Wednesday, February 27, 2013

LET THEM ENTERTAIN YOU...miraculously - they did (mostly)


Well, another year, another Oscars wrapped for posterity. This year I was laid up on my posterior, hence my very late entry into the assessment pool of how it all went.  And it’s saying a good deal that in all that time for convalescence I didn’t find much to poo-poo about the 85th annual Academy Awards. It was frothy, flighty and fun-filled; something all Oscar telecasts should be. Note to the producers: you have a whole year to prepare. You ought to be able to come up with something to amuse us for a few hours! This year, mercifully, they did.  
The Oscars are only 20% about who’s going to win. Most of us can predict the outcome with better than average odds. Yes, the Hollywood sycophants are that obvious. Moreover, they tend to cram the pre-Oscar race with their own predictions that, if you’re paying close attention, actually sound a lot like insider trading info, in that jejune, not so terribly clever, hint-hint way for the tabloids to stir into a chaotic frenzy by the end of February. Depending on one’s point of view the Oscars either lived up or down to one’s overall expectations. My vote is for the former.
What I saw was about what I expected. A few upsets. Argo winning Best Picture over Lincoln – yuck! I also could have done without Seth MacFarlane’s quip about John Wilkes Booth being the only man to ever get inside Lincoln’s head. Ditto for the whole TedHollywood is run by Jews’ commentary and MacFarlane’s opening number where he singled out actresses who have flashed us their cookies over the years. Tactless. Dumb. Catering to the lowest common denominator.
Overall, though, I must say MacFarlane wasn’t quite the screw up I expected. That was unexpected in a good way. He obviously has talent and occasionally showed it, particularly with his singing. If only the material had been better. Seconds after MacFarlane departed the stage the internet was abuzz with that all too familiar sort of epic and very malignant host bashing that ripped apart MacFarlane for everything from his aforementioned Lincoln joke to the way he combed his hair. Very petty comments indeed.
I am generally not a fan of Seth MacFarlane and very much not a fan of his debut movie Ted that had about as much appeal for me as a nude sculpture of Steve Buscemi. But MacFarlane unequivocally proved he can host an Oscar telecast with the slickest, polish, a sly wink and nudge, and yes, a few off color remarks that may not be everyone's cup of tea, but ran the gamut from the casually tasteless to downright amusing.
He was in fine voice too. Those who don't particularly care for MacFarlane's ‘Family Guy’ brand of humor shouldn’t be surprised that he lived up (or down, again, depending on one's point of view) to that standard. Yet he was congenial, highly professional in his delivery (if not always in his viewpoint) and kept what is often a painfully leaden show, moving at a very brisk and mostly diversionary pace. Bravo and kudos for pulling it off as well as he did.
Yes, MacFarlane carries with him a Rock of Gibraltar sized ego. But he’s put his money where his mouth is. He is a super talent. He can write, direct, act, sing the standards better than Michael Buble and do a pretty damn fine tap and/or soft shoe shuffle. Hollywood loves a triple threat, or rather, loves to hate them. On Oscar night, MacFarlane had his fingers in a lot of pies. That takes more than guts. It takes genuine talent and MacFarlane, despite his ego, has it in spades.
For the rest: In her ‘In Memoriam’ tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch, Barbra Streisand looked like a latex puppet and croaked like a toad. Clearly, her singing days are over. As she wheezed through the Oscar-winning ‘The Way We Were’ she was breathing so heavily into the mike I thought she was going to have a coronary.  I guess fans of la Streisand will have to be contented with her appearing as Seth Rogen’s belligerent control freak mom in ‘The Guilt Trip’.
The tribute to Bond, James Bond was absolutely spectacular. 76 years young Shirley Bassey, who originated the Goldfinger  title song in 1964 sang it with a presence and power that I suspect rattled cobwebs down from the rafters of the Kodak Theater. 50 years later? You go girl! Bassey absolutely did the Bond franchise and herself proud. She looked fabulous too. What a class act!
Argo isn’t Best Picture material though, and Ben Affleck wandering off on his frenetic, breathless tangent during what amounted to a part criticism of the establishment/part acceptance speech didn’t make me love the film or him any better. Angry man on stage? Go home and be glad you’re making millions instead of asking someone if they want fries with their order!
Overall, the acceptance speeches were passable. None really stood out, but none were God awful crash n’ burns either. If anything they held true to the adage Billy Crystal shared a few years ago, telling the audience that there’s nothing better than watching a bunch of white rich people pat themselves on the back.  
Quentin Tarantino’s acceptance diatribe for his ‘kill all the white people’ revisionist western ‘Django Unchained’ was fairly hapless and thoroughly mind numbing. I suspect we’re all quite fortunate that Tarantino’s made it in the movies. His career choices were either the arts or becoming a serial killer. Truly, the more I see of him and his movies the more I believe he’s seriously mentally ill. Today’s Hollywood loves its psychotics.
