Movies - The Oscars postsFriday October 30, 2009
Which Host with What Most?
I agree with the Hollywood talent agent in this Patrick Goldstein post: Having Ricky Gervais host the Golden Globes is the Globes' gain and the Academy's loss. He's one of the funniest men on the planet, and, being British, he's at least somewhat international, although I doubt his shows carry far into Europe, let alone Asia or Latin America. His movies certainly don't.
So what's the Academy looking for in a host? What's their goal—to increase U.S. ratings or international ratings? "Both," I'm sure someone would say. But if they had to choose, wouldn't they want the latter rather than the former? And what are the international ratings of the Academy Awards? I remember how common it once was to talk about "a billion people watching" but they haven't trotted that one out in a while, and a quick Google search gives us, at best, vague reports, like this one from Variety: "Some suggest that as many as 800 million people watch the Oscarcast worldwide." I like that. Some don't even "say" it; some merely "suggest" it. Some gossip that... Some spread rumors that... It's called news.
The U.S. numbers, meanwhile, are no mere suggestions, and they are definitely dropping. No year in the '90s dipped below 40 million—with the high point being the 57 million who watched "Titanic" win—while no year in the last five years has risen above 40 million. These ratings drops correlate with the drop in the box-office numbers of the best-picture candidates, so one wonders how much a host can counter this trend. Isn't that what the idiotic expansion of the best-picture candidates is for?
Even so, who would you pick as your Oscar host? Another funny TV star—like Johnny Carson, David Letterman or Jon Stewart? Another funny movie star—like Bob Hope, Billy Crystal or Steve Martin? A song-and-dance man like Hugh Jackman? Apparently the show's new producers, Bill Mechanic and Adam Shankman, are seeking co-hosts, rather than one host, to appeal to the different demographics in our increasingly fragmented country in our increasingly international world. So who could that be? Brad and Angelina? Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts? Justin Timberlake and Beyonce? Who matters in the movie world anymore?
This last question actually clarifies. If movie stars no longer matter, as the box-office numbers indicate, you go with what does. Thus: Welcome! To the 82nd Annual Academy Awards! With presenters: Harry Potter! The Dark Knight! Optimus Prime! Captain Jack! Spider-Man! Iron Man! And Darth Vader! And now, here's your hosts, Shrek and Donkey!
And the nominees are...doubled
At least according to this Variety report. Beginning next year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences will nominate 10 best picture candidates rather than the five they've been nominating since 1944.
Some may applaud the move. It certainly gives the "Dark Knight"s of the world a better chance to show up. But the Academy is messing with tradition, and for a seemingly short-term gain in ratings and relevance.
My immediate reaction? Feels desperate.
UPDATE: It's 10 minutes later and the whole thing smells. The major studios, which can't make best pictures anymore, want their pictures nominated "best" nonetheless. The Academy, which can't seem to nominate popular and critically acclaimed pictures like "Dark Knight" and "WALL-E," wants relevance and ratings. This is the compromise. But it's a bad one. I remember baseball player Keith Hernandez arguing once that you only mess with tradition if the new rules increase strategy. That's why he was in favor of the three-point play in basketball and against the DH in baseball. The former increased strategy, the latter decreased it. Here? It dilutes it. Ten nominees means there will be more flotsam ("Frost/Nixon") and jetsam ("The Reader") in the race; stuff to push aside to get at the real race.
Bottom line: they're fixing something that's not broken (the five nominee slots) because of something that is (the major studios don't make best pictures anymore). What a shame.
Live-Blogging the Oscars
3:50 PM: It won't start for more than an hour but thought I'd try a test run. I also want people to know that I'm not doing the traditional liveblog format with the newest entry highest up — meaning you have to read bottom to top. Here it's top to bottom. Like normal. Apologies if this require frequent scrolling.
Patricia's in the kitchen getting stuff ready, Jellybean's sniffing around, wondering why the furniture's changed. She suspects somethng's up. She's right.
Oscar picks are done. P and I disagree on seven of the 21 categories: Supporting Actress (she: Tomei, me: Cruz), Foreign (she: Bashir, me: Class), Editing (she: Button, Me: Slumdog), Cinematography (she: Dark Knight, me: Slumdog), Art Direction (she: Dark Knight, me: Button) and the Sound categories (she went WALL-E, I went Dark Knight). For what it's worth. Not much.
Watching the red carpet shows. Ryan Seacrest to Danny Boyle: "And you brought people from the slums, did you not?" Yuck. I'm forced to mute it every other second out of embarrassment.
4:35: First guests arrived, Jayne and Alex. Laura, our neighbor down the hall, can't make it because she's feeling under the weather. The men at the party will be bummed even if they don't know it yet.
Ryan Seacrest to Josh Brolin: "Why was it important to tell the story of Harvey Milk?" Sheeeesh. Is it me or does Ryan S. make it seem like he's going out of his way to talk to these, you know, "actors" and "directors"?
Holy smack, Penelope Cruz looks beautiful! And Marion Coutillard. And Javier Bardem. OK, I'll stop or this will be pretty boring. Please forgive. I haven't liveblogged before.
