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.