Monday, February 29, 2016

Oscars 2016

I was going to boycott the Oscars this year, because I don't like Chris Rock. I'm glad I didn't.

It was one of the better ones in recent memory. (Then again, speaking of memory, does anyone remember a single thing about Boyhood?)

Chris Rock was funny. He was great. He dealt with the diversity issue in ways that had to be seen (and heard) to be believed.

Let me give you a single example. Here's the Chris Rock joke: "This year, during the In Memoriam segment, instead of honoring the memory of film stars who have died in the previous year, we're going to memorialize black people who were shot by the cops while going to the movies." (nervous laughter)

If you didn't actually hear Chris Rock deliver those lines, it would be hard to imagine how they came off, or how funny they were—in a strange and embarrassing and horrifying way.

And there were many more similarly in-your-face yet not quite confrontational remarks along the same lines that advanced a simple thesis: everyone needs jobs, everyone needs respect, approbation, a bit of celebrity.

Perhaps we've made some progress as a society since Marlon Brando sent Native American actress Sacheen Littlefeather to decline his Oscar for The Godfather in 1973, in protest of how native Americans were being portrayed in films. At the time his gesture was seen by many as one more tiresome blot on a career that had been mired in excess and failure for a decade.

At the recent Oscar ceremony Rock's remarks were widely embraced (I think) and not only because they were highly entertaining.

Meanwhile, the awards were judiciously (but unintentionally) distributed among a variety of fine artists, including a Swede (Alicia Vikander), two Mexicans (Alejandro González Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lubezki), a Brit (Mark Rylance), a Muslim (Asif Kapadia, who directed Amy, selected as the year's best documentary), an Italian (composer Ennio Morricone), a woman of French-Canadian extraction (actress Bree Larson)...and so on.

The two films that received screenwriting honors focused on the unglamorous subjects of child abuse in the Catholic Church (Spotlight) and sub-prime mortgages (The Big Short). Needless to say, both films were excellent.

I haven't seen The Revenant, though I plan to. I certainly enjoyed the Hugh Glass story the way Frederick Manfred handled it decades ago in the novel Lord Grizzly

My list of favorite films for the year must include Spotlight, Brooklyn, Tangerine (Estonia), The Big Short, About Elly (Iran), Star Wars, Theeb (United Arab Emirates),  Papusza (Poland), Unlikely Heroes (Switzerland), Ex Machina, Bridge of Spies, The Martian, and Love and Mercy.

Near-great films from earlier years that I also got a chance to see recently include Particle Fever (2014) and How I Ended This Summer (Russia, 2010). Check them out--if you dare.

Oscar-night turned out to be a largely nostalgia-free evening: no Jack, Meryl, Clint, Martin, Ben, George, Angelina, Brad. How refreshing. Nor were there any labored attempts to attract the young by inviting presenters from the most recent teen incarnation of the Twilight series.

Indeed, Lada Gaga reminded me of Rosemary Clooney!

And I think they should have given a special award to A Walk in the Woods, in which geezers Robert Redford and Nick Nolte revive the spirit of Big Crosby and Bob Hope in The Road to Morocco...but without the crooning, or Dorothy Lamour.

That's one fun thing about the movies—seeing Mary Steenbergen appear out of nowhere and steal a scene.

Remember Melvin and Howard? Those were the days.   

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