I was also contented that Quvenzhané Wallis did not win for ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’. Nine years old and already a prima donna.  After flexing her…um…muscles during the reading of the nominations I took particular notice there weren’t any cutaways to her reaction when it was announced Jennifer Lawrence took Best Actress for ‘Silver Lining Playbook’ – a plot-less, thoughtless film about two screwed up junkies in desperate need of a good head shake.
Daniel Day-Lewis was a given as Best Actor for his oft’ quirky portrait of Lincoln. I mean, did anyone seriously think Bradley Cooper would take home the little gold bald guy instead?!? Day-Lewis’s win now elevates him to a rarity among Oscar winners – the only male in history to win 3 Best Actor statuettes. Only Kate Hepburn outranks him now – 4 Best Actress Oscars. 
No surprise that Anne Hathaway took home Best Supporting Actress honors either. She did Les Miserables proud.  Overall, Les Miserables didn’t do it for me though – a bloated pop-opera that was more curiously grandiose than emotionally satisfying. So I didn’t expect it to take home Best Picture. I did think that honor would go to Lincoln. But alas Hollywood continues its genuine aversion toward Spielberg, perhaps because his cinematic genius knows no bounds and can easily eclipse that of most any other director currently working in films.
Lest we forget that Spielberg is the visionary who defined a whole new generation of blockbusters with Jaws; the man who gave us the thought-provoking Close Encounters of the Third Kind, whimsically sentimental E.T., emotionally epic The Color Purple; to say nothing of Amistad, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Empire of the Sun, War Horse and of course, Schindler’s List – the only film for which he has been justly honored with a Best Director statuette. For the rest, he’s been rarely nominated and wholly overlooked.
But hey, anyone who knows even the most superficial details about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also knows that Oscar is not about accurately assessing artistic quality. It’s about how many palms are greased along the way to get the nom’ and then, how successfully one can ride those coattails to a win. Spielberg has been remarkably graceful and circumspect at NOT playing this insider’s game. That shows restraint, fortitude and incredible tact; commodities few in Hollywood then or now know anything about!
The production design for this year’s telecast also looked fabulous – less chintz and kitsch, more glam and good taste. No wardrobe misfires either. I do think there was a major flub in the way the Best Song nominees were presented this year. We had two fully fleshed out performances and then three song snippets mashed together for the other nominees before Adele walked away with the little gold bald guy – as expected – for Skyfall.
I must confess this year’s Oscars were an all-around glittery and fitting tribute to the industry: splashy, occasionally classy, and practically painless to watch – everything an Oscar telecast should be. MacFarlane has said he’ll not do another. I think that’s a mistake and a shame. Despite some minor hiccups he proved he could think incredibly quick on his feet and he remained unruffled and professional throughout the entire evening, although as he casually commented, he planned to get stinking drunk to take the edge off at the Vanity Fair party after the show. Pretty funny stuff.
The most ridiculously shameless part of the night’s entertainment was Michele Obama presenting the Best Picture Oscar to Argo with Jack Nicholson’s woefully bad assist.  Argo, as everyone knows, is the tale of a bunch of American operatives rescuing their hostages in Iran by masquerading as a Canadian documentary film company.  Curious that Michele Obama would present these honors to a film depicting the successful evacuation of Americans from the Middle East when her own husband was utterly powerless to save Ambassador Chris Stevens and the likes from a similar fate in Benghazi this past year. Or maybe I should say – curious and very, VERY deliberate!
As for Jack Nicholson; he came across as either very drunk, slightly crazy or just damn near close to succumbing to Alzheimer’s; what with his nutty professor haircut, goofy grin, rambling thoughts, and, appearing about as rumpled, dimpled and pimpled as Aretha Franklin’s ass.
But Mrs. Obama cast as ‘the first’ First Lady of the Oscars. Why not give her, her own talk show, or a reoccurring anchorage on NBC’s nightly news, or commission her for some infomercials for Spanks? Personal opinion of course, but I am sick and tired of the broad-brushed media agenda to push the Obamas in our faces wherever and whenever the spirit moves the Hollywood libs in strange and not all too wonderful ways. Like it or not, the Obamas are America’s first couple. But they’re not pop tarts to be exploited and inserted into any old awards show like a Las Vegas lounge act desperately craving the spotlight. No, Michelle’s appearance didn’t ruin the Oscars for me. But it didn’t exactly cap off the night’s programming on a high note either!
Still, this year’s Oscar telecast was easily the best of the last 10 years. We won’t go into just how bad the last few years have been, although my sincerest hope is that James Franco will NEVER hosts anything ever again! Ditto for Anne Hathaway. That ought to be a feather in Seth MacFarlane’s cap. Next year’s festivities arguably have nowhere to go but down. My prediction is that’s likely the direction they will take. We’ll see.