Category Archives: Awards Shows

2017 Oscars Recap: Pandemonium

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The End.  Let’s start there, as it was the most surprising and screwed-up conclusion in Oscar history.  (For those living in a cave, here is a brief recap.)  Prior to this point, the night contains no surprises.  Virtually all the favorites win.  We arrive at Best Picture. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway present, great to see Faye Dunaway.  They announce La La Land, as expected.  The La La Land people march up there, smiles all around.  And then… it is announced that a mistake was made and Moonlight had won. No one knows how to handle it.  A moment of Oscar pandemonium ensues.  And then the Moonlight people march up there, the La La people get out of the way, and an awkward, confused acceptance speech ensues.  The end.

The Verdict.  Well this certainly upstaged virtually every other moment of the Oscars, which were, in my view, ok.  And sometimes ok is good enough.  The ceremony lacked the traditional homage to movies opening number.  Instead we got Justin Timberlake singing “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”  And, come to think of it, don’t we all love Justin Timberlake?  And don’t we all want to feel good?   Given these troubled times, isn’t it ok to have a night of froth and frippery?

The Host.  For the most part, Jimmy Kimmel set an amiable tone.  Other than the Oscars, I am never up late enough to watch late-night talk show hosts.  So this was my first experience seeing him in action.  I thought he was good.  Not great, but not terrible.  He had a nice air of confidence and appreciation that he had the gig.  And he had the grace to apologize for the Best Picture debacle.

The Good.  My favorite was the visual of candy and cookies parachuting down to the stars.  Short clips in which actors talked about their favorite movies (Charlize Theron and The Apartment, Seth Rogan and Back to the Future) and then presented with the actor from the movie (Shirley MacLaine and Michael J. Fox) were good, if a little long.  This year’s versions of Stars – They’re Just Like Us (started when Ellen DeGeneres took a selfie with the stars and ordered pizza) brought in a tour bus of tourists to hobknob with Meryl, Denzel, etc.  It, too, dragged a bit but was kinda fun.

The Bad.  Tweeting the President – can’t we just forget about the elephant in the White House?  Stars reading mean tweets about themselves.  Picking on Matt Damon the whole night long (I, for one, loved his performance in We Bought a Zoo).  I get that it was a joke, I just didn’t like the joke.

The Speeches.  I honestly don’t remember any of them other than Viola Davis who, as Jimmy Kimmel joked, should win an Emmy for her Oscar speech.  We’ll forgive her sanctimonious nod to actors:  “we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”  Nobody’s perfect.

The Movies.  This year I saw every Best Picture nominee except Hacksaw Ridge (too violent for me).  And I honestly thought all of them were worth seeing.  Glad Moonlight won over La La Land, thought the camera work and story were exceptional, loved that a quiet low budget movie about a gay kid from the slums of Miami made it to the top of the heap. Loved the production design and imagination of La La Land, what a fun film.  Loved Hidden Figures, a well-executed, well acted feel good movie about an important and neglected topic.  Arrival is fantastic – great score, great concept, a thinking person’s Sci Fi movie. Manchester by the Sea is wonderful.  Lion has some pacing problems in the second half but the subject matter and treatment of memory stuck with me more than any of the other films.  Fences is well acted, if a little long and talky – this is usually the case when movies are made from plays.  I had never heard of Hell or High Water until I saw it last week.  It is amazing.  Great script, slow build, fantastic editing and scenery, and above all a great topic – the bank robbers vs. the robber banks.

The Upshot.  This was a tough year for the Oscars.  It was a tough year, period.  Our country is divided.  People are worried.  Last year’s #oscarsowhite controversy (which as I pointed out last year is more the fault of the studios than the Oscars themselves) seems almost quaint given today’s headlines.  And the good news about the trainwreck ending of this  year’s ceremony is that – for one night – we were distracted from more pressing concerns.  Can’t stop the feeling, indeed.

