“Avengers” movies and choices made

This weekend, the new “Captain America” movie comes out. I feel a bit like a foreigner who’s in the USA on Thanksgiving. All of my friends have been looking forward to this day for weeks, and I’m glad they’re so happy! They all seem to love the movie, which is all that any movie fan can wish for any other movie fan. It’s just not my holiday. I can only experience it from a certain emotional distance.

I thought the first “Avengers” movie was an OK example of an “Summer blockbuster released in early May” movie (which I acknowledge as an actual film genre). It spools out like a gameplay video. That’s not bad. I enjoy watching gameplay videos. It’s all bright colors and flashing lights and action and noises, and it’s as satisfying as a fast-food burger, which is another commercial consumer product that I rather enjoy. Particularly if the corporation was moved to invent a new adjective for “bacony.”

I was a bit dumbfounded by the reaction to “The Avengers,” though. Nobody is wrong when they speak honestly about how a movie or book or TV show made them feel. But I was fascinated by all of the elegiac praise. I certainly didn’t see it as a groundbreaking movie, or something that set a new high bar for story and characterization in the superhero genre. And I actually thought the representation of the Black Widow was sexist, not progressive. 

My own reaction was to just sort of put this movie in the same mental box where I’ve filed the “Transformers” series. As with a fast-food burger, I thought “The Avengers” was designed to deliver pleasure while one was consuming it, and be totally forgotten about an hour later.

Again, speaking only personally…I found the movie frustrating. There came a point when “The Avengers” had said “This element is awesomely important!” and then said “Actually, no, forget we even mentioned it” so many times that I did something I can’t remember ever doing inside a movie theater: I completely gave up. There were still about forty minutes left to go and I was sorry that I’d taken my usual seat in the middle of the house. If I’d been in the very back row, I could have woken my phone and taken it out of airplane mode without bothering anybody. I couldn’t have possibly cared less about what was happening on the screen.

I participated in a podcast about the movie with my friends on “The Incomparable” and I had a terrific time. I was surprised at how…horrified?…listeners were by what I said. Two years later, I saw the sequel specifically because longtime friend and fellow print survivor Jason Snell was going to be in Boston during the weekend of the premiere. We had a great time seeing the movie and then talking about it around microphones and pizza at Dan Moren’s house. I didn’t like “Age of Ultron” either, but it did hold my attention, and “…with a group of good friends” ensures that it’ll be a great time at the movies.

I’m deliberately sitting this latest “Avengers” movie out, though. I would have loved being a part of the Incomparable roundtable, but (as a Tweet today reminded me) I got tired of the “Andy hates all Avengers movies and thus hates joy itself meme” a while ago and I’m not eager to renew the license.

Also:

I don’t think I’ll enjoy the movie, because I’ve seen the two that came before it and I didn’t like them.

So I’m not gonna go see this new one.

And I’m not going to talk about a movie I haven’t seen.

The logic of these statements seems irrefutable.

It all ties into two important items in the Social Contract:

  1. You’re not required to even have an opinion on everything, much less express one;
  2. If someone doesn’t like the thing that you liked, it doesn’t mean that they hate you, or that they like hating.

Ignoring one or the other is a form of selfishness. The dialogue on “Civil War” can be lush and complete without the voice of Andy Ihnatko. As to the second: getting upset about a difference of subjective opinion is a sign of a lack of confidence. Too many people online need to find a reason why an opposing opinion exists and somehow the actual reason (“Someone just as smart and open-minded as I am saw the same thing and didn’t have the same experience”) just won’t do. A creative work is an emotional reaction between the work and the viewer. Change the viewer, and you change the reaction. This isn’t physics, whereupon the rate of acceleration due to gravity is a constant and any answer other than “9.8 meters per second per second” means that this person doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

This is why “So-and-so is just a hater” and “Oh, well, everyone on the Internet just takes some sick pleasure out of criticizing things” are just white noise to my ears. I even wince a little when an actor or a writer whose work I like dismisses online criticism of their work in those terms. Never, ever deny the humanity of another human being. That always leads to tremendous, regrettable mistakes. And reducing someone to just a machine that turns all input into bilious output, instead of  respecting them as a thinking, feeling being who walked into the theater with a unique set of life experiences and expectations, as well as every hope that they would enjoy the movie that they saw, is in violation of that code.

If you go and see “Civil War,” I hope you have a great time.

I’m doing housecleaning this weekend. You’re probably having a better weekend than I am. Just don’t get upset when I close this post by saying I’m having more fun scrubbing floors and scraping down the corners of my countertops than I probably would have had watching another “Avengers” movie.

EXCELSIOR!

Release the “Clowns”

I never thought I’d get to see “The Day The Clown Cried,” which will probably stand as Jerry Lewis’ second or third most famous movie despite the fact that it’s never been released. I also never thought I’d get to see a commentary or documentary that treated the movie with as much dignity and respect as David Schneider does here.

He raises a point that has always merited discussion: is it even fair to have an opinion about a movie that’s never been seen, was never even completed, and which the director has worked hard to keep completely under wraps? No, of course it isn’t. It’s just way to hard not to. “Jerry Lewis did a movie set inside a concentration camp” is a phrase that spurs as much impassioned imagination as the orange light inside the briefcase in “Pulp Fiction.”

And then, of course, there’s Jerry’s recent comments about the film, during a public Q&A a couple of years ago:

Someone asked Jerry if the movie would ever be released.

“It’s very easy to sit in front of an audience and expound on your feelings,” he said, referring to the Q&A. “It’s another thing to have to deal with those feelings. And in terms of that film, I was embarrassed. I was ashamed of the work, and I was grateful that I had the power to contain it all and never let anybody see it. It was bad, bad, bad. It could have been wonderful. But I slipped up. I didn’t quite get it. And I didn’t have enough sense to find out why I’m doing it, and maybe there there would be an answer. Uh-uh. It’ll never be seen.

“Sorry. I’ll tell you how it ends…

I’ve read that the production ran into financing issues, in addition to legal trouble when the creator of the work upon which the screenplay was based insisted that their rights to the story had lapsed. If that’s true, then my next obvious question is “Would the Jerry of 1972 have finished and released this movie, if he could have?”

I can’t speculate. I’ll say that he seems sincere in this Q&A. He’s forty years older, probably a lot wiser, and maybe he’s giving advice to the younger version of himself that the 46 year old Jerry Lewis might not have taken.

I can easily imagine “The Day The Clown Cried” being similar to that super angry email that you wrote but never sent because you didn’t trust the privacy of a public WiFi connection, and then you forgot about it until you rediscovered it a couple of years later. You can remember everything about that email, and even now, you think you were perfectly right to be this angry with this person…but you’re relieved and grateful that fate prevented this thing from getting out.

Jerry’s by no means one of my favorite filmmakers, though I respect his obvious love of the artform. Still, I always thought it was unfair to judge a movie that he never “finished.” Drivesavers recently told the story of the herculean efforts they undertook to recover “lost” writings of Gene Roddenberry. 200 floppies full of files, which he had written with an early CP/M-based computer whose OS and apps had been custom-made for him. The recovery wasn’t just a technical problem or a forensic problem…the challenge was practically an archaeological one.

His estate now has all of the recovered text. It’s hard to imagine that Gene left behind a complete, fully written and revised manuscript or screenplay for everything. Even any outlines would be, at best, the frameworks for a future work and not the work itself. I’m sure hundreds of thousands of people would love to read these things, but should we? The drafts of a work-in-progress have a certain “sanctity of the confessional” about them. I’ve written some stuff where I tried to stretch myself and explore The Gentle Cruelty of the Human Condition and it was just maudlin trash. Fair enough; I gave it a try and had enough objectivity about my work to see that it wasn’t worth developing further. It’d be wearying to spend the next forty years of my life being judged, partly, by this thing that I myself decided wasn’t any good.

You’ve probably heard that Jerry has donated “The Day The Clown Cried” to the Library of Congress, along with a trove of other personal papers (with the proviso that it wouldn’t be made available to the public in any form for ten years). That seems to be in line with the sentiments he expressed during that Q&A. He’s deliberately chosen to place that footage within the historical context of his life’s story, and not as part of his creative canon. It’s there for the benefit of film historians, not movie audiences.

Either way…I can’t not see this movie. I never thought I’d live long enough to see Star Wars: Episode VII or “The Day The Clown Cried.” I’ve managed to avoid drunk drivers and poisoned chalices long enough to see the first and now I’m quite hopeful about the second.

The Awakening

You didn’t beat me. Do you hear that, Internet?! I’ve won. I have seen “The Force Awakens” without you spoiling anything about it that wasn’t in the very first teaser trailer.

Yes, I’m gloating. I’m entitled, don’t you think? You are an immense global machine with far more funding and manpower than I. You marshaled hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of your little minions to seek out information about the movie and put it out there, releasing it into the atmosphere and the water supply so that it was simply impossible for anybody to not already know that Bobo Barabas dies at the hands of Jif Orino and that the Gonologues were a faction of the Grey Flight all along.

All of which are things I totally made up just now, because I truly have no idea what happens in this movie. I don’t know the names of any of the new characters, or even which side they’re on!

Yes, you once tricked me into seeing photos of Kim Kardashian’s bare ass, the ones that were just a ripoff of a much more famous photo series, despite my active desire to know as little about this person as possible. But that was a costly victory, my friend, because I learned from the experience. I learned that long before “Star Wars” spoilers would be in play, I needed to go into Tweetdeck’s settings and disable all images.

Are Han and Leia still a couple? I don’t know. Are the Stormtroopers good or bad? Are they still clones? Couldn’t tell you. Are Artoo and Threepio in it? I can’t even remember if they were in the teaser, because that thing was released so long ago and I haven’t watched it since.

I’m not saying it didn’t require discipline and effort. I’ve been building thicker and thicker walls around myself over the past several months. As the media machine slowly creaked to life, I created a new bookmarks folder just for “Star Wars”-related interviews, articles, and videos that I would only read after I’d seen “The Force Awakens.” A couple of weeks ago, I added a dozen new hotwords to my Twitter client’s “mute” list. Every day or two, another new one would occur to me. Ultimately, that list grew to twenty.

I stopped visiting pop culture fansites of all kinds. Then, I stopped visiting Reddit and Fark and other news aggregators. When I raised the threat level to Defcon 1, I even stopped looking at news sites of any kind.

And why?

Because it’s Star Wars. I argue that the Holy Trilogy episodes are, objectively, all great movies and beyond that, I acknowledge that they have a power to enchant and delight me to which that no other movies can even come close. Anything that you adored as a kid — a book, movie, TV show, comic book, even a computer and OS — whose gravity well affected your trajectory through childhood and, indeed, through life, will always have a special place in your heart.

I want to reproduce the conditions under which I saw it when I was in grammar school. I want to be a blank slate. I want to let the whole thing wash over me like cleansing waters. I don’t want to be anticipating anything that happens. Not even anything I saw in an official trailer or commercial.

I’m not saying you won’t have other victories, Internet. But, dammit, I won this battle. You’ve been beaten.

Why am I laughing, you ask?

Oh, nothing. Keep  on doing what you’re doing right now.

Now I’m just being cruel. Don’t waste your energy, Internet. I hear you, bringing new reactors and generators online in a last-ditch effort to spoil something, anything for me before I see the movie. Like, induce some no-goodnik to send me an email that reveals the whole ending, under an innocuous subject line that I’m sure to click on. Perhaps you’re even arranging for a New York Times poilitical op-ed piece about the Democratic debates to begins “Hilary Clinton proved that she’s clearly willing to win the White House for the Democratic Party even if she inspires as little excitement as Grig Hortu did when she ordered Jor Horizo to accompany Leia to the Du system to negotiate the great compromise in ‘The Force Awakens’…”

Just stop.

Do you seriously think I’d explain my master stroke if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its outcome? I did it thirty five minutes ago.

I wrote all of this last night, and set it to auto-post after I was inside the theater, with my phone turned off. I even listened to loud music through my over-the-ear headphones while waiting in line to get in, to guarantee that I wouldn’t overhear anything.

Forget it, Internet. It’s Star Wars.

The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith: Steve Jobs Q&A

The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith: Steve Jobs Q&A

Via The Q&A Podcast.

I listened to Jeff Goldsmith’s onstage interview with Aaron Sorkin, which he conducted after a screening of “Steve Jobs.”

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I sure intend to. Any movie written by Sorkin is worth my attention, and the fact that it was also directed by Danny Boyle makes it a can’t-miss-it for me. If the first movie I watch from a director includes a beautiful underwater scene shot inside The Worst Toilet In Scotland, then that director has won him or herself a lifelong fan.

Jeff’s interview affirms something I suspected: a move made by these two people can’t possibly be careless work. After listening to this hourlong interview, you may or may not think this movie was a good idea. But it’s hard to not come away thinking that its makers went into it with the highest aspirations and an intention to do their very best work.

With biopics, I often get the impression that the filmmakers had an idea for a fictional story that they’d wanted to tell for years, and wound up casting a familiar, real-life figure as the lead character in that movie. This was the case with “Wired,” a 1989 movie based on a biography of John Belushi that was produced under similar circumstances to “Steve Jobs.” It was the life of a famous, recently-deceased person, based on a biography that many people had found fault with.

