The 85th Annual Academy Awards

Whoo-boy. After that Oscar ceremony there certainly is a lot to discuss.

I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t do better with my predictions; I wound up 19/24 for the night, which seemed pretty decent until I did the math and realized that was 79%, or a C+. If I got a B+ in school I was unhappy, so a C+ doesn’t make me happy at all. However, the only category that I can really fault myself for getting wrong was best supporting actor. I wanted to pick Christoph Waltz, but I thought the Academy would be more likely to go with Tommy Lee Jones, so I went with him instead. Ang Lee was never even a consideration in my mind for Best Director; if you had given me 20 Oscar ballots, I don’t know that I would have picked him on any of them. Same goes for the Oscar win for the live action short Curfew. It never even crossed my mind to pick it. And I still think it is bollocks that Les Miserables beat The Hobbit in the hair and make-up category. I mean, look at all the work that went into creating all those creatures in The Hobbit. I’m pretty sure all they did in Les Miserable was rub some dirt on pretty people and shave Anne Hathaway’s head, which actually made their job easier. Whatever.

Now, the big story today is not really the winners and losers of the awards, but how Seth MacFarlane did as a host. While I didn’t think he was very good, I don’t think he was as terrible as most people seem to think. Perhaps that is partially because my bar for Oscar hosts is tremendously low and was lowered further when I heard that MacFarlane got the job. I am a fan of many of MacFarlane’s products – I enjoy The Family Guy and thought Ted was very funny – but I was very skeptical that his brand of humor was going to work well with the Oscar crowd and viewing audience. The Academy Awards are all about Hollywood congratulating themselves and MacFarlane is all about going after sacred cows.  I actually thought that he started out OK – the opening monologue wan’t spectacular, but I did laugh a few times.  Hell – even Tommy Lee Jones laughed, which is a minor miracle. Many people didn’t like MacFarlane’s song about actresses that have gone topless, but I thought that it was worth it simply for this Jennifer Lawrence reaction:

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Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there.

My main issue with MacFarlane wasn’t the subjects of his jokes, though I thought that they were ill suited for the audience, but the execution. I subscribe to the theory that no subject is necessarily off limits in comedy. However, the more sensitive the topic of the joke, the more well-crafted that the joke needs to be. If you are going to venture into certain comedic waters, you had better have one hell of a joke prepared; it’s a narrow window of what will work and most comedians are unable to stick the landing. MacFarlane is an example of that – he just wasn’t funny, which I think is a much bigger sin than cracking wise about taboo subjects. His jokes were just lazy. Macfarlane’s humor tends to benefit from quantity rather than quality; he usually throws a lot of jokes at you and hopes that enough land that you forget the many that miss. That doesn’t work with a show like the Oscars. Of course, the fault doesn’t reside only with him, but with the entire writing staff for the broadcast. He may be the man that delivered the jokes, but he certainly didn’t write them all. Someone had to OK all that before it went on the air.

I also would have respected MacFarlane more if he committed to the material. If you are going to make the jokes he made last night, you need to own it. Instead, he would try to distance himself various times in the broadcast; the opening bit about him tanking the ceremony was all about lowering expectations and periodically throughout the night he would make comments before or after a joke to try and minimize the damage inflicted.

That being said, MacFarlane was far from the only issue with the Oscar telecast. And I do have to give him credit – he MUST have known it was not going well, but he kept trying. James Franco had already checked out one hour into his co-hosting duties. Standing in front of a room of people when you realize your material is just not working is one of the worst feelings in the world.

The scripted banter of awards shows is always pretty abysmal, but this year I think it was at an all-time low. When the affable Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy can’t sell a bit, you know you are in trouble.  The cast of the Avengers appeared to have absolutely no charisma and doubling down on MacFarlane humor with an appearance by Ted and Mark Wahlberg was too much of a bad thing. It was all very awkward and weird. I’m also convinced that there was a big pile of blow backstage and that most of the people presenting had a bump or two (Renee Zellweger clearly was under the influence of something). For what was supposed to be Hollywood’s most glamorous night, an awful lot of people looked like they had been sleeping under a bridge right before the ceremony. Is brushing your hair no longer chic in LA?

