State of the (Oscar) Race: Dirty Tricks, The Telecast, Best Actor, and Best Song

Here’s a continuation of my discussion with the fantastic Oscar savant, My Movie Going Friend:

E: So let’s get upset about something else.  Mo’Nique we knew will win, and agree that she should.  Christoph Waltz I need to save for when I’ve seen more of his competition – that’s my worst category at the moment.  Ah.  Jeff Bridges.  Great performance, good actor, but if the Academy and Hollywood community had to be up in arms to reward someone with their one and only chance, why couldn’t it be Colin Firth?

MMGF: Ah, what was great about Firth, too, is that he just stepped out of himself so well.  Oh, and poor Morgan Freeman. If only his movie had been more successful, or had peaked later.  He’s one of my two favorite performances (along with Firth) of the nominated five, but even I didn’t realize that until I stopped to remember his role.  I think I tend to forget he’s even an option, and I wonder if that’s not what the voters are doing, too.  Naturally, it doesn’t help that he won not terribly long ago, and while that doesn’t always prevent someone from winning, it sure does seem like an easy reason for the academy members to pass by his name on the ballot.

E: I loved Freeman, too, and I can’t understand why Bridges is running away with this award when he has such competition.  That does seem to be the case, though.

Speaking of travesties, what can we say about the Best Song performances being dropped from the telecast?

MMGF: It’s a stupid decision.  Seriously, what are they cutting – 30 minutes, tops, from the show?  They waste SO much time on SO many other boring things.  I get the nice honorary awards, great, sure – but 9 times out of 10, that’s when I’m going to make my bathroom / drink trip.  (Me and 75% of the rest of the viewing audience.)  I can totally do without the “witty banter” from the presenters.  Honestly, you’d think these so-called actors had never run lines in their lives.  Talk about a great advertisement for good directors!  (And why do people love Bruce Vilanch so much??  The Academy Awards’ writing is atrocious.)

E: Ah, Bruce Villanch.  He looks like a muppet; would that he was as clever and entertaining as one.

MMGF: I just think the song is such an easy, easy thing to present to people – where else can you get that?  For Best Picture, they show a 30-second clip after some Kate Hudson level person reads a synopsis off the teleprompter.  For the acting awards, you get a 15-second clip of their alleged best scene.  It’s a shame they’re getting rid of this.  I actually like it when the Oscars get a little creative.  Like, when they play out a scene from the movie where the actual performer (no Beyonce, please) does the song.  (Although an interpretive dance I can do without.)  Actually, what I’d love is for the original performer to do the song, while the scene from the movie plays on screen behind them.  How fun would it be to see some pivotal scene for one song, and then just closing credits for another?  (Another gripe of mine – songs that play over the credits getting Best Song nominations.)  Wonder if any of the creativity in presenting other categories will be stripped out?  Like the times they’ve shown sketches of art direction and showed all the way to the finished product.  Or, one of my favorites, the year Whoopi Goldberg came out throughout the show in all the different costume designs.

Boy, though, you’d think the director of Hairspray, a choreographer who started out in musical theatre, would have a little more respect for keeping the songs in the show….

E: I know!  Adam Shankman, I am disappointed with you!   The Worst, the very very worst, is turning all the songs into a medley and having Faith Hill or Beyonce sing them all.  Nothing against Faith Hill or Beyonce, who are wonderful, but seriously, let the actual performer perform the song!  I remember first being shocked by that when they got some Caribbean sounding guy who was NOT Sebastian the Crab to sing “Under the Sea”.  What, was the original artist too busy to go to the Oscars?

MMGF: Echh, I’m with you on that last part.  The last thing I want to see is some flavor-of-the-month, up on stage, belting out each song.  It’s tough enough to be presenting the song, without being able to necessarily successfully convey the importance of the song in relation to the movie.  At the very least, the original performers should be involved, I think.

E: What a magical moment we’ll miss out on when no one gets to sing “The Weary Kind!”  I’m bummed about that.  I really wanted to hear Jeff Bridges live – and even more if Colin Farrell joined him.  How cool would that be?  That’d blow away all the millions of people who haven’t seen that movie.  Who knew either of them could sing?

