Monday, March 3, 2014

The 86th Academy Awards

Watching the Oscar ceremony is a bit of a tradition for me. I watched it as a child with my parents when I was growing up. When I got older I watched it with my late best friend or, if we could not watch it together, my best friend and I would talk about the ceremony on the phone afterwards. Even though I didn't see any of the nominated films this year, I then watched the 86th Academy Awards ceremony as I always do.

Of course, not having seen any of the nominated films this year I really do not have an opinion on who won or who should have won. And from the buzz I heard from various web sites, news outlets, and my fellow film buffs I cannot say that there were very many surprises with regards to the Oscars. In fact, I can only think of one. Given all the talk about 12 Years a Slave, I fully expected Steve McQueen to walk away with the Oscar for Best Director. I was then a bit surprised to see Alfonso Cuarón win.

While I did not see any of the nominated films this year (the economy has forced me to cut back on how many times I visit the cinema), I did hear all but one of the songs nominated for Best Original Song. I was hoping that either "Ordinary Love" by U2 (from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) or "The Moon Song" by Karen O (from Her) would win. I was hoping that "Happy" by Pharrell Williams would not (in fact, I cannot understand how it was even nominated--I find the song incredibly annoying). As it turned out the one song I had not yet heard, "Let It Go" from Frozen, took the award. Having heard "Let It Go" for the first time last night, I have to say I was disappointed that neither "Ordinary Love" or "The Moon Song" won. "Let It Go" is not a bad song per se, but it seems terribly repetitive and not particularly original to me. In fact, I would class it with a number of other songs under the heading Generic Song from a Disney Animated Feature.

Of course, while I do not have an opinion on the various winners, I do have an opinion on the ceremony itself. Over all I thought the 86th Academy Awards ceremony was more entertaining than most. It was good to see Ellen DeGeneres back, and I thought she did a good job over all. Both the first time she hosted and this time Miss DeGeneres impressed me as something like the average person would be at the Oscars--a little bowled over by the stars and the spectacle of it all. At the same time, however, she seems very comfortable with the Hollywood elite to the point that she can joke around with them comfortably. Indeed, I think Ellen DeGeneres' selfie with everyone from Jennifer Lawrence to Brad Pitt was a stroke of genius. Not only was it very funny, but it strikes me as the sort of thing an average person would want to do in a room full of stars. As to the selfie itself, it became the most retweeted selfie of all time, with  871,000 in its first hour alone. Eventually Ellen's selfie even broke the Twitter website (although Twitter was still accessible from such clients as HootSutie and Tweetbot).

Over all I only have two criticisms with regards to Ellen DeGeners' hosting. The first is that I thought her joke about Liza Minnelli's expense was in poor taste. That having been said, Miss Minnelli's half-sister Lorna Luft seemed to think it was funny and Miss Minnelli herself seemed to take it all in stride.   The second is that while Ellen DeGeneres was funny as usual, at times it did seem that she lacked focus. Of course, this is a criticism that could be directed at the vast majority of Oscar hosts over the past twenty years.

While I thought that over all Ellen DeGeneres did a good job as the host of the Oscars, I was a bit disappointed in the clips they showed this year. The theme of last night's ceremony was heroes, so the clips shown centred upon that. Sadly, as has been the case the past many years, it seemed as if most of the clips were from recent films rather than the classics. The only older films to appear in the clip for "animated heroes" were all from Disney. As strange as it sounds, they did not show even one clip from a Warner Brothers cartoon, despite the fact that Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and the other Warner characters are probably still the most famous animated characters in the world. The clips for live-action heroes showed a similar bias. In fact, the only black and white films featured in the clips for live action heroes were from Casablanca and It's a Wonderful Life. I think I can speak for classic film buffs and film fans in general when I say that it would be nice if they featured more, older films in the clips than newer ones. Let's face it, The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) is much more deserving of a clip in the Oscars than any one of  the "Transformers" movies!

I do have to say that I thought the tribute to The Wizard of Oz was fairly well done. I thought Pink did a fantastic rendition of "Over the Rainbow", far better than most I have heard. I also enjoyed the clips that they selected for the tribute. That having been said, I did have two problems with the tribute. The first is that since Judy Garland's children (Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft, and Joseph Luft) were all there, it would have been nice if they had introduced the segment. The second is I don't quite understand why The Wizard of Oz was singled out and other films from 1939 were not honoured with tributes as well. Let's face it, 1939 is widely regarded as the greatest year for film ever, so that this year is also the 75th anniversary of Gone with the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Gunga Din, The Women, and many other great films. While The Wizard of Oz may be the most popular film from 1939 (along with Gone with the Wind, of course) it was hardly the only great film released in 1939.