Some other thoughts that I jotted down during the epically long telecast:

  • The more I see of Kristin Chenoweth, the less I like this woman. One too many people have told her that she is cute as a button and she’s clearly drank the Kool-Aid. We get it – you are short. Get a new bit. I don’t normally watch the red carpet show and based on what I saw last night, I won’t watch it again. Dear Lord – this entire exchange with Bradley Cooper made me throw up a little:

And for the record, she took her shoes off during an interview and had absolutely NO trouble getting them back on.  That was all for Bradley’s benefit.

  • Speaking of Mr. Cooper – his mom seems a little nutty, but in a good way. And I give that woman huge props for wearing sneakers AND a pink boa. That is a combination you don’t normally see rocking the red carpet, but I bet she was the most comfortable person there.
  • Even more embarrassing was Jamie Foxx hitting on Kelly Rowland on the Red Carpet – in front of his daughter (who looked pretty horrified by the whole thing).

When did the Red Carpet become the celebrity equivalent of a bar during last call?

  • I don’t know if they thought that “Guess what is in the box” would be riveting television, but I was disappointed when it turned out to be ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. I would have been way more excited if it would have been a head, a la Seven.

 

  • We all knew that Channing Tatum and Daniel Radcliffe can dance, but Charlize Theron and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were a real surprise.
  • I actually thought the sock puppet re-enactment of Flight was pretty funny (quality of the video isn’t great).

I’d much rather watch that than watch Billy Crystal break out his Sammy Davis, Jr. impression.

  • I’ll admit that I got a little nervous when I was wrong with the first category out of the gate.
  • Loved that the guy who accepted the award for Brave was wearing a kilt, but his co-winner looked like she raided the costume department on the set of Lincoln.
Photo from The Daily Record

Photo from The Daily Record

  • I still think Wreck-It Ralph was better.
  • The cast of The Avengers should have come out in costume.
  • Using the theme from Jaws to play people off was clever, but they really should allot more time for the people who are actually winning a freaking Oscar to talk. There were a million places where the telecast could have been cut to allow the people who are hitting a career pinnacle their moment in the sun.
  • It was especially unfortunate that they played off the winner for best visual effects as he was drawing attention to the  fact the company that did the special effects is going bankrupt.
  • Actual debate that we had during the Oscars – was Alf ever an Oscar presenter? (In case you had any doubt, he was not).
  • Bond is awesome, but the 50th anniversary of the franchise already has gotten a lot of play. I don’t know that this Oscar tribute was necessary. Though Shirley Bassey was amazing in her performance of “Goldfinger. “
  • John Travolta’s pronunciation of Les Miserables was hilarious.
  • I love musicals as much as the next person, but the tribute was ridiculous. If they insisted on doing it, they should have selected some more iconic musicals. I liked Chicago, but it is considered to be one of the worst recent Best Picture winners. Plus Catherine Zeta-Jones was clearly lip syncing.
  • I don’t think Jennifer Hudson deserves an Oscar – she’s a great singer, but a terrible actress – but she blew the roof off the place.
  • There was much discussion at our Oscar Party as to how exactly they pulled off the appearance by Ted. Here’s the explanation.
  • For those who may not have gotten the reference to the post-Oscar orgy at Jack Nicholson’s house, director Roman Polanski notoriously raped a thirteen year old girl at Nicholson’s residence.
  • They really should make those envelopes with the winners easier to open. Far too many people were struggling.
From The Urban Daily

From The Urban Daily

  • WHY are people still asking Kristen Stewart to show up at awards shows? She is literally the worst. She is such a sourpuss and looks like she is there against her will. Twilight is over – let’s move on.
  • I can’t believe that Andy Griffith, Richard Dawson, Phyllis Diller and Larry Hagman didn’t make the Oscar In Memorium segment. And I was disappointed that they resumed the practice of allowing the audio of the audience applauding for the different people who have passed away, once again turning the segment into a bizarre popularity contest.
  • Adele needs to get an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony), pronto. We as a society should demand this. She’s the best, though the sound mixing seemed a bit off during her performance. She was getting drowned out in parts by the orchestra.
  • They should either have all the best songs performed or none of them. They shouldn’t pick and choose.
  • Remember when I said that Renee Zellweger had hit rock bottom when Lifetime passed on her pilot. Last night, we saw the real life personification of that. What a freaking train wreck. There is absolutely no way she was sober and she has clearly had too much Botox.

