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Up the Academy: An Oscar Report From the Black Carpet

The real intrigue of this year's Oscar awards was never about which film would win Best Picture or who would wear something embarrassing or just how crappy the stage patter would be. No, the real intrigue this year, quite simply, was: "How will Jon Stewart do?"

My answer: Better as the show went on, but generally lousy. (Beachwood TV/Movie Editor Don Jacobson disagrees, as you can read below.) I suspect Stewart was saddled with Oscar show hacks, not his Daily Show writers, because his jokes fell flat--and deserved to. (Exception: When Stewart wondered if pulling down the giant Oscar statue would liberate Hollywood.)

My suggestion for next year: Let Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep co-host. They gave the evening's best performance--and with a comic device that could have simply been tiring.

(And don't invite Ben Stiller back; his green screen joke came about as close to being funny as George Bush came to seeing Brokeback Mountain.)

In fact, the best parts of the show didn't occur on the stage (and I'm not talking about the film clips either). The filmed opening mocking the Academy's inability to find a host for the show, including appearances the gaggle of stars who apparently turned the job down (including Billy Crystal, Chris Rock, Steve Martin, David Letterman, Whoopi Goldberg) was dead-on, and perfectly self-aware.

Anyway, Beachwood Reporter TV/Movie Editor Don Jacobson filed this report from his black carpet at home:

Dumb and Dumber
ABC was promoting the fact that their pre-Oscar show was expanded to "a full hour!" this year, as if this was a good thing. While the actual telecast is trying to hip itself up with a guy like Jon Stewart, the pre-show has retained all of the desperate, soul-destroying hero worshipping that has typified the Oscars since about 1953. It's Access Hollywood on steroids, and we all know nothing good can come of that.

Chris Connelly, who apparently used to be the editorial director of MTV News, hosted the pre-show. So he has the credentials. In fact, this was Connelly's seventh year doing the Oscar pre-casts, and you could tell he's learned how to ask interesting questions of our most beloved celebs. For example, he asked the pregnant Rachel Weisz, "So, what advice did your obstetrician give you for tonight?"

(How about: "Avoid dumb questions on your way in to see the show.")

About the only kind of pity I can muster for movie stars is that they have to put with endless dumb questions like this from the movie "press." For Weisz's part, she just kind of looked around, speechless, and then said, "I don't know . . . I was going to make something up."

In other words, the question was so dumb even a phony answer wouldn't do.

Low Expectations
Another beautiful moment came when Connelly threw it over to correspondent Billy Bush, who actually is on Access Hollywood. Bush was standing in the pavilion hall with Academy President Sid Ganis. Billy asked him what kind of show we could expect, and Ganis responded with great gravity, "It's going to be a great show, Billy. A great show."

"Thanks Sid! Back to you, Chris!"

Politics Lite
The night's biggest villain: the ol' tail-gunner, Joe McCarthy. It just goes to show you how Hollywood liberalism works. You can't come right out and bash the current president at the Academy Awards--when it would mean the most--even though that's what everyone wants to do. Instead, you find a straw man and knock him down like no one's business.

McCarthy, safely dead but also still viscerally hated for his Hollywood blacklisting, is a perfect foil first and foremost because he can't fight back.

True, he's also an uncanny stand-in for Bush and Cheney, and viewers know exactly who is really being talked about. But you can't just come out and say it.

Fearless Lite
And then you get Samuel L. Jackson saying "Hollywood has never been afraid to challenge beliefs," to which the Academy shows a bunch of clips from movies mostly from the late 1960s and 1970s, in which real social issues were discussed in brilliant ways, like in Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces. The only problem is that the Academy ignored those films at the time, which is exactly what cemented its reputation as an out-of-touch institution.

George Clooney, in his acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor, had to reach all the way back to Mammy herself--Hattie McDaniel's 1939 win for Gone With the Wind--to find an example of Hollywood's fearlessness. Right. Mammy was a subversive.

Because They Are Dweebs
Why is it the longest acceptance speeches are still being made by the winners of the categories no one but the industry types care about--costume designers, short film makers, make-up artists, etc.? One way to get them to shut up is turn off the mic, as the producers did after a rambling thank-you epic from the make-up guy from The Chronicles of Narnia. But I felt sorry for his partner, who tried to get two words in edgewise but ended up silently mouthing the words as they were hustled off stage.

Oscar Manilli
One thing I noticed is that when many of the presenters named the names of the nominees, it went to a pre-recorded voice mode. I don't know if this is a new thing or not, but for some reason it kind of upset me. It's not that I really liked hearing movie stars mangle the names of sound recording engineers or the producers of the best foreign language film. But at least that mangling was human and unscripted. Moments like that are getting rare on (non-reality show) network TV programs. If the Academy Awards can possibly get any more overproduced, I think it just happened.

Hope Lite
But for the first time since the 70s, I feel better about the Oscars. God, I didn't want to admit that, but I can't help it. Between Jon Stewart's deadly mockery--which he managed to make seem unforced--and the ascendancy of films that are actually good, I'm warming up to the Academy Awards. It's harder to ignore and dismiss them when there's hardly a clunker on the best movie list. Maybe this means the corporate studios will rethink their blockbuster predilections (especially with two high-profile blockbuster tanks in King Kong and War of the Worlds) and actually fund new, interesting filmmakers. Maybe this means there's a golden age of indie movies coming up. Maybe this means I'll be spending more time in the megaplex than in front of the DVD player.

Nah, probably not. But it's still nice to see "official" Hollywood reward movies that actually say something for a change.



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Posted on March 5, 2006


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