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I probably wouldn't have watched the Oscars telecast at all -- hell, I didn't see any of these movies, except for Wall-E -- but some film friends were out of town for the live broadcast and I taped it for them. I'm mulling over the idea that between Netflix and those wonderful buck-a-movie machines at McDonald's, I might actually get around to seeing all the major category-nominated movies this year. Or also I might get one-third of the way through The Reader and decide that I would rather spend my time watching movies that are fun to watch. Or "The Wire" from the beginning, again. I'm not a movie guy, I'm a TV guy. It is what it is. Also, the NBA playoffs are coming up, and between that and "Idol" I might just lay off entirely on fictional stuff in which I'm not already invested.
Pretty much every storyline from the Oscars was overshadowed in my mind by the news that Andy Richter is going to be a regular on the new "Tonight Show" with Conan. That is an entertainment atom bomb. I haven't watched hardly a moment of a late-night talk show since Andy left "Late Night" when I was in college. I didn't watch or care about Conan's last "Late Night" and I had no plans to watch the new show. Now I will, because I love Andy like a milkshake. And I've talked to like three other people who feel exactly the same way! I knew there had to be a silver lining to the cancellation of "Andy Barker, P.I." And "Andy Richter Controls the Universe." And "Quintuplets." I wonder if Donnie, Chareth, Rocky, and Emmett will be in the studio audience for the premiere.
The Oscars telecast was as usual, a mixed bag. For some reason even though they make a massive effort every year to keep the thing moving along, they have some huge blind spots when it comes to what needs to be cut. The orchestral performances of the overtures to each of the films nominated for music awards? Totally extraneous. They didn't even do a good job of showing the visuals to which each score was performed, which seems like missing the point. Like I want to watch a bunch of anonymous L.A. session violin players saw away at tone poems for ten minutes. The musical number with Beyonce was irrelevant and tedious, save for Zac Efron's flop sweat. And his hat falling off because his hair was so greasy! Radical.
More stuff I hated: The clips shown throughout from movies that weren't nominated for anything. We really need to take time during a four-hour broadcast to acknowledge Kung Fu Panda and Hancock? The setup for the acting awards, with five former winners per trophy engaging in a classic Hollywood flurry of fawning self-congratulation, gave me a sudden priorly unfelt empathy for John Walker Lindh. This is exactly what people mean when they talk about myopic, decadent Americans and their movie stars.
The Paul Millsap award for being described as underrated for so long that he's now overrated goes to Philip Seymour Hoffman in a walk. Dude, I'm so over you, with your Serious Artist knit cap (who wears a hat to the Oscars?), perma-smirk, and your tented fingers. Like Mission Impossible III didn't totally suck ass. Please go away now.
Bill Maher didn't strike the right tone with his self-promoting introduction for the documentary awards but in the post-show breakdowns I think he's taken way too much abuse. Maher's current crusade, against organized religion, isn't very popular but isn't any less valid a cause than Sean Penn and the screenwriter from Milk's gay rights kick or even Jerry's Kids. Maher's right, religious fanatics do way more harm than good and Hollywood is still way too ambivalent about taking on the endless fountains of hatred spewed by the far-right elements of all the western world's major religions. Rather than seeming bitter and flogging his own Religulous so hard Maher could have connected his point to one of the films actually being celebrated on the evening (like Doubt) or even given a shred of evidence than he had seen any of the documentaries that were nominated. A lot of people are hating on Maher for making his presentation of somebody else's award about him, but being selected to appear onstage during the Oscars is in and of itself a form of validation. You can't give a guy like Maher a podium and expect him not to keep doing the very same thing that got him invited to the dance in the first place.
