Oscar p.s.

Oh crumb buns! This should teach me always to crib from my betters.

I just did read Tom Shales’ nifty Oscar piece, and realized to my horror that I had left out three of the night’s highlights: Shirley Bassey and her full-throated reprise of Goldfinger; Adele, and what turned out to be her Oscar-winning performance of Skyfall, and Barbra Streisand, whose tribute to her friend and long time collaborator, Marvin Hamlisch, with The Way We Were, was everything she must have wanted it to be: shimmeringly perfect.

Apologies all around!

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Oscar shows us its boobs: MacFarlane & Co.

God love Tom Shales and this Tweet last night:  “For the first time ever the Oscar show is worse than the Red Carpet crap that preceded it.”

For anyone who does not regularly rejoice in the work of the  former Washington Post TV critic and Pulitzer Prize winner, he blogs here.   For fear of suddenly sounding a whole lot smarter than I have a right to, I haven’t yet read a word of it, beyond his blog headline and this Tweet. Soon as this is posted I plan to luxuriate in Shales’  gentle, dove-like tones, since we seem to have seen the same show.

One of the hundreds of tidbits the Academy chummed to its ravenous readers was an interview with the show’s producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (Chicago, The Bucket List, Footloose) who confessed that for years, they’d been dying to stage the Oscars since they’d  knew exactly what they’d do, “But no one asked us.”

Then, for better or worse, they were asked.

Let’s go with the best first.  The awards themselves, over which they had no control, were wide-ranging and generous (if your name isn’t Steven Spielberg.) It seems almost impossible not to love Ang Lee, people seem to beam in his presence, and he returns the favor. The whole theatre seemed to love his winning Best Director for Life of Pi, a seemingly impossible-to-pull-off, spiritually charged and breathtaking film.

The next most popular favorite, David O. Russell had gathered armloads of awards for Silver Linings Playbook on Saturday, over at whatever they call the Independent Spirit Awards these days, and Jennifer Lawrence was, eventually, on the podium in a dress that was 5′ across, to represent the team, so he could hardly complain.

(Oh, how I would have loved to see and hear Emmanuelle Riva with that Oscar in her hands, but ask yourself how many voting members saw Amour — and how many will rush out to fix that situation after the particular clip they chose to show? Sheesh, guys!)

That left out her co-star, the very good Bradley Cooper, but he could have had no illusions about his chances against Daniel Day-Lewis, and besides, he has The Place Beyond the Pines up his sleeve in March. Oh my!  And, as my astute film companion points out, he’s a movie star.

Day-Lewis himself was there to get his due, and to remind us all why you just cannot beat the Brits at acceptance speeches, unless you’re old enough to remember Laurence Olivier’s at the 1978 Oscars — which  unfortunately, I do.  It is a piece of work, but you be the judge.

Finally — I’m skimming here — there was the Best Picture win for Argo, and the generosity of Ben Affleck’s fellow producers in letting their director have center stage (to the point of co-producer George Clooney’s having no mike time at all. Doubt he’ll brood over it.) It’s worth checking out his speech at YouTube.

The Oscars producers also had a nice way with this year’s Roll of the Dead, which actually included some of the industry’s worker bees in addition to the more high profile names, and gave a hint about what any of them did. 

Now: to the horror, the horror, which began with the Zadan/Meron choice as the host.  If I seem to be tap dancing around Seth MacFarlane, I am, because revisiting his crude, ugly, witless, racist view of the world is almost as bad as being in it the first time.

An opening number bringing tired old Captain Kirk down to tell Seth how badly his jokes were tanking?  Repeatedly?  Anyone, at home or in vast Dolbyville could have told him that. A musical number called “We Saw Your Boobs,” a handy list for teenage boys of movies in which an actress’s breasts could be glimpsed. Really??  How old is MacFarlane anyway?   Racist date-rape jokes, with Django Unchained as their springboard? Cringe-worthy jokes about not understanding Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayeck, because of their accents?

