Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Oscars 2008; Invasion of the Foreigners (Lou Dobbs Must Be Pissed)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on February 9, 2008

Well, another Oscar show has come and gone. Now that a few days have passed and the world has begun to recover from its earth-shattering impact (I’m being facetious here obviously), it’s time to take a look at the wreckage and see what’s left over.

I have to say, overall, I thought it was pretty good.

But then again, it’s the Oscars. I don’t know what people are expecting. Every year is going to be pretty much the same. It’s going to run long, the musical numbers are mostly going to suck, and the montages are going to be endless and pointless. And we’re all going to over-analyze it later. That’s part of the fun. At least it’s my idea of fun – apparently I’m in the minority on that one. There’s just something about an annual televised train wreck that fascinates me.

As far as the awards themselves go, I thought they all went to pretty deserving people and films this year. I predicted No Country for Old Men would take Picture and Director, that Daniel Day-Lewis would drink everyone else’s milkshakes and that Javier Bardem would take an air hose to the other nominees. Rightly so in each case. But then, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to guess those winners. It was the Coens’ year, and anyone who didn’t see Day-Lewis and Bardem walking away with those prizes needs a brain scan. It was the Actresses that threw me this year – I honestly did not see Marion Cotillard and Tilda Swinton actually winning their categories. Then again, I haven’t seen either of their films, but I thought Amy Ryan was a shoo-in for Supporting Actress (she single-handedly elevated Gone Baby Gone from a decent flick to a really good one). I was thinking, you know, Marisa Tomei, Mira Sorvino, etc. The Academy loves to honor a scene-stealing newcomer in that category. And I called Julie Christie for Actress. I don’t know exactly what I was thinking at the time, except that Christie would obviously have the prestigious old-fogey vote. Seems like a bad call now, but I honestly didn’t see them giving it to the French chick. Little did I know.

I pretty much nailed the screenplay categories as well, guessing that the Academy would give Juno the consolation prize (come on, how can you not vote for an ex-stripper?), and that the Coens would easily take Adapted. Too bad those Actresses knocked me out of the pool, right? I absolutely love the idea of The Golden Compass winning an Oscar – take that, Christian right! Love that Sweeney Todd and The Bourne Ultimatum picked up some trophies as well. For once, the Best Song actually was exactly that. There’s a pun somewhere in that sentence, but it wasn’t intentional, I assure you.

So I really can’t complain too much about the awards. I can’t think of one winner that I thought was an absolute travesty, which is pretty rare. There were a few surprises, sure, but nothing that provoked me to jump out of my chair and yell, “how the fuck did that douchebag/piece of shit win?” Which means either one of two things: 1) the Academy’s taste is getting better; or 2) my personal taste is getting better. Either one is good news. At least they didn’t give anything to fucking 300. That would have pissed me off.

In regards to the show itself, I actually thought it could have been a lot worse. Jon Stewart was once again a funny and relevant host. I think the writers let him down at times (out of practice, are we?) but he handled himself well. Bringing Marketa Inglova back on the stage to deliver her speech after she’d been unceremoniously played off was a smart and classy move. You have to give him respect for that alone. That’s one of the Academy’s most odious practices – let the winners talk, for crying out loud! – and it was very cool to see the show’s host say, “you know what, that was bullshit. I’m going to correct that”. Who knows, pulling that stunt might cost him next year’s gig, but it was worth it. Good job, Jon!

Of course there were the ridiculous montages, the dull “here’s how we count the votes” segment, the interminable honoring of an old geezer (albeit a deserving one), all of which suck up time a vacuum cleaner. I think we could do without most of these. Does anybody really care how the votes are counted? We’re watching to see the results of this process. That’s what we care about. No one gives a damn about the accounting firm of Price-Waterhouse. The montages are mainly time fillers for a show that really doesn’t need to waste time. Cut them. Better yet, don’t put them in in the first place! Of course industry veterans should be honored – but it might help if you let the audience in on who these guys are. I guarantee you that most film fans, even the hardest of the hardcore, have no idea who Robert Boyle is or what films he worked on. It wasn’t until he mentioned working with Hitchcock that I even had any recognition of who he was and what he’d done. “Oh yeah, that guy” Fill us in, would you please?