I don’t know if Richard Gere was calling her out on her behavior with this move, but it was pretty classic:

This led us to speculate that perhaps Zellweger is illiterate, though I’m more inclined to think that was simply a side effect of being high as a kite.

  • I’m kind of glad to discover that other people also do not love Anne Hathaway. I don’t begrudge her the Oscar win, but there is just something about her that irks me. I just can’t put my finger on it.
  • I understand that a lot of the nominated movies have been out for a few months, but the vast majority of people haven’t seen many of them yet. So it would behoove them to choose clips that don’t totally spoil the plots of the movies. Having seen almost all of them, I was shocked how many critical plot points were revealed. Not a good advertising strategy, Academy.
  • I was very happy for Quentin Tarantino. And his speech actually was pretty lucid and focused, which was a bit of a surprise.
  • Ang Lee may be the happiest person in show business. That dude is always smiling. I didn’t love Life of Pi, but he seems like such a nice man.
  • I am relieved that they eliminated the weird practice of having other actors say nice things about the nominees for Best Actor and Best Actress. I always found that very awkward and it wasted a lot of time.
  • Who knew Daniel Day-Lewis was funny?
  • It was really nice to see how happy Bradley Cooper was his co-star Jennifer Lawrence when she won for Best Actress. The poor girl fell on her way to accept the award, but Hugh Jackman and Bradley Cooper valiantly tried to help her. J-Law is an independent woman though – she picked herself right up and then cracked a joke about it. She’s the best.

 

  • Jack Nicholson is back! He hasn’t been at the Oscars in years.
  • Michelle Obama making an appearance (via satellite) was a big surprise. I didn’t hear much of what she said, because the person next to me was ranting how ridiculous it was that she was part of the ceremony since she has nothing to do with movies. This was the same person who argued Alf should be a presenter.
  • I wish that the First Lady had announced Argo had won by saying “Argo f*ck youself” or by doing the Dougie, like she did this week on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon:

 

  • I am an admitted Ben Affleck fan and Argo was my favorite movie of the year, so I may be biased, but I thought his was the best speech of the evening:

 

  • The song for the losers by Chenoweth and MacFarlane was not the best note on which to end the ceremony. It just seemed kind of mean spirited.
  • The Onion learned the lesson of what happens when an ill-conceived joke lands on Twitter (NSFW and uses a word that most people find abhorrent, so click at your own risk). I get what they were going for, but it was incredibly poorly done and offended many people. I just hope it didn’t ruin little Quvenzhane Wallis’ night; she was adorable (and was just cast in the new film adaption of Annie). UPDATE: The Onion issued an apology Monday morning.

fistpump

All in all, this Oscar ceremony was a mess essentially from the word go. A lot of the blame will fall to MacFarlane, and rightfully so, but can’t shoulder it all. I strongly recommend that the Academy pick a host that is enthusiastic and happy to be there. Back up the Brinks truck to get Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to reprise the excellent job that they did with the Golden Globes. Or, and of course I am totally biased, I’d like to humbly suggest Jimmy Fallon for consideration. He can sing and play an instrument and already has the Michelle Obama seal of approval. And I’m pretty sure he would go out of his way to not offend anyone; he’d just be happy to be there. Whatever the Academy decides, it is clear that the entire show needs to be revamped and reconsidered. It’s a shame that a year that had such a strong slate of movies was honored with this poorly constructed and written award ceremony.

If you missed the telecast or simply want to relieve its insanity, the entire ceremony is streaming on Hulu.com. A complete list of the winners can be found here.