Even the 2013 Steve Jobs movie that starred Ashton Kutcher made that same mistake. I saw that one on its opening weekend.

(Forgive me. I had no choice. I knew I’d be talking about it on a podcast the following week.)

That flick told the life story of Steve Jobs, the fictional character of folklore. He was born in a log cabin that he built with his own two hands. He was so disengaged during the filming of “The Godfather” that Francis Ford Coppola had to feed him each of his lines through a radio earpiece; he pitched a no-hitter while tripping on LSD; and died a hero of workingmen everywhere when he managed to drive more steel with his powerful arms and mighty hammer than a newfangled steampowered contraption could in the same span of hours.

Throughout the production of “Steve Jobs,” Sorkin has been upfront about producing a fact-based portrait that uses obvious storytelling conceits. For instance, yes, the first public demo of the original Mac ran into a snag when Steve insisted that the computer speak, and the team couldn’t get the code to fit inside 128K of system memory. In reality, though, the crisis had been solved long before the launch event.

On that basis, I’m okay with the liberties Sorkin and Boyle took. But I do understand the concern. How many people, because of the movie “Amadeus,” think that Antonio Salieri was a mediocre composer and killed Mozart? Or that John Dickinson was indifferent to the cause of American independence, because of “1776”? Or that Gus Grissom panicked and blew the hatch of his Mercury spacecraft prematurely after splashdown, causing Liberty Bell 7 to be lost to the sea and almost getting himself killed, because of what they saw in “The Right Stuff”?

We tend to believe what we see, and a screenwriter imposes a streamlined, easy-to-grasp clarity upon a narrative that reality doesn’t. (“Truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction has to make sense.”) This must be an unpleasant experience for Jobs’ friends and family. They knew the man for all of his depth, without having to streamline anything or condense several people into a single composite character. What chance is there that Laurene Powell Jobs is going to recognize anything in the man that Michael Fassbender is portraying? How rough must it be to wonder and worry about what sort of conclusions about Steve that audiences will be taking away with them?

I know something of this. “Life Itself” was a documentary, not a biopic. It was based on Roger Ebert’s own memoir. It was made by Steve James, Roger’s personal choice of director, who also made “Hoop Dreams,” one of his favorite documentaries. The guiding hands of Roger and his wife Chaz were directly involved in the production, every step of the way.

And it’s a terrific documentary that I hope you’ll all see. I knew Roger for more than half my life, and that’s the only reason why the doc felt strange to me. It was accurate and affectionate. It even used some of the photos I took when we were out together. But of course, two hours of interviews and found footage can’t possibly convey the man I got to know and love through a quarter-century of experiences and conversations.

So I certainly respect any negative comments that Steve’s actual friends and family might be making about Sorkin’s movie. I hope to see the movie myself. But I’m not as excited to see it as I am about a bunch of the heavy dramas that the studios are releasing here in Awards Season. Or the “Peanuts” movie. I’ll get to it eventually.

I do hope that the people who knew Steve well will find the time to sit down and write or record their memories of him. Even if they only leave their testimonies to a university library, even if they demand that these stories remain sealed until after their own deaths. Because without a wealth of first-person narratives, future historians — and future filmmakers — will have to connect the dots on their own.

Kotaku: $900 Blade Runner Gun Looks Totally Worth It

Kotaku: “$900 Blade Runner Gun Looks Totally Worth It”.

Having read the article and seen the pictures, I have absolutely no argument whatsoever with that headline.

What is it about movie props that triggers the lizard/monkey/Ferengi parts of our brains? Our powers of critical thought abandon us, replaced with a clear, single urge: WANT.

(“Our” = “geeks”; but I feel I know you well enough to just assume you’re one of us.)

The Blade Runner blaster is just…I have no words. I support all measures of gun control except for those that would make it difficult for me, personally, to own this gun, specifically.

What a marvel of design! It should have received its own Oscar. How do you design a prop that has a clear, familiar function but is emphatically from a future world that includes flying cars and replicants? This blaster reflects the fact that gun technology might change in 50 years, but a cop’s relationship with his or her gun will stay the same. It can’t look like the remote control for your smart sous vide machine. This weapon needs to reassure the user (and communicate to its target) of its ability to project lethal, irrevocable force.

It’s badass without going overboard, is what I’m saying. If I were a movie bad guy, I wouldn’t worry too much about a hitman who draws a chromed revolver festooned with redundant tri-color laser sights and custom “angel of justice” grips. That’s the kind of gun that you’d give to a cop played by Hasselhoff.

But the Blade Runner blaster! Clearly, a weapon fit for a Harrison!

The above photo reflects a fact that I have the right kind of friends. Namely: the kind who might show up at a dinner party with the Blade Runner blaster replica she just bought. This isn’t the model mentioned in the Kotaku article. It’s a garage prop, I think, handmade by someone who’s such a big fan of that prop that they wanted to make one for themselves, and who got so good at it that they made a few for others to defray the expenses.

Of course, the most famous of the Blade Runner blaster-obsessives is Adam Savage. His name is so tightly bound to this prop that when you type “Adam Savage” into Google, “…Blade Runner” is the first autocomplete.

Watch the video. It’s a fascinating look at how obsessive these prop fans and rebuilders are (he said, quickly adding that “obsessive” isn’t always a negative thing). It delights me to think of a “Star Wars” propmaker assembling Han Solo’s blaster out of handfuls of whatever components they had around the workshop, checking their final work, and then thinking “forty years from now, hundreds of people will band together to try to figure out which component from which model kit or plumbing assembly I used for this detail.”

It’s just an intense level of commitment. Replicating an old prop is often like trying to replicate a Jackson Pollock painting. All Pollock needed to do was splatter paint where he felt it needed to go. The forger needs to put exactly that color paint in exactly the same spot on the canvas in exactly the same way as he did.

Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 12.37.28 PM

I’ve asked myself if I’m as fond of any one movie prop as Adam is about this blaster. My instinctive answer is “the deep-dive helmets from ‘The Abyss‘.”

“The Abyss” doesn’t take place on an Earth that’s unrecognizably different from our own. But the prop designers’ challenge was much greater than the one faced by the “Blade Runner” crew. All of actors performed their underwater scenes themselves, for real, in a forty foot tank. So the priorities for the dive helmets were, in order of importance:

  1. Keep the actors alive.
  2. Be comfortable enough to wear every day during months of shooting.
  3. Allow the actors to act.
  4. Look real cool.

I’m dazzled by the engineering challenge. “Allow the actors to act” was a big deal for James Cameron. It meant that these helmets needed to achieve the first two goals while still allowing the camera to see the actors’ faces and hear their voices. Another director would have just had the actors loop all of their dialogue back in later, instead of capturing it live on-set. But then, I suppose another director would have thought “we’ll do the underwater scenes with a combination of stunt divers and principal actors on a dry effects stage” instead of “Obviously, we’re going to buy an abandoned nuclear power facility, convert the retaining vessel into the world’s largest and deepest underwater shooting set, and get all of our actors certified with ‘master’ dive ratings.”

Though “The Abyss” was notably one of the toughest shoots in film history, it would have been even harder on the actors if two of their three primary instruments — their faces and their voices — were taken away by a face mask that obscures their expressions and by a technical need to create a vocal performance weeks or months after creating the physical performance.

And yet, the designers achieved the “look real cool” thing. These helmets weren’t fiddly movie props. They were sturdy, functional dive equipment built to the same standards as working production hardware.

Would I spend years trying to build my own “Abyss” helmet, like Adam Savage and other prop replicators? Naw. But I’m cheered to think that if one came up at auction, the bidding wouldn’t be nearly as competitive as the bloodbath that ended with the $270,000 sale of an original Blade Runner blaster.

It’d likely still sell for way more than I could afford, but at least it would be a dollar figure that I could easily translate into units of work. “Twelve columns. I write twelve extra columns that I otherwise wouldn’t — this helmet’s gotta give me topics for at least two — and it’s paid for.” It’d be a nice little fantasy. But no, no, not even then.

I think an Abyss dive helmet on a display shelf in my living room would mock me every time I got back home. “Congratulations on being soooooo careful with money that you didn’t cave in to temptation and buy that $7 takeout burrito for dinner today. Really. Your folks would be so proud. Oh, they still think I’m just a piece of interesting junk that you picked up at the MIT Flea Market for $12, right?”

But…the Blade Runner replica is different! It has LEDs! It’s…it’s a tech item! I’m practically obligated to acquire one for a review, right?

(I bet the maker is one of those selfish stinkers that don’t loan things out, either.)

(…)

(Perhaps I should get a burrito for dinner tonight.)

James Bond Gunbarrel Sequences 1962-2012 – [HD] – YouTube

How about “the gun barrel sequence of every James Bond movie, ever?” C’mon. It’s not like you were going to get much done on a Friday anyway.

You can tell that the first few use a stand-in for Sean Connery, and that the producers only ever reshot the sequence when a new Bond came in. Filmmakers knew that they could get away with this stuff back in the days before home video. It’s like they had a different relationship with the audience; they knew that an individual was only going to be able to watch this movie a few times, and only at 24 frames per second. Today, Quicktime Player is like a CSI crime lab. If the film editor ever told the director or the director ever told the censor “Don’t worry…it goes by so fast that nobody will ever notice it” you’ll find out pretty damned quick!

I think about the fact that a movie would be around for a little while and then disappear for years. Now that Turner Classic Movies can screen an all-day marathon of a certain actor or director, the greats seem even more so. Marathons prove that Frank Capra, Billy Wilder, and John Ford each kept exploring and inventing throughout their careers. With other actors and directors, the ability to see all of their work in a single stretch leaves you thinking that their “signature style” is just a collection of reliable tics and tricks from which they never tried to escape.

Call it The McDonalds Syndrome. I have long held that a Big Mac Meal is one of the tastiest things on the planet, provided you haven’t had it in at least a month. It’s junk, but it targets our pleasure centers with a certain amount of precision and flair.

If you last had a Big Mac a week ago, it’s just okay. If you ate McDonalds yesterday, you’ll probably end up wondering why the hell you keep doing this to yourself.

And so it goes with the Bond movies. If you haven’t seen a Bond film in a couple of years, it’s one of the most entertaining nights you can spend at the movies. If Netflix recommends “Diamonds Are Forever” because it knows you watched “Thunderball” last week…it’s just okay. A James Bond marathon on cable will put you off of talking moving pictures entirely.

The Birdman, starring Michael Keaton

One hell of a strong trailer for the upcoming Michael Keaton film “Birdman.” I’ve no idea what kind of movie this is, mind you. Is this, like, “The Wrestler,” if the lead character were a former A-list movie star instead of a former star wrestler? “Sideways,” only with fame instead of booze? Like that Marvel series “The Sentry,” in which bad guys try to convince a legit superhero that he’s just a normal person with a mental illness and that his caped antics are all just a delusionary comic-book fantasy?

I think it’ll be worth $11 to find out.

Fox Searchlight almost deserves the money just for producing a trailer that works on me. Earlier, I posted about great movies with weak trailers. I’m going to acknowledge a couple of movies that I saw solely and specifically because of great trailers.

Viz:

And:

Sure:

Absolutely:

And how could I not include:

…Well I could go on and on, not all day, but at least for three more.

I’m having a sort of “thanks/no thanks” relationship with the news item that introduced me to the “Birdman” trailer. I love “The Dissolve.” It’s helping me to fill the huge movie-commentary void left when Roger Ebert passed away. But geez. Does Matt Singer have a problem with Michael Keaton? Despite the brevity of the piece, Singer seems to have found multiple opportunities to imply that Michael Keaton’s career is on the skids and that he didn’t need to dig very deep to connect to the character of a former movie superhero with few current prospects.

One sees this sort of thing frequently. I don’t get it. Stars have the right to do what they choose to do with their lives. Sure, I snicker as much as anybody else at the Troy McLure-style arc that Eddie Murphy seems to be pursuing in his career. But if he wants to act in fantasy films underneath latex and foam and effects, why shouldn’t he? If Robert De Niro wishes to spend his golden years acting in lighter films that don’t require him to gain fifty pounds and terrify his family on a nightly basis, hasn’t he earned that right?

And if Michael Keaton (or any other A-list star) recognizes that he’s got enough money to keep himself and his family in giraffes and chocolate-covered Bentleys for life, doesn’t it make sense for them to enjoy said life?

I’m not even saying “It’s OK that De Niro is doing movies like ‘Little Fockers’; he’s using those checks to endow his arts programs’.” I’m saying that it’s rude to suggest that he’s required to hand in one Jack La Motta or Travis Bickle a year in perpetuity. I wish Gene Hackman were still making movies but for Pete’s sake…he’s allowed to spend his Seventies and Eighties watching sports on TV if he wants.

Mel Brooks on “Blazing Saddles”

“Entertainment Weekly” has a nice interview with Brooks on the funniest film he ever made (which shortlists it as The Funniest Film Of All Time).

It’s worth reading and recommending, and I wanted to make damned sure that even if you didn’t click through to it you saw this quote:

[blockquote]

In comedy, the rule of three often applies, but you blew past that in the bean-fueled campfire scene. How did you decide how many farts were the correct number of farts?
That’s a very good question. I had a rough cut, and maybe I had 16 farts. Things didn’t get exciting until the fourth or fifth one, and the laughter began to diminish around the 12th fart, so I said, “Okay, cut it off at 12.” I did it kind of systematically. I do a lot of homework.

