In almost every annual opportunity, the Oscar telecast serves as a valiant, if somewhat tarnished, reminder as to how we all wish we were and – on some level – what we hope we could be.
Since last night’s 78th annual showing of the Academy Awards, I’ve been mulling some of what transpired and what it might mean. Incidentally, there have been some awful movies that have received recognition, and some people have won Oscars whose victories seem, if not tainted, at least somewhat dubious (Julia Roberts, Marisa Tomei). However, in most cases, the Academy does get it right.
Last night, the first real shock was the 360 Mafia being awarded an Oscar for their song “It’s Hard To Be A Pimp.” I assume I’m in the majority of viewers who laughed along with Jon Stewart as he returned to the podium after the 360 Mafia’s performance. And upon them winning the Oscar, it dawned on me that the performance of each of the nominees for best original song ought to be omitted from next year’s telecast. My reason has very little to do with the 360 Mafia’s performance; it was laughable and completely out of place, as was the song “In Too Deep” from the movie Crash (more on this later). The whole point of most movies is to establish a specific location, whether realistic or completely fantastic, and original songs – more often than not – serve to help establish that particular scene/setting. So removing the song and performing it in front of the Hollywood glitterati in a theater – live – is somewhat of an antithesis of how the song was intended. Two great examples of how music works in film are “God Only Knows” from Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights” and the Godfather theme running through the killing of the heads of the so-called Five Families in The Godfather. When a piece of music – original or otherwise – becomes so indelibly linked to a scene or a character or a movie in general, that’s when it ceases to be just a song and evolves into a part of the film. To wit, I can’t hear “God Only Knows” and not be transported to the scene in Boogie Nights where all the characters are facing some sort of reckoning. And when I hear the seven notes that comprise the beginning of "The Godfather Theme," I think back to Clemenza, Michael, Sonny and The Don without fail.
Incidentally, I watched “Crash” less than 48 hours prior to watching the Oscars, and I was heavily impressed with the performances top to bottom. It reminded me -- heavily -- of Grand Canyon and Magnolia, which, in my opinion, is a high compliment. It wasn't merely that these films are all ensemble pieces. In Crash, each character and each actor’s portrayal thereof was impressive, and the story – while a bit top-heavy on the racism angle – was very believable and an interesting take on race. I expected Paul Haggis to win Best Original Screenplay because not only was his screenplay excellent, but also that he was shut out of last year’s Oscar sweep for “Million Dollar Baby.” But to be honest, I was a bit disappointed that his film portrayed race and racism with such sharp focus but failed on almost all levels to say anything about it or provide some sort of resolution or glimmer of hope. There was one point in the movie – Ryan Phillipe and Terence Howard on a cul-de-sac in some random suburb – that perhaps approaches this notion of resolution. But with so much commentary and so little solution, I was left wanting more. In addition, the fact that a song from Crash – “In Too Deep” – was performed onstage at the Oscars was interesting, because – despite having seen the film less than a day before the Oscars, I didn’t really have any recollection of the song at all.
I didn’t see “Brokeback Mountain” so I can’t say one way or the other that Ang Lee’s film was robbed. But it seems to me that his direction – award-winning and, from what I gather, stellar – was phenomenal but a movie about a gay couple was not sufficient in transforming awkwardness to impression. I’m glad Ang Lee won an Oscar because I’ve been watching his films for years and he’s always – except for The Hulk – impressed me. And I am not shocked that Phillip Seymour Hoffman – an excellent character actor who brings professionalism to a new level in every role he approaches – won for Capote. I am, however, a bit surprised that Hoffman didn’t bother to acknowledge his long-time girlfriend or Truman Capote for giving him such a worthwhile palette on which to portray his craft. Conversely, Reese Witherspoon – who I’ve long associated with “Legally Blonde” and similar fare – graduated last night. Not only was her acceptance speech one of the most gracious and warm speeches I’ve ever heard from a mainstream actor on that stage, it showed that she respected her craft and her colleagues but remembered it was her family that helped her get to that non-podium. And the fact that she had the class to praise her “Walk The Line” co-star, Joaquin Phoenix, as well as June Carter and Johnny Cash, really impressed the hell out of me.
Other than that, I think the night progressed with very little shock value – as per usual. What I also liked was the fact that whoever set last night’s agenda – aside from just handing out Oscar trophies – made sure we knew that George Clooney gets laid – a lot – and there’s nothing wrong with gay and lesbian people and that there’s nothing like seeing a movie on a big, white screen. I understand piracy is an issue, and Hollywood isn’t a way of life, it’s a business – but after awhile I found that the “Save Hollywood” speeches, comments and suggestions were a bit ridiculous, especially when Jon Stewart quipped that “Some of the women are wearing dresses that don’t even cover their breasts.” I understand their concern, but I wonder how differently The Powers That Be would feel about watching movies on large white screens versus little screens – even those found on portable DVD players – if DVD’s weren’t copyable and shareable online. It served to remind us that Hollywood isn’t a fanciful land of make-believe and good wishes and honey and golden blossoms – it’s a dog-eat-dog, cut-throat business where people screw each other over because they can and because it will seemingly make their lives the better for it. It’s hypocrisy, and while it plays well onstage and on the screen, it’s best to watch it from the front without knowing exactly what’s happening in the back.
And if nothing else, now that the telecast and the dispersal of Oscar statuettes is behind us, we won’t have to read another headline proclaiming “A Mountain Fell With A Crash.”