by Karl J. Paloucek
I’d like to thank the Academy …
For once again boring the hell out of a nation that did its part to make 2008 one of the best years for movies in recent memory. You said that this year’s spectacle was going to be delightfully different, and well … it just wasn’t.
But I sympathize. When you look at what the Academy Awards ceremonies are, it’s a predictable recipe for boredom. Everyone watches to see who wins, but if you were to string together just the winning announcements and cut out the rest, that would be an enjoyable 15 minutes, tops. Beyond that quarter hour, the show leans on a bunch of people dressed in tuxes and couture get up and say “thank you” to another bunch of people you most likely don’t recognize. Maybe you get some witty patter here and there, like the unexpected and pleasant shout out to Mr. Roboto from Kunio Kato, winner for best animated short film, but otherwise it’s a long night of shifting uncomfortably, hoping some entertainment will come along and hoping the trainwrecks are kept at bay.
Last night certainly had its share of those.
Hugh Jackman had his first stab at the hosting gig, and … well, while he wasn’t on a par with David Letterman — Jackman did his best and worked hard — he ultimately just didn’t have the grab and wit that people look forward to in a Jon Stewart or Billy Crystal. But he wasn’t a complete disaster. What WAS a disaster were the moments that often seem to go wrong at these events — the bombastic production numbers. Baz Luhrmann must be ready to strangle the kid he hired to choreograph that Beyonce/Jackman medley. (He may have gotten the credit for it, but I really don’t want to believe that that travesty was assembled by the same guy who made a sensation with his memorable staging of Puccini’s “La Boheme” all those years ago.) But I don’t blame him entirely — he may well have been having to work with the materials given to him, which just weren’t that interesting. (Beyoncé at an awards ceremony or event of similar hoopla? Now THAT’S surprising … about as surprising as the “Slumdog Millionaire” sweep.)
Ben Stiller’s swipe at Joaquin Phoenix’s recent left turn into, at best, reticence behind sunglasses and facial hair, while well done, may not play so well in hindsight should Phoenix be diagnosed with a severe personality disorder or, God forbid, some sort of tragedy should befall him.
Speaking of tragedy, there were some nice moments during the proceedings, such as Heath Ledger’s posthumous win for Best Supporting Actor. It was a nice gesture and a deserving win, and likely gave his family and fans a high note of closure on his too-short life and career. In another benevolent gesture, Best Actor winner Sean Penn predictably took the moment to speak his mind about California’s recent vote on Proposition 8, but he did take the moment to single out Mickey Rourke for praise among the other nominees, giving Rourke a well-deserved moment in the spotlight, denied the win as he was by Penn’s tour-de-force performance.
Another of those moments to which many look forward is the obituary revue, in which the Academy pays tribute to the fallen of its industry. A number of big names passed away this year, including Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes, who received two of the bigger ovations from the crowd present. But the standing ovation was reserved for larger-than-life Paul Newman, whose contribution to film and to the world in general staggers the imagination.
As a viewer, you look forward to this sort of magnanimity and appreciation, but these moments are few if not far between. For myself, I spent most of the evening cursing out the banality of the proceedings like I often do, slagging on the unfortunate fashions (lot of ’em this year, from Angelina Jolie’s big green rocks to the peculiar right-angle jobs that Kate Winslet and a few others sported) and hoping something would surprise me in the way that the Academy promised. With “Slumdog” taking top honors at nearly every turn for which it was nominated, the Academy simply proved correct all of those who had said that the Oscars would be nothing but a “Slumdog” love-fest. That’s OK — it just wasn’t very surprising. So thanks again, Academy, and better luck with it all next year.
Just one more question: Now that the Academy Awards are over and “Slumdog Millionaire” has had its golden underdog moment, are those kids who were flown to participate in the ceremonies being returned by limo service back to the slum from where they were picked up?
© 2009 A.M.P.A.S./Michael Yada