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Wednesday, 27 February 2013

85th Annual Academy Awards

Here we go again with Hollywood's annual love-in: the Oscars! Much to my surprise I note that last year was the first time that I blogged about the ceremony, despite being a near religious viewer of the annual fun and games. So how was this year's? Good question!

For a start I wish that the powers that be would get their act together when choosing a host for the procedings, rather than opting for a flavor-of-the-month like we had in the form of Seth MacFarlane. While I know next to nothing about the man, never having seen any of his television shows nor yet seen his directorial effort "Ted" (although I must admit it sounds something of a hoot from the reviews I've read), my received impression was to expect a sharp and humourous intelligence. Wrong again! His shtick was a cringing example of bad taste and mis-timed attempts to raise laughs, exemplified by his song number "We've seen your boobs", highlighting well-known actresses who have bared all on screen. The look of disgust on the faces of some of his 'culprits' reflected the audience's unease, even if two of his victims had agreed in advance to react with pretend horror (Theron and Watts I've read). No need to pretend ladies, since his entire routine verged on the unwatchable with sexist, racist, and religious so-called jokes. When the 'god of good taste' William Shatner appeared to him as some sort of deus ex machina telling him to improve his hosting or risk disastrous reviews, we were treated to some clumpy musical numbers to make the opening more 'Oscarly', but which only made one think that what the ceremony really needs is a professional host who gets on with the business to hand. 

As usual I have only seen a minority of this year's contenders, although I know that I will catch up with them all in due course, having so far only seen "Life of Pi" and "Django Unchained" on their release. However that in no way stops my having my own biases and prejudices. Staying with these two films for the moment, I suppose Tarantino deserved his second screenwriting Oscar since he is a far better writer than director or god-help-us actor, and Christoph Waltz is a mesmeric screen presence. As for "Pi", it was surprisingly the evening's big winner, if you count receiving four awards as notable. As expected it had two well-deserved technical awards for visual effects and cinematography, a third for its rousing musical score, and I felt a very deserved acknowledgment of Ang Lee as best director. I think that pleased me more than anything else.

However his film did not go on to win best picture, an honour taken by the very popular "Argo", which brings me to the often commented upon anomaly of a best picture 'directing itself 'when its director is not himself nominated. In a way this is inevitable when the Academy decided to expand the list of nominated films to a maximum of ten, while limiting the directorial nominations to five -- although this conundrum existed even when the totals were five and five. If truth be known, I suspect that Lee might have lost the race had Ben Affleck been numbered amongst his opponents, although I think the absence of the other three missing directors would not have mattered. At any rate I'm pleased that "Lincoln" and Steven Spielberg did not win in either category.

Meanwhile Lincoln's star Daniel Day-Lewis went on to make Oscar history by being the first man to win three best actor Oscars. I don't have a lot of time for this infamous method actor, although there is no doubt that he pours himself into his roles, since he often comes across as humourless and holier-than-thou. However I did chuckle during his acceptance speech, after his win was announced by Meryl Streep -- herself no slouch when it comes to nominations and wins -- that he nearly didn't take the role since he was contracted to play Margaret Thatcher, leaving Streep as Speilberg's next choice as Lincoln. Now there are two never-to-be-seen films worth savouring!

As for the other acting kudos, one couldn't help feeling that the awards to Jennifer Lawrence and Anne Hathaway reflected their current popularity rather than necessarily being the best amongst the nominees. It would have been lovely to see octagenarian Emmanuelle Riva win best actress. as she did at the BAFTAs, but most of the voters probably don't know who the heck she is. As for Hathaway's Oscar, this probably annoys me more than any of the awards, not just because her screen time in "Les Miserables" was limited (this didn't stop Judi Dench's receiving the same award some years back for only eight mintues on screen), but because she becomes increasingly more and more full of herself and no doubt believed that she deserved this honour more than any of her fellow nominees. I should say in passing that I have resisted ever seeing the stage version of "Les Mis" despite its having run here for the last umpteen years and I can hardly say that I am looking forward to watching the three hour, totally live-sung musical film. It sounds to me like three hours of purgatory -- but that's probably just me.

Anything else? Well I am fed up with hearing winners say with mock humility that in any 'normal' year their competitors would have been the obvious winner; I think this has been said every year since the year dot. Secondly, while the theme of this year's ceremony was meant to be the celebration of screen musicals, this would have been far better accomplished with one of the compilations that have shone at previous ceremonies, rather than subjecting us to unnecessary re-enactments of the Oscar-winning "Chicago" and "Showgirls" and then giving the cast of "Les Mis" the chance to perform their nominated best song. You really can't mix tributes with nominations, and apart from Adele's winning performance of "Skyfall" the other three nominees were given little exposure. In an average year I normally record between five and eight parts of the evening's jollities to save for my future viewing pleasure, but this year there were only two: the rather well-done tribute to 50 years of James Bond with its crowd-pleasing performance of "Goldfinger" by Shirley Bassey, and the In Memoriam section honoring those now gone, which this year ended with a rare performance by Barbra Streisand. Both she and Bassey still 'have it' even if their voices are not quite what they were at their peak.

Well there's always next year for things to improve and perhaps I will have finally seen all of this years nominations by then -- even if this has to include "Les Mis".
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