Who was it, MacFarlane or the Zadan/Merons who thought how hilarious it would be to have presenter Dustin Hoffman paired with Charlize Theron, in her highest heels, and why did Hoffman let them? (Because he’s a class act among the classless, that’s why.)

Enough. This is making my head hurt. No one needs to trudge through sludge more than once.

Here are two unassailably great things to take away from the Oscars — and the Independent Spirit Awards the day before.

One:  Indie voters know a wrong when they see it, so even if it meant crushing the supposed front runner, Bradley Cooper’s only chance at an acting award for the weekend (see above), they gave their Best Actor award to John Hawkes’ sublime performance in The Sessions. Way to go, Spirit folks!!

And two: in a sea of froth and trip-inducing Oscar dresses, one smoky silvery gown which seemed to be channeling cinema art itself, was unparalleled.  The dress is by Indian designer Naeem Khan, the poise and ebullience are entirely Michelle Obama’s.

Michelle Obama Wears Indian-American Designer Naeem Khan's Dress to Oscars

Oscar detritus and a mad Academy Award daydream

Waded through many double-page newspaper ads lately? Checked any late-night talk shows? With Academy balloting closing today  it’s last ditch stand time for nominees, who’ve suddenly popped up on every flat surface to remind Academy voters of their existence.

It’s not just the ballots. . .although it IS, of course. But also, all those end-of-the-year movies have just been released on DVD – and, bien sur, Blu-ray – and their reappearance has given their stars a chance for one last chorus of “Hey, big spender, spend some time with me.”

The results have been. . .informative. You might imagine after The Hunger Games and especially her nominated work in Silver Linings Playbook  that Jennifer Lawrence was a peppy thing, but who could have predicted she’d throw in a mention of anal leakage to David Letterman?  Bet you he didn’t.

Helen Hunt’s Letterman moment was calibrated to a nanosecond. She’s gorgeously naked for a good deal of The Sessions, slipping between motel room sheets in her role as a sexual surrogate, so she and Dave kicked that one around to a fare-thee-well. She got to rap him on the knuckles for taking the low (i.e. leering) road with his questions, which only made him. . ummmm, aim lower. Big surprise, huh, Helen?

The really electrifying thing about all their merriment was the name that never once came up: John Hawkes.* He’s the actor in the other half of that bed, Hunt’s un-nominated co-star.  Hawkes’ deeply soulful playing of this wry, shy Berkeley writer and (partial) iron lung patient, anchors The Sessions and gives the film its greatest depths.

A great many people were in disbelief over Hawkes’ omission on nomination morning. White hot fury just about covers the mood around here: “What is this nonsense? Would they nominate Thelma and not Louise?  Heath Ledger for Brokeback Mountain and not Jake Gyllenhaal? ”

Wildness got the better of me. Helen Hunt already has one Oscar (won the very hard way, opposite Jack Nicholson.) Suddenly, I could see the steps she should take, that very morning, that would endear her forever to every actor living.   In full, impassioned Vanessa Redgrave octaves, she should say,

“I’m sorry, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I cannot accept this honor. This was a duet, not a solo; without equal recognition for my fellow actor John Hawkes, my nomination is a travesty and a shameful artistic miscarriage.”

(“Sounding brass and tinkling cymbals” may have been in there, too.)

I called my Oscar savant, Chuck Wilson (www.flickers.typepad.com) with this stunning idea. He knows the why of such outrages, based on a lifetime study of runes and press releases.

“Not a chance in the world, “ he said, instantly.  “No actress would ever. . . Besides, Sheila, he doesn’t have a moment.“

“A moment!?! He has the whole bloody movie!!!!”

“Remember her sitting, alone, in her car? She breaks down. We see his effect on her. She fights for control.  She has a moment.  He doesn’t have a moment.

“Oh.”

You live, You learn.  From your betters.

And yes, I did see Emmanuelle Riva and her equally un-nominated costar, Jean-Louis Trintignant, in lockstep throughout Amour.  What can I say.  They’re French. It would simply never come up.