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2016 Oscars Recap: Chris Rocked

Triumph

He nailed it. As I say every year, hosting the Oscars is a thankless job. Not only did Chris Rock triumph, delivering one of the best opening monologues in Oscar History, but he did so with a topic which – let’s face it – is tough. Taking on the topic of racism in Hollywood in a way that’s funny, makes the point, yet doesn’t completely alienate the audience? The man virtually split the atom.

chris rock oscarsShow-And-Tell
As usual, the Oscars were long. The tickertape of names at the bottom didn’t help. The text callouts describing the hosts didn’t help either. The biggest improvement from last year was a conscious and mostly effective effort to explain the category being presented. Example 1: Cate Blanchett walking among costumes. Example 2: playing sound from the movies when introducing the sound categories – great idea! Example 3 (my fave): showing Andy Serkis recording his iconic parts in Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes – prior to his introducing the Visual Effects category.

Memorable Moments
Louis CK’s introduction to the Documentary Short Subject category was hilarious. Lady Gaga performed a moving tribute alongside survivors of sexual abuse. My favorite part was when Ennio Morricone won Original Score for “The Hateful Eight.” The legendary composer of the iconic Sergio Leone scores finally won. What a wonderful capstone.

Upsets!
The Oscars were less predictable than usual, yay. Mark Rylance scored an upset for Supporting Actor for Bridge of Spies. Mad Max won 6 Oscars which was unexpected and enjoyable. Best of all, I loved that Spotlight – a quiet, extraordinary film – won Best Picture. The showy, art-housey Revenant-like pictures almost always win. Not this year!

Back to Chris
Most of his bits worked. Loved the “Black History Month” homage to – Jack Black! Girl Scouts selling cookies to the glitterati? Sure. Favorite part other than the monolog was the “man on the street” interviews with African Americans outside the Multiplex about the fact that – guess what? – no one had heard of let alone seen most of the nominated films.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?
Which brings me to a short treatise on the State of the Industry and this whole lack of diversity brouhaha. Why is it that the movies biz remain mostly all white and largely all male? That no African-Americans were nominated this year isn’t surprising given that most movies are marketed squarely at young white males. So why is there so much diversity in the world of music and TV? I think it’s All About Distribution. 400 scripted TV shows were released last year, according to the New York Times. There are an ever-growing number of distribution venues, from network TV, to cable, to Amazon. When it comes to music, anyone can upload to YouTube. Movies, in contrast, are released at the (corporate-owned) multiplex, with usually no more than 20 playing at any one time. They are financed by a handful of deeply risk-averse (corporate-owned) studios. And because of this, movies are not diverse. Many of them are also not very good. I’m not an expert in the economics of making and distributing movies, but something’s gotta give. Movie-lovers – in all our fabulous, glorious, diversity – deserve better.

Oscars 2015: Snoozefest

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The Ceremony

It is not Neal Patrick Harris’ fault that the Oscars were terrible. He tried. It is an impossible job. Here are the problems with this year’s Oscars:

  1. Few people had seen the movies. When big budget pictures (Lord of the Rings, The Blind Side) are in the mix, there is more interest.
  2. Everything was overproduced. The production numbers extended an already dull broadcast (see point 1). Example: every year, famous movie people who have passed away over the past year are honored. Meryl Streep provided a moving intro, followed by the customary photo montage.  All good. But then, the tribute was extended when Jennifer Hudson sang a post-tribute-tribute. They lost me for good when Lady Gaga performed a The Sound of Music Although to her credit Lady Gaga did a nice job, it’s hard to imagine two more incongruous singers than Lady Gaga and Julie Andrews, who gamely appeared to awkwardly thank Lady Gaga.  The Lego Movie song “Everything is Awesome” should have been performed by, well, Legos. It started off this way, then live people got involved and the whole thing jumped the shark.
  3. Incongruous songs (“The Look of Love,” “Endless Love,” “Moon River”) were played each time presenters appeared. I kept thinking, what does this song have to do with these presenters? Then I figured it out – nothing. The producers were again trying to musicalize the Oscars, to bizarre effect.

