Monday, February 23, 2009

The 2008 Academy Awards

I thought this year’s Oscar show was one of the better ones of late, and not just because I got 20 out of 24 picks right. If I cared about most of the nominees I would have enjoyed the show even more.

Overall, this veteran Academy Awards watcher was pleased, and hope that first-time producers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark will be asked back for another time. Next time, however, they can fix the things that were amiss at this year’s show.

The pacing was better than usual and even though it lengthened the evening, I did enjoy the various actors and actresses coming out to pay homage to this year’s nominees. There was some powerful star wattage on stage there.

I liked Hugh Jackman as host too, and hope they will invite him back. I liked the set and how the orchestra was placed onstage. He killed in his opening number though some of that goodwill became squandered after the second number.

Please, please, please, banish Baz Luhrmann to the Australian hinterlands for ever. His choreographed tribune to musicals was a huge mess, giving us a retread of his beyond ghastly “Moulin Rouge” (2001) where only snatches of songs were heard. Why was Hugh Jackman intermittently singing “Maria”? I know it’s a tribute to “West Side Story”, but this is the best they could come up with? It was painful. The kids from the “High School Musical” movies and “Mama Mia” were there, but I’m not sure why as they didn’t do much. Why aren’t these things planned better? I’ve seen numbers in PRC musicals that had more thought. Beyonce Knowles did get to sing a line or two of “At Last”, reminding me of how underrated “Cadillac Records” was.

The Best Song presentation was a mess too, meshing together the three nominated songs. Not a bad idea but not so good when “Down to Earth” from “Wall-E” is sung in counterpoint to “Jai Ho” from “Slumdog Millionarie”, two songs that could not be any more different. And since Slumdog stars Dev Patel and Frieda Pinto were in attendance, why not ask them to recreate their “Jai Ho” dance number from “Slumdog.” The choreography is already done and they had the back-up dancers already on stage. It would have brought down the house.

The other thing that drove me absolutely bonkers was the memoriam segment. Thanks to our ADD-riddled culture, we can’t have a simple, dignified memorial to those that have passed in the past year. No, the camera had to swirl and swing in and out of the images, so much so that often we could not see who was being remembered. Again, don’t they run these things through rehearsal, see it’s not working and with the push of a few buttons just give us a straight-on view of the film clips? Or was it in Queen Latifah’s contract that she had to be shown as part of the sequence? Choosing to include her in the same frame with the screens during the memoriam sequence wound up serving no one.

As a loather of most anything associated with Judd Apatow, I will say I enjoyed the mini “Pineapple Express” movie with James Franco and Seth Rogen riffing on this year’s movies, especially the two stoners laughing hysterically during scenes of “The Reader.” And speaking of “The Reader”, it was a hoot when Hugh Jackman sang in his opening number that he hadn’t seen “The Reader.” I would have loved a Kate Winslet reaction shot to that. Why didn’t we get one? Did she look annoyed? Great, then show it. (Remember Russell Crowe’s reactions to some of the jabs host Steve Martin was throwing his way a few years ago. He was not amused).

And speaking of reaction shots, surely I was not the only one to wish for a cutaway to Brad and Angelina when Jennifer Aniston and Jack Black were presenting the Animation awards. I think there was quick one of Angelina, but wouldn’t you have liked to have them cut to the couple when Aniston first came out? What were their expressions when they were applauding? Unless representatives from the Brangelina camp asked the directors of the Academy show not to cut to them. What would they have done, blackball future Academy Awards? I don’t think so.

I did get a kick out of Ben Stiller’s Joaquin Phoenix take-off and Steve Martin continues to slay me. “Do not fall in love with me!” Classic. I’ll have to remember that line.

But it was a good show, the best one in years. I look forward to next year’s show, especially with the hope that I have a strong emotional connection to at least one of the nominated pictures. (Though I was glad “Slumdog Millionaire” won, as it was by far the best of the five nominated pictures).

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