[/blockquote]

There you go: a master at work. Seriously. Putting in fart jokes doesn’t mean a writer is lazy. You’re only lazy if you put in a fart joke without any awareness of why they work and how to use them.

A new 40th-anniversary BluRay edition is coming out on May 6. Get it now, before the next special edition comes out.

 

Seven Psychopaths (I must say…)

Watch the trailer for “Seven Psychopaths.” Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, who wrote and directed “In Bruges,” a movie that earned him immediate spot on my “if this person’s name is on it, then I’m buying it” list.

You might have the same reaction to the trailer as I did:

“God, it’s wonderful to have a movie in which Christopher Walken is allowed to act. For years, directors have been hiring him to do his impression of Jay Mohr doing his impression of Christopher Walken.”

Oscars! 2012: The Live-To-DVR Blog

Oh, boy. This was the year that I wasn’t interested enough in the Oscars to write 10,000 words about the upcoming awards and my predictions for the winners.

This was the year I wasn’t interested enough to even post a list of predictions.

This! My friends! Was the year when, after I realized that the Oscars were on ABC and not CBS, I gave it a little bit of thought and then decided to just DVR the show and watch plain-old Episode Two of “The Amazing Race” instead.

Yes. I am saying things to you that are quite true.

I was sort of on the fence this afternoon. You know what finally pushed me over? The fact that the producers claimed they didn’t have enough time to allow for performances of the Best Song categories…but hey, they had plenty of time to have Cirque du (goddamn) Soleil perform.

(There were only two Best Song nominees. two.)

I have nothing against circuses, French-Canadians, or even the basic concept of pretentious twerps jumping around dressed as some sort of shrub/stewardess hybrids. I just remember a time in this millennium when the Oscars were actually exciting and interesting and they seemed to have more value than they do today.

I look around for something to blame for this downward trend. If the producers themselves were bouncing around on bungee cords and miming some sort of rot about how this fitness ball they’re juggling with their feet is Their Heart And Hope, I suppose I’d be singling them out but alas, the only people on stage will be Cirque du ****ing Soleil.

All in all, I was just more excited by The Amazing Race.

And then — oh, dear — I flipped over to something else. I couldn’t get interested.

So instead, I saved it on the DVR for this morning and after watching all three hours and nine minutes, I know I made the right call. This was another Lithium-stabilized telecast, with no real highs or lows. The producers put fresh batteries in, switched it on, set it on the ground, and then it rolled in a straight line at walking speed until it ran out of juice and stopped.

Yes, it’s the Thrill of the Movies, ladies and gentlemen!

I can’t dislike the Oscars, however. Without the Academy Awards telecast, the Turner Classic Movies channel wouldn’t have run thirty days of programming in which every single movie is an Oscar nominee. The airing of the telecast signals the end of that series and, finally, the end of the temptation to stay in bed and watch movies all day long.

I’m a little sad to see the telecast sink so low in my esteem. For much of my adult life I’ve been setting aside time in my work schedule every February to write lots and lots of stuff about the Oscars. I’ve learned, however, that it’s important to do things that you’re legitimately enthusiastic about instead of numbly doing things out of morose routine.

So I’m letting go of the Oscars. Instead, maybe I’ll just spend February writing about actual movies. If the Oscars telecast refuses to celebrate filmmaking — seriously: just two nominees. You could have made time for those just out of the loose time in your pockets, producers! — then there’s nothing stopping us film fans from picking up that banner and running with it.

And now, the live-to-tape-blog:

Morgan Freeman kicks things off. Which, as a regular movie-watcher, I can only associate with an extended flashback.

Cool! I’m not sure that George Clooney would have rearranged his schedule and kissed last year’s host on the mouth.

Couldn’t get Jonah Hill to reprise his “Moneyball” role…he’s way too skinny now!

Okay, a Tom Cruise cameo is a pretty cool deal. I think it shows he’s a great sport.

TinTin…missed opportunity fr a Martin Short Ed Grimley appearance.

Billy Crystal does look nice in a tux.

Tuxedo Watch. This is a controversial part of my annual Oscarcast. My audience is split down the middle on whether I should spend any time nitpicking over men’s formalwear: I’m for it and the audience is against it. But I know I’m doing God’s work here.

(Strikes heroic pose, lit by golden sunset as eagle perches on shoulder.)

Two point on Billy’s tails. First, white tie is, I think, supposed to be worn with an open collar. And secondly…hmm…he doesn’t appear to be wearing an undershirt. The pink of his skin is showing through the front of his shirt.

But he is wearing proper white microphone.

Running down all of the Best Picture nominees in his medley points out how silly the new nominations process has become. Nine nominees? Ugh. Honestly, it’s like March Madness. If everyone is in the finals, then what’s the point?

Scorsese either brought one of his grandkids kids (that’s his daughter? Well, awright, Marty!) with him to the show as his Plus One, or else he’s paying a silent tribute to the late career of Woody Allen.

Tony Bennett! Dig that!

Tom Hanks takes the stage, in proper black tie.

Waste of time with a seat-filler gag that Hanks clearly doesn’t believe in and has to (in an affable Tom Hanks way) disavow.

Best Cinematography. This is one of my favorite categories; the point is to look at the movie as an artfully-composed photo. “Hugo” was the obvious choice; a team of that level of skill working with a canvas where they can control every element? They had complete freedom and it showed.

Winner is wearing a proper tux except for the white cravat. Black tie = bowtie.

Makes a slight dig against the producers for putting the Cinematography category first. “It can only go up from here!” Hmm. But normally, it gets buried in the show’s “dead zone,” where the audience is just zapping through and waiting for the Best Actor and Best Picture final runs. By putting Cinematography in the first act, more people than ever will see it. That’s why traditionally they’ve done Best Supporting Actor awards in that slot.

(Also: the show has yet to start to run short on time…so you can almost take as long as you want to say your thank yous. The finger on the “PLAY HIM OFF. NOW” switch is by no means itchy.)

But the next award is “Best Art Direction.” Mmmaybe there’s something to this idea that the producers have decided that “boring categories that are only about highly skilled and experienced behind-the professionals working behind the camera at the top of their art”

Art Direction goes to “Hugo” — another clearly-deserved win.

Co-winner is standing off to the side. See, this I mean: if Art Direction had been presented later in the show, there is no way that the director wouldn’t have played him off at full volume and cut away before she got to step up to the microphone and give her short and very sweet thank you to Scorsese and to Italy (which are kind of the same thing, right?)

The guy is wearing a proper tux.

Show wastes (to my eye) time with a tease for Meryl Streep’s nomination, and an extended skycam shot of the drummers in the house orchestra. This is why the producers couldn’t find any time to perform the two — two Best Song nominees.

Montage of clips from the lat 40 years of movies. I don’t get why they do this. It has no focus, no real point…it’s channel-surfing.

Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Lopez (whom used to do movies before the industry stopped allowing her to do so).

Best Costume Design. OK, I’m with the Cinematographer: this feels like “Let’s get all of these behind-the-camera nominees on and off the stage early. Honestly, next year let’s just give them a dinner or something, okay?”

Winner is “The Artist.” Note that the award-winning costume designer is wearing a proper tuxedo: black jacket and pants, white shirt with black onyx studs, black bowtie. Nice.

Best Makeup: J.Lo and Can-Di come back from a respectful presentation package posing with their butts to the camera. Yeah, real respectful, ladies. Oh, and J.Lo: we can totally see your nipples.

“Iron Lady” wins. Nice win. It’s amazing how effectively they achieved that Margaret Thatcher effect with such little apparent makeup. Streep has a 40-year relationship with one of those makeup artists.

First major male formalwear fail: he’s wearing a black shirt and a black cravat.

Adam Sandler sharing his favorite movie memories: also more important than presenting the Best Song nominees.

Sandra Bullock, looking very sharp. Doing a funny bit about the international audience. Few people on the Oscar stage can handle deadpan humor well. Yes, I’m looking at you, Ben Stiller.

Presenting of course Best Foreign Language Film. Yay! The film from Iran won!

(No, I didn’t see it.)

I actually prefer most of these “non-celebrity” categories. You’re seeing people who seem more genuinely pleased and proud than the over-composed and over-rehearsed celebs.

Winner reads a very nice speech about warfare.

Also: he’s wearing a black cravat instead of a proper bowtie. If you wear a black jacket and pants and a white shirt and a black cravat, you are wearing a Blues Brothers costume. You are not wearing proper formal attire.

Christian Bale. Black cravat and black shirt. If this makes it into the “Oscar moments” clip package in twenty years, he’s going to look as classy as the guys in the crushed-brown-velvet tuxedoes from the Seventies Oscarcasts.

Presenting Best Supporting Actress. Supporting categories are fun because they’re wide-open. Voters are just as likely to give the award to a someone’s first major role, or to someone in a comedic role. Otherwise, they don’t consider comedic roles to be “acting.”

Octavia Spencer wins for “The Help.” Another nice thing about giving an Oscar to someone early in his or her career: they really appreciate it. They get up there and they start thinking about how their families are out there watching this happen and boom, there go the waterworks.

(An Oscar is a big deal! It’s wonderful to see nominees who aren’t too cool to show they think it’s a Big Deal, too.)

I must say it: the Oscars set looks like an iPad app. Which is to say that it’s more akin to what would have been designed for the Oscarcast before HD and cable TV…gotta make everything BIG and obvious, so that it’ll “read” on those screens.

Cool, the Christopher Guest Repertory Company doing a bit about the focus group for “Wizard Of Oz.”

If you’re going to stop the Oscars for something that isn’t related to the awards…you gotta shoot for the moon. Funny bit but it probably went on a bit too long.

Bradley Cooper and Tina Fey. Bradley is wearing a proper tuxedo. Tina Fey demonstrates that classy dresses work great, too. J.Lo? J…? Yeah, you’re already in your Escalade, aren’t you.

Best Film Editing. Another category that I love. I’m fascinated by the process of assembling a film from elements. The director shoots, shoots, shoots, the actors act, act, act…but we see the story that the editor chooses to tell.

“Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.” Won by Jake and Elwood Blues. Hit us with a few bars of “Rawhide,” will you, boys?

They could also make a decent living as Matt Damon and Ben Stiller impersonators.

Best Sound Editing goes to “Hugo.” The favorite here would probably have been “Drive” for its more obvious applications for sound effects.

Shout out to Thelma Schoonmaker and Marty Scorsese. One winner in proper tuxedo, the other gets a solid 9/10 for wearing a black bowtie with an open collar.

Best Sound Mixing, also goes to “Hugo.” If memory serves, “Mixing” means the overall sound picture and “Editing” means the “special effects,” as it were.

I’m liking the “behind the camera” Oscars coming first. They have my full attention and nobody’s impatient. You get the sweetest speeches.

One proper tux. One black cravat, but he’s wearing a waistcoat so the Jake Blues effect is mitigated, at least…9/10. Also because of his extremely kind-hearted acceptance speech.

Annnd we’re back from commercial, with The Muppets!

In an opera box? Yes, to hide the puppeteers but isn’t that Statler and Waldorf’s gig?

Doesn’t sound like Frank Oz voicing Miss Piggy…?

ANother little presentation on “what it’s like to go to the movies.” Oh, it’s the “Cirque du Soleil” crap.

Which the producers thought was way more important than performing the “Best Song” nominees.

And we see a couple of men in the same suits as Cary Grant in “North By Northwest” bouncing around on tethers.

Now we see a dozen guys in suits doing the same boring Cirque crap that they haul out all the time.

No relevance whatsoever to movies at all. This is just a free ad for Cirque.

Yeah, see, for me, Cirque absolutely doesn’t work out of its original context. If it’s meant to be saying something or enhancing something else, it completely fails. It’s just acrobats tumbling. Yes, they’re at the top of that art, but why not just get the top three pitchers and the top three batters in Major League Baseball up on stage and have them throw and hit batting practice?

That’s also an art, also at the top of their game, and has just as much relevance to the proceedings at hand.

Annnd the Cirque du Soleil crap is swept off the stage.

“We’ve got puppets, acrobats…we’re a pony away from being a Bar Mitzvah” says Billy Crystal. Spot-on.

He hasn’t had much to say by the way of on-the-cuff jokes yet.

Talking about the age of the nominees. “Next year, this will be called the Flomax Theater.” Another spot-on joke. But it’s fab to see Christopher Plummer doing such great work at any age.

Robert Downey Jr. Wearing a black tux shirt and a silvery bowtie that I imagine is a nod to “Iron Man.” Doing an extended comedy riff where he’s filming a documentary about being an awards presenter. Mmm. Didn’t really land.

Also risky as an intro to Best Documentary. The show literally cuts straight from The Wacky to a clip from the story of a soldier severely wounded in combat returning to family, rehabilitation, and civilian life.

“Undefeated” wins. Correct tux, correct tux, Blues Brothers, Blues Brothers, Blues Brothers, correct tux with silver bowtie (9/10).

I field-promote one of the Blues Brothers to 10/10 for cursing during his acceptance speech. Can’t really make out what it was but there was a minor gasp.

