The Academy Awards telecast, February 26, 2012


Last year I did a little running commentary on the Oscar telecast with James Franco and Anne Hathaway.  This year I will attempt it again. 

8:30pm, Eastern Standard Time.  It’s Billy Crystal!  He leaps from movie to movie in a crazy montage (James and Anne did the same thing last year), kisses George Clooney, gets to muss up Tom Cruise, does one of his own lines from “Princess Bride.”  Billy looks strange; his face is pale and stretched, as if he’s wearing a Hannibal Lecter mask.  He still has a lot of flair, however; he does his little song about all the nominated films, and I suddenly realize that Billy is a tummler in the old Borscht Belt tradition, working the crowd, making them laugh.  (He also does the first of many jokes about the Kodak Theater being renamed after the company’s bankruptcy.)

“Hugo” wins two awards.  (Note to self: see “Hugo,” it actually looks sort of lovely.)

(Commercial for JC Penney, featuring Ellen DeGeneres in the Old West.  Cleverest thing on the show so far.)

J-Lo and Cameron Diaz present makeup/costume Oscars.  Seriously?  I guess these have been identified as “girly awards,” which can only be presented by girly girls.  Jim Rash, the crazy actor who plays the cross-dressing dean on “Community,” would have been ideal for these categories.

The foreign-movie Oscar goes to the Iranian movie “A Separation.”  Partner comments that the Republican Presidential candidates will no doubt be incensed by this.  I’m sure he’s right.  (And did you know that Sandra Bullock speaks German?  It’s like finding out that Jayne Mansfield played the violin.  Seriously, she did.)

Octavia Spencer wins Best Supporting Actress for “The Help.”  Good for her: it was well-deserved.  “The Help” was one of the few nominated films Partner and I saw this year.  Olivia is overcome during her acceptance speech; “I’m freaking out!” she says toward the end.  And the audience loves it. 

(Seriously: what’s with that hypercool bongo-and-electric-violin combo playing up in the balconies?  It reminds me of the cantina scene in “Star Wars.”)

We are treated to a mildly amusing sketch about a 1939 focus group tearing apart “The Wizard of Oz”: not enough monkeys, get rid of Dorothy, etc.  (Tip to Oscar directors/writers: please stop doing these sketches.  We really just want to see who wins the awards.)

(“Hugo” is quietly piling up a whole bunch of technical awards.  Hollywood loves Scorsese.)

Oh Jesus now it’s Cirque de Soleil.  It’s lovely, but – come on.

Gwyneth Paltrow (ew!) and Robert Downey Jr. come out together to present the award for best documentary.  I love him so much; he’s naturally funny, over-the-top goofy, and I don’t care that he’s wasting time, he’s a big-time actor and I’m not completely sure that he’s not off-script right now.

Chris Rock presents the award for best Animated Feature.  He is so damned funny.  I was one of the people who thought he was terrific as an Oscar host; I was watching the audience roar at his jokes, and thinking: Maybe they’ll give him another chance one of these days.  (I still remember a bit he did: he went to a regular neighborhood theater and asked people what movies they were seeing.  No one was seeing the Oscar Nominated Movies.  Everyone was seeing “Saw IV” and “Fright Night.”  I thought his bit was funny and smart.  I think the Hollywood audience thought it was rude.)

Melissa Leo, who dropped the F-bomb last year when she won for Best Supporting Actress, presents Best Supporting Actor.  She is very dignified this year, naturally.  Christopher Plummer wins, for portraying a gay man in “Beginners”!  (He says, to his Oscar: “You’re only two years older than me, darling.  Where have you been all my life?”)

(Billy throws big Jumbocam pictures up on the screen of audience members and speaks for them.  When it’s Nick Nolte, he just groans.  When it’s Uggie, the cute little dog from “The Artist,” he yells, “If I had ‘em, I’d lick ‘em!”)

Will Ferrell and Zach Galifikinakis come out, inexplicably, both with a pair of cymbals which they crash on and off, to present the award for Best Song.  “Am I A Man Or Am I A Muppet?” wins.  One of the guys from “Flight of the Conchords” wrote it, and accepts the award, charmingly.  Delightful all around.

Angelina Jolie presents.  She is all over the place, lots of flesh.  Her lips are gigantic.   They terrify me.  (The first award is for Best Adapted Screenplay.  OMG! Jim Rash (see above comment re J-Lo and Cameron Diaz) wins an award! He poses like Angelina, with his hand on his hip! The second is for Original Screenplay, and Woody Allen wins. Naturally he’s not there.)

Milla Jovovich does the summary of the technical awards. She is a very special person, and they did some nice clips. I always feel bad at this point: these guys, the technical guys, have to receive their awards off-camera, from a B-list celebrity.  But – you know what? – Milla Jovovich is kind of okay for this.