Like Ben Stiller's Joaquin Phoenix bit during the Best Cinematography presentation. Yes, it might have been the very tiny least bit disrespectful to the winner of what the Oscars still justifiably treat as a major award, but it was funny. The acceptance speeches by the technical award winners are always death, so let's just accept it and roll with it. It's not like the guys who win don't benefit at all besides a few seconds of big-Nielsen share screen time. Anyway, way to not just take up space like Jennifer Aniston or condescendingly mail it in like Will Smith, Ben. Tropic Thunder will be remembered and enjoyed a lot longer than all this year's prestige pictures, save probably Slumdog.
I liked the front row of seats being right against the front of the stage, but the seating chart was ridiculous. You had award winners having to sprint down from the balcony as to maximize the star power in the HD-friendly front rows. (Speaking of which, they totally showed Zach Braff during Hugh Jackman's big "I'm Wolverine" singing climax. That was hilarious.) I know it's important that Americans see Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt at least every hour on the hour, but they couldn't have found a floor seat for the wacky French stuntman from Man on Wire? That guy was pure distilled visual entertainment! Speaking of which, for a guy who's not that famous and certainly isn't that beautiful, Judd Apatow sure had a great seat. A billion dollars in box office from a string of movies that cost $30 mil or less to make will do that for you.
Oh, it's sad that I'm just getting to it (and it reflects how poorly the telecast utilized him), but Jackman was fantastic. No Billy Crystal mugging, none of the hemmed-in, out-of-his-element restraint that plagued Jon Stewart, and a minimum of excruciating Bruce Vilanch jokes. (Although the "I'm an Australian... playing an Australian... in a movie called Australia" line in the opening monologue was a doozy.) Jackman's effortlessly timed falls and rolls during the dance sequences gave the telecast some of the timeless feel that the Oscars usually assume they carry by default. I wish they'd given him a little more to do, although cheers to nixing the time-consuming practice of having the host introduce all of the presenters. As for the other nostalgia trips, not so much. I understand what they were trying to do during the "In Memoriam" sequence, keeping things going with a live song by Queen Latifah to prevent applause for a famous actor roaring over and then dying out awkwardly during the recognition of an unknown film editor. From a lot of the comments I read people were unhappy that the cuts to Queen and the audience kept them from even being able to see the honored dead. This didn't play as badly in HD but I can see how it would be a problem for people with outdated sets.
The clip packages from old movies seemed more random and extraneous than usual this year, perhaps because some of the more obvious fat from Oscars past has already been trimmed. Even the clips cut to reflect shared themes between this year's Best Picture nominees and past winners could have been done by anybody with YouTube and a Macbook. They didn't need all the replays from old acceptance speeches any either. Like any actor's acceptance speech is any different from any other's. What was weird -- and what has been observed elsewhere -- is how very little the show used clips from this year's nominees. That was a bit odd.
It wasn't until I read about it after the fact that I realized that the order of the awards presentations, and the way some of them were done (Steve Martin and Tina Fey reading stage directions, very weird, although Martin was hilarious -- remember when he was in movies?) was supposed to follow the process of making a movie from script to screen. That didn't scan at all. Also, why shove the writing awards to the very top? You know the winner's going to be a good writer! Dustin Lance Black's emotional, beautifully stated acceptance speech for his script from Milk's win was the best of the evening, and yet it came well before the coveted Best Animated Short award. Lame.
Seth Rogen and James Franco -- absolutely hilarious. Funnier than Pineapple Express. Too bad this came out too late for the DVD. And if Ben Stiller unjustly stole the cinematographers' moment in the sun, Rogen, Franco, and Apatow gave it right back with their inspired use of Janusz Kaminski. How do you suppose that went down? Do you think the Academy told Rogen and Franco they'd be presenting with Steven Spielberg's right-hand man, or do you think Apatow and Rogen sat down to write a bit and said, "Man, we just have to use Janusz Kaminski!" Oh, now that I look into it, it appears that Kaminski and Apatow are working together on Funny People. That's a bit of a letdown. I would prefer to think that out of the blue Rogen said, "Janusz Kaminski. It has to be Janusz Kaminski."