Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar turns 80 Again

The 81st Annual Academy Awards are over and the results are in: Slumdog Millionaire is just as big a winner as everyone had predicted (winning eight awards for picture, director, adapted screenplay, cinematography, editing, musical score, original song and sound mixing).  Equally predictable were awards for Kate Winslet, Penelope Cruz and the late Heath Ledger.  Many including myself had presumed that in light of these shoe-in victories, this would be the most boring Oscar show in recent memory, so the end result was a welcome relief.

This year's show had many enjoyable elements.  Hugh Jackman was an affable host, conjuring up as much razzle-dazzle as he possible could with a pair of dancing shoes and some spirit fingers.  The humor was largely left to the presenters with Steve Martin and Tina Fey offering the show's wittiest repartee while presenting the awards for best original and adapted screenplay.  Fey: "It has been said that to write is to live forever.  Martin: "The man who wrote dead."  Ben Stiller and Natalie Portman also generated laughs when Stiller marched out in a fake Joaquin Phoenix-esque beard and feigned complete disinterest in his presenting duties.  Frequent cutaways to a shiny and somewhat manic Danny Boyle were almost as amusing.  Unfortunately, despite these bursts of inspiration the show still suffered from a saggy mid-section that was devoid of energy or momentum of any kind.   Ask any fan what they are willing to tolerate and they will most likely tell you: excess is welcome.  Tedium is not.  

So why is it that none of the show's producers seem capable of mustering up any creativity for the presentation of the so-called "smaller" awards?   It stands to reason that the award for best costume design should include a live presentation of the nominated costumes.  And if you buy that, imagine the comic possibilities of dressing the presenters in the garb of the nominated films.  Next, assemble the money shots created by the cinematography nominees.  Why we didn't see the nominated work onscreen is beyond me.  If ever there was a time for a montage -- this would be that time.   And finally, in the future please only appoint one group of presenters per category.  Any time that presenters are left onstage to introduce multiple awards, the show loses momentum.  Witness Jennifer Anniston and Jack Black or the usually incisive Bill Maher.  Even Will Smith was boring -- and ditto for the musical medley which was awkwardly patched together from a surplus of eras and genres with no overriding rhyme or reason

Other highlights included a heartfelt acceptance speech from Penelope Cruz, thanking her mentor and friend Pedro Almodovar and waxing philosophical about the arts as our "universal language."  Heath Ledger's family mounted an understated tribute that left everyone in the house teary-eyed and Sean Penn showed humor and restraint accepting the best actor award for his performance as Harvey Milk -- but don't get me started on Mickey Rourke losing what was rightfully his.  Bravo to retiring Academy President Sid Ganis for agreeing not to deliver a speech this year -- this was a stroke of genius.  And, bringing back past award winners to introduce this year's acting nominees was a touch of class, but next year the match-ups ought to be a little more coherent.    Best of all, Slumdog Millionaire, the feel good movie of the year, walked away with eight major awards, lifting indie spirits everywhere.  There may be no such thing as a perfect awards show but the 81st Annual Academy Awards demonstrated a marked potential for improvement.  It was almost as if instead of acting his age Oscar turned 80...again.