Feb 28, 2011

The 2011 Academy Awards: after thoughts

Commentators are falling over themselves to proclaim this the worst Oscar show ever, as is traditional, and for once they may be right. It was hard to trump last's night's jaw-aching double dose of classlessness and injustice. About the only thing good thing that can be said about it is that it served as a perfect reminder that the Oscars and quality have only the most fleeting and tangential relation to one another. I never bought the whole cahier-du-cinema-reading, finger-snapping hepcat makeover they were supposed to have enjoyed in recent years. So count me happy to limp away from a truly graceless and virtually surprise-free telecast, my identity as a filmgoer, plus my griping capacity, both renewed and replenished.
Most Viewer Hemorrhaging Event: Kirk Douglas's excrutiating hijack of the Best Supporting Actress award, his face frozen in a rictus of desperation as he clung like Grandpa Simpson to his last sliver of limelight, slurring come-ons to the "beautiful women" who were nominated. About as undignified an exit for a Hollywood screen legend as could possibly be imagined. You could feel all the younger viewers attracted by the appointment of Franco and Hathaway turning off with a collective eww.

Most Effective Decimation Of What Remained Of The Under 25 Audience: the random snatches of Hollywood history —a tribute to Gone with the Wind? — inserted into the event at irregular intervals to teach the kids some respect. Or else invoke glamor-by-association. And why did the powers that be at ABC — the one who are so desperate to attract a younger audience — also insist on turning up on stage to talk for two minutes about the recent deal they'd struck with AMPAS? Since when are 'the kids' interested in the fine print of TV scheduling deals?

Most Dismal Admission of Defeat: Bringing on Billy Crystal to remind us of the time when the presenters used to be funny and then having him reminisce about Bob Hope, who was then rescusitated with computers to do some presenting himself, thus creating an Escher-like loop of pure self-emptying hopelessness, in which presenters presented more presenters, and those presenters still more presenters, each better at their job than the one we happen to be stuck with. You know the Oscars are screwed when even the presenters get nostalgia reels. What next? The orchestra? Best speech drown-outs?

Most frequent shout-out: Christopher Nolan. "None of what I did could have been possible without the incredible vision of my master Christopher Nolan," said Wally Pfister. Does anyone who works with the guy sign a contract agreeing to call him their "master" at awards ceremonies in perpetuity? Next year will they all stand up on their seats and call him "captain, my captain"?

Best Joke: Randy Newman's admission that he's been on the show many times "and I slow it down every time."

Second Best Joke: James Franco's “I just got a text message from Charlie Sheen." Otherwise: he looked catatonic throughout, as if radioing in instructions to one of his many Franco clones from an undisclosed location. Hathaway did better once she ditched him.

Best Red Carpet Appearance: Jennifer Lawrence. You could practically feel the envy on her skin.

Most Deserved Win: Trent Reznor's. It took you a while to figure out what was so bizarre about it and then it hit you: innovative creative work, justly rewarded. Fancy. It further hemmed The King's Speech into one of the most cramped Oscar hauls in years. It's increasingly the new norm: the Mr Potato Head Oscars, with all the major awards scattered to the four winds.

Most Unseemly Gesture: the clenched spasm of victory that rippled through Tom Hooper's frame upon hearing his name called. As lonely as the air punch of a rapist.

Worst reverse innovation: the loss of the circle of praise from former winners, seemingly modelled on Krypton's council of justice in the first Superman. About the only recent innovation to actually work, so naturally it's now gone.

Most Transparent Piece of Tokenism: Halle Berry boring on about Lena Horne, the only dead person to get a personal obit on account of being black in a year when the Academy felt bad about its dearth of black nominees.

Worst Car Crash Moment: Christian Bale forgetting his wife's name.

Best Speech: Colin Firth's. Practise makes perfect. "I have a feeling my career just peaked" was a refinement of the rather too candid mid-life crisis comments he made during the Golden Globes. Similarly, with the thanks to Harvey "for taking me on when I was a mere child sensation".

Best Presenter: Sandra Bullock, bringing off a ticklish blend of tribute and teasing the producers would do well to pay close attention to, and Steven Spielberg, reminding the best picture losers of the company they keep — “If you are one of the other nine movies that don’t win, you will be in the company of The Grapes of Wrath, Citizen Kane, The Graduate, and Raging Bull. The timeliest version of that consolation I've come across.


  1. Spielberg's had some experience there, so I wondered if he was also taking a shot at Miramax right before he called their name again. In any case, he was unexpectedly great.

  2. Excellent point. It had the comfortable, form-fitting feel of old self-consolation, maybe in use since ET or even Jaws.

  3. Yes, Spielberg, but I also thought Sandra Bullock hit just the right tone--casual, teasing, yet respectful--in her Best Actor presentation. And Best Speech, unpracticed division: that kid from NYU.

    Great post, by the way.

  4. Yes and yes to both of those, Scott

  5. I'm with you on Kirk Douglas, too. His performance has been fairly divisive: Matt Zoller Seitz (and others) found him old-school charming, and at first he was. But the longer he dragged it out, the more tortuous it became to watch: Helena Bonham Carter put her hand over her face and kept sinking deeper into her seat. It was the most discomfiting blend of sadism and senility since Bette Davis's grandstanding blather at the '87 Oscars, when she "presented" the Best Actor Award to the long-overdue Paul Newman (who wisely didn't show up). It seems that the show's producers can't make up their minds if they want to go young or old, so they try a scattershot approach that satisfied neither demographic. Wish Eli Wallach had presented instead.

  6. Good article, Tom. What do you think about Hailee Steinfeld not winning? I think that was a crime.. she was clearly the best. That was the worst snub of the night, IMHO
    -Chris P.

  7. Yeah, the whole ceremony was pretty awful. As I commented on Jason's blog while this fiasco was actually going on, the most tone-deaf aspect of the whole thing was trying to pay tribute to Hollywood history with those bland sound bite moments, while shuttling the honorary and lifetime achievement awards off the broadcast. I'd much rather have listened to Coppola, and Wallach, and a bunch of people roasting/praising Godard, than anything else on this show.

    But the Oscars are really pointless in general, and always have been, so it's not like I expected anything better. I like knowing that Trent Reznor is now an Oscar winner - for an actually innovative and wonderful score - and that's about it.

  8. Interesting read about the 2011 academy awards,This is the year of The King’s Speech.I haven’t had a chance to watch this movie.

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