Here is what I liked about this year’s Oscar ceremony:

  1. The opening production number.  Bravo.
  2. The riff about Octavia Spencer guarding Neal Patrick Harris’ predictions, which I initially thought was awkward and pointless, was fun in the end when the predictions commented on the (relatively) interesting points in the ceremony (i.e. Terrence Howard was strangely emotional, John Travolta touched Idina Menzel’s face).
  3. The guy who accepted for Ida (foreign language film) kept at it, doggedly finishing his lengthy speech even as the orchestra tried to play him off. That this was a high point indicates a snoozefest of a ceremony.

The Movies

Were good, not great.  The Grand Budapest Hotel was my favorite film of those nominated but I am a Wes Anderson fan and I get that he is not everybody’s cup of tea. The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything were similar movies, historically based films that were good, if somewhat plodding at times. Boyhood was really cool but let’s face it – it had no plot. And the fact that Birdman won Best Picture is the epitome of Hollywood naval gazing – let’s give an Oscar to a movie about actors! The movie had fantastic camera work and good performances, particularly by Edward Norton. But it made no sense.   I can’t wait to see Whiplash, which was made in a month for a song and has great buzz.   Still Alice is a Hallmark movie but Julianne Moore’s performance is incredible. Gone Girl should have been nominated for Best Picture, as it was very well done, but the Academy doesn’t view thrillers as award-worthy.

Why I am No Longer Going to Write About the Clothes

I have decided to hang up my hat on this topic. The Internet has enough haters. I am all over the campaign #askhermore, which is all about asking actresses about their work, and not their clothes. Actresses have legions of fashion and beauty professionals on hand to make sure they look fantastic, and for the most part succeed. Let’s stop carping about how they look. As Emily Nussbaum points out in her fantastic piece on Joan Rivers, Joan was a trailblazer, true, but a key part of her schtick involved tearing down other women. In 2012-2013 (the latest years for which this information is available) about 30% of all-on screen speaking characters in the top 100 films were women.   And when it comes to directors, the story is much worse. Woman directors are a rarity in Hollywood despite some female studio heads. Read New York Times movie critic Manohla Dargis’ excellent 3 part series on the topic.

As Neal Patrick Harris noted in the beginning of the ceremony, “moving pictures shape who we are.” And what they currently show is that it’s a man’s world. Think about movies like Django Unchained, in which there is a slew of great roles for men, and then there’s Kerry Washington, who’s stuck playing The Girl. Let’s work to change that by focusing on actresses’ work, instead of their looks.

The Oscars: Better Safe Than Sorry

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The Big Picture

Hosting the Oscars is a thankless job.  This year the Academy Awards Powers That Be concluded that benign is better than belligerent.  So they asked Ellen to host.  I think they made the right call.   Here’s why.

The Host

Ellen is amiable, good-natured, and universally beloved.  She turned the Academy Awards into a giant version of her talk show by mixing with the A-listers in the front row, most of whom gamely played along.   It was a bit forced, (Handing out pizzas!  Tweeting selfies!) but it was also sort of fun, certainly better than listening to Seth MacFarlane sing “We Saw Your Boobs.”

The Speeches

Although it is obnoxious to “play out” overly long speeches, it is also obnoxious to force the audience to listen to, well, overly long speeches.  I kept thinking the ceremony should have been shorter.  There was no opening production number, the introductions to the Academy Award nominees for Best Pictures were done in batches, and there wasn’t even a lifetime achievement montage.  Despite this, the ceremony dragged and ended at midnight ET, as usual.  All the actors who won had prepared speeches, thank goodness.  Cate Blanchett’s rocked – good for her for taking on the studios’ “earth is flat” belief that women-driven films don’t make money.  Catching Fire was the top-grossing movie of the year, people!  (Hooray for J-Law!)  And Darlene Love of 20 Feet From Stardom brought down the house when she sang – hooray for backup singers!   Lupita Nyong’o looked amazing, and her speech was perfect.  Really.  See for yourself.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fluQ6iyy85g.