They keep thanking people until the director mutes the mic.

Best Animated Feature, presented by Chris Rock in a proper tux, leading off with a good joke about how black actors wind up voicing donkeys and zebras.

Lesson to Oscarcast producers: actors with standup experience will, more often than not, kill it as presenters.

Becomes a very interesting category when Pixar doesn’t walk away with it. I kind of wish all of the categories could see this same variety of films. I’m hoping for “Rango.”

And it wins! Great. Beautiful lighting and movement in this one, and a very, very funny movie. The first pass at the voice track was done “live,” so to speak: they got the actors on a stage and they played their parts like they were in the little stage at a high school. I’m keen to see more animated movies recorded this way. I have no complaints about “Toy Story 3,” for example, but there’s definitely a different energy when the actors are actually moving and actually playing off of each other, instead of reading each line twenty times.

(Director is wearing proper black tie.)

Clips from upcoming nominees. From the right angles, Glenn Close as “Mr. Dobbs” looks like Billy Crystal.

HD trailer for Pixar’s “Brave” forces me to cancel the fast-forward and rewind. It…it seems unlikely that any other animated movie will have any kind of chance at the Oscar next year.

Back from commercial. Billy Crystal finally changes into a proper tux. Starting off with a bit of lame comedy that mostly shows off how bad Billy’s hair dye (and hair replacement system) look on him.

(He’s a great looking guy…but he’s this guy in his sixties who looks like he’s in his eighties because he’s trying to look like he’s in his twenties.)

Ben Stiller and…can’t place her…follow up the lame schtick with some more lame schtick. I think Stiller is 2 for 2 in presenting absolutely interminably long presenter comedy that doesn’t at all work.

(And he’s in a Blues Brothers costume.)

I’m just going to take a moment here to point out that this schtick was more important to the producers than performances of the Best Song nominees.

I’m also getting annoyed by how these behind-the-scenes awards are being presented. Will they precede “Best Director” with five minutes of schtick? Oh, hell, no.

But at least each movie/nominee gets a good twenty seconds of talk about the thinking behind the effects.

It has to go to “Hugo,” right?

Annnd it does!

(1 proper tux, two Blues Brothers take the stage to accept their statuettes.)

Oh, dear: closeup reveals that one of the Blues Brothers is wearing a checked cravat. Jeeves would most assuredly not approve. At the end of the story, Bertie would be instructing Jeeves to get rid of that tie and would be told that he had given it away to a hotel porter that morning.

Best Supporting Actor. Well what do you know: introduced with a short, classy tribute to this field of endeavor.

I’m so happy that Jonah Hill got nominated. He’s been working, working, working for years and doing exceptional work in roles that don’t conventionally attract awards attention.

It tends to attract nominees at both ends of their careers. Christopher Plummer and Max Von Sydow could win as a functional “cap off a brilliant career” award.

And it’s Plummer. Receives a standing ovation in addition to the Oscar. “Beginners” is almost a “Best Actor” role; looks like the studio lobbied tactically for a less-competitive category.

(Moneyball, indeed: millions of dollars are spent on a Best Actor campaign.)

Plummer is wearing a proper tux. It…might…be black velvet but I’ll give him a pass. I’m not sure if I should nitpick about fabrics. So long as it isn’t an Isaac Hayes fake bearskin sort of thing.

Back from commercial with another comedy bit. Billy putting words in the mouths of the nominees in the front rows. Not…bad…but it feels more like a “Crap, one of the Cirque du Soleil guys has fallen to his death backstage. Billy, can you stretch for a few minutes while we toss him in a bag and get him out of the theater?”

Owen Wilson-Blues and Penelope Cruz (in best gown of the night so far) present Best Original Score, after a bizarre bit where the whole show stops and everyone focuses on the stage while a large screen in the shape of a movie score rises up.

(Ironically, the producers think this is more important than presenting the two Best Original Song nominees.)

Award goes to “The Artist.” Very classy: Ludovic Bource (in proper black tie) stops to shake John Williams’ hand and say a word or two on his way to the stage.

Pro Tip: if you’re respectful and speak adorable, halting English, the Oscarcast director will probably let you keep talking.

Will Ferrell and Zak Galifanakis. Presenting “Best Song.” Now I think the producers are truly ****ing with this catgory. Or, maybe one of the nominees was ****ig with the producer’s wife and this is all just payback.

“Man Or Muppet” wins. Composer gets off some good jokes and then thanks the right people (including Jim Henson). Cutaways to Jason Segel, who looks immensely proud (justly so). And he’s wearing a proper tux.

Time to spend half a minute broadcasting costumed ladies handing out popcorn to the audience. Which was more important than actually playing the Best Original Song nominees.

Angelina Jolie presenting a writing award. Apparently she’s signed on as a spokesperson for the Right Leg Marketing Board, as she’s making sure the product is out of her dress and facing the camera at all times.

Best Adapted Screenplay. I think it’s got to be Hugo; it’s a magnet movie. Gotta say that I love the arty fake movie posters (silkscreen-style) that they commissioned for the playback of the nominees montage. A great designer can reduce a 2 hour movie to a simple graphical element.

Winner is “The Descendents.” Three men in proper tuxedoes.

Quite the sausage fest, innit?

Pro Tip for all nominees: if a previous winner brought his Mom to the Oscars and dedicates his award to her, please re-think your “wacky” acceptance speech. You’ll look extra-extra-dopey.

Best Original Screenplay. Goes to Woody Allen! Interesting! Shows how much he’s respected; if you establish that solid and consistent a track record — and you don’t break any actual laws — it doesn’t even matter that you never show up to collect your awards.

Another interview montage. Again, we get to hear Adam Sandler (unshaven, in his tennis gear) talk about himself. Instead of hearing the Best Original Song nominees.

I’m not annoyed by the mere fact that they’re using these clips packages. I’m annoyed that they’re doing it so poorly. What do we get from people speaking for five or ten seconds?

Time for a recap of the Technical Awards. Very pleased that the presenter introduced it with complete respect and dignity. Shameful, how they’ve treated these awards in the past (“And now, the moment everybody’s been waiting for…ha ha!”).

Cast of “The Bridesmaids” takes the stage. Introducing Short Films with a bunch of dick jokes. Well done, ladies!

Best Documentary Short. Jesus. They do a Drinking Game joke in which they pull snorters out of their bras and chug. Christ almighty. It’s as if the producers are completely unaware that in twenty seconds, they’re going to cut to footage of people being machine-gunned in Iraq, images of Pakistani women who had been set on fire by religious maniacs, and a village being wiped off the face of the planet by a tsunami.

What a complete lack of taste and class. Idiots! (Here I’m specifically talking about the producers, but the presenters should also have been canny enough to bail out.

Best Animated Short. Good to see a castmember of “Reno: 911” on the Oscars. (No sarcasm there.)

“Fantastic Flying Books” wins. Both wearing proper tuxes. One of them was wise to wear a bowtie instead of a Blues Brothers cravat, given that he’s got thick-rimmed black glasses and is wearing a porkpie hat.

Another exceptionally sweet and sincere acceptance speech.

Michael Douglas presenting Best Director. Gosh, are we that far into the list?

(I forgot: now there are 38 Best Picture nominees. Probably still another three hours left to go.)

Wearing a very classy tuxedo.

Oscar goes to Michel Hazanavicus for “The Artist.” (In a proper tux). Adorable halting English, and it’s a top-tier category. He can talk all the way through the start time for “Good Morning America” if he wants.

Meryl Streep. Billy Crystal mentions her 17 nominations and 2 wins. Gads, I hope she doesn’t become the Susan Lucci of the Oscars. Funny, isn’t it, how a decades-spanning career of consistently fine performances can so easily and gently turn into something to poke fun at.

The Governors’ Awards presented as a clips package. I’m not sure the producers know what they’re doing. Who wouldn’t want to see James Earl Jones or Oprah or even Dick Smith on stage, with a live microphone for thirty seconds?

Buuuut no. We got to see Cirque du Soleil Jumping Around Randomly Crap that looks no different from any other Cirque performance.

They did something similar recently, where they had Pilobolus (I think) do a running series of shadow-performances, in which a Cirque-like Gang Of People In Leotards tumbled and then formed a shadow that approximated something from a Best Picture nominee.

Failure Point 1: It was moderately interesting the first time, it was ok the second time, but as the evening dragged on and the screen descended before a commercial, the only rational reaction from an viewer was “Ugh, more of this.”

Also: lame as the concept was, how doubly-lame was it that they would use little cardboard cutouts to incorporate details (like the heel of a shoe) that they couldn’t do with body parts? Bad idea, lamely executed. At best it made the show longer for no benefit and at worst, it took time away from real winners.

Memorial montage. Never any complaints about this one. I like that they use live music to back this with.

Yes, Whitney Houston got a card.

And Steve Jobs! Complete with the “Stay hungry, stay foolish” line from his commencement speech. Good pick. Hard to think about where Pixar would have wound up without his support, hard to think about where the industry would be without Apple computers and software.

Liz Taylor gets the honored final spot. Seems obvious. Was she the last of the old-style Big Hollywood Superstars? We should probably define that as the sort of stars who made it big and finished their careers before it was possible to get every detail of their lives through social media and news sites.

Best Actor. Another facet that makes me think the producers need to be removed by the National Guard. Presentation of the nominees is better this year than in years past, when a stage full of celebrities would take turns praising each of the nominees individually. Super-awkward and interminable. “How nice that this man who gets $10,000,000 a picture and regularly described as ‘The Sexiest Man Alive’ is getting an ego boost,” we think.

It’s still the ego boost testimonial, but at least they’re all being done by the presenter.

Still! Why not just present clips from the performances and let the work speak for itself?

George Clooney, incidentally, is indeed looking eminently wonderful in a lovely tuxedo. Brad Pitt: perfect tux. Gary Oldman: perfect tux.

In fact, the Oscar goes to the one actor not wearing a proper tuxedo: Jean Dujardin. 9/10 for wearing a black tie with an open collar.

But it’s a lovely, charmind speech that ends with a tapdance…that’s about the best way to go out.

And! He keeps pacing the stage in excitement instead of leaving! Formidable!

Best Actress. Colin Firth sings “Happy Birthday” to each of the nominees, so to speak. That’s almost the most awkward situation you can put someone in: make ’em sit in full view while you lob a very long series of compliments at them. You want to look grateful, but not like you’re lapping all of this up; reserved, but not like you’re impatient for this person to hurry up…nightmare!

The best was his accolade to his “Mamma Mia!” castmate, Meryl Streep.

And it goes to Meryl Streep! Lovely. She’s honored so frequently with nominations that one might guess that the Academy doesn’t think it’s so important to give her the Oscar.

(The statuette marches her gown exactly.)

Points in favor, for this wager: it’s a flashy performance and the whole movie is this character. It’s a historical drama. Against: “The Iron Lady” really didn’t make much money or attract much attention.

But it’s great to see someone with her class and dignity getting the big hardware. I’ve no doubt that there are consultants who get five figures to coach a nominee on how to prepare an Oscars speech. If they’re worth half the money, they’ll burn that speech onto a DVD and make their clients watch it over and over again. Lovely speech about her family and her industry.

Her affection for her hairstylist is no joke. She was on “Fresh Air” a few weeks ago and spoke at length about their working relationship.

Best Picture. All 82 nominees get clips. It runs through about three commercial breaks but no, this doesn’t cheapen things at all and how dare you suggest otherwise.

I don’t like it, no. The significance of nominating a movie like “The Artist” or “Moneyball” is diminished when there’s room for so many on the list. When there were only five, the announcement of the nominees was exciting in and of itself: why did the quirky comedy get nominated for Best Picture, but not the intense, highly-regarded drama that made lots of money?

Producers say, I think, that it broadens the appeal of the show. If that’s the point, it’s not working: ratings are still flat. It just cheapens the whole thing and makes it far more ordinary.

Winner is “The Artist.” Director thanks Billy Wilder three times. Highly apropos!

Elmer Bernstein: “The Devil’s Concerto” (Amazon Advent Calendar Day 2)

Album Art

The Devil’s Concerto

Elmer Bernstein

Bernard Hermann Film Scores

Genre: Soundtracks

Clearly, I have a big decision to make for Friday. My first two tracks in the Advent Calendar invoke the name of the Dark One right in the title. If I do that a third day in a row — and I do indeed have such a track in the queue — there might be repercussions that would be (1) unpredictable, (2) completely out of my control, and (3) an awesome design for either a mediocre 1981 heavy-metal album or the side of a custom Chevy van.

Well, that’s for tomorrow. For today, we have a lovely movie theme. It’s from the 1941 classic “The Devil And Daniel Webster,” in which Walter Huston plays what was probably the greatest movie Devil until 1980, which was when Peter O’Toole played director Eli Cross in “The Stunt Man.”

Which itself wouldn’t be matched until Jon Lovitz’s nuanced portrayal in 1986:

But I digress. Yes, this is the Devil we love and fear. Not the one who’s all horns and hooves and minions, not the one who stupidly appears during an incredibly ill-advised Spider-Man limited series to implement the dippy whims of the editor-in-chief in the daffiest way possible. This is the Devil who senses that ember of evil lurking inside all of us and then, with the slightest of effort and with the full consent of the damned, brings it out into the air where it can spark and flame.

