Oscars 2014

I forced myself to sit down and watch the whole broadcast for the first time since the mid-1990s. The reason, after a night of mind-numbing blandness, now escapes me… Perhaps it was because for the first time in many years I had actually seen most of the nominated films. Perhaps it was for you, dear reader. (Thanks for nothing, says you). For all of Neil Patrick Harris’s vaunted panache and professionalism, I found him tedious. At least most of the time he had the virtue of being succinct – except when it came to the lame, beyond overly drawn out, night-long gag revolving around his “predictions,” sealed in a Lucite case that poor Octavia Spencer was forced to vouch for. Nobody cared, and the payoff was dreadfully unfunny (especially after nearly four hours). Yes, he can sing and dance, I guess, but he did little of that, and most of his jokes were no more funny, or classy, than the hosts of yesteryear. Taking the Oscars seriously is a bit much, I agree, but the constant undercutting, as in “winner says something ‘serious’ about injustice or the terminally ill and then is immediately shown up by a lame quip,” as in NPH’s tasteless Snowden joke, does a disservice to everyone, viewers included. And why oh why was everyone crying? I have never seen so many teary eyes – not from winners, even, or Terrence Howard, just from randos in the audience. Now I remember why I have usually skipped this thing.

Onto the winners. Yes, perhaps the show could have been redeemed by some interesting upsets, or some winners I could get excited about, but it seemed that every picture got a token award, except for Birdman. Tokenism was the watchword of the night, as the Best Actor and Actress were awarded, as the Academy loves to do, to disability awareness-raising roles that also had the serendipity of celebrating a beloved and important scientist on the one hand, and granting Julianne Moore a long overdue Oscar on the other. (Note that I’m not complaining, really, as those two roles are also the only two I haven’t seen, although I will see Still Alice, as I love both Ms. Moore and Kristen Stewart. Also, the field was not especially exciting, and it was nice for an upset in Best Actor, and at least one non-Birdman win). Selma got best song, Whiplash and Boyhood Supporting Actor and Actress, Grand Budapest Hotel a handful of more “technical” awards… saving up most of the goodies for Birdman. Now, Birdman is not a horrible film, but of all the awards it won, the only that it debatably deserved were Best Director and Cinematography. I fully admit that I do not understand the passion for this film. It is a pretentious muddle (even the title does not escape this evaluation!), as most of Inarritu’s films have been. He has a good sense of staging and camera movement, his films are visually competent, but his stories are often strained, both overblown and underdeveloped. Why do we care about this washed-up actor, himself pretentious and shallow? Because he is Michael Keaton. What does Birdman have to do, conceptually, with Raymond Carver? Seemingly nothing – in fact, the film mirrors the trivial and shallow development of the play within. Is it trying to say something about identity, or aging? Not really – more often than not, the film devolves into arguments that are more backstage soap opera than anything else (Dad screaming about the importance of his career, daughter screaming about how irrelevant he is in the age of Twitter, all undergirded by the usual show-biz parenting gripes about distance and self-importance). The damn thing can’t seem to decide when it should end, or perhaps even worse, why it should end, which gives a clue as to the director’s own uncertainty about and incomprehension of his material. (Said material took four writers!) Is it a tragedy? Comedy? Magical realism? Perhaps as all of the above, it can’t go wrong. But it also, in that case, can’t go right. The sole redeeming facet of the film, outside the visual realm, is Ed Norton’s performance – and, indeed, his character. His character is a critic of the play within the film, and a decent one at that; it is odd that the writers should write such an intelligent point of view but not apply it to their own superstructure. At any rate, his scenes are the only ones with brio and some degree of heat; it’s too bad the film wasn’t about him rather than a second rate actor who delivers a very second rate set of insights. All of this would be what it is, except that everyone in Film Land loves it! Perhaps it is the inside baseball element? Or the fact that it features a lot of actors, a c t i n g… The Academy, as usual, did not fail to elevate the middle of the road mediocrity to the top spot. And as usual, the sting would have been a lot less if it didn’t take four hours to reach the middle of the road. Lady Gaga did a pretty good Julie Andrews impression, though.

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