Heather’s Oscar Ballot and Academy Awards Roundup

Sunday is the big day – the 85th Annual Academy Awards ceremony and all the pageantry that goes along with it will finally commence. In many ways, this is like my Super Bowl; I’ve been prepping for this for months and trying to make the right calls (go see Life of Pi in the theater; wait until Cloud Atlas comes out on video) to get me closer to my goals. Next year I need to remember not to leave the foreign films and documentaries until the end; it is going to be a rough couple of days as I slog through films about sexual assault in the military (The Invisible War), the AIDS epidemic (How to Survive a Plague), a sailing journey from Peru to Polynesia (Kon-Tiki) and a bunch of documentary shorts that I’m willing to guess are not about kittens and cotton candy (now that is a documentary that should be made!). I have a lead on obtaining a copy of No, so it may wind up that the only film I don’t see before the Oscar broadcast is the documentary The Gatekeepers. I should have saved an animated feature or two for the end, just to cleanse the palate. I really could have used some Wreck-It Ralph last night after watching the story of a twelve year old African girl forced into becoming a child soldier (War Witch). These have all been worthy films, but back-to-back-to-back it is all a bit much.

Though I’m not quite done with my Oscar prep, I feel as confident as I am going to be about making some predictions. The hard part is in predicting what I think the Academy will recognize, rather than just my personal favorites. Not surprisingly, an organization comprised primarily of older white men and I don’t always see eye to eye. However, this year’s crop of nominations overall is so strong that even if I’m wrong, it would be hard for someone who is undeserving to win (unless it is Sally Field for Lincoln – she shouldn’t have been nominated, in my humble opinion).

My 2013 Oscar ballot:

Best Picture: Argo

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis

Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence

Best Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones

Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway

Best Director: Steven Spielberg

Best Original Screenplay: Django Unchained

Best Adapted Screenplay: Argo

Best Animated Feature: Brave

Best Foreign Film: Amour

Best Visual Effects: Life of Pi

Best Cinematography: Life of Pi

Best Costume Design: Anna Karenina

Best Documentary Feature: Searching for Sugar Man

Best Documentary Short: Inocente

Best Film Editing: Argo

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Best Music: (Original Score): Life of Pi

Best Music (Original Song): “Skyfall” from Skyfall

Best Production Design: Les Miseables

Best Short Film, Animated: Paperman

Best Short Film, Live Action: Death of a Shadow

Best Sound Editing: Zero Dark Thirty

Best Sound Mixing: Les Misearbles

I’m not the only person excited about the Oscars; the Internet has been abuzz with stories related to the Academy Awards over the last few days. Check out the links below to help you get in the spirit for movies’ big night on Sunday:

  • This is ALL sorts of bulls^&t: the Oscars won’t end with the Best Picture announcement this year.
  • If you love statistics – and who doesn’t – this website by a Georgia Tech grad student breaks down pretty much everything you’d want to know about the Oscars. I could spend hours on this thing.
  • Want to have all the Oscar best picture nominated films spoiled for you? Watch this video:

 

  • 17 things you need to know about Oscar host Seth MacFarlane.
  •  The American Humane Society recognizes outstanding animal treatment and performances on the big screen with the Pawscars. Check out the winners (and a special appearance by my pal Uggie the dog!):

 

  • The Huffington Post has a sweet story about the fundraising that the two young stars of the live action short Buzkasi Boys did to be able to attend the Oscar ceremony (their first trip out of their country).
  • Watch the best and worst Oscar acceptance speeches. Tom Hanks’ speech later inspired the film In and Out.
  • One of my favorite things about the Oscars is the episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live that airs afterward. Kimmel has already released a sneak peek of the trailer for the sequel to last year’s fake all-star movie, Movie: The Movie

 

  • Speaking of embarrassing, Ben Affleck’s 1993 directorial debut (I Killed My Lesbian Wife) has turned up on line, just in time for this year’s Oscars:

You’ve come a long way, Ben.