WANT. It’s not just Internet-age shorthand signifying Strong Approval. It’s also the label on the button on the express elevator to Bad Behavior. Did Huston’s “Mr. Scratch” do anything that was actually evil? Really, all he did is hocus-pocus Jabez Stone into a bit of good fortune early on. The evil stuff that happens afterward is all on Jabez.

(I’m sorry. I must now Google to see if that’s a real name…)

(Okay, it’s one of them Old Testament names. That don’t make it any less weird, though. Folks, I’m not forbidding you to give your kid a Bible-ey kind of name. But please: stick to the Gospels. It gives the kid a fighting chance. A “Luke” never has to spell his name to a hotel receptionist and if he turns away from Christianity he can pretend he was named after the Skywalker, or the Cool Hand.)

“The Devil’s Concerto” is a solo violin piece and it consists of variations on an initial tune: “Pop, Goes The Weasel.” The first time the song is played through, it’s the same familiar melody that caused Curly to explode into a tornado of fist-flying fury.

(cf. “Punch Drunks,” 1934).

But the tune gets slightly more demented with each run-through until it’s finally very clear that the man playing this instrument clearly doesn’t have the best interests of the audience in mind. It’s measured, controlled chaos and it must be the most difficult trick for a composer (and a performer) to pull off. To break every rule, to suppress every time-honed instinct, and somehow manage to build a contraption that looks like it can’t possibly fly…but does. Great stuff.

Buy or try “The Devil’s Concerto” from the Amazon MP3 store. If you buy anything, I’ll receive a small kickback in the form of Amazon credits…which I promise to spend on fun and foolish things.

OscarBlog 2011 — TWO THOUSAND!!!

 

11:43:41 PM

I am very aware that there’s a new episode of “The Amazing Race” waiting for me on the DVR right now.

That probably isn’t a sign that this has been an exciting Oscarcast.

Spielberg prepares to hand out the “Best Picture” award.

Nice touch: clips of the nominees, with that tremendous final speech from “The King’s Speech” playing throughout. In essence demonstrating why “The King’s Speech” should win.

It goes to “The King’s Speech.” There’s a huge mob of Brits out there on the stage. Which one of them’s Banksy?

Whu…? They’re marching a children’s choir up on stage to sing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow?”

When the show’s over and everybody’s ready to go?

When pretty much the whole TV audience has already changed to see if there’s a “Family Guy” rerun on somewhere?

Seriously?

I do like it when all of the winners come out as a group, though.

 

11:30:40 PM

Jeff Bridges presents Best Actress. See? Even The Dude puts on a proper tux for the Oscars. And who’s cooler than The Dude?

They’ve done away with the “five different movie stars stand on the stage and directly address and eulogize each of the five nominees” bit. Now it’s just The Dude delivering the platitudes. Am I right in thinking that each of these five nominees would rather just end all those weeks of torture and read the name without any further delay?

Natalie Portman wins for “Black Swan.”

This year’s nominees was something of a low-water mark for me. Not only did I fail to see any of these nominated movies…I’ve only even heard of two. “Black Swan” was hands-down the biggest film of the batch, but I was put off by the sense that there was a lot of topsy-turvy “But are we seeing what’s really happening…or do we only think we know what’s really happening?” nonsense in the flick.

Sandra Bullock appears to hand out the Best Actor award. I’d love to see Jeff Bridges win but I can’t imagine it not going to Colin Firth. They’re both “Oscar-ey” kinds of roles and performances. I remind myself that there are no rules, and that any observations about what wins Oscars are absolutely true except for all the times they aren’t.

But! The eye is always drawn towards (1) Period dramas, (2) Characters based on real people, and (3) Performances where you can “see” the acting happening. Jeff Bridges got two out of three, Colin got three.

And it’s Colin Firth. Who, yes I’ll say it, wasn’t bad at all in “Momma Mia.”

 

11:12:15 PM

Hilary Swank introduces Catherine Bigelow, last year’s Best Director.

Black Swan, The Fighter, The King’s Speech, The Social Network, True Grit.

It’s Tom Hooper for “The King’s Speech,” of course. Thanks his Mom, because she was one of a handful of people who saw a staged reading of the script for this movie, and she then called her son and said “I think I’ve just found your next movie.”

Annette Bening presents a clips package of tiny, tiny fragments of the dinner during which the Academy gave their big, career-spanning “oh, the great contributions you’ve made to the movies” awards. The honorees (minus Godard) are begrudgingly allowed to walk out onto the stage right before the commercial, but only if they agree not to try to say anything.

This has been a very flat Oscarcast, hasn’t it?

 

11:03:23 PM

Now the Memorial reel, for all the people who died.

Oh, dear: Celene Dion singing “Smile.”

There’s always a lot of discussion about how hard the producers work to include those who passed away shortly before the telecast. I wonder if they’ll have time to include Charlie Sheen’s last scrap of sanity?

And I wonder how much of this is a logic puzzle. I remember the In Memoriam video that Turner Classic Movies ran at the end of 2010. I had to imagine that the editors were secretly sort of pleased that Leslie Nielsen, Barbra Billingsley, and Peter Graves all died in the same year. “Oh, I am so totally going to put all three of them together, with clips from ‘Airplane!’!”

Whoof…Halle Berry is quite the slice of awesome. And it’s nice to see Lena Horne get her own clip. Here’s a rare example of how the Oscarcast has improved. A legend dies. Easy answer: show one of his or her performances. This isn’t an opportunity for the producer to bung in one of his agent’s other clients to do a fake tribute and get some attention.

(Most egregious example: When Gene Kelly passed away, the Oscarcast (produced by Quincy Jones) had Savion Glover do a tapdance number. The number had nothing to do with Gene Kelly or his work. It was just a random Savion Glover dance, where you really can’t see his face or his body and he’s mostly just angry at the cockroaches he thinks he can see crawling across the stage.

 

10:49:22 PM

Winner of Best Short is now talking to the press. Movie was his NYU graduate film program thesis.

Best Song from “127 hours.” Meh. Too “Windham Hill” for my tastes.

Gwyneth Paltrow singing her song from her movie. It’s an interesting peek into the difference between a professional singer and a talented amateur. She sings as well as many pros could sing that song. But you can see how hard she needs to focus and work to sing it the way she wants it to sound. The pros on the stage have long since made that into a background process.

I can’t think of any song that I really like this year.

Randy Newman wins. Okay.

“I don’t want to thank all these people from the studio. I know that’s not good television…I always bring the whole show down…”

 

10:42:04 PM

Billy Crystall takes the stage, which is a major tactical error. Listening to Anne Hathaway’s intro made me think “The Oscars absolutely needs the right kind of host…a true emcee that can race out there and keep the energy up.” And then out he comes, injecting the first real life into the show of the evening.

The host needs the ability to read the room, moment by moment, and make adjustments as necessary. I’m not getting that from tonight’s hosts.

Are we now seeing a tribute to Oscar hosts? Another tactical error: if tonight’s hosts were already shown up by Billy Crystal, how bad will they look when we all get to see what kind of job Bon Hope used to do?

Ends with Bob introducing Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr. I wonder who did the voice-alike? That’s a challenge. Not only is Bob Hope dead, but most of the people who could mimic Bob Hope are dead now, too.

Best Visual Effects. This category is getting more and more interesting, and relying more and more on the studios pulling back the curtain on the process. A starship plows into Las Vegas, disgorging platoon after platoon of alien commandos? Fab: you understand the effects. But these days, spectacular effects also means “two characters walking along an ordinary street.” Because the production could only afford to block off one corner of downtown Philadelphia, and everything from the end of the block to the horizon is actually just digital set extension. Oh, and it was shot at 2 AM, so all of the midday lighting is actually fake.

Award goes to “Inception,” and bravo for that. I can’t imagine how this movie would have worked ten years ago.

Best Film Editing. Another category for which I rarely have an instinct. Very few movies are obviously built upon the editing. “Memento”? “Pulp Fiction”? Sure. Otherwise, it’s hard for a layman to intuit just how much a movie owes to decisions that were made in the editing suite, not on the set or during the writing.

 

 

10:23:30 PM

Best Documentary Short goes to “Strangers No More,” while Christian Bale fields a question about Charlie Sheen backstage and makes fun of a reporter’s hat.

I wonder how YouTube has affected the importance of this award. An Oscar is always supremely desirable but now the filmmakers have so many other ways to get lots of attention for their work. How does the filmmaker’s life change after winning a Best Documentary Short Oscar?

“God Of Love” wins. I instinctively LOVE this guy (Luke Matheny) because he’s tall and awkward and has a huge bushy Afro for which he apologizes to the audience, earning warm laughter.

(Another shout-out to iTunes.)

One thing for sure about YouTube and streaming media: now there’s a great chance that people will actually get to see these nominated movies.

A very sweet acceptance speech that includes “To my Mom, who did the craft services” (another big warm round of cheers).

Next: a comedy music video made by autotuning a scene from Harry Potter, Toy Story 3, The Social Network, and that Pouty Vampire movie. This was more important than allowing Eli Wallach to accept his award on television.

Oprah takes the stage to present Best Documentary. You know, I think apart from Kirk Douglas she’s the first example of a Big Star presenting an award tonight. Tom Hanks would have made the list but they gave him an awkward bit to read.

“Exit Through The Gift Shop.” Will Banksy take the stage? It’s moot: “Inside Job” (the doc about how bankers gamed the loan industry and intentionally created economic chaos) wins.

Charles Ferguson wins Best Tie, thus far. Further endears himself by starting off by saying “Not one executive has gone to jail” before issuing his thanks.

I’m still disappointed that “Kings of Pastry” wasn’t nominated. One of my fave films of 2010.

 

10:13:16 PM

James Franco has swapped the pink satin gown for a tux wth a grey shirt and dark grey tie. It isn’t an improvement.

Marissa Tomei sets up the clips from the Scientific & Technical Awards. I wonder why they don’t include more of this. This is terrific, visual stuff, pertaining to the true magic of movie-making.

“Congratulations, nerds,” says the Hollywood pretty-boy when the 30 seconds of clips are over with.

Achievement in makeup. “Barney’s Version” looks neat…lots of good old-age stuff. I missed this one but am eager to check it out. Paul Giamatti = “I want to see this.”

But it’s hard for Rick Baker to fail to win for wolfman makeup.

UGH. Black on black on black on black tuxedo again. It’s starting to annoy me now.

(It’s still better than that incredibly lame black pleather muu-muu that some effects guy on “The Matrix” collected his award in. Among men’s Oscarwear, it is the Bjork “dead swan” dress.)

Best Costume Design goes to “Alice In Wonderland.” I think this category goes straight-up to the flashiest nominee.

I wonder how hard it is for these nominees to choose a dress/tux? Instinctively I want to think “she’d want to use this as a way to show off what she can do with design,” but if I think about it a minute longer I realize that she would achieve the same goal much better by demonstrating “I thought about the event and the context and chose the perfect garment to suit the moment.” She’s in a Very Lovely Gown.™

Now it’s a montage of clips of people interviewed on Hollywood Boulevard answering the question “What’s your favorite movie song?”

For the rest of the evening, every segment that’s not an awards presentation fights against the thought “And this was more important than bringing Jean-Luc Godard on stage to collect a lifetime achievement award.”

Kevin Spacey is now singing for some reason. Probably because he’s in front of an audience.

Good! Apparently they’re actually going to perform all four nominated songs. First up is Randy Newman.

I retract my earlier statements that “Every Randy Newman song sounds like every other Randy Newman song…and every Randy Newman song sounds like a toilet-paper jingle.” I only think that’s true of his movie songs. His “Toy Story 3” tune is different enough, I guess, but it lights no fires with me.

I wonder if his “movie song” process is different from his other songwriting process? “God’s Song” is just flat-out an incredible song and I can’t possibly imagine that it was written by the same dude who wrote “I Love To See You Smile” three times for three different movies.

(Clips shown during the song. Ends with the end shots from the movie. Christ almighty, I almost started tearing up.)

Mandy Moore and Zack Levi sing “Some Damned Song From ‘Tangled’.” Well, Alan Menken wrote it. But it’s really like a box of brownie mix. Very sweet, very constant from one year and one brand to another. You hardly process this song at all.

 

9:54:30 PM

See? This is why we come out for the Oscars: to see glittering stars like the President of the Disney/ABC Television Group.

Switching over to the iPad app, where David Seidler is talking to the press. He says he’s OK with the upcoming PG-13 edit of “King’s Speech.”

Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman. I see that “Cream-colored gown studded with crystals” is the theme of the evening. Kidman’s dress is pretty good, too.

Time for the Sound categories. Is that John Williams conducting the slide-out orchestra? I spot two themes of his (“Lawrence” being the odd man out. And “West Side Story.” No, now the lights are up and that’s not him. Seems like an odd quartet of selections, doesn’t it?

Original Score: Good, the orchestra is playing selections.

Will the winner be…BWWWAAAHHHHHMMMMMMMMMMMMM?

“Social Network” is so in there with a shot. Perfectly attuned to the subject and impossible to divorce from the movie.