The show only ran 18 minutes long this year, which isn’t that bad. But why not cut some of the extraneous bullshit? I was really glad they cut the redundant Best Picture segments, in which some famous actor or actress “introduces” us to a film that most people who are watching this show already know about. You know, “Atonement is a film about personal responsibility, blah blah blah…” We know! Not only did I not miss these segments, I didn’t even realize they were gone until someone mentioned it the next day. That’s how important they were to the overall flow of the show every year. Seriously, this is supposed to be an awards show, not an old vaudeville variety revue. Trim the fat.

Of course, I maintain that fewer people would care so much about the length of the show if they would start at 8:00. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – why do we need that lousy, lame-ass half-hour fashion show? What purpose does it serve? If anyone’s tuning in to see what the celebrities are wearing, they’re going to switch channels at 8:30. Let ‘em watch the rest of the show and get their fashion tips elsewhere. Save that nonsense for the E! channel. I sort of understand the Baba Wawa special being there for tradition’s sake (though I can’t imagine why it became a tradition in the first place), but there really is no reason for this red-carpet gawkery. Although it was entertaining seeing Regis Philbin mispronounce Javier Bardem’s name as “Xavier” (how cute – he thinks Bardem’s in the X-Men), that kind of misstep isn’t enough to justify stalling the show that much longer. Here’s the thing; people have to get up and go to work in the morning. If you schedule the show from 8 to 11 pm, if the show runs long, it might end at 11:15, maybe 11:30. That’s not so horrible. But you schedule it from 8:30 to 11:30, and it runs long, then you’re talking 11:45, 12 midnight, sometimes 12:15 or even 12:30 on a really bad year. Naturally, that’s going to piss people off. They want to go to bed, but they have to sit through all this extraneous crap just to find out what won Best Picture. That’s why you can do pretty much any show you want, as long as you start at 8. Get the ball rolling, give away some awards right off the bat. Get rid of all the monkey business, then you have time to let the winners give their speeches (it’s their night, after all) and still make room for the other important stuff.

I don’t really know why we need a performance of each of the 5 Best Song nominees anyway. Since the nominees are generally crap anyway, the only purpose it serves is to annoy people and make them even more impatient to get to the awards. Wouldn’t a short clip of each song do just as well? We only see clips of the films and performances, they’re not showing us the entire films before each category. After one verse, maybe one chorus, we get the idea. Although Amy Adams was awfully adorable (as always), some backup dancers on stage (or something, anything) might have helped her out. And whoever dressed Kristin Chenoweth did her a serious wrong by making it look like she has no cleavage whatsoever. Anyone’s who seen her on Pushing Daisies knows that ain’t the case. Did they put her in a corset? Were they afraid of offending people, or just that her boobs might fly out during the performance? At least that might have livened the show up a bit.

The worst piece of the night was, as always, the “death list”. Said it before, saying it again: require the audience to hold their applause until the end. Letting an annual obituary line-up turn into a popularity contest is sick and repulsive, and it effectively obliterates the accomplishments of a lot of talented people who are seen as “less important” because they weren’t famous movie stars. That’s fucked up. And where was the great Roy Scheider? Apparently he wasn’t included because he died after the Jan. 31 cutoff date. And why the fucking hell is there a cutoff date in the first place? They couldn’t have cut in a couple of shots of the guy at the end? Give me a break. And they apparently left out Brad Renfro due to “time considerations” with the excuse that “we can’t include everybody”. Well gee, what exactly is the point then? Not to mention all the screenwriters and even directors who weren’t on the list, because frankly they’re too numerous to list here. Christ, I’m so glad I don’t work in Hollywood.