The actresses from “Bridesmaids” present the award for Short Film.  They are very funny, talking about Long and Short, and which feels better to them.  “Short’s okay, if it’s got some heft to it.” (One of the awards goes to a Pakistani film, “Saving Face,” about women in Pakistan who have acid thrown in their faces.  Once again Partner predicts that the Republicans will be pissed off, and again, I’m sure he’s right.)

Best Director: Michael Douglas presents the award.  He doesn’t look good at all; he looks hollow and ancient. And the winner is . . . Michel Hazanavicius, for “The Artist”!  Surprise, because I thought it was going to be Scorsese!  Hazanavicius makes a gracious speech.  Good for him.  (Looks good for “Artist” as Best Picture, right?)

Meryl Streep announces special awards: James Earl Jones, Dick Smith, and Oprah Winfrey.  Wha’?  (Dick Smith has done makeup since forever.  The other two recipients you probably already know.)

Now we do the Necrology.  Esperanza Spalding sings “Wonderful World,” beautifully.  Farley Granger, Whitney Houston, Michael Cacoyannis, Peter Falk, Cliff Robertson, Sidney Lumet, Sue Mengers, Steve Jobs (?), Hal Kanter, Jackie Cooper, Ben Gazzara, Elizabeth Taylor.  (Such a lot of talent we lose in any given year.  This always makes me sad.)

Natalie Portman presents the award for Best Actor.  She’s very cute!  She does long introductions for all of the nominees.  Jean Dujardin wins for “The Artist”! He’s adorable, big nose and all, and he has a great smile.  He’s cute and charming and gives a nice thank-you speech in broken English.

(The third Ellen DeGeneres commercial just aired; she’s in ancient Rome now, trying to return something.  These commercials are wonderful.)

Colin Firth is presenting the award for Best Actress.  He reminds us that he was in “Mamma Mia” with Meryl Streep.  And Meryl Streep wins!  (This is her seventeenth nomination, and only her third win!)  She’s wearing a golden sheath!  She’s charming and lovely.

Oscar for Best Picture. Tom Cruise presents.  We have to sit through nine! previews.  Mercifully, they’re very short.  Also, they’re very mixed up.  Winner: “The Artist.”  (I started typing that before it was announced.)  Uggie the dog is on the stage, and he’s adorable.  Producer is making speech, and – who cares?  Director M. Hazanavicius takes over.  He thanks Billy Wilder three times over, and I think that’s very nice.

11:38 pm, and Billy Crystal yells, “Good night, everyone!”

So I suppose that’s it for another year.

Not quite as exciting as last year’s Oscars, but . . . .

Movie review: “The Artist”


Partner and I have not seen very many of this year’s Academy Award nominees: only “The Descendants” and “The Help,” in fact.  We decided to remedy this by going to “The Artist” last weekend.






If you haven’t heard, this is a modern black-and-white silent movie (well, “silent” in that it has no spoken dialogue; there’s a lively musical background patched together from classic film scores, old songs, and some new music.)  The plot is a marriage of “Singin’ in the Rain” and “A Star is Born,” with lots of other movies thrown in.  In brief: it’s 1927.  George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a handsome leading man who absolutely refuses to do talkies.  Peppy Martin (Berenice Bejo) is a cute newcomer who becomes a talkie sensation.  His downward path crosses her upward path, and . . .



Yes, well.  It’s nice, and funny, and well-directed (which I especially appreciate after seeing the catastrophically-directed  “Iron Lady” two weeks ago).  Dujardin and Bejo are fun to watch: he’s a pastiche of Douglas Fairbanks, John Barrymore, Errol Flynn, and Gene Kelly, with a killer smile, and she’s a combo of Joan Crawford (when she was very very very young), Carole Lombard, Clara Bow, Debbie Reynolds, and maybe some Ginger Rogers.  There’s a cute dog who does tricks and follows Dujardin everywhere.  The movie’s packed with all-star performances: John Goodman, Malcolm McDowell, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller.



It’s also a game of Trivial Pursuit in movie form.  I caught references to at least two dozen different movies: “Citizen Kane,” “Grand Hotel,” “Dinner at Eight,” “The Band Wagon.”  I’m sure I missed two dozen others. When Dujardin and his wife have breakfast together and she digs into her grapefruit, I flinched a little.  When Dujardin clowns with his food (in tandem with his dog) – well, who else but Chaplin?



It’s charming, but not very moving.  There are melancholy moments – Dujardin’s retreat into depression as his career goes sour, Bejo’s anxious attempts to watch over him from afar – but your heart tells you that all will be well in the end, and (forgive me if I spoil the movie for you) your heart would be right about that.   “A Star Is Born” had a sad ending, remember, but “Singin’ in the Rain” did not . . .



But not every movie needs to tear your heart out.  This is a shiny little gem of a movie; maybe it ain’t a diamond, but it’s been polished to a very high luster. 



Okay.  Only six more movies to see before Oscar night . . . .


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