I think “Inception’s” problem is that it was SO in your face. But damn, that score sold a lot of copies of “Non, Je Regrette Rien,” didn’t it?

(You did realize that most of the underthemes were that exact same tune, slowed wayyyyyy down?)

Yes! It’s Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross. Well-deserved.

Surprising nobody: the screenwriter of “The King’s Speech” is giving a long,very good speech. “I’m not a monarchist,” he’s saying. “Nor am I an anti-monarchist. Most nations need a symbolic leadership apart from the head of state…”

Best Sound. Usually a honeytrap for lame comedy bits.

Traditionally a hard one for me to call. I still have no idea what the voters are looking for. “Inception” probably needs to win an award tonight, though, wouldn’t you agree?

Oscar goes to: “Inception.” Let’s pretend that I was confident of that one all along. Must say that the sound is part of what made that movie such an immersive mindcluck.

Black on black on black on black on black. You know, if any one of these guys switched two or three pieces of clothing with Xavier “ice cream man” Barden, both men would have looked much better.

Sound Effects Editing. “Inception” or “Toy Story 3,” don’t you think?

Yes, “Inception” again.

“Inception” would have made my Top Five list of 2010, if I made those lists. I don’t think it could have won any major awards, though. So much of its running time is given over to laying out the rules for the Fantastic Story To Come. That couldn’t have been avoided but it probably closed the door on a bunch of awards that it probably deserved.

Coke commercial shows a national-level — dare I say Presidential — politician chugging down a Diet Coke just before taking the podium and addressing an arena filled with tens of thousands of people.

“My fellow Ameri…*BRAAAKKKKKK!!!!*…er, ‘scuze me…”

 

9:36:03 PM

Ann Hathaway, doing a singing number in which she pretends that Hugh Jackman bailed on a planned duet. Wow, does this ever not work. The premise: that there was a last minute cancellation for which the telecast was unprepared. They didn’t have time to find a replacement, but they had time to write a brand new comedy number referencing it.

See, if the bit were funny, none of that would have mattered.

Annnd now James Franco comes out in drag. Pop quiz: is he (a) Marilyn Monroe, (b) Madonna as Marilyn Monroe, or (c) Anna Nicole Smith as Marilyn Monroe?

Answer: (d) “Regretting he let someone talk him into this.”

Best Foreign Film, presented by Russell Brand and Dame Helen Mirren. Brand looks a little like “Weird Al” Yankovic’s slightly shifty older brother. He’s on my “I don’t get this” list.

Best Foreign Film goes to “In A Better World.” Haven’t seen a dang one of the nominated movies.

The video on the iPad app stream appears to be about five or ten minutes behind the TV feed.

Best Supporting. I was very surprised and pleased to see Christian Bale take a supporting role in “The Fighter.” He’s the goddamned BATMAN, you know?

Former reality star Jeremy Renner in “The Town.” There were lots of under-the-radar movies in this category, weren’t there? It’s often a “We want to award the movie that everybody loved” aspect to some of the noms.

Has to be Geoffrey Rush, doesn’t it? It’ll suck the air out of the room if he doesn’t win.

Nope! It goes to Christian Bale!

See? HE’S THE GODDAMN BATMAN. He also killed Wolverine in that other movie. He’s earned it.

(Oof. Black tuxedo over a black shirt and a black vest and a black tie. It’s as though his acceptance speech is being directed by James Cameron. “We just need a highlight map off of you in the ambient lighting,” he explained during the fitting. “We’ll composite in a proper tuxedo in post and it’ll look even more like a real tuxedo than a real tuxedo.)

I wonder why Mark Wahlberg had such a puss on his face when Bale gave him that shout-out?

 

9:21:12 PM

Best Adapted Screenplay goes to Aaron Sorkin. Great stuff. Didn’t “The Social Network” seem like the sort of flick that would definitely get Best Screenplay but nothing else?

(Though perhaps this was really an award for his fine work in television, on HBO’s “Entourage.”)

Nice shout-out to Paddy Chayefsky. The Screenwriters are articulate and well-spoken, but they’re even worse than the animators, in the eyes of the Oscars producers: they’re geeks who write screenplays.

Best Original Screenplay. Has to be “The King’s Speech” or “The Kids Are All Right,” I think. But I want it to be “King’s Speech.” Terrific story of how that script came about.

Yes! “King’s Speech.” He asked the Queen Mum for permission, and waited until she passed on, at her request. See, kids? Good manners win you the Oscar.

Nice, graceful comment about ageism in Hollywood. Thanking the Queen? SOMEbody’s angling for an OBE, I think…

(Very nice, gracious speech. A model for how we’d all like to behave if stuck up on that kind of stage.)

 

9:14:34 PM

I am, incidentally, watching the backstage stuff on the Oscarcast iPad app. It’s great video…it’s the true raw-edged spontaneous events that I like to see in live TV. During the commercials, I watch the extended backstage thank-yous, and the press room Q&A, where the winner is a little more collected.

This is, incidentally, the one and only time that I can say “When Apple changed the iPad’s slider switch’s function from ‘lock screen rotation’ to ‘mute volume’, that was a valuable change.” My opinion will switch back to default as soon as the Oscars are over and I no longer want a quick way to cut the streaming audio.

Photo Feb 27 8 50 16 PM

 

9:09:47 PM

Wow, Justin Timberlake is sort of doing a Charlie Sheen impression up there for “Best Animated Short,” isn’t he?

Second free commercial for Apple tonight as Timberlake says “There’s An App For That.”

“Day And Night,” the fabv Pixar short. “Gruffalo.” “Let’s Pollute.” “The Lost Thing.” “Madagascar.”

Count on two things for the winner of this category: most of his speech time will be taken up with climbing into a golf cart for the ride from the section of the theater where they stick the nerds…and they’ll play them on with the Wacky Toon Theme. Even if it’s a 20 minute short honoring hundreds of thousands of war dead.

Now these guys will get played off for going long. That’s the THIRD thing you can count on with this category.

Best Animated Feature. If it isn’t “Toy Story 3,” then there’s going to be a fight.

(Though I did love “The Illusionist.”)

Yes, it’s Toy Story 3. Of course.

Lee Unkrich looks a bit like Ed Helms of “The Office” and “The Hangover,” doesn’t he?

“Pixar is the most AWESOME place to make movies!” I can believe that, after my tour of the place.

Fashion note: Hmm. I’ve never seen a necktie that has…er…a jeweled belt under the knot. Is that an LA thing?

 

9:02:19 PM

Oh, Samsung. It’s so adorable that you’re still advertising the Samsung Galaxy Tab. In a world that already has a (cheaper and 10x better) Motorola Xoom in it and is about to have an iPad 2 in it and already has an iPad 1 in it.

Kirk Douglas! But he’s over 40 and doesn’t have a hit movie this year! How the hell did he get in there! SECURITY!!!

Still sharp! Good on ‘im. I’m so pleased to see him introducing Best Supporting Actress.

Amy Adams for “The Fighter.” No, not a colorful personal story. Helena Bonham Carter: yes (an Award for lots of good movies, plus the billion-dollar “Alice,” plus it’s a period costume drama, which always finishes strong). Jackie Weaver for a movie that nobody’s heard of. No. Melissa Leo…no. Hailee Steinfeld for “True Grit” – Yes. Great story with her nomination.

(When I try to predict a Supporting Actor winner, my eye is always drawn to the nominees who either have a lot of history behind them or whose win represent a really cool story.)

Yay, Kirk! Keep up on the stage, we all love you and there’s no chance the director will try to pull you off the stage.

He can see that his delays are playing well. Good, good, good.

Melissa Leo? Okay.

I was really surprised when he was nominated for “Frozen River.” It goes to show you that they sometimes truly honor the performance instead of the movie (I was one of the few people who saw that flick…it really wasn’t very good).

I haven’t seen “The Fighter.”

…And now I, and hundreds of thousands of other viewers have just thumbed the “Replay” button on the DVR to make sure she really said “It looked so ****ing easy!” Well, that’s one way to make sure your acceptance will make the AM clips package!

Whoof. I was glad to see Kirk Douglas take all the time he wanted…but with this acceptance speech, this category is going on more or less forever, isn’t it? We might not have time for the montage of clips saluting the focus pullers on “Snakes On A Train.”

 

8:49:34 PM

Hosts are calling out relatives from the audience.

Ouch…”to do pre-scripted Host banter.” What a narrow escape! The movie industry almost created a spontaneous, genuine moment!

A look back at past movies? See, this is what I was honking on about earlier. They have time in the Oscarcast to show clips from “Gone With The Wind” but no time to allow Francis Ford Coppola to collect his Thalberg award in front of an international audience?

Whoof. What a slow, sentimental award presentation. They need to start the show off with E-N-E-R-G-Y.

We’re now looking at clips from “Titanic”?!? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?!?

Nominees for Art Direction. Alice in Wonderland. Never bet against Tim Burton.

Harry Potter. Never bet against a gazillion-dollar franchise.

Inception. Never bet on the one where the art direction is incredibly important.

True Grit. Ditto.

King’s Speech. It’s a mottled wall that was also used in a gay porno (true). No.

…Yes, it’s “Alice In Wonderland.”

I really prefer these awards to the Acting ones. You see winners up at the podium who are 90% thinking “My Mom and my Dad and my kids are watching, and I think I’m about to cry just thinking about what’s going through their heads right now.”

Cinematography. Black Swan (maybe), Inception. King’s Speech (very good choice). Social Network (no). True Grit (favored).

Inception wins. Cinematography is always a fun one to evaluate: it’s all about what this movie looks like as a series of photos.

Fashion Comment: I don’t approve of black tux, black shirt, black tie. Men have a big advantage here and they should press it: all they need to do is get a standard tux and get it tailored well. Bang: even 30 years from now, they’ll look great in the clips package.

 

8:40:27 PM

And we’re off! With a clips package of the nominated movies.

I do love it when the Oscars, for just a few minutes, pretend that all but two of the nominated movies actually have a shot at winning something.

Yes, we’re looking forward to an “Inception” parody. And a drag Black Swan for sure.

Judges score +3 style points for effective use of Alex Baldwin.

Oh, dear. I vote that the Morgan Freeman Narration gag is played out.

Okay! My first wrong pick of the evening. But I think we’ve got at least Guy In Black Swan Makeup Gag ahead of us during the next three hours.

Y’know, I forgot that Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin co-hosted the other year.

A “Back To The Future” segment? IHNATKO DOTH VERILY APPROVE.

(I am reminded that Christopher Lloyd is the latest example of the syndrome where an actor plays a character decades older than his true age…but eventually ages into the role.)

Slightly surprised that they didn’t go with a James Franco bumping into James Franco in his own movie joke.

Annnnnd the hosts take the field! Holding an iPhone? What a relief: there’s no mention of Twitter or “the ongoing impact of the digital audience and social media.”

 

7:22:59 PM

…And now I’m just testing the AppleScript that automates my liveblogging. If this works, then highlighting this text and clicking the menu will update this page with a new, timestamped entry.

Push the button, Frank…

 

I know the new millennium is a decade old. But you can’t argue the point: the suffix “…TWO THOUSAND!!!” still makes anything sound more exciting.

This is the evening of the 2011 Academy Awards telecast, which seems like the perfect time for me to do a liveblog of the 2011 Academy Awards telecast, wouldn’t you agree?

“But it always runs too long and it’s so boring and it’s just an excuse for millionaires to superinflate their already hyperinflated egos!”

Yes. Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more: you’ve described the NFL telecasts to a tee and perfectly encapsulated my frustrations. If the NFL televised just one game a year, then sure, I’d give them a free pass. But parading around a 60,000-seat ballroom surrounded by lights and cameras every weekend, for months? The word for that is “drama,” my friends, plain and simple.

No, the Oscars has taste. And if you even need more evidence that the Oscars is better than the NFL in every conceivable way, then I present this final fact:

The Oscars has never delayed the start of “The Amazing Race” or “The Simpsons.”

I will accept no further arguments against my position.

Which is not to say that it’s a perfect institution. I absolutely cannot abide the change to the nominations system, by which every movie released in the calendar year gets nominated for Best Picture, provided it didn’t feature a comedian cross-dressing in an immense fatsuit. What a fantastic idea that was; it was a clean solution to the problem of Andy Ihnatko getting too interested in who wins.

Other changes that I disapprove of:

  • Sure, go ahead, put more movie stars in the telecast. It’d be weird if they didn’t. But they’re starting to stack ’em up like the Kodak Theater is John Wayne Gacy’s crawlspace. It’s just about as palatable, too. Now we have multiple hosts and a gut-churning thing at the end of the show in which Movie Star Who Didn’t Get Nominated stands on the stage and heaps the sort of treacly praise upon a nominee that would cause even James Lipton to mutter “What an ass-kisser.”
  • Cool nominees and honorees are shuffled off to the non-televised part of the proceedings. Francis Ford Coppola, Eli Wallach, and Jean-Luc Godard are big enough to be honored by the Academy this year for the entirety of their careers in film and the major contributions they’ve made thereto. But they aren’t in “Kung-Fu Panda 2” so they have to collect their statues at the drive-thru window away from the cameras.
  • The stuff I want to watch has been deleted to make room for more Gowns and lots of nonsense. It amazes me that they can’t have live performances of the Best Original Song nominees but they’ll find time for a segment where Jennifer Beals reads a list of 100 Tweets posted in the past week about the Best Supporting Art Direction-nominated films.