You know, every year the ratings for the Oscars go down a little bit more, and every year I read articles and comments from people on how to rectify that situation. The honest truth is, I don’t think they can. And I’m not sure they should. The consensus seems to be that the Academy should nominate more “popular” films as a way of bringing in the mainstreamers who typically ignore the Oscars. I really can’t disagree with that statement more vehemently. The whole point of the show is to honor and celebrate the best films and film work of the year. If mainstream moviegoers ignore the best films… quite honestly, fuck them. Their loss. Let’s be honest here: the kind of people for whom Transformers was the greatest achievement in film this year are never going to care about the Oscars. Never have, never will. Sadly, most people don’t really care about the best; they only care about the most popular. Therefore a show honoring the best of film, or of anything, will never interest them. If you don’t care, you don’t care. No amount of pandering to them will make them care. And you can’t explain to them why they should care, because they will never get it. If quality is not important to you on any level, then any award honoring quality and achievement and craft will never garner your interest. That is why they don’t watch. It’s not because the awards show itself is not entertaining or appealing enough; it’s not because of a liberal Hollywood host; and it’s not because of length or lack of popular films. It’s because they really, truly, in their heart of hearts, just deep down don’t fucking give a shit.

You know when people used to give a shit? Back when there were only three channels to choose from and the Academy Awards was the only thing on that night. That’s when it was a big deal. Now they have their DVDs and their Nintendo Wiis and 150 channels, at least half of which are running Steven Seagal movies during the awards. They have other options. You see, this is yet another case where certain people have selective memories, where everything mattered more in the past and the current state of things are a clear sign of the apocalypse. In truth, there have always been people who cared about the Oscars, and there have always been people who haven’t. A lot of people are under the impression that the Oscars are the Gay Awards (no, that’s the Tonys) and that no one else watches. Still others believe that Hollywood is the modern day Gomorrah and that anyone who watches the Oscars will burn in the fiery pits of Hell. These are the extremes of course, but they’re worth noting because, well, that’s the way some people actually think. I happen to know a few people who work in Hollywood, and they’re not participating in any more orgies and coke binges than I am, so whatever.

It’s the idea that “people used to care, and now they don’t” that kinda sticks in my craw. In truth, the large majority of people have never really cared about the Oscars. It means nothing to them, just like the Super Bowl means nothing to me. They have their little party, and I’ve got mine. But it’s selective memory to think that there was once a time when It All Mattered So Much. The years in which “popular films” like Titanic and Return of the King dominated were aberrations. And by popular, I don’t just mean movies made by Mainstream Hollywood; I mean movies Seen by Regular People Across the Nation. I honestly can’t remember a time when the majority of nominees were blockbuster hits. If there was such a time, it was obviously before I was born. I don’t recall films like Gandhi, Chariots of Fire, A Passage to India, A Room With a View or Frances lighting small-town audiences on fire when I was a kid. Certainly not the way Jaws, Star Wars, E. T. and even Porky’s did. None of my friends or relatives or even passing strangers were running right out to see Out of Africa or The Color Purple. Regular people didn’t give a shit about those movies then, just like they don’t care about No Country, There Will Be Blood or Atonement now. And I know plenty of people who still haven’t seen them, nor have they seen Oscar winners and nominees since like The Crying Game, The Remains of the Day, Fargo, Midnight Cowboy, The Conversation, Raging Bull, Annie Hall, Blue Velvet… Needless to say, the list goes on and on. Hell, I know people who have never seen The Godfather, as much as that blows my mind. They probably will never, ever see any of those films in their lifetimes. And they seem perfectly content and happy to live without them. They’re happy with their Adam Sandler and Martin Lawrence movies, and they apparently don’t need anything more substantial. Are they wrong? Well… yeah. Obviously.