MMGF: I’m always a fan of when they find some creative way to incorporate the song’s performance with something that does give that sense.  Like, when they have a set and extras who reflect the film acting behind the performer.  To me, the best nominees are the ones that really aided their films in some way.  As you know, I always go back to 2000.  That was the year that had two of the best nominees in recent memory.  One was Randy Newman’s “When She Loved Me,” from Toy Story 2.  That’s a song that’s not only beautiful and heartbreaking, but was basically a plot point in the film, all by itself.  The other was “Save Me,” by Aimee Mann, from Magnolia.  Here was another song that just ached with beauty and sadness and hope and pain, and captured the entire sense of its film like no other I can think of.  I’d even argue that “Blame Canada” from South Park was a song integral to the progression of the film.  And what happened?  The Big-Name-Elder-Statesman – Disney film combo wins – Phil Collins for “You’ll Be In My Heart,” from Tarzan.  Sigh.  A perfectly nice song, but one that nonetheless could have been replaced with another song or even completely eliminated and not hurt the movie at all.

E: We’ve certainly canvased that between the two of us many times, but it was a true miscarriage of justice.  And I like “You’ll Be In My Heart,” but I can’t imagine how it beat either of the other two.  Maybe no one could decide whether “Save Me” or “When She Loved Me” was better, so they ended up with Tarzan winning by default?  I just can’t explain it otherwise.  That’s yet another case in which I really wish we could see the voting totals. I know why the Ego Protection Patrol doesn’t release them, but still, would I love to know.

MMGF: And don’t even get me started on songs that simply play over the credits and get nominated!  Although, I guess that actually could happen more than it does – songs like Prince’s song from Happy Feet, and Bruce Springsteen’s song from The Wrestler were over-the-credits songs (and Golden Globe winners!) that didn’t get nominations.

E: I loved that Wrestler song – that was maddening.

MMGF: I took a peek at the rules, and apparently, the way it works is that Academy members are (somehow?) shown clips of all the submitted songs in the movie, and they score them, between 6 and 10 (seriously, 6 and 10 – could you even make this up and be believed?)  Songs need to have an average of 8.25 to be nominated.  If fewer than 5 songs hit that score, then only those are nominated.  If only one hits that, then the next highest-scored song gets nominated alongside (even if its score was, say, 6.1,) to ensure actual competition.  If none hit the 8.25, then there’s no Best Song that year.  They really need to make it this complex, yeesh.  Apparently there was even a rule change this very year.  Before this year, the songs only needed an 8.5 aggregated score, and there were always between three and five songs in the category.  (And, someone needs to help me with that.  Doesn’t “aggregated” mean “total?”  So… on a scale from 6 to 10, songs needed to get a TOTAL score of 8.5?  Meaning you needed two Academy members to give your song the lowest possible score to be eligible??  How does that make sense.)

E: It doesn’t.  That’s some creative math for sure.

MMGF: So, actually, look at it from the perspective that, before, you always had at least three nominated songs.  Now, you could have two or even none.  Could this be a category on its way out…??

E: A fine question.  That’d suck, though.  I like the song category.  If nothing else, it’s the most accessible.  Most people didn’t see all five Best Picture nominees (and forget about ten), or all of the acting nominees.  Most people probably don’t know what distinguishes Sound from Sound Editing, or what makes for good cinematography.  Everyone can listen to the five songs they play during the telecast, however, and decide on a favorite.  I wonder if the music industry will rebel if they cut the performances out again?

MMGF: Anyway, to loop back to my long-winded point, I think people tend to look at this category in two ways – either picking their favorite song from the options, or picking the song which was most integral to its film.  I think most people choose using the former criterion, which, I guess what can you do.  I don’t think it’s a case where you split and create a new category, a la best original screenplay and best adapted screenplay.  NOW – wait for the weak segue – Best Costume Design, on the other hand, I think *screams* out for being split into two categories.  How you select between the completely made-out-of-imagination costumes of Lord of the Rings and the intricate, painfully studied for accuracy clothing of Gosford Park, well… do you prefer apples or oranges?  Heck, how about choosing between Sandy Powell’s Shakespeare in Love costumes vs. Sandy Powell’s Velvet Goldmine costumes??