  • Ever wonder what the song “I Dreamed a Dream” would sound like if sang by Gollum from Lord of the Rings? Wonder no more:

 

  • New York Magazine has an article on what it is like when your ex is nominated for an Oscar (he’s not named, but the ex in question in the article is one of the producers on The Beasts of the Southern Wild).
  • This week on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Roots did a rap about the Best Picture nominees

 

And puppies predicted who they thought would win Best Picture (the puppies were right about the Super Bowl):

 

  • Google put together a website for the Oscars.
  • Vulture debates which Best Supporting Actor nominee will give the best speech (they are all previous Oscar winners)
  • Kids reenact this year’s Best Picture nominees:

 

  • Hulu presents the Fauxscars – 10 Oscar categories that don’t exist (but should).
  • A new Oscar poster commemorates 85 years of Best Picture Oscars
  • And finally, Anne Hathaway has proven to be easy to parody. Here’s a fake “for your consideration” ad:

 

And here is the “actress” singing the theme for Boy Meets World:

 

Who do you think will win on Sunday? Give your predictions in the comments and check in on Monday for my thoughts on the telecast.

2013 Oscar Shorts – Animation and Live Action

One of the pleasant surprises during last year’s Oscar prep was how much I enjoyed the animated shorts. The three shorts categories – animated, live action and documentary – tend to get overshadowed by all the feature films that are nominated. That’s a real shame, as many of the shorts are just as worthy of recognition. Part of the problem is that the shorts are just not as easy to find as the films up for Best Picture consideration, but that is slowly beginning to change. I am lucky to live in a city where the art house theater shows the animated and live shorts every year (the documentary shorts are the most elusive of the bunch – I have one shot to see them locally and it’s the day of the Oscars so I’m cutting it close). Many of the shorts are also available on line, at iTunes or on demand through various cable providers. They are definitely worth seeking out; the nice thing about shorts is that they are not much of a time investment. Worst case scenario – if you don’t like one of the selections, you didn’t waste much time. And you may just stumble upon some creative and innovative creations that lead to even bigger and better things. Because shorts are relatively low risk, directors are willing to take chances and experiment. It is a good way for them to hone their craft and see what works and what doesn’t. That is less likely to happen with feature films.

This past weekend I put my time in at the theater and checked out the animated and live action shorts. I generally enjoyed the animated shorts more, as they were a lot more fun than the live action. The subject matter of the majority of the live action shorts tended toward the depressing and/or serious. There were also a lot of subtitles for the live action shorts, which wouldn’t normally be a problem. However, I’ve been watching so many of the foreign film nominees lately that I think I’m a little subtitled out.

So without further ado, here’s a look at the 2013 animated and live action shorts. Wherever possible, I’ve linked to or embedded the video so you can check these mini-films out for yourself.

Animation

Adam and Dog

We’ll get this one out of the way first, as it was easily my least favorite of the bunch. For whatever reason, this one just didn’t speak to me. The subject matter wasn’t the issue; as a pet owner, I totally get the connection between humans and animals. I think my issue was more in the execution. This was one of the longer shorts and I just didn’t feel like much happened. The film clocks in at just about 15 minutes, but I felt like I was sitting there much longer than that. The animation is very good – there is no debating that the people involved with this are very talented – but I just found this very boring. Perhaps I’ve watched too many Tarantino films, as I found myself feeling a sense of dread that something terrible would befell the dog (spoiler – it doesn’t). Whatever the reason, Adam and Dog just didn’t do it for me.

 

Fresh Guacamole

 

This film takes the word short quite literally, as it is only two minutes long. In fact, this is the shortest film to ever receive an Oscar nomination. I thought this film was very creative; on the surface, it is just taking you through the steps of making guacamole, but the ingredients are replaced with other objects. I’m a fan of stop-motion and Fresh Guacamole was a lot of fun, but I doubt this has any chance to win come Sunday. It’s cute, but not substantial enough.

Head Over Heels

Head Over Heels is another short that employs stop-motion and tells the tale of a completely mismatched couple. How mismatched? The actually live on completely different planes – he’s on the floor and she’s on the ceiling (or visa versa, depending on your perspective). The couple barely interacts with each other. This was a sweet story and I enjoyed the resolution. It was a nice metaphor for a marriage where the partners have drifted apart.

 

The Longest Daycare

This was a pleasant surprise as I didn’t realize that the folks at The Simpsons were behind this short. Next thing you know, there’s Maggie Simpson! Poor kid has been dropped off a less than pleasant daycare facility where she is stuck with the sadistic Baby Gerard. This was the funniest of the shorts and had a nice satire of the education system. Marge makes a quick appearance, but this short belongs to the littlest and quietest member of the Simpson clan. This was my second favorite short of the night.

 

Paperman

 

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Paperman is going to walk away with the Oscar. This short ran before the theatrical release of Wreck-It Ralph and I was immediately charmed by it. It’s such a sweet and romantic story and has a beautiful score. It tells a compelling story in only a few minutes, which is a testament to great storytelling. Hands down my favorite of the bunch.

 

 

Live Action

Henry

 

Unfortunately for Henry, it came out the same year as Amour and pales in comparison. Henry also deals with the perils of aging and the relationship of two musicians and their daughter (sound familiar?). Henry is a little too obvious; the story is pretty telegraphed from the very beginning. I knew where things were going well before they happened. A story that has been told too many times. Not a bad little film, but it lacked originality or something interesting to say. The actors do their best, I don’t see this film taking home any hardware on Sunday.

 

Death of a Shadow

Trailer:

 

Death of a Shadow was my favorite of the live action shorts. It was mysterious and had a creative story to tell. I thought it was the most original of the five shorts. It features the story of a man who is forced to take photos of people as they are dying; he captures images of their shadows as they draw their last breath and turns them over to a sinister man. The film has a very cool steampunk vibe to it and is visually quite stunning. I found the story fascinating and would totally watch a feature film based on this concept. A very solid film that kept me guessing the entire time. Totally dug this one.

 

Curfew

Trailer:

 

My friend and I were pretty divided on this one; I kind of liked it and he dubbed it “amateur hour.” Curfew is definitely a little rough around the edges and is not nearly as polished as the other films under consideration, but that’s kind of what I liked about it. It’s dark and tries a little too hard to be quirky, but I saw potential in it. Perhaps I am too easily swayed by impromptu dance numbers. When we first meet Richard in the film, it would be an understatement to say that he isn’t in a good place. His sister calls to ask him to babysit his niece and she makes it clear in no uncertain terms that she is doing so as a last resort. The little girl (Fátima Ptacek) is really very good in this film (fun fact – she is the current voice of Dora the Explorer) and frequently out acts her adult counterparts. The story isn’t that unique, but I still found Curfew to be amusing. I could see the film being turned into a Ryan Gosling vehicle; it has something of a Drive feel to it.

 

Asad

Trailer:

 

Asad takes place in a Somalian fishing village and doesn’t use any professional actors; all of the people in the film are former residents of the country. The story focuses on one little boy who has chosen the path of being a fisherman while all the other boys have opted to become pirates. His family is often low on food and he must always be wary of running into soldiers who are passing through. This film was surprisingly funny – you don’t necessary think you are going to laugh when you hear Somalia – and the untrained actors all do a fabulous job. I just didn’t feel like Asad told a full story. I never really believed that the young man had a much of a choice in who he was going to be and the short ended somewhat abruptly. I think there was something there, but this film didn’t feel complete. I would have liked to see more.

 

Buzkashi Boys

Trailer:

 

I got the sense watching Buzkashi Boys that everyone involved thought that they had something very important to say, but I wasn’t completely on board. This film felt a little self-important. Filmed on location in Afghanistan, the film follows two boys from different backgrounds that dream of being buzkashi (a local sport) riders when they grow up. This quest winds up costing them more than either of them bargained for. The two leads are very fine actors, but I just didn’t find the story all that enthralling. Much like Henry, I had a pretty good idea where the story was going and wasn’t surprised by the subsequent turn of events. I won’t be surprised if this one wins, however; this could be the type of film that is in the Academy’s wheel house and the US/Afghani partnership for the film makes it an attractive candidate.

 

You may have to work a little harder to find shorts, but they seem to be worth the extra effort. And you never know when you will stumble upon someone at the beginning of a promising career. The shorts are quickly becoming one of my favorite parts of Oscar season and have inspired me to pay more attention to short films year round. You just never know who or what you are going to discover.