But what are you gonna do? Refashion the Oscars for them? Hey, it would be great if the best films of any given year came straight from Mainstream Hollywood and were all released in 3,000 theaters nationwide and were seen by everyone. But generally, that’s really not the way it works. The studios have traded the awards to their “indie divisions” – Paramount Vantage, Sony Classics, Fox Searchlight, Warner Independent, etc. They’re the ones concentrating on making Great Films, for the most part. The majors are only interested in making films that make money, and if they happen to be watchable too, that’s a bonus. The indie divisions don’t have the kind of marketing money that their big siblings do, and generally the only way to get their films into theaters nationwide and have people actually go see them is… you guessed it, Oscar buzz. The more buzz, the better the chances of seeing it at a theater near you. This occasionally results in a runaway hit, such as Juno. But more often, these films top out at about $30-40 million, and that’s doing really well. During Oscar season, when the race is on. And so it goes that the best films are often the least seen. That’s just the way the system works. Now, the indie films that don’t get any Oscar buzz or nominations, well… generally fewer people go see them, which leads to them not getting wider releases, which of course leads to fewer people ever seeing them in theaters. Hell, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly got a Best Director nom, and there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of it playing on a screen anywhere near where I live. See you on DVD.

I would have loved to see the Academy give some props to Zodiac or American Gangster (beyond Ruby Dee), both major-studio films that made my Top 10. But I wonder, did their respective studios even bother to campaign much for them? I doubt it. Both films had already come and gone at the boxoffice by the time Oscar season started, so there’s really no percentage for them if they did get some major noms. Might sell a few more DVDs, but probably not that many. The Oscars are really beneficial to the smaller films, the ones that the mainstreamers don’t want to see and probably would never have heard of otherwise. They get the diehard film fans all riled up to see them (of course, we all want to see the new Coen Bros. and Paul Thomas Anderson films anyway), and they pique the curiosity of people for whom Oscar is the “stamp of approval”, meaning something they probably would never see otherwise is worth taking a chance on. Movies like Zodiac and Gangster have already had their chance to make an impact, the diehards have most likely seen them already (and are planning on buy them on disc) and the mainstreamers have mostly already passed on them once. A re-release wouldn’t garner that much more coin. Hence no point in pushing for nominations. It’s sad but true. It makes more sense for Paramount to invest in pushing their smaller Vantage movies (Country and Blood) than Zodiac, and for Universal to push its Focus film (Atonement) than try to scrape a few more dollars for Gangster. It’s simple economics.

This, in a nutshell, is the main reason why the smaller films generally get the most nominations every year. It’s more beneficial economically for the studios to single out certain films as their “Oscar films” for the year, release them during “Oscar season”, build up buzz and word of mouth steadily, and get as much revenue as they can out of films that were relatively inexpensive to make. If they win some awards, great. If not, they still got the most out of them that they possibly could. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, like this year’s Michael Clayton, which Warner Bros. opened in October to a whimper. Again, there’s not much to lose by pushing it for awards, because a lot of people didn’t see it the first time around (myself included) and giving it a re-release after the nominations can only help its bottom line. The nominations are the main advertising, and the main draw. It’s kind of rare that a major studio can pull off this kind of “second life” for a film that was initially considered a flop (albeit an undeserved one), but it does happen. There was a sense that it didn’t get a fair shake the first time around, so bringing it back makes sense. I kinda wish they’d done the same for The Assassination of Jesse James, because they really screwed that one over. But you can’t have everything.

I guess my point is that the Oscars are probably not going to change any time soon, at least as far as what films get nominated, and I really wouldn’t want them to. I’d rather see them used for good, to draw attention to deserving films that wouldn’t otherwise get much attention, than to hype the typical Hollywood product. If people complain that the films aren’t populist enough, well, so be it. Screw ‘em. If the ratings go down a little more every year, too fucking bad. It affects ABC, but who else? It’s not like they’re going to stop airing the show. Maybe it’s time for the audience to catch up to what’s being nominated, rather than the nominations trying to appease the audience. Otherwise, we’re going to wind up with Transformers 2 as a Best Picture nominee in a couple of years. And no one in their right mind wants that.

That’s all for now. Talk to you soon!

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