E: Oh, good Lord.  I could go on forever about that.  The Costume Designers Guild separates out their awards into Contemporary, Historical and Fantasy, which is absolutely the reasonable way to do it.  Otherwise, you’re comparing apples and frogs.  I don’t think a lot of people know that most of the costume drama/historical costumes come from costume warehouses, and aren’t even created specially for their films.  I’d guess people look at fancy ballgowns and think those are the most costumey and the most work.  I suppose I understand why the Academy doesn’t want to add more two more categories – what with their overwhelming concern over making the telecast more viewer friendly – but it doesn’t seem fair.  At least the Costume Designers Guild is out there, getting it right.

MMGF: Not sure I stressed this enough, but I think, were I to have a vote, that I’d vote for The Princess and the Frog rather than Up for Best Animated Feature.  I never thought I’d NOT want to choose Up.  But MAN, TPatF was just… delicious.  It was like classic Disney found its renaissance.  I was enchanted and delighted by that film.  I laughed, I danced, I sang, I cried.  The arc of little Ray, the lightning bug?  Please.

E: Little Ray was lovely, wasn’t he?  My preference is still for Up, but TPATF might land on my top ten list.

BTW, The Hurt Locker?  Unlikely to land on my top ten list.  It was good, and super-realistic, and well directed, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not exactly sure what the fuss was all about.

MMGF: Oh.  Ray was like this precious little pure soul.  “Lovely” is a perfect word.

And I’m glad to hear you say that about The Hurt Locker.  I liked it well enough, and am happy to root for it in the “anything but Avatar” way, but to me, it was just a bunch of “look, here’s another tense moment!” scenes thrown together.  Did we care about those characters at all?

Also – I’m back to thinking Avatar might take it….  Ugh.  I just have a hard time imagining an industry not rewarding its largest financial success story.  Maybe not, who knows.  (Certainly not all of the academy members are the ones capitalizing on that part of the industry.)

E: It’s so tricky, because there’s not a lot of way to assess buzz right now, but I wonder.  I definitely wonder.  I think Kathryn Bigelow has a better shot at Director than THL has at Film.  And sure, it’s still got a great shot at winning Best Picture, but I just don’t know.  Honestly?  I enjoyed Avatar way more.  I don’t want to hear James Cameron blather about it, ever, but I had more fun there.  I know the characters weren’t as well drawn, but, eh.  Maybe I’m just prejudiced because there were no women in it.  I like war movies well enough, but it’s hard for me to really love a film that’s all men.  Maybe that’s sexist, but it’s true.

How ridiculous that the Academy expands the slate to ten, hoping to bring back the blockbuster, and (no doubt to the delirium of some) manages to snare the biggest money maker ever.  And here it is, likely to lose to a tiny Iraq war movie most people haven’t heard of and might not even like if they did.  Not that it wasn’t exciting, of course, but – oh, I don’t know.  I suppose I’m a Philistine for thinking all this.

How nutty is this, btw?  You know, here I was thinking I was doing so well, and I forgot completely about Nine.  Damn it.  Have to see that this week too. I’m so not getting to A Serious Man in time…

MMGF: I feel bad for him.  What a killer it’ll be if Hurt Locker wins, and he can’t be there to accept the award!  Sure what he did was not terribly classy, but come on.  Bar him from coming back next year, or the next 5 years or something.  But don’t keep the poor guy from being able to have what would be probably the greatest moment of his professional life.

And, ugh, yeah, Nine.  Well, it’s not as good as it should be, but it goes down pretty easy.  You’re not missing anything by not getting to A Serious Man, let me tell you.

E: Yes, and honestly I’m not sure saying that Avatar made a lot of money can really be considered negative campaigning, can it?  Not that I advocate negative campaigning, I don’t, but there surely must be a difference between that stating your own case with reference to others, and slandering them.  What would have been okay, I wonder?  Was he not supposed to mention his competition at all?

MMGF: Yeah, weird – when I’d read about this last week or whenever, that article said that the violation was simply him sending out the mass email, urging people to vote for him.  Now, how that’s any different from any other campaigns or “For Your Consideration” ads, I have no idea.  But, right, I don’t see how calling out Avatar by its at-the-time gross is necessarily negative.  But, really, when do we ever abstain from questioning anything the Academy does?

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