Well, in less than a week, the air will be filled with the sound of snapping Spanx; limos will gum up the Hollywood streets, and a great many far-too overdressed folks will mill about, exposing too much make-up to too much sunlight, until they’re finally allowed into the rarified gloom of the Kodak. . . .Oops! dead technology, , , DOLBY Theatre.

I don’t mean the actors. Unless they’re Meryl Streep, all that hair-and-make-up stuff is what they live for. I’m talking about the comfortable wives of nominated Sound Mixers, the tetchy girlfriends of nominated Screenwriters, the put-upon wives of nominated Editors.  This is their sweetheart’s moment and these partners have gotten all dressed and made-up to meet the challenge full on. . . And???

The assembled yobs of TV all but stub out their cigarettes on these best beloveds, as they speed off to exchange a sound bite or two with the Youngest Nominee ever. Or the Oldest.

I was one of those hangers-on myself, when I was about 10.  I knew that my upstanding screenwriter-mother meant it as a treat, and that dressing up meant you wore white socks and black patent leather Mary Janes.  In those unenlightened days, they let photographers into the auditorium, pre-show, and what I clearly remember is one of them, expertly canvassing one row after another, including ours, before telling his assistant, “Nope. Nobody.”  I remember patting my hands and arms, thinking, “Noooooooo, there’s somebody here. I can feel her.”  Hah! Shows you what I knew.

The most deft reporting I’ve seen on this 85th Oscar extravaganza came from the estimable Doree Lewak at the NY Post. In a moment of deadpan inspiration, she tracked down lifelong Academy members Rita Gam and Arlene Dahl, collecting their opinions about the show, its hosts, past and present, the cost of keeping one’s ballot, and a few picks for Best Picture – and a Best Director.  For balance, she also interviewed screenwriter Walter Bernstein, now 93 and holding his own in a more recognizable universe. (Personally, I’d say who needs balance, but that’s just my mean streak.)      

*Yes.  Helen Hunt did mention John Hawkes in the most appreciative terms when she was on Leno. She just didn’t say anything that could have suggested that the Academy, you know, blew it.

What’s kept Argo’s flame burning brightly

I have a hunch about what’s helped keep Argo’s awards slowly, stubbornly piling up inside Hollywood: Benghazi and its seemingly interminable fallout.

Argo opened one month and a day after that murderous attack. It was a month that reshaped what we knew about the realities of  “diplomacy” when, in the presence of the President and the Secretary of State, the bodies of our Ambassador to Libya and three men who tried to save him were returned to their families and to a largely uncomprehending country.

And as we began to think about what it is that diplomats do, Argo arrived to show us. It was deadly-real and it was Hollywood-real; it had the look of newsreel footage and a grand, bogus bigger-than-life finale, and at its core were six, human, identifiable characters – diplomats all.

At its most deadly serious, Argo was sound for sound, action for action, what happens when an American embassy (consulate, mission) is overrun in a decidedly unfriendly country. Even when Benghazi became political attack fodder, Argo’s resonance of resilience under fire lingered.  Last week, the film got gold-standard corroboration from Hillary Clinton, during her day-long testimony about Benghazi to both houses of Congress, when she said,

“Marine security guards, as you know, are very much a presence on more than 150 of our posts.  . . If you saw the recent movie Argo, you saw the Marines in there destroying classified material when the mob was outside in Tehran.”

Having your movie taken as a point of reference by the Secretary of State  must have given Ben Affleck a not-bad day, although he’s been having a lot of those recently (the Producers Guild Award, back-to-back with the Screen Actors Guild Best Cast win, on top of all those other odd-shaped awards Argo has collected for all its artists along the way.)

But I think that Argo does something well beyond winning awards: it connects us to that soaring, exuberant, embarrassing emotion, patriotism, in the same way that the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir did when they took “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” to pure lump-in-your throat, tear-stained national pride at Obama’s Inauguration.  For every one of Argo’s artists, its portrait of American patriots, in Hollywood, Tehran and even Washington D.C. may have come at exactly the right moment.