best In Show, or Hollywood itself in For Your Consideration.   Without going into long details, I think it's because at heart Guest doesn't appear to set out to hold the characters to ridicule.  Quite the contrary: he appears to show a genuine fondness for them.  He appears to almost sympathize with their dreams or delusions and accepts them for all their flaws.  We don't think we're better than they are, just a little more aware than they are.

The sequence of the 'Focus Group' reacting to The Wizard of Oz was brilliant (and in a fair world, would have won Best Live-Action Short Subject).  As the saying goes, 'it's funny because it's true'.  Too often studios are willing to make films that appeal to as many people as possible without considering whether the result will be a good film.  When one of them says that the studio should cut 'the rainbow song', I laughed out loud and much more than anything Crystal said.  It is (I hope) a well-known story that MGM indeed HAD cut Over the Rainbow in a previous cut of the film.  The thought was that the song lengthened the movie...and that it was undignified for an MGM star to sing in a barnyard.  Imagine what a loss it would have been if MGM had used a 'focus group' to dictate what they should put in a movie.

Guest's short film is the perfect example of how he can show how idiotic something is, in this case Hollywood's relationship with its customers.  All the bizarre things the 'focus group' was fixated on (although Fred Willard can make anything funny...another authentic comedic genius there) would be things that a studio might rework to attempt to give an audience what it thinks it wants.

What we end up with are things like Green Lantern.

There is a simple reason why people don't know the nominated films.  It's two-fold: the studios think we're stupid, and audiences continue to show they're stupid. 

If we took other critics' advice and nominated big hits for Best Picture, this is what the Nominee List would look like in alphabetical order (Box Office in parenthesis):

Take a good, long look at the list of the nine biggest hits of 2011.  Every Single One Without Exception a Sequel (you can quibble about HP&DH, but it IS a Part II).  With only the exceptions of Fast Five, Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows, and Mission Impossible 4, all were awful.   I know many people who think this list is much better than having some "crappy silent black-and-white movie" nominated.  They've seen Transformers 3, and it was cool...there were a lot of explosions.

There was also no plot, no acting, and no point. 

If the majority of people didn't see or know about The Artist, or Hugo, or Midnight in Paris, it is because studios think these kinds of films are for a "specific" audience (i.e. those who think) and not for the general public (i.e. those who don't think).  You tell someone the phrase 'black-and-white silent film' and they instantly panic, assume the whole thing will be boring.  It is a highly prejudiced mind, and thus, when they reject something that is genuinely good (like The Artist) because in their mind it is boring, studios will continue to dull audiences with more Transformers and Hangovers, and audiences will lap it up.

It's what I've always said.  If you continue serving slop, people will soon acquire a taste for it.  They will end up liking it so much that they'll think slop is good, and if they are presented with some New York Strip, they'll reject it because the taste for slop is so ingrained virtually nothing will dissuade them that something so foreign will be good.  If it's good, then it must be boring, is the new mantra among a strong section of film-goers.  We therefore can't complain about how bad films are getting when we continue to go to see them.

There's a reason we're getting a Hangover III and Green Lantern 2.  It isn't because they were good or because we are in desperate need to see the further adventures of the Wolf Pack or Hal Jordan.  It's because a lot of people gave a lot of money to sit like zombies and not participate mentally in the stories before us. 

This is what we're facing.  I now know TWO people who think Casablanca is boring.  No explosions.  An ending they don't like.  Did I mention it's black-and-white?  While one can argue the merits of Titanic (a film I still loath years later), I cannot believe people genuinely think DOTM is a BETTER film than Casablanca

I'm here to tell you the truth: YOU, the audience, are partially responsible for the Oscars sucking.  YOU, who fear films that don't involve she-males and drunken debauchery, robots that are indistinguishable from each other, and those that have ideas to them.  Now, I am not a snob: I LOVED Fast Five (it was on my Top Sixteen List of 2011), and we all need some good junk food every now and again.  Life would be difficult if we had nothing but films by Herzog or Fellini or Bergman.  HOWEVER, we can't have nothing BUT junk food, and similarly, we can't have nothing but Transformers: Dark of the Moon or The Vow

Again and again, I keep saying that people hold the power in their hands.  It's strange to bring Syria into this, but just as the Syrians continue fighting against the monster Ass-ad because they've lost their fear, film audiences have to lose their fear of "art" films, "independent" films, and be willing to explore new things (like subtitles--perish the thought) to force the studios to make better films.

It's really up to you.  The Artist may not be a big hit, but that doesn't mean it didn't deserve to not win Best Picture.  Transformers: Dark of the Moon was a monster hit, but that doesn't mean it should win Best Picture.  Audiences control the studios.  WE have that power: it takes a certain strength to reject The Hangover Part III or Green Lantern 2 (fool me once...).  By supporting good films (and not necessarily the films critics love: I found The Tree of Life insufferable), studios will rush to try to make money out of remaking the wheel (so to speak). 

After The Passion of the Christ, studios rushed out to make Bible-based films with varying degrees of success in pursuit of "Passion Dollars".   They misread the audience, but at least it showed that nothing succeeds like success. 

I'm not the type that thinks they don't make good movies anymore.  Good movies are being made and will continue being made.  It's just up to us to support them and dump garbage like The Green Hornet or Sucker Punch or Abduction

We Hold The Power.  Let's Use It.

Free Your Mind, and The Rest Will Follow.  With films, if we follow the words of Christ we may have better films, and better Oscars:

BE NOT AFRAID.

1 comment:

  1. 'If you continue serving slop, people will soon acquire a taste for it.' That's the crux of the matter. Most people are perfectly capable of appreciating good art (and rejecting bad, once their tastes are more refined), but in terms of sheer advertising volume and availability bland blockbuster fare has a real advantage over better, smaller films.

    What's more, hackwork tends to give the studios more control and less trouble/risk than working with auteurs.

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