5:00: It begins: Hope Putnam, last year's winner, all of five years old, arrives in her PJs. She's ready for a long show.
On the tube, I like the pans down the dresses of the women. It's something that appeals to both men and women: women like the dresses, men like the pan. On the other hand, how sexist is this? If the camera were my eyes, wouldn't I get slapped?
Hey! They're not starting at 5, after all. It's all red carpet. Was I the only one who didn't know this?
Patricia on Miley Cyrus: "That is SUCH an ugly dress."
I have Mike Smith on my left arguing for "Iron Man" as best picture because there's a purity and snappiness to it. It's not a bad argument. Not a great one, but not a bad one.
Hugh Jackman arrives: Now it begins. I like the open, the song and dance. "How come comic book movies are never nominated/How can a billion dollars be unsophisticated?" And the bit with Anne Hathaway was wonderful. "Oh, Nixon." Seriously, they should do a musical together. Plus the close where he declares himself WOLVERINE. That's a guy who knows how to have a good time.
Supporting Actress: The party reaction to the five former winners talking up the category: "Oh, is this going to be a long night?" "Are they going to do this with sound editor, too?" Etc. But I liked the close-up of Viola Davis tearing up. Very sweet. And now I'm one for one. Penelope! I could listen to her accent all night.
The screenplay awards: Great, great speech by Dustin Lance Black. And love the back-and-forth between Steve Martin and Tina Fey. Please more comedians. Please.
When Slumdog wins for adaptated, my friend Jim, across the room, thrusts a fist into the air and announces "I'm taking no prisoners!"
I have to slow down a bit, join the party, this liveblogging/hosting thing is difficult. Plus I need a beer.
6:22: Beer got. So far no surprises with the awards. We're up to costume design. Nobody in the room (my room) has apparently seen "Australia." No one in the room (my room) has seen and really likes "Benjamin Button." We have about 25 people here. And, yes, now costume design to "The Dutchess." No surprises.
So far we've got a five-way tie for first. Five-way.
6:40: A cinematography win for "Slumdog." And still a five-way tie. Too many of us are apparently reading Entertainment Weekly. Was the Joaquin Phoenix thing necessary? I haven't been paying attention to that news but it seems... not very classy.
I find it interesting, too, that Jessica Biel, in her speech, brought up Thomas Edison, since the reason Hollywood exists is because early filmmakers fled the east coast for the west coast to avoid Edison's litigation.
BTW: Where's Hugh Jackman? He did the opening number and then...disappeared.
6:50: How about Seth Rogan laughing at James Franco's tortured German pronunciation? "It's funny cuz it's German."
Ah, Hugh is back! And he's gonna sing again! Yay!
Wait, is this too Broadway? Well, now Beyonce's there, so... LOVE the way she sings "Dustin' off my tails..." Yes, dust. Please, dust.
7:06: Supporting actor, with five previous winners introducing the five nominees. So apparently it's just for the acting categories. I'll refrain from talking about Philip Seyour's skicap. Other blogs I'm sure are all over it.
OK, I LOVE that they have Christopher Walken introducing Michael Shannon. Shannon could play Walken's son. He should play Walken's son. In some movie somewhere.
But I assume this is Heather Ledger's award. I assume there'll be a standing ovation.
And it is. And there it is. Even so, I'm glad. And unsurprised.
Best documentary: The room (my room) just applauded Philippe Petit's antics and coin tricks onstage. Fun stuff. Everyone, see "Man on Wire." Of course I'd love to see ALL of the docs, as Bill Maher suggested, but most don't play in Seattle, even though it's a pretty good movie town.
The sound awards: How often does the sound mixing and sound editing differ? And do we still call that a Nehru jacket?
I'm on my third beer. I'm still tied for first. It's still a five-way tie.
Actually, after the editing award for "Slumdog," Hope, last year's winner, drops, leaving a four-way tie: me, Jim (who's taking no prisoners) Mike (Hope's dad) and Brenda.
8:09: Sorry for being away so long. I had to take a souvenir bat away from a little girl. Then I tried to take another souvenir bat from a little boy. I suppose I should put the souvenir bats away before the kids arrive.
Hey, one of the first big surprises of the evening! "Departures," from Japan. Everyone should still see "The Class" and "Waltz with Bashir." And it would be nice to see "Depatures," too. But...same problem as before. It's not playing here. I wonder if it'll ever play here.
Memorium time: This is always so sad. Cyd Charisse. Bernice Mac, so young. Nina Foch.... Roy Scheider... I didn't know Manny Farmer died!... James Whitmore and that great scene from "Shawshank"... Charlton Heston... Sydney Pollack... Paul Newman...
I wonder over the lack of Heath Ledger, but Mr. B reminds me that Heath died last January, in time for last year's Oscars, which is when he was remembered. It's so odd. He's been in our consciousness so much this year as the Joker, it's hard to remember he's been dead for over a year already.
We're at best director now, and still in a four-way tie for first. Three of those people, including me, have Mickey Rourke for best actor. And that's the only difference. If Sean Penn wins, Brenda wins. If Mickey Rourke wins, it's a three-way tie for first. That's assuming no big surprises and a come-from-behind win by someone else.
