Monday, February 26, 2007

There's no time for love, Albert Gore: The Oscars

A couple of days before the Oscars, my mom asked me, "Do you think Martin Scorsese will finally win this year?" Now, I doubt my mom could tell you five movies directed by Martin Scorsese, but she knew the story of how he was Oscar's punching bag, after directing lots and lots of truly great films. And she knew that this year was probably his best shot. That's how central the Scorsese story has been to the Oscar myth in the last few years. Now that he's won, who do we have? Peter O'Toole? Getting up there. Kate Winslet? Too young.

When I first got interested in the Oscars in the early 90s, there were two directors everyone wanted to see win an Oscar -- Spielberg and Scorsese. That was 1993, when both had films in contention -- Schindler's List and The Age of Innocence. Spielberg, of course, won, and went on to be a beloved Oscar icon. Scorsese didn't even get nominated, and then every film he made was anticipated as MAYBE the one that would get him the trophy he had been so long denied.

Until this year, when all involved with The Departed insisted that the film wasn't going to be an awards film. It was just a popcorn entertainment, they insisted. Scorsese didn't even campaign for himself or the film. And, of course, it was the one that won him his trophy. Go figure.

Now, The Departed is second tier Scorsese. It's monstrously entertaining, but its themes are pretty basic (you'll find the movie's mega-supporters claiming its Shakespearean, but, all things considered, the story's just not that complex, kids). But it was easily the class of the five nominees, and second-tier Scorsese is still good filmmaking. Sure, he only won because of the good timing involved in having a fun film in a fairly weak field, but now we cineastes can breathe a little easier.

But what now? When the Red Sox won the World Series, baseball fans could always fall back on the Cubs as the losers celebre. There really isn't another director who has been as overlooked as Scorsese. Peter Weir, maybe, but he's not as stylistically bold or innovative. Terrence Malick certainly deserves an Oscar, but he's never going to be the Academy's cup of tea. The same with Michael Mann. Spike Lee? Maybe, especially with his recent career renaissance. And Ridley Scott? Just. . .no. I think the onus for directors now falls on AMPAS rewarding someone other than a white male. It'll take a while, but it'll happen. So I guess Spike is the best choice.

But enough about that. What else did I think about the show?

Despite the big winners going to the expected players (except for Picture, which was up in the air for most of the campaign season, and Supporting Actor, which went to Alan Arkin in a last minute surge), the whole show had an air of excitement to it, largely because a lot of the smaller categories went to unexpected players. A documentary winning for Original Song? A much-acclaimed foreign film with six nominations winning three technical prizes but then losing foreign film? Dreamgirls managing to lose almost everything it was expected to win? Good times!

These early upsets (especially the Arkin one) gave the whole show an air of anything being possible, and that made a lot of things that could be tedious zip along. It helped that the host was Ellen DeGeneres. She wasn't the funniest host ever (or even, for that matter, funnier than Jon Stewart or Chris Rock), but she was a nice blend of the more ironic comedy of Stewart and Rock and the broader stuff that tends to play well with AMPAS. She managed to put a lot of her material over to the folks at home, but she kept everyone in the auditorium loose. She was both friendly and hip, and that's hard to do. I preferred Stewart as a host overall, but if DeGeneres is invited back, I won't be mad. Hopefully, she'll work on her material a little more, as her opening monologue was a little stiff, and some of her interstitial jokes could have been punchier. But her gag with taking a photo with Clint Eastwood (and getting Steven Spielberg to take it!) was perfect, and that's the sort of loose vibe she can bring to these self-important affairs.

All in all, I thought this was a remarkably well-produced affair. The clips shown before each nominee were great at suggesting the difference between, say, film editing and cinematography. Producer Laura Ziskin synthesized a lot of things I've liked in previous ceremonies (having actors read stage directions from the screenplays, showing the various shots people have to choose from for editing) and also pulling in ideas from other shows (having the actors and directors of the nominated films talk about why they liked those films was also a good choice -- though the Emmys first did it a few years ago). She was a little montage-happy, but I like montages, and these were well-cut, even the much-maligned Michael Mann one, which was a weird attempt to show America through the movies made about it, but worked largely because of the rhythm Mann brought to it. (The only outright dud was that Nancy Meyers montage about screenwriting, which was too long and boring.) Perhaps her best idea was recruiting Errol Morris to talk to the nominees at the top of the show. It was a spirited bit, and the short film was easily the equal of Morris' earlier Oscar effort (the one where people talked about their favorite film). I love Morris, and his disarming piece gave the whole show the right tone of celebration.

Heck, I even liked the silhouette guys, who seemed a little odd to me at first, but quickly grew on me. And how did they do that bullet for The Departed?

In the end, one of the weakest crops of Oscar nominees of the last few years resulted in a very entertaining show. And, what's more, most of the winners were pretty good too.

What did you think?

No comments: