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.

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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.

Argo – A Review

No sense in beating around the bush on this one – Argo may be my favorite movie of 2012. Sorry, The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Argo has been on my radar for a while. However, I didn’t get to see it in the theater immediately; I didn’t sit down to watch the film until three weeks after it was released, which for me is a lifetime. I tend to pounce on movies pretty quickly – I am, after all, a frequent patron of the midnight movie screenings – but my expectation for Argo was such that I wanted to wait until I would be in the mood to see the film. I didn’t want to be too tired or try to squeeze the film into my otherwise busy schedule. This was a film I was hoping I would enjoy immensely and I choose to prolong the anticipation until I was ready. Yes – I’m nuts.

I did briefly worry that I had built the movie up too much in my head and that I had created such unrealistic expectations for the film that it would be impossible for Argo to live up to the hype (à la Homeland). I tend to do this. Ask any of my ex-boyfriends.

But Argo more than delivered; it actually exceeded my lofty hopes. This was a thrilling and extremely well executed movie. I tip my cap to Ben Affleck who is now indisputably a great director. One good movie could be a fluke, two can be an aberration, but three (Gone Baby Gone, The Town, Argo) is a trend. So glad to see him doing well. I always knew he had it in him.

Argo is based on real life events centered on the Iranian hostage crisis of the 1970s. When Iranians took over the American Embassy in Tehran, six staff members were able to escape and took refuge in the home of the Canadian Ambassador. With most of Iran looking for them, they were unable to leave the country on their own. CIA specialist Tony Mendez hatches a plan to get them out – a fake cover story about a science fiction film (Argo) that is scouting for locations. The hostages will pose as members of his Canadian film crew, because everyone loves the Canadians (True story – when traveling in Eastern Europe after 9/11, we were encouraged to say we were Canadian rather than American).

What is a testament to this film and the actors in it is that even though I knew the outcome of the rescue mission, I was still on the edge of my seat throughout the film. I was legitimately anxious, concerned about the welfare of these characters despite the fact that I knew their fate. Affleck’s direction and the actors’ universally outstanding performances drew me in and created real tension and investment, regardless of the end technically being “spoiled.” That takes some talent. I was completely riveted during Argo; I didn’t look at my watch once during the film, which is rare for me.

I can’t say enough about the fabulous performances in this film. Everyone involved did a tremendous job. Affleck has also matured into a solid actor and serves as the anchor of the movie. The actors playing the hostages all convey the weariness and terror of what it must have been like to be a citizen behind enemy lines. The hostages weren’t spies or high level employees and the film demonstrates the pressure that they were under in being asked to assume a different identity. One mistake and they could all be killed.

The supporting cast also featured some pretty big names – Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) has a minor role as Mendez’s supervisor and John Goodman and Alan Arkin are wonderful as the Hollywood people in on the cover story. Seriously – every movie should have John Goodman and Alan Arkin in it. They make everything better.

Some other thoughts:

  • Coach Taylor! Kyle Chandler has a very minor role as Carter’s Chief of Staff, but a movie automatically gets bumped up a letter grade in my book if he appears in it. And yes, I still have to watch season five of Friday Night Lights. Talk about prolonging the anticipation.
  • Yes – one of the hostages is indeed played by Tate Donovan, who has been in a ton of things but will always be Jimmy from The O.C. to me. It killed me that he was playing the “elder statesman” of the group; we’re all getting old.
  • I love the 70s look of the film, especially the opening credits. I have a weird obsession with the 70s; I do ridiculously well on 70s music on SongPop, considering I was only 3 at the end of the decade.
  • Affleck isn’t completely without vanity – there is a shot of him taking his shirt off that is probably unnecessary (though I’m not really objecting).
  • Knowing Affleck’s history of problems with alcohol, it was weird to see his character with an adult beverage in his hand a few times throughout the film. Obviously, I know he is acting, but it still felt a little off to me.
  • At the end of the film, they showed photos of the real people that inspired the story and it was pretty amazing how closely many of the actors resembled their counterparts. The biggest exception was Affleck, who looks nothing like the actual Mendez. But many of the others were spot on. Good work by the casting director and costume department.
  • It’s such a rare thing for Zeljko Ivanek to play a good guy – he’s so good at being the villain – that I had to remind myself that he wasn’t a mole in the government trying to bring down the whole operation. This may also be a side effect of too much Homeland in a short amount of time.
  • From what we heard of the table read of Argo, that screenplay sounded pretty dreadful.
  • Even though I know the general history of the region, I appreciated the brief history lesson at the beginning of the film to help put things in the proper context. Plus history is fun.

I really cannot recommend Argo highly enough. It’s just superb all the way around and I have no doubt that it will be in the mix when Best Picture nominations roll out next year. This is a movie that excels without special effects or a twist ending. Argo is just a good old fashioned drama/thriller that relies on excellent writing, acting and directing for its storytelling. I wish that they made more of these types of movies and I look forward to Affleck’s next turn behind the camera.

Lost Weekend

To paraphrase a line from the movie Friday, “It’s Friday and I ain’t got sh*t to do.”

For the first time in over a month, I am actually going to be in town this weekend. I’ve been traveling a lot lately (NYC, Rochester/Buffalo and New Jersey) and will be back on the road next weekend with a trip to Boston. But this weekend I have no place that I have to be. My poor car will appreciate the break; it’s in desperate need of an oil change.

Not only am I staying put, but for the first time in forever I don’t have any concrete plans. My calendar is almost 100% free; Sundays are my standing date with my local sports bar, but otherwise the weekend is full of possibility. I’m usually so overbooked and on the run that I find the idea of a weekend like this both enticing and terrifying. It will be nice to have some flexibility, but at the same time I don’t like to have a lot of down time. I like to keep busy.

My main goal for the weekend is to catch up on some pop culture that I haven’t had the time for. The one upside of the networks deciding not to air a lot of new episodes this week in the wake of Hurricane Sandy was that I am actually pretty up to speed with my television schedule. But this weekend will be time to take in some of the other things that I haven’t been able to do. Got to feed the blog machine. Tentatively on the agenda:

  • Finish The Twelve, Justin Cronin’s second book in the trilogy that he started with The Passage. I’m only about 1/5 of the way through it as of now, but I’m a pretty quick reader.
  • Get up to speed with The Walking Dead comics. I’m about 6 issues behind, though I may need to re-read a few to remind myself where I am in the story.
  • Go to the movies. Free screenings have been few and far between lately (though I have one Wednesday that I am super excited for) and other than going to see Night of the Living Dead on Halloween, it’s been a while since I’ve been to the movies (and by a while, I mean my version of a while. Most people don’t go to the movies as much as I do). There are a lot of films out that I want to see and some of them will probably be leaving the theater soon, so I hope to see at least two movies this weekend. Priority goes to Argo, which I have really been dying to see. So hopefully look for a lot of movie reviews next week.
  • Get through my pile of magazines. Somewhere along the line I just started throwing magazines in a pile to read at a later date that never seemed to come. I get a lot of magazines – a lot of them were deals I saw online or that I bought from the children of friends for school fundraisers – so it is very easy to fall behind. I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere in there is the summer movie preview issue of Entertainment Weekly.
  • Continue my progress on Homeland, season 1. I have been looking forward to watching this show based on all the praise and positive buzz that I’ve heard about it, but somehow have never had the chance to actually sit down and start from the beginning. Last night, with NBC pulling all their comedies, I decided to take the plunge and start watching. I wound up knocking off three episodes last night. My goal is to be done with season one by Monday, which leaves 9 episodes to go.
  • Tonight is the NBC telethon to raise money for Hurricane Sandy relief. It will air 8pm-9pm live on the east coast and on delay elsewhere. It will also be streaming on NBC.com. They have an all-star line-up: Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Jon Bon Jovi, Sting, Christina Aguilera and Jimmy Fallon. Proceeds will be donated to the Red Cross.

I have absolutely no idea if it is even physically possible to get all of this done, but I am going to try my best. At least I get an extra hour with the end of Daylight Savings Time this weekend to work with. I’m guessing I get through about half this list, which is still some progress. Throw into the mix that I really need to do some housework around the apartment and that I want to get some cooking done and my free weekend is suddenly looking not so free. And this entire plan hinges on people not calling me to go for drinks or grab brunch, which hopefully will happen. So there is the distinct possibility that Monday will roll around and I’ve accomplished absolutely nothing. And I’m OK with that

What are your plans for the weekend or what do you look forward to doing with a free weekend? Sound off in the comments below.