Oscars 2010 Post-Mortem Quibbling

E: Ah, the year that was.  Thanks for the movie memories, 2009!  These were – interesting Oscars, shall we say.  Very little by way of surprises, but with a bunch of unusual choices by fashionistas, show-runners and hosts alike.  After the jump my siblings and I – along with faithful Oscar companion and expert My Movie-Going Friend – will debate the finer points of the telecast.  What did we like?  What didn’t we?  Read along, and then tell us what you thought!

Let’s start with the easy part, which I will call “Dresses We Liked” : Sandra Bullock, natch.  Vera Farmiga, in a raspberry colored  “I’m so skinny I can have fans coming out of my stomach and it still looks flat” concoction.  Mostly liked Carey Mulligan’s dress, which was almost exactly the style of the Audrey Hepburn dress I mentioned, only in black with dark embellishments instead of white with black embroidery. The embellishments turns out to be tiny forks and spoons, did you hear?

C: And scissors!  Looks like she didn’t intend to worry about lecherous old actors giving her a squeeze.

E: It was certainly an unusual statement; don’t know quite how I feel about it.  C, I know you hated the pale blonde hair, but it grew on me, especially inside.  Maybe it looks darker in low light.

C: UGH.  It made her looked washed-out and exhausted.  I’ve seen her look lovely with anything from golden brown to chestnut to dark hair, so it’s amazing she managed to look bad.  You’re right that low lighting helped… somewhat… but look at it in the sun.

E: Loved Amanda Seyfried’s dress, loved Queen Latifah’s pink with silver bling, liked (but didn’t love) J.Lo’s.  Am also a fan of Rachel McAdams (print! wow!)…

MMGF: Prints usually fail at the Oscar, but that one was beautiful.

E: I know!  Then, let’s see, Demi Moore, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet and Elizabeth Banks.

C: Add Penelope Cruz to that list, in the dress I’d wear if I were going to the Oscars.

E: That color is so you – I knew immediately you’d love it.

C: Cameron Diaz also looked great all around, and Kristen Stewart turned up in an unexpectedly lovely frock.

E: Too bad she couldn’t stop slouching and fidgeting with her hair on stage.

M: Nothing, however, can rival how bad Jay Manuel looked on E!’s “pre-game” show.  Now, I have a problem right from the start with his metallic silver hair, but the jacket of his tux made Mrs M, who usually likes him, cringe.  Where I can’t stand him regularly, and think anyone who chooses to make their hair look like that permanently should be disqualified from commenting on anyone else’s fashion sense, this was beyond his usual level of eye-gougingly bad.

E: Why is it that so many fashion industry people break the rules they set for the rest of us?  Just wondering.

MMGF: If we’re talking worst dressed, what about Charlize Theron and her squished cupcake boobs?

E: Snort. That was such a shame, because the color and the overall fit were gorgeous.

M: Oh, and Zoe Saldana’s dress, at least the bottom of it, was a disaster.  I think there were muppets hidden in it.

MMGF: Zoe Saldana – seriously, when she was walking down those stairs, and holding her gown up on each side, it looked like she was opening up a set of curtain over her hoo-hoo.

E: Hee hee.  Like everyone else, I loved the top, but I think the bottom half looked like kale.  And speaking of problematic fashion, what was Sarah Jessica Parker doing shopping in Mrs. Roper’s closet?  I know, I know, she’s a fashion icon. She’s fashion forward.  She’s so forward she’s blown right past anything the average person can understand, I think.

M: Mrs. M loved hers, but to me, the way the strap on the top went it looked like she had it on backwards.

C: Not to mention her hair, which gave new meaning to the word “bun” by resembling a bakery experiment gone wrong.  As did her skin, coincidentally…

E: My happiest fashion moment?  Weirdly enough, Meryl Streep made my night by wearing a white gown with a plunging neckline designed by Project Runway designer Chris March.  That’s right. Joyful, hilarious, good humor Chris March, who made a Bryant Park collection featuring human hair, and whose main body of work before the show was designing for plus sized drag queens.  I LOVE Chris March.  This makes me love Meryl Streep even more than I already do.

