Also: Ways to fix the Oscars, and the art of the tux
For whatever reason, I didn't know that Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams were teaming up to write and arrange the musical accompaniment to Sunday's Oscar ceremony. (Is that partly why Zimmer withdrew himself from consideration for "Rango?") If this had happened in last year's "we're young and hip -- honest!" ceremony, you know we'd have been reminded of the N.E.R.D. beatsmith's involvement ad nauseum. As it stands, it comes as a pleasant surprise: while I somehow doubt these musical interludes will be as memorable as the pair suggest in this interview ("We're going crazy!" Zimmer boasts, showing off the synths and drum machines that will sit amid the traditional Oscar orchestra), it's a pleasingly inventive step for telecast -- and with the nixing of the Best Original Song performances, the only aural fix we'll get all evening. [LA Times]
On final approach, we look back at some of Oscar's finer moments
When Kris asked me to contribute a piece to our mini-series on all-time favorite Oscar wins, I wasn't quite sure where to begin. However often they get it wrong, over 83 years, the Academy has made more than enough good decisions, and honored more than enough good movies -- even handing Best Picture to my favorite film of all time -- to make selecting just one a tortuous process.
How to judge the value of Robert De Niro's Best Actor win for "Raging Bull" against, say, Sven Nykvist's Best Cinematography win for "Cries and Whispers?" I'm glad both came to pass, but we're not comparing apples and oranges so much as apples and hotdogs.
I decided to limit my search to winners from 1990, the year I actually started watching the Oscars, onwards: as satisfying as it is the learn of deserved wins in the history books, nothing compares to the in-the-moment thrill of watching your favorite nominee triumph before your own eyes.
Glenn Close, Viola Davis, Rooney Mara, Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams square off
(The Oscar Guide will be your chaperone through the Academy's 24 categories awarding excellence in film. A new installment will hit every weekday in the run-up to the Oscars on February 26, with the Best Picture finale on Saturday, February 25.)
After last year's banner field of nominees, which included five peak-form performances from actresses in a range of risky, stimulating projects, this year's Best Actress category wasn't ever likely to live up to those standards. True enough, it hasn't, though the problem lies less with the ladies nominated than the vehicles surrounding them: "Good performance, shame about the movie," has been the recurring critical chorus around this race.
That's not to say it was a year short of challenging, substantial vehicles for women. But with many of them falling in the less illuminated corners of the arthouse, the Academy inevitably favored the softer, more middlebrow prestige vehicles, few of which had any worthwhile cinematic ambitions beyond showcasing their established stars for maximum vote-grabbiness. (It may or may not mean something to you that this is the category's first all-American lineup in 20 years.) The exception, a relatively untested ingenue in a hard-edged genre piece, is both the only first-time nominee in the field and the only one unapproved by the Screen Actors' Guild.
The nominees are...
And other things rich white men like
Earlier this week the LA Times unveiled the fruit of 20 researchers’ labor: old, rich, white men dominate the AMPAS. I was as shocked as you are.
I kid. I do. There’s nothing wrong with the article as such, and the structural dynamics of the Academy do bear looking at.
One of the strange, self-devouring aspects of the internet is that it is now common practice for critics to reflect on, riff off, add to or otherwise deconstruct one another’s work. A positive element of the trend is that a conversation develops in our virtual realm. Of course, levels of discourse are, as ever, varied. We’ve not yet weighed in on the matter and I do so now with a grain of salt, and a bit more sass than I had originally intended. Is it earth shattering news? Clearly not. Does it seem to be indicative of an overindulgence of the paper’s resources? Ish.
A look at one of the Academy's most glaring snubs
Who doesn’t love watching a great fairy tale on screen? But how often do new ones arise that make us think “Wow, that’s something new,” while also being deep, funny, engaging and gorgeous to watch?
1990’s “Edward Scissorhands” manages to do all these things. While it landed only one Oscar nomination (for Best Makeup), it manages to show the very best of filmmaking in innumerable ways and ranks among my favorite films of all-time.
First, we have the story, already alluded to. Capturing the themes of loneliness, innocence, growing up, family, self-doubt, doomed romance and the ironies of life, Tim Burton’s story hits on multiple human themes to which we all relate. It also managed to do this within heavy genre. Fairy tales have never been Oscar’s cup of tea, but they make for a great narrative. Of course, they have also been done to death, so coming up with a story that is old-fashioned yet completely modern and remarkably original while true to the genre is a feat that deserves special recognition.