Nope. Danny Boyle.
Oo, good Tigger reference. This is a great speech. Well, until the last line. "Mumbai, you dwarf even this tiny statuette..." Yeah, thanks, dude.
Best actress. Standing o for the women. Very classy. Shirley Maclaine talking up Anne Hathaway is a very, very sweet moment.
Yep, another non-surprise, but, what the hell, I love Kate Winslet, and I love her shampoo bottle reference. And the whistle from her dad! Very cute. Some had disparaged her performance but... let me put it this way. The movie was less imperfect than the book because the movie had Kate Winslet.
Best actor. Wow, that's a helluva roster for the best actor nominees. But why isn't Daniel Day Lewis among them? Last year's winner. And doesn't it take away a bit of a charge, a bit of energy, to have this kind of same-sex intro? Who's Adrienne Brody going to be kissing — Ben Kingsley?
Nice Robert De Niro intro for Sean Penn. And Ben Kinglsey asks the right question with Randy the Ram: Why do we care? It is because of Mickey Rourke. Indeed. Maybe that's why he should win...
And he doesn't! Sean Penn! Standing o. "You commie, homo-lovin' sons of guns." Great line. And then he gets serious. As he should. We live in serious times. He's a double winner now. Joining Spencer Tracy, Frederich March, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Tom Hanks. Others? I used to know this stuff.
Best picture: How interesting that the accompanying pics with each nominee are full of NON-best picture winners: "Citizen Kane," "Saving Private Ryan," etc. The Academy saying, "Whoops, whoops, whoops..."
And the Oscar goes to...
Yep, "Slumdog Milionaire." As someone here dryly says: "Shocking."
So Brenda wins our pool, with 19 out of 21 correct. I tied for second with 18 out of 21. Which means it wasn't exactly a surprising year...
Enough of this. Clean-up duty. It'll be interesting to read what other people thought. Me, I don't even know what I thought. I was too busy doing this.
The Backwards Threats of Hollywood Execs
Some executives, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect their relationships with those who vote for prizes, have said in the last few weeks that they do not expect their studios to make any movie in the foreseeable future as a specific Oscar bet.
If honors happen to come, as they came to “The Departed,” a Warner film that was a surprise best-picture winner in 2007, so be it. But few are looking to make the next “Frost/Nixon,” a smart, critically acclaimed film that got Ron Howard a nomination as best director this year.
Look, I enjoyed “Frost/Nixon” well enough. But threatening not to make the next “Frost/Nixon” is like, I don’t know, threatening not to serve a baked potato at your next dinner party. Not many people are going to lose sleep.
Read Cieply’s entire piece. On the one hand, the lament of these executives is part of my lament: In recent years, the Academy hasn’t been nominating box-office hits for best picture. Let’s trot out that stat again. Since 1944, when the Academy finally settled on five best picture nominees, there have only been seven years when not one of the best-picture candidates was among the year’s top 10 box-office hits: 1947, 1984...and the last five years in a row.
But blaming only the Academy for this is both dishonest and hypocritical. Me, I mostly blame the studios. Here’s the bigger problem: Best pictures are no longer perceived as movies for all of us. They’ve become, as in the language above, niche pictures, and one niche of many. Here’s your gory horror, your chick flick, your urban comedy. Here’s either your gross wish fulfillment (the superstrong and superpowerful) relased into 4,000 theaters in the heat of summer, or here’s your small, sad slice of reality (the superweak) released into select cities in the dark of December. The former’s fun, the latter’s “important,” and never the twain shall meet. Anymore.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the consolidation of these niches makes each niche more like itself. The gory horror film becomes more gory; the chick flick becomes pinker and fluffier; the serious film becomes deadly, sadly serious. And the idea of a best picture “for all of us” becomes just that: an idea.
Thus the primary threat above — that the majors will no longer make and/or target specific films as Oscar candidates — is amusing in two ways. One: the majors haven’t even been producing many best-picture-type movies in recent years — they leave that to the indies — so threatening not to do what they’re already not doing is, yes, not a viable threat.
More importantly, removing the "best-picture niche” may allow what elements are in that niche (seriousness, etc.) to bleed into other niches and create something that's both important and not limited. I.e., something for all of us.
It's not only not a threat; it might even be a solution.
See you in a few hours.
Much Ado About Oscar — Days 2 & 3
Here are links to Days Two and Three of the Oscar Symposium over at Nathaniel R.'s place. At the end of Day 3 we also lay out our will win/should win list. Turns out we agree with each other a lot — perhaps too much — and those choices also agree with our perception of what the Academy will do. I can't remember a year when so much of what I thought should win was what I thought would win. Chalk it up to the limited choices? Whatever, just don't confuse the agreeableness with any kind of passion. These really are the ho-hum Oscars for me. I'm not hugely rooting for anything, I'm not hugely rooting against anything. But I'll still try to liveblog the sucker.
Meantime, my friend Tommy directed me to this neat little Oscar quiz. I got 24 of 31. Please someone do better.