I get a little bit embarrassed for her, btw.  When Oprah told a weeping Gabby Sidibe to look where she’d come – this is her first acting gig, and here she is nominated along with Meryl Streep!  That’s got to feel weird.  I also hope Oprah’s right about Gabby having a long and promising career (rather than last night being the zenith) but I’m not so sanguine.  Hopefully Miss O can make it happen.

C: It’s sad but true that many young actors and actresses hit the perfect role and never do much afterward.  In fact, it’s not just the young ones – I’d never heard of Vera Farmiga before this year, and though I assume she was very good, I wouldn’t be shocked if I never saw her again.

M: No no, she’s actually been around for a long time.  She was on a short-lived but pretty decent show, U.C. Undercover, on NBC back in 2001 or so with Oded Fehr from The Mummy. However, she is much more well known for her role in The Departed as the shrink and love interest of both Matt Damon and Leo DiCaprio.  So, she’s now played the love interest of Damon, DiCaprio and Clooney and been nominated for an Oscar…  I think she’ll stick.

E: When she was really unknown, she won an LA Film Critics award for an obscure indie movie called Down to the Bone.  She’s gotten a lot of industry attention since then.  But you’re right, and Gabby Sidibe won’t have the kind of opportunities that Carey Mulligan will, for example.  I hope the best for both of them.

As to the show itself, I couldn’t have been more thrilled to see Neil Patrick Harris start things off with a musical number.  Very cute.

M: Agreed, great stuff, can never have too much NPH.

MMGF: Eh, Neil PH is usually a solid go-to guy, but that just fell flat for me.  And anyone else think we need a little bit of a break from him?

E: Naw, not yet, anyway.  I like him.  I like the sparkly jacket. And I liked seeing the So You Think You Can Dance dancers (see, Noelle, Adam Shankman promised he’d hire you and he did!), used appropriately in the burlesque number “No One Wants to Do It Alone.”  On the other hand, it was clever while I was listening to it, but I couldn’t hum the tune for you now.

M: And the hosts totally worked for me.  Funny, just about the right amount, though they maybe could have even been out there a little more, offset by a little less banter from the presenters.  The exchange about Bigelow sending Cameron a ticking package and him sending her a Toyota?  Classic.

C: They were funny, I agree.  Not knock-your-socks-off hilarious, but solid comedy.  They definitely could have made a couple more appearances without becoming wearing. There was a lot of good stuff in this telecast, though as usual it was so long as to lose my interest before the end.

MMGF: I thought the show was pretty bad, but Alec Baldwin and Steven Martin were spectacular.  That bit about Paranormal Activity had me roaring!  What a team they were!  (That actually sounds like a comedy team, Baldwin and Martin.) I loved them.  I even think they were under-utilized. But as the rest of the show went on… eh.

M: I actually turned the volume up and started doing the dishes in the last hour!

C: Now that’s not good.  I really missed the Best Song performances and thought that the Best Score Interpretive Dance was a sad substitute.

MMGF: Exactly. And, sorry, not only did the dancing not seem to be “interpreting” anything from any of the movies, but the actual dancing wasn’t even that hot.  And it went on FOREVER.

M: For many of the scores, not only did they not seem to be interpreting the movie, they didn’t even seem in synch with the music!  Ugh.

E: I love The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, so I was bummed that went so poorly.  When I’ve seen them in the past they were gasp-inducingly good. I think if it had been filmed better – more at ground level and closer up, so you could appreciate the flips and leaps – it would have shown them off to better effect. Speaking of the filming, I was generally underwhelmed.  We had people walking into shots, and several points where were we could see camera backing off stage.  Not as tidy as usual, I thought.

C: The tribute to horror movies also seemed fairly pointless – and who told the people making it that Twilight and New Moon were horror?  That made me laugh out loud!

E: Well, werewolves and vampires ARE normally considered horror.

C: Sure, normally. But not as written by Stephenie Meyer!

E: Why did they say that Oscar hadn’t paid attention to horror since The Exorcist, and then show clips of more recent Oscar winning films like Silence of the Lambs and Misery?  Somebody got their wires crossed there.

MMGF: I think there’s a fine line between horror and thriller, but we’ve heard it said over and over through the years that “Silence of the Lambs is the first and only horror movie to win Best Picture!”   And heck, not only that, but Best Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay, too!  So I’m glad you caught that, too.

