Thursday, February 26, 2015

Oscar Gunchers 2015

As long as there are Oscars, there will continue to be Oscar-gunchers.

If big-budget romances like Titanic take home the statues, pundits complain about commercialism. If unusual, high-quality films like Birdman and Boyhood win, they argue that the Academy has lost touch with the viewing public.

The New York Times recently ran an article declaiming a "gap" between movie-goers and the academy. Duh! There's supposed to be a gap. If the point were merely to celebrate the movies everyone likes, there would be no need for an Academy or a vote. The awards could be given out based on box-office receipts.

The point is to reward and celebrate artistry, not Saturday matinee entertainment or least-common-denominator pandering.

And no matter who wins, the results are always fodder for social analysis from several (not multiple) points of view.

This year's Oscar ceremony was one of the best. Perhaps I say that because I actually saw most of the films in contention. The MC, Neil Patrick Harris, while not in the same category as Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, or Billy Crystal, did a better-than-average job of keeping the event moving along. The worst thing about his shtick was the running joke about his own predictions, which were ensconced in an inviolable Plexiglas case on stage. It was harmless but really, who cares?

Before the show the red carpet was agog with beautiful women in odd and sometimes striking dresses saying they were just there to "enjoy the moment." It reached a high (or low) point when the star of Fifty Shades of Gray, Dakota Johnson, tried to convince her mom, Melanie Griffith, to see the film.

Melanie's own mom, Tippi Hedren, is from New Ulm, Minnesota. I remember Melanie herself as an eight-year-old girl in Arthur Penn's minor masterpiece, Night Moves. These are the thoughts that go through people's minds as they reconnect with the Oscars, year after year. It's part of what makes the movies fun.

We didn't have to look at Jack Nicholson's grinning maw this year: that's good news (though Jack was in a long string of great films back in the seventies, as everyone knows). And the tiresome Meryl Streep references were kept largely under control. I even liked most of the songs, though the tribute to The Sound of Music seemed arbitrary and lame, Lady Gaga or not.

I suppose in 2042 , if the planet still exists, they'll do a tribute to Wayne's World?

Bunching the best picture candidates into groups was weird but (once again) moved the show along. The clips were uniformly great. And awards recipients voiced a large number of social concerns with sincerity and true feeling--a tradition dating back to the Brando era at least.

Artists still seem to be thrilled to receive these awards, and chagrined when they don't, even if the 36 million who watched the show have "lost touch." Michael Keaton didn't win—too bad—but the clip they showed of him shouting at Emma Stone might have given us an indication why.

I'm not sure that Birdman was the best film I saw last year but it might have been. It was powerful and idiosyncratic—the kind of film that people used to complain never won. It belongs in the company of several very different but equally powerful films that were released last year: Mr. Turner, Selma, Ida, and Boyhood. Two Days, One Night falls into its own minimalist category. Meanwhile, Wild, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, and Interstellar are also "keepers" on grounds of craftsmanship and entertainment value alone. 

Grand Budapest Hotel? Rather a dud, I'm afraid.

Among the documentaries, Verunga and Looking for Vivian Meyers were good, and I heard good things about Timbuktu. Evidently CitizenFour was even better.
 In short, it's been an extraordinary year at the movies, and the Academy did a good job of celebrating it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Whiplash - extraordinary -- exhausting. Your cousin Pat