Will Martin Scorsese's film dominate the craft categories?
I’m scared. Why, you may ask? First, I’m wondering where on earth this year went. It seems like yesterday when Tech Support was beginning the 2011-2012 season. Next week’s wrap-up column will be the last of the season as the Oscars are given out Sunday night!
Second, however, I am scared because I am truly not confident in my predictions in the crafts categories this year. Only four – Art Direction, Makeup and the music categories – have me certain. Beyond that, things are quite open. I fear I may embarrass myself. That said, this does make things more exciting than is the case in the “major” categories!
So now, on to a final analysis!
Also: 'Drive''s lone Oscar nominee, and predicting by mathematics
Later today, I'll be serving up our Oscar Guide in the Best Actress category -- but if you want an appetizer for that subject, Andrew O'Hehir has written a good piece on the sincere, season-long show of mutual appreciation between the category's frontrunners, Viola Davis and Meryl Streep. ("This is your year," Streep apparently said to Davis at the New York critics' awards.) He gets a few things wrong (like saying that Davis wasn't a surefire nominee last month, when she's plainly been the frontrunner since August), and I'm not sure the title "how Viola Davis took Meryl Streep's Oscar" hits the right note, but O'Hehir's insights into Davis's canny but not cynical self-campaigning, as well as the value of her relationship with Streep, are pointed and sensible amid a chorus of more hysterical commentary about the race. [Salon]
Feeling strangely fine ahead of Sunday's Academy Awards
With four days to go until the Academy Awards, we've reached the point in the season -- indeed, given the season's inordinate length and predictability, we've been there for some time -- where everything that's potentially exciting or commendable about this year's awards can be turned against the institution behind them by sufficiently ill-tempered critics and observers.
Isn't it kind of cool that the Best Picture winner is almost certain to be a silent, black-and-white comedy with no household names involved, and the first Oscar champ in the category from outside the US or UK? Oh, I'm sorry, it isn't: assorted corners of the blogosphere have ruled that "The Artist" is disposable, middlebrow fluff, that the Academy is caving to the cynical philistinism of Harvey Weinstein, that voters are out of touch and un-American to boot. (Oh yeah, and Jean Dujardin is bloody Roberto Benigni all over again -- because all Europeans are the same, right?)
'Margaret' walks away with two acting honors
The International Cinephile Society may be the last of innumerable critics' groups to announce their top film achievements of 2011 before the Oscars finally call a moratorium on the practice -- but in a season that has long since fallen prey to fatigue, this fresh, imaginative list of winners couldn't come as a more welcome pick-me-up. As a voting member of the ICS, I'm pleased to say I'm as surprised as anyone by some of the results, which stray far from the Oscar pack and include a handful of unique choices.
I'm pretty sure, for example, that this is the first group to hand their Best Actor prize to British newcomer Tom Cullen for "Weekend" -- my own first choice in the category. And if the London Critics' Circle pre-empted the ICS by choosing Anna Paquin as Best Actress, this is certainly the first mention for Paquin's onscreen mom in "Margaret," J. Smith-Cameron, in the Best Supporting Actress category. Kenneth Lonergan's beleaguered little film just keeps chugging along -- who knows what could have happened had it received more critical and studio support upon its September release?
And is it maybe time to start considering other venues anyway?
You might recall the story a couple of weeks back about the Kodak Theater potentially undergoing a moniker change, as Kodak, amid financial reorganization, wanted out of its deal with the Hollywood & Highland complex where the annual Oscars are held. In a nutshell, the company no longer afford the hefty yearly price tag of maintaining the naming rights to the facility.
Well, it looks like that change is already in effect. Over at The Odds, Steve Pond's sharp eyes caught this bit of language in a press release announcing Meryl Streep as one of this year's Oscarcast presenters: "Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2011 will be presented on Sunday, February 26, from the Hollywood & Highland Center® and televised live by the ABC Television Network." Hollywood & Highland. Not Kodak. Most of us probably just slid that email on over to the trash, but good on Pond for catching it and ringing up the Academy to confirm.