C: On the other hand, the tribute to John Hughes was touching – he really did define his own genre and have a huge impact on many people’s lives, so he deserved it.  It’s always funny, too, to see how much some of his teen stars have changed (Anthony Michael Hall is the textbook example) and how others look almost exactly like they did in the 80s…

E: …and then there’s the unrecognizable Judd Nelson, who seems to have aged at least a decade beyond everyone else, and gotten an unfortunate new nose.  Not that that detracted from me loving the tribute, of course.

M: Neither did the conspicuous absence of Emilio Estevez.

MMGF: I was thrilled to hear Sandy Powell, winning her THIRD costume design award, dedicate it to the contemporary and non-period piece designers.  This is something E and I talk about all the time, and it’s fantastic to see that someone who is absolute tops in the business acknowledges the injustice, too.

E: Amen!  And she looks adorable doing it.

C: Say what you like… I’ve never gasped in awe at contemporary designs the way I did at the astonishing ones in Young Victoria.

E: That’s why it won, certainly, because they were breath-takingly beautiful – but she would know the effort involved, surely?  I could see how it might be harder in a contemporary film to evoke character with blue jeans and tank tops, and how that would be ignored because they’re not gorgeous.

Anyway, I thought Geoffrey Fletcher – in his surprise win for adapting Push into Precious – really commanded attention on stage.  He didn’t say much, but there was so emotion in him.  I didn’t at all expect him to win, but he was compelling. Oh, speaking of that word, I had a conversation with Quibbling Dad about Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker, in which he said he hasn’t seen someone as like James Dean since James Dean.  Renner has that same sort of mystery; he does puzzling things but you can’t help being glued to his every move.

Hey, MMGF, I’m sorry that The Princess and the Frog lost its music bids – I know how much you loved that movie.  Either of those songs would have been worthy of the trophy.

MMGF: While I loved TP&TF and all the music in it, I was perfectly happy to see T-Bone Burnett win for “The Weary Kind.”  I loved that song!

E: Yeah, it’s true, these were three really good choices.  But I was completely psyched that Up won for Score.  I love that music, and I was really rooting for it.  That was perhaps the most satisfying win of the night for me, because it wasn’t the shoo-in of Up‘s Animated Feature win.  And the composer, thanking his parents and telling kids everywhere (ones without a similar support system) “creativity is NOT a waste of time”?  Weep.

M: Yes, that was a great acceptance speech.  Everything you want, inspiration, proper thanks, humility, without any of the pretentiousness or preachy stuff you don’t.

MMGF: Speaking of stuff you don’t want, who was that rude woman who interrupted the poor documentary guy’s speech?

E: Right, the Kanye-ing.  Apparently there’s a lawsuit.  That is NOT the way to make yourself look good, lady.

C: I’m sorry to hear there’s a lawsuit because actually, I didn’t blame that woman!  The guy started talking and I thought “great, one of those speeches where the winner rambles incoherently about how very, very touched he is.”  Then she broke in and said something articulate and meaningful.  Why shouldn’t she?  Wasn’t she a winner too?

E: In random notes, how funny is it that Fisher Stevens is now an Oscar-winner?

MMGF: Hee.  Reminds me of years ago, when Christine Lahti did the same thing.

E: (Only, minus the toilet paper sticking to his shoe.)

MMGF: I love how non-A list actors, not really known for film work, can call themselves “Oscar winner Fisher Stevens” and “Oscar winner Christine Lahti.”  That’s a riot.  And the toilet paper.  That still kills me.

E: Also goofy – did anyone else notice that George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air was named Ryan Bingham – which is also the name of the guy who co-wrote best song “The Weary Kind” with T-Bone Burnett?  Did you also notice that when Martin and Baldwin started talking about the ten best pictures and how that gave room for more movies at the top, the only movies they mentioned (like The Last Station and Star Trek) weren’t nominated for Best Picture?

C: Oh, now that’s funny!  Did any of you notice the fact that the show got more draggy and self-indulgent as it went on?

M, E, and MMGF: YES!

C: They moved briskly and kept things interesting for the first couple hours, but once we got to around 11pm it became the “pardon us famous people while we slowly stroke each other’s egos” show.  The Best Actor and Actress affirmations were particularly frustrating – they can’t give a technical winner enough time to finish his thank yous, but they can spend twenty minutes on one acting award, prosing on about what nice people the nominees are?  (As if that has anything to do with the quality of their performance!)