I think that’s why my Pre-Oscars Excitement has rolled back a little bit in the past few years. Ten years ago, I’d have written and posted five thousand words about the nominees and the event. Now? I’ll blog it.

Well, hell. The Oscars are like pizza. Even when it’s bad…it’s still the Oscars.

Liveblogging starts a little before 8:30. Just keep refreshing this page.

 

28 Hours Later

Screen grab from "28 Days Later." Patient in hospital greens walks through abandoned London streets.

I picked up some sort of cold over the weekend. I started feeling like hell on Monday. On Tuesday, my line of thinking was “If I want to get better, then I should stay in bed and rest.” Today, after a further day spent mostly sleeping, I thought “If I want to get better, I should keep moving around.”

This isn’t necessarily a positive step in my illness. After all, this is the sort of thing you must do with people who are dangerously close to slipping into some form of coma.

Well, luckily, it turned out that I’ve crested the hill of Deathly Ichors and am now speeding towards recovery. Diagnostic tip: if the patient is healthy enough to be bored senseless, then he’s probably healthy enough to go out and buy some more juice.

The medical industry should also research the healing power of deadlines. There’s a professional term for the amount of work I got done on Monday, Tuesday, and today. It’s on the tip of my tongue…something short…

Ah! Yes: “**** all.” That’s how much work I’ve finished this week. On Tuesday, I woke up, took care of an hourlong business call that couldn’t have been postponed, I did my podcast, and then I went back to sleep. Today I woke up, conducted an hourlong meeting via iChat, and then went back to sleep. Three, count ’em, three, things still need to be written and if my week hadn’t been such a Keith Moon pastiche of pills and aggressive unconsciousness I’d have finished them all by now.

So it’s my first evening back on the payroll. I’ve just about gotten myself caught up with all the emails I hadn’t read and now I’m getting caught up on all of the news that passed me by.

Imagine my reaction at finding out that I slept through a major Twitter panic. It looks as though someone has finally figured out a way to make money from Twitter: you just exploit a security hole to hijack a reader’s browser and forcibly redirect it to sites that could potentially install malware on the host computer.

Well!

And just about as quickly as the exploit went viral — in the “adorable video of a kitty finding its way out of a paper bag” sense, not the darker “you visit a hacked site and three days later, a Russian syndicate owns your house” kind — Twitter closed it.

I couldn’t help but think about all of the horror movies that use that scenario as a premise. You submit to some sort of no-big-deal medical treatment that puts you under for X days or hours. Then, aliens explode a spore bomb in the atmosphere. You wake up X+1 days or hour later and then there you are, the only one on the planet untouched by the madness. You’ve little time to piece everything together because if you don’t, you’ll get eaten by the half of the population that was turned into zombies. If you’re very unlucky, you’ll escape the zombies only to wind up in the hands of the half that was rendered completely blind; they’ll probably guilt-trip you into doing all of their shopping for them.

This will go very badly for you. I’m thinking about how self-pitying and entitled I feel just after two days of nursing a cold. Imagine how insufferable 150,000,000 people blinded by alien spores will be. There you are, clothes torn to shreds, skin scorched from the improvised napalm grenade you had to detonate to keep a pack of Walking Undead at bay. You brush away the zombie fingers and feet that got sliced off when you slammed the fortified steel door behind you, while giving thanks to your brutal and indifferent God that allowed you to get back to the safehouse alive with a bag of precious foodstuffs.

And then you hear the beneficiary of your heroism say

“‘Low-fat’?!? You make me wait here three hours for you to bring me low-fat peanut butter?!? I am not paying for this! How about you read the goddamn grocery list I gave you, just once? Jesus, now I know why you keep coming back alive. The zombies only chase after people with brains.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVdD0ZxPq_g

Actually, when I say I’ve gotten nothing done this week I forgot (in my flu-addled stupor) to mention that I finally saw “The Love Guru.” Or perhaps I’m just going through some form of PTSD. The reviews on this one were so bad that (1) I had to see it, and (2) I couldn’t retain my pride if seeing this movie required me to do anything more than pick up a remote and fulfill an impulse without spending a single sou.

It finally arrived on Netflix Streaming this week. It was…um…yeah, well, it was pretty bad. There are the kinds of jokes that just sort of lie there and don’t register any sort of reaction from the audience, apart from the realization that the thing that just happened had the form and the intention of a Joke. And then there are the ones that do provoke a reaction: hatred. It’s not just that the entire movie is packed with dick jokes. Even every male character’s name is a dick joke.

This is why I would have been kicked out of the Film Critic’s Guild Society of American Movie Critics. About fifteen minutes in, I’d lost all patience and was muttering “Oh, for God’s sake…” every time another dick joke came along. It was like the Rose Parade. They passed by in a nonstop, slow march. You’d first sense the joke at the far end of the street. When it was two blocks away, it was already in sharp focus. But then it took another minute or so before it rumbled to center stage and that’s when you saw Mike Myers standing on top of it, in a sash and tiara, waving proudly to the crowd. I wished I could have thrown a fire extinguisher at the man.

I found myself welcoming the epic “two-man combat with urine-soaked mops” scene. No, that scene didn’t work either. Nothing in this movie works. But it was at least nice to see some classy material up there. Relatively speaking.

There are bad movies that are entertaining in their pure naivete. There are bad movies that are entertaining as a forensic exercise in What Went Wrong. But this one was just bad. It reeks of the flop sweat of a studio executives that kept reminding each other of how much the Austin Powers movies made, and how many “Shrek” DVDs have been sold, and telling each other “Yes, the script is pretty weak…but just wait until they start shooting and Mike Myers starts sprinkling his magic stardust all over this!”

If this were a scene in “The Love Guru,” the next shot would have been of Mike Myers taking a whizz on the screenplay. The shot would go on for about four minutes before a cop taps him on the shoulder, Myers wheels around in surprise, and accidentally pees in the man’s face for thirty seconds more.

(On-set, Myers amends this to “The guy has to have his mouth open. That’s what makes it funny. Also, I’ll make funny faces and sputter nonstop apologies while it’s happening.”)

I’m taking bad. Bad enough to make me retroactively hate all of his previous work and wonder if he was ever actually funny to begin with.

I bet right now, Mike Myers is watching Joachim Phoenix’s appearance on Letterman last night and kicking himself. That’s what he should have done after his movie bombed. He should have gone on Letterman and said “We were really shocked that nobody saw through the joke immediately. We had done everything possible to intentionally make ‘The Love Guru’ the worst comedy ever made. We thought people would enjoy it as an innovative piece of performance art…”

Free (good) movie! “Jedi Junkies”

Jedi Junkies for Web.jpg

Watch it while you can: DailyMotion has a 72-minute documentary about Star Wars fandom available for streaming until the 27th. I think that means if you’re watching it at 11:59:59 PM on Wednesday and the segment about the woman who belly dances in a Slave Leia costume is just starting…you’re really going to wish you’d started the movie about five or ten minutes earlier in the evening.

I’ve seen it all the way through. It’s a spiffy flick. It’s very much in the same vein as “Trekkies” — another terrific doc about fandom. “Trekkies” is a better movie; it’s not quite so loving about its subject, and it’s not as “inside.” But if I’d paid to rent “Jedi Junkies” on iTunes, I’d feel as though I’d gotten my $5 worth. Which is awesome, because it’s available for rent for just $2.99.

Those of you who aren’t in that kind of tax bracket are urged to watch the movie on DailyMotion while it’s still up there. The viewing link is on the movie’s official site.

OscarBlog 2010: The Pause Of Inference

12:31:54 AM
Taking a bit of a break before editing some of this and adding my final comments. As in, drinking another Dr. Pepper and enjoying the episode of “Amazing Race” that I missed.

(Am also, incidentally, tweaking the script that powers this liveblog. It’s worth taking a few minutes to wring the Suck out of it; I intend to use this script in future events. Push the button, Frank…)

12:02:29 AM
Onward to Best Actress. Again, it’s a great opportunity to get me to decide to see five movies that I might have missed. Alas, when looking for reasons to see a movie, “The lead actress’ radiance extends not just from her beauty, which can be seen in every shot, but from her soul, which she shares with everyone she meets” falls somewhere behind “There are ‘splosions. Big ones. Lots.”

I’m not sure, but I think all of the women associated with “Precious” at the Oscars are all wearing blue tonight.

(I actually don’t mind Oprah’s praise of the young lead, as opposed to the older, more established actors. What a wonderful moment. It comes across a little better than using a huge worldwide audience to tell a multimillionaire international celebrity that he’s very, very handsome.)

Sean Penn presents the award. Looking a little awkward, which is refreshing for a celebrity presenter.

Oscar goes to Sandra Bullock. Hmm. I bet that means something. I wonder if it isn’t at least partly an acknowledgment of her phenomenal achievements as a producer. I know, I know…I haven’t seen the movie so I shouldn’t even offer any comments. But jeez, it seemed like such an ordinary movie. I’ve seen about ten minutes of her performance, and there was just nothing about it that grabbed me or seemed like it could grab voters.

In the sort of meaningless analysis that could earn you a six-figure salary if you apply the same logic towards your advice to tech investors, you can reverse-engineer the nominations and note that none of the five movies were what you would call “big.” “Precious” was well-liked, but not widely seen. The other nominees are way more famous than their movies, with the exception of Carey Mulligan, who is probably just as unknown as “An Education.”

Streisand reads the nominees for Best Director. She looks…very surgically-alert.

Kathryn Bigelow wins for “Hurt Locker,” a very well-earned win made even bigger from the presence of A-list nominees with incredible movies of their own.

Tom Hanks hands out Best Picture to “Hurt Locker.” I love how the lead actors are just as drunk with happiness (standing in the background with their arms around each other) as the producers.

11:38:10 PM
Time for Best Actor. This will be a repeat of last year’s presentation style, in which each actor has “Happy Birthday” sung to him while he squirms in his seat. I don’t like this new scheme. It should be about the performance and not the person. So now we’ve heard Michelle Pfeiffer tell Jeff Bridges how cool he is. What a great family man. He has a wonderful marriage. “He’s an amazing human being,” she says, channeling Sammy Davis Junior at the Jerry Lewis Telethon.

Sweet. But what does this have to do with “Crazy Heart”? George Clooney is dreamy. What a humanitarian. Dreamy (second time).

Good lord. It’s like being at a big wedding and every member of the wedding party wants to say something about the bride or the groom.

The OscarCast has a real objective: get people out there to see movies and buy movies and rent them on pay-per-view. I’d love to see extended scenes from each of these nominated performances in place of these testimonials.

No, I amend my earlier statement. It’s not like someone singing “Happy Birthday” and it’s not like a wedding speech. It’s like that speech near the end of the movie where the speaker keeps getting more and more worked up, until he finally cocks the pistol he’s been holding on the guy and says “…and now, it’s time to die!

I think it has to be Jeff Bridges. No, George Clooney. No…

(No, not to die: to win the Oscar.)

And it’s Jeff Bridges, as I had so confidently predicted. He might be on his way to becoming the new Gene Hackman. The sort of actor who turns out so many great performances that it seems cheap to praise him for any one of them; you have to think of his work as the larger vocation. Clooney is having that same kind of career. But he has a certain celebrity that rises above his work. He might one day be thought of as the Tom Hanks of his generation instead.

Oh. Right, good point…

11:21:27 PM
Quentin Tarantino and Pedro Almodovar present Best Foreign Language Film. Quentin probably is in the worst outfit of the evening: he looks like Dan Ackroyd of 2010 trying to wear one of his Jake Blues costumes from 1979.

Winner (wrong tie) gets a good joke in: “I’d like to thank the Academy for not considering Na’vi to be a foreign language.”

Kathy Bates looking great, presenting the reel for “Avatar.” James Cameron is wearing a perfect tuxedo. Meaning: he’s not wearing a bowtie, but holy ****, man, his movie has made more than two billion dollars so far. That’s how well your movie has to do before I’ll give you a mulligan on incorrect formalwear.

11:15:07 PM
Matt Damon (in perfect tux) presents Best Documentary. This category is a win-win for everyone who had a doc that qualified for a nomination. If you don’t get nominated, you can honk on and on about how the subject matter was such a hot potato that the Academy didn’t have the guts to touch it, which is precisely why you felt this movie had to be made…etc.

If you get nominated, don’t worry: you still have a four in five chance of being able to go on the Oprah show to complain about how your brand of heroism is rarely appreciated by the powers that be, etc.

(Okay, obviously I’m just trying to be funny. But some documentary makers push that button a little too hard.)

Another hard call. So many heavy topics this year. I worry about this category becoming so politicized. It’s sometimes hard to separate an award given for a great film from an award given in sympathy for the cause it publicizes.

It goes to “The Cove,” whose imagery was almost as shocking as the concept of Fisher Stevens winning an Academy Award.

Tyler Perry presents Tyler Perry Introducing Tyler Perry’s “The nominees for Best Film Editing”, starring Tyler Perry. A Tyler Perry production.

(Still: very nice tuxedo.)