The Production Numbers

Speaking of singing, the production numbers were surprisingly good.  Loved “Happy” – a joyous, fun, well choreographed number that made me happy by just watching it.  The Wizard of Oz tribute in which Pink sang “Over the Rainbow” was beautifully done.  And Idina Menzel’s performance of “Let it Go” was stirring and strong.

The Clothes

Every year, Charlize Theron kills it.  Although she would look good wearing a paper bag, her dress was no paper bag.  She gets my vote for best dressed.  Nearly all the dresses were good.  Sandra Bullock, Naomi Watts, Cate Blanchett, Amy Adams and Kate Hudson looked great.   Although Anna Kendrick’s see-through red and mesh waist panel didn’t work, points to her for taking a risk.  Nowadays dresses are safe and stylist-approved.

How To Improve the Ceremony

There are many ways to improve the Oscars, but I will focus on two.  The first is to shorten the ceremony by paring the number of categories given out during the telecast.  Given that technical people comprise a considerable chunk of the Academy’s 6,000 voters, that is not going to happen.  The biggest problem with the Academy Awards is that there are no surprises anymore.  I correctly predicted 20 out of 24 nominations.  I am not an insider, just your basic movie fan who reads Entertainment Weekly.   The Oscars are easy to handicap because they air after all the other awards shows.  Want to spice up the Oscars?  Televise them in January, before the Golden Globes, SAGs, et. al.  Be the leader, not the laggard.   I don’t think this will happen anytime soon since the Academy and the movie industry in general is notoriously risk-averse.

So How Were the Oscars This Year?

With a likeable host, stylist-approved fashions, and predictable winners, the Oscars were, in a word, safe.  We saw a couple of moments of genuine emotion amidst the long slog to Best Picture.  There was nothing risky, nothing edgy; it was pleasant, albeit all very careful.  Over and out, until next year!

2012 Tonys

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Go, Neil, Go

The Tonys are an oddity;  an awards show ostensibly honoring Broadway which stars TV and film stars.  There is a reason for this.  Most Broadway stars (Kelli O’Hara, Sutton Foster, etc.) are well known within the world of theater, but hardly household names outside of it.  And the Tonys are All About Eve Ratings.   The theater powers that be understand people are more likely to watch an awards show featuring marquis presenters.  The more people watch the Tonys, the more likely it is that at least some of those people may actually attend a Broadway performance at a later point.  Given that Broadway ticket prices are easily over $100 per show and often hit $250, (not including the exorbitant costs of traveling to and staying in NYC) marketing Broadway is quite a challenge.

In fairness, most of the presenters were stars who have done theater (or starred in a show about theater, or a cappella music – hello Anna Kendrick!)  Chief among them is host Neil Patrick Harris, who has had a charmed career.  One of the few child actors to successfully transition to adult star (he was Doogie Howser!), he is a major TV star, with legit theater creds.  This was his 4th hosting gig for the Tonys, and he just agreed to host the Emmys this Fall.   This year the Tonys had the best ratings they’ve had in 4 years, a 20% spike from 2012.

Given that the show features excepts from the nominated musicals, the evening’s caliber depends on their quality.  This year the quality was good (particularly Matilda, Kinky Boots and A Christmas Story).  The producers had the good sense to spotlight Pippin, which I have raved about elsewhere.  Neil did a great job hosting, and killed it with the opening number.  Cyndi Lauper stole the show (twice!) with her acceptance speech for Kinky Boots and her performance of True Colors.   There was a skit mid-show about Smash-like cancelled NBC shows featuring former Broadway performers.  The concept of this skit was funnier than the execution, but it was good the connection between Hollywood and Broadway was acknowledged.

The rest was of the evening was … fine.  The producers were reluctant to cue the music to cut the speeches and the evening dragged as a result.  But on balance the Tonys were well done – watchable, entertaining and a good snapshot of Broadway’s finest.