For the most part I thought the In Memoriam segment was much better handled than it has been the past several years. It was certainly much more inclusive than any in the past few years, especially last year when Andy Griffith, Larry Hagman  Jack Klugman, and Ann Rutherford, among many others, were all left out of the segment. Last night's In Memoriam even included Tom Laughlin and Jim Kelly, actors whose careers were primarily in B movies. Sadly there were still some notable omissions, including Tom Clancy, Dennis Farina, Jean Stapleton, Audrey Totter, and Jonathan Winters. Beyond the omissions I did have two problems with this year's In Memoriam segment. The first is that they only listed one credit per individual. Would it have really hurt the Academy to have listed three or four for each person? The second is "Did we have to be subjected to "Wind Benath My Wings" sung by Bette Midler after the In Memoriam segment?" Don't get me wrong, I like Bette Midler, but I have always disliked the song "Wind Beneath My Wings". Indeed, if one listens to the lyrics it would appear to be a very ill fitting song for an In Memoriam segment! Next year I think the Academy should do the In Memoriam segment as they did this year, but include more credits per person, more of those who have died, and absolutely no song.

One segment I would like to see returned to the Oscars ceremony that was conspicuously absent is the handing out of honorary Oscars. Last night we only got to see clips of Dame Angela Lansbury, Steve Martin, and Piero Tosi accepting their awards, which are now given out separately from the Academy Awards ceremony itself. Personally, the awarding of honorary Oscars was always the thing to which I looked forward to the most and I have missed it ever since they stopped giving them out at the ceremony. I hope next year they will return the custom of handing out honorary Oscars to the ceremony. If they want to save time, they can always cut out a song or some of the clips.

Over all I do think the 86th Academy Awards had better presenters than usual. I thought Kevin Spacey was particularly funny when he introduced the honorary Oscars winners. I also thought Jim Carrey was funny when he introduced the clips of animated heroes--Mr. Carrey does a very good imitation of Bruce Dern! Of course, what I liked best about the presenters on last night's Oscars is that the Academy actually included older stars for a change, some of which can quite rightfully be considered Film Royalty. Sally Field, Goldie Hawn, and Bill Murray numbered among the presenters, as well as movie legends Kim Novak and Sir Sidney Poitier. Indeed, Sir Sidney Poitier may have been the best presenter of the night. He was as one would expect Mr. Poitier to be: dignified, elegant, charming, and commanding.

Of course, this brings me to a situation that absolutely disgusted me last night. No sooner had Kim Novak taken to the stage did Twitter light up with tweets insulting the legendary actress because of the way her face looked. Fortunately, there were also many (perhaps more, for all I know) individuals who jumped to Miss Novak's defence. The plain fact is that Kim Novak is 81 years old and has not had a particularly easy life. Her career as an actress was not particularly enjoyable or easy. She suffers from bipolar disorder and has battled breast cancer. She also had a horse riding accident a few years ago. Even if Miss Novak's life had been easier than it has been, it would be unfair to expect her to look as she did in Bell, Book, and Candle, Boys' Night Out, or Vertigo. I might point out that other legendary beauties of Kim Novak's era, such as Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren, also look far different now than they did at the height of their stardom. I think the loathsome tweets directed at Kim Novak said much more about those making the tweets than they did about Miss Novak herself. Sadly, there are many out there who do not want to accept that women age as they get older. Of course, as I said earlier, there were many (perhaps more) tweets in her defence, a fact of which I am proud. Indeed, Farrah Nehme wrote a blog post on the subject at her blog Self-Styled Siren.

Getting back to the subject at hand, the Oscars are an awards ceremony so, quite naturally, there are acceptance speeches. And I must admit that I was impressed by a few. By far my favourite acceptance speech came from legendary singer Darlene Love, one of the subjects of the Best Documentary Feature winner 20 Feet from Stardom. Darlene Love did something I don't think I've ever seen at an Oscars ceremony before--she belted out a song as part of the acceptance speech. It is to be noted that she was not cut off, despite the tendency of the Oscars producers to cut off any documentary winner who runs too long! I also loved Jared Leto's acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor as well, as he was one of the few actors who not only thanked his mother and brother, but one of the few to actually bring them to the ceremony His speech was eloquent and touching. I also loved Lupita Nyong'o's speech for Best Supporting Actress. She was charming and gracious in a way that only a few stars can be.

Over all I have to say that I am happy with last night's Oscars and if I were the producers I would only change a few things next year. First, I would make the awarding of honorary Oscars back to the ceremony. Second, I would try to include more people in the In Memoriam segment and eliminate any kind of song in proximity to it. Third, I would include clips from older films in the various clips shown. With the proper host I think that could well make for my ideal Oscars ceremony.

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