M: I felt the same way.  Did I need to know that Collin Farrell and Jeremy Renner got loaded in Mexico, or that everyone else that was nominated is “kind” and “generous” in their performances?  Blech, put the songs back in!

MMGF: I loved that as an idea, but it went on FOREVER.  I just wanted to get to the winners (anti-climactic as they were).  Also, it was annoying that they just did that for the two lead actors, not the supporting or anything else.

E: Well, sadly, C, if you look at the two lead acting winners, you have popular, nice people rather than the best performances of the year.  At least you can make a case for Jeff Bridges, but (much as I love her, and I do) you can’t with Sandra Bullock.  You can’t even look at her clips next to the others without seeing she wasn’t in the same league.

MMGF: I still think, years from now, Sandy B’s award will look a little embarrassing.  (That said, other than being sad for poor, overdue Meryl, I’m happy for Sandy B.)

M: As a whole, I feel that once again Oscar effed up.  I admittedly haven’t seen either picture, but I have heard the response to both Hurt Locker and Avatar, and have read a lot about both.  What I’ve heard and read has been pretty equal.  That being said, if all things are equal, don’t you side for the movie that is transcendent and convinced more people to watch it in its 37th day of release (yes, I looked it up!) than have watched the other one in its entire run?  I’ve made the argument before, but if Hurt Locker is REALLY the best picture of the year, wouldn’t more people WANT to see it, thus creating a market where more theaters would feel like they needed to show it?  Wouldn’t the word of mouth be better?  Or is it just another case of Oscar not wanting any part of anything that people actually like, and of Oscar thinking that they are smarter than everyone else?

C: I totally take your point, M, though I’m not sure if there’s an easy solution.  All About Steve out-grossed The Hurt Locker too and I don’t think you’d argue it should be up for an Oscar.  Yet surely audience appeal is part of being a great film.  We conceptualize the Best Picture winners as the ones that will be remembered for decades, combining popularity with sterling quality – but it might just be that there isn’t one of those made every year!  Still… I haven’t seen THL or Avatar, because I’m not a big watcher of war movies and the plot of Avatar looked annoying to me (as one of my students aptly put it, “Why watch a movie about people trying to get a hold of something called Unobtainium?”); if I were going to go see one of them, though, it would be Avatar, because it’s a Big Deal.

M: I agree that it’s not based just on box office, because a lot of bad movies make money because they are slickly marketed.  That’s where my “all things being equal” part comes in.  I don’t necessarily think that a movie has to be epic to be Best Picture, I think it can be something like The Shawshank Redmption, where it is just such a well made delight that people love it, and it should also be able to be a movie from any genre, including comedy.  But the times that really get me are the movies that are both epic and great, the movies that will go on people’s “favorite movie of all time” or “best movie I ever saw” lists.  When one of those comes out, like Star Wars or Saving Private Ryan, it shouldn’t be losing to Annie Hall or (despite how much I enjoyed it) Shakespeare in Love.  In the same vein, when people talk about movies from 2009, they aren’t going to remember The Hurt Locker, but AvatarAvatar will be remembered for ever.  That HAS to count for something, and Oscar just doesn’t get that.  In fact, they seem to despise it.  So as glad as I was that James Cameron lost, it was the wrong call.

E: Avatar will be remembered in film history, absolutely, but will it be remembered as a great movie, or will it be remembered as a technological advancement like The Jazz Singer, which everyone’s heard of but no one bothers to see?  Maybe The Hurt Locker will gain popularity in time, like Office Space or It’s A Wonderful Life.   (I’m not saying it’s likely, because it’s clearly not that kind of movie, but it’s possible.)

Anyway, MMGF and I could go on forever about how Oscar seems to have their own weird criterion, which rarely results in rewarding the movie either of us thinks is the best.  It’s funny – everyone seems very pleased with the high ratings the telecast got, but I wonder if the Academy is considering that a lot of regular movie fans are probably really mad?  I’ve heard non-Oscar watchers express shock and even fury at The Hurt Locker “upset.”

What do you all think?  Did Oscar make the wrong decision?


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