Oscar goes to the editors of “Hurt Locker.” Nice tux, Chris.

I think this indicates that “Hurt Locker” will win Best Picture.

Keanu Reeves introduces the “Hurt Locker” reel. I hate to admit the real reason why this movie first grabbed my attention: because years ago, Jeremy Renner was featured in an A&E reality series called “The It Factor,” which followed a bunch of as-yet unknown actors through weeks and months of auditions and under-employment.

I think Renner was a ringer on this show. When the series started, his breakout movie (“Dahmer”) was about to be released. When it ended, he’d taken a lead role in an A-list action movie (“S.W.A.T.”).

11:00:29 PM
Jennifer Lopez and Sam Worthington (in another Blues Brothers costume).

Women standing in silhouette. Oh, no: I sense a dance number coming. Best Score nominees “Featuring The Legion: the legion of extraordinary dancers.”

If these dancers’ roles were all written by Alan Moore, this could be interesting. Otherwise…no thanks.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s an interpretive dance inspired by “The Hurt Locker.” Big hand, please, for “Oscarcast producer who’s still on coke.” No, let’s really hear it for him. Let’s bring him on ou…eh? Oh, he’s in the bathroom. Still, a BIG hand, please…

Again, I think about the lifetime honorees (including Lauren Bacall, for the love of God) who were only allowed to stand up and then sit down, and the Best Original Songs we didn’t get to hear, and the nominees who were cut off before they could speak. All to make room…for this.

And now, to celebrate the score for “Up,” it’s a guy doing a robot dance. Let’s bring him out again! The producer who has all of his big ideas while high on coke! C’mon…!

“Up” wins. Jeez, I really should see that movie. I’ll watch it early in the morning, on a sunny day, when I know I’m going to do something fun in the early afternoon.

Michael Giacchino is wearing a very smart tixedo jacket — superb — and the right shirt but the wrong tie. BOWTIES, gentlemen. If you can’t figure out how to tie one, have your Dad stand behind you in front of the mirror and do it for you, all right?

Best Visual Effects, presented by Gerard Butler and Bradley Cooper (turned out in impeccable formalwear). A very hot category this year. I want it to be Avatar. I think the most challenging achievement was from the folks behind “Star Trek.” They actually managed to burn thirty years of horrifyingly bad effects from my mind within the first three minutes of the film.

Lots of folks take the stage. A very nice speech from the ringleader.

Jason Bateman (flawless tux victory) presents “Up In The Air,” also known as “No, not the cartoon about the old guy with the balloons.” I’ve been doing that all year.

10:46:00 PM
Sandra Bullock presents the Cinematography nominees in a dress designed to blind the paparazzi with their own reflected flash-fire.

I’m shocked that they’re not showing clips or even stills. THIS IS A VISUAL AWARD, you idiots!

“Avatar” wins. Well-done, though I’m getting sick of telling these people that proper men’s formalwear includes a bowtie.

Back to my original annoyance: IT’S A VISUAL AWARD!!! You’re rewarding the cinematographer’s ability to shoot beautiful photographs. It would have killed you to show some stills?

Demi Moore reminds me that in female Oscar fashion, this is a year of very subdued colors. I’m not interested in women’s fashions…so if a guy like me is noticing, wow, that’s overdone. There’s got to be a happy medium between “Lady Gaga” and “Meryl Streep in ‘Doubt’.”

James Taylor playing the Moody Music to back the montage of those people who’ve died, died.

Swayze leads the pack.

Oh, for God’s sake. Montage starts with the honoree’s name in white, superimposed on a white background. I’m sure the families of (unreadable), (couldn’t make it out), and (who knows?) were really touched.

I do like this part of the show. You rarely get a chance to associate these sometimes anonymous people with those movies that you love.

Karl Malden — past honcho of the Academy — gets the coveted final spot. Though I should point out that being in the People We’ve Lost montage is one of those honors that few are in a hurry to collect.

You didn’t see this, but there was a commercial for a local furniture chain on my version of the telecast. What is it about local furniture stores that empower them to make commercials that are almost professional but not quite? I think it’s because the company is successful enough to afford professional production gear, but they’re still small-time enough in attitude that they’ll still always produce them in-house.

10:35:31 PM
Back from commercial with a bit of pre-taped comedy from Steve and Alec that probably wasn’t worth it.

The kid from the werewolf pic comes out to present a tribute to horror movies, wearing a proper tuxedo. See? Is that so hard?

Here we see the tremendous leaps forward the Oscarcast has made since I started watching it, back in the 80’s. When I was a kid, instead of a montage of some of the best clips from the scariest movies, we’d be seeing a dance number choreographed by Debbie Allen.

(Which admittedly was even more horrifying, in its own way.)

Zak Efron and Anna Kendrick are presenting Best Sound Editing. Zak is wearing his Blues Brothers costume and only had the taste to take off his hat and sunglasses before taking the stage.

Morgan Freeman narrates a breakdown of what the nominees do. Which is nice, but I’m not sure they really explained the difference between this category and Best Sound Mixing. As a rule of thumb, I think it’s the difference between “painting a picture with sound” and “how well the nominee steers the audience’s ‘focus’ through the sound picture,” but it’s hard for an Oscars handicapper to listen with the same ears as a professional.

“Hurt Locker” wins. Lots of crash, boom, bang in that one.

(Tuxedo: nonregulation collar and tie. But for a nonregulation tux, it was a nice set of threads.)

Hmm. “Sound Mixing” gets a rushed read-through. “Hurt Locker” wins again.

Okay, so the little mini-tutorial was about sound in general. I still think there ought to be a little explanation.

Off to the Sci-Tech Awards. Usually an opportunity for the presenter to make an incredibly lame and slightly offensive joke about how these winners are all nerds and not a part of real showbiz.

And they’ve been even further demoted: they get a “graduation picture” on the telecast. Not even a few clips from the awards dinner. Note, though, that most of these “nerds” are in proper formal attire.

…Unlike John Travolta, in the third “Ninja Tuxedo” of the evening. Presenting the clip reel for “Basterds.”

I really hope “Besterds” wins. Which is not to say it’s my favorite of the 192 nominees — my favorite would probably be “Kid In Dorm Room Scores 100% On ‘Run To The Hills’ on Expert Mode in ‘Rock Band’,” which quickly swept from a 340,000-hit YouTube video into an Oscar nomination, under the new rules — but it’s a movie made by a guy who likes to make movies, for the benefit of people who love to watch them.

Teaser for the new version of “V.” Another one of those science fiction dramas where every third sentence in the pitch to the network was “…and all the women are SUPER-hot!” I’ll pass, thank you.

10:16:08 PM
Siguorney Weaver, presenting Best Art Direction. Looking like a million damned dollars.

Many big fantasy movies on the list this year. Another one where I have to wonder how the nominations are affected by digital technology. “Avatar” wins — and really, it kind of had to; all of those ideas had to come out of the art directors’ heads — but on some level would voters think “So? It was all Photoshop. Everything in “Sexy Aliens With Flamethrowers” was a cut-and-paste job. I was more impressed by the art director on ‘Frumpy Old Hens’. She had to find or build every piece of set decoration in that fabulous Regency-era mansion.”

Four men on the stage with excellent speeches. It gets back to what I was talking about earlier: you so rarely get to see a live, unscripted moment of sincere emotion on television. We’re seeing one of the landmark moments of these men’s lives. We’re seeing the roots of the story they’ll be telling every family member, friend, and co-worker over and over again for the next three months.

Here are Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin…and ugh, they’ve changed out of their bowties and into neckties. Point deductions.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Tom Ford are presenting Best Costume Design. He is in a proper tuxedo and a very natty white rose in the lapel. I am so impressed that I hit the TiVO button to rewind and catch his actual name. Originally I had “…er…Squinty McGee” and in retrospect I acknowledge that this was a bit disrespectable.

I never know what to make of Best Costume. It’s similar to my problem with the Makeup categories. What are the voters looking for? Hard labor? Fantasy? Accuracy? Degree of difficulty?

A Victorian costume drama — literally; a biopic of Queen Victoria in her Hot years — wins.

(Was Victoria ever Hot?)

(Has anybody any even wondered if Queen Victoria was ever Hot?)

Sandy Powell kicks things off even worse than Mo’Nique: “I already have two of these…”

Oh, dear. I think she meant for that to sound like “…but this one is still as special as the others, because…” Alas, that’s not how it came out.

Here’s the iPad commercial again. I am looking at these images with razor focus. I have noted at least three differences between the software shown in January (and in Apple’s online promos) and the software I see here. But I’ll need to double-check.

Just enough time to run to the kitchen for a Dr. Pepper. Maybe a nice little bit of cheese? Yes, there’s some lovely brie down there, I think.

10:05:49 PM
Best Adapted Screenplay. “Up In The Air,” right? Or will “Precious” get the “Because I love this movie and I want it to get a major award, but I don’t think it’ll win Best Picture” vote?

(“Precious” is another movie I haven’t seen because of its content. Potentially devastating stuff. You might need to take three or four hours afterward just to remind yourself that the world is a lovely place with lovely things in it.)

Jake Gyllenhaal is in a proper tuxedo…well done.

And it’s “Precious,” won by a screenwriter who is quite overwhelmed himself by the honor. This must have taken a lot out of him. Don’t you dare play him off the stage and cut his mic.

Queen Latifa comes to present a recap of “The Governors Awards” dinner. AKA, “You’ve spent an entire lifetime making so many significant contributions to our art form that we are eager and grateful to present you with our highest honor…but you’re kind of old and ugly now. So you’ll understand if we don’t let you speak freely during the Oscar telecast.”

Is the whole dinner presentation available online? It must be. There’s just no excuse. Shoving these presentations to the minor-leagues is forgiveable, maybe, if the trade-off is that these people get to speak at length instead of just dialing it down into a minute or two.

Robin Williams, wearing another Ninja Tux. Black shirts are not acceptable, gentlemen.

Hey! He noticed that “Governor’s Ball” had potential for a double-entendre! I am highly amused and amazed that such a thing had never occurred to me before.

I recently heard an interview with Eddie Izzard in which he said something about being a comic. The interviewer asked him why he’s a standup comedian who doesn’t do any comedy roles in film. Eddie said something eloquent about how there’s a point at which you need to keep control of your own direction, and part of that responsibility includes drawing a partition between your comedy persona and your true personality. Otherwise, you get trapped in your comic persona 24/7. I immediately thought of Robin Williams.

Best Supporting Actress is won by Mo’Nique. Her opening “It can be about the performance and not the politics” comment elicits a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot reaction from me. She has, what, 40 seconds up there? And straight off the top, she said that the only way that other nominees could have won would have been for the wrong reasons. Or at least that’s how it sounds. It’s in the same category as the time Vanessa Redgrave won and said “Thanks for not giving in to the Zionist hoodlums who made all those threats” or somesuch. Again, translate this as “There’s only one reason why I could possibly have not won this, obviously…”

Colin Firth, in a real tuxedo, presenting the reel for “An Education.” Another “Every movie gets nominated for Best Picture this year” nominee. I’ve often failed to see all of the Best Picture nominees but there’s never been a nominee that I’ve never even heard of before.

Yes, I intensely dislike the expansion of the field to 10 nominees. It’s such an obvious and cheap stab at widening the audience for the telecast. It also erases part of what makes the Oscars so interesting. Of course there are always several great movies that don’t get nominations. Don’t you enjoy being surprised at the results?

More to the point: five nominations means that there’s little room for “…and just to round out my list of nominations, how about” type of movies.

9:47:44 PM
Two presenters for the Short Films category. Both women are thinking “Why the hell did I OK a long, long gown and high, high heels? If I fall on these stairs, I never have to worry about ever falling down on any staircase ever again. Not because they’ll never let me on the Oscars ever again, but because I will be in a wheelchair for life or quite simply be killed.” The words “don’ttripdon’ttripdon’ttrip” actually appeared on the closed-captioning.

(I don’t have the captioning turned on but I think that’s a safe guess.)

Nice little short film about short films. But I always have a little hesitation about this sort of presentation. They just spent a few minutes allowing some famous and established directors to talk about short films. Why not give that screen time to the actual short-subject filmmakers and their work?

Best Animated Short. Oh, it’s so hard NOT to love a Wallace & Gromit cartoon. But “Logorama” was so clever. I can’t be upset.

Ach. Once again, they play the Nutzo Wacky Cartoon movie music as the short’s producer takes the stage. Last year, I saw a program of nominated films and three of them would have absolutely devastated you and wrung you out, emotionally. Masterful stories with epic, heartbreaking drama. I just think the music doesn’t show respect for the medium.

(Winner’s tuxedo: non-regulation necktie. And what would your Mom have done if she had been sitting next to you when your name was called? She would have hurriedly buttoned the top button of your shirt. C’mon, man.)

I didn’t see Music By Prudence or any of the other Best Short Documentary nominees. The redhead rushes the stage and steps all over the guy who was handed the Oscar. And clearly she won’t shut up until they’re played off. Not a good show…they should have coordinated before they got in the limo tonight.

Best Live Action Short. I wonder if the whole nature of this field has changed. Now, there’s really no barrier to making and distributing this kind of movie. The Oscar used to be so much more important to the success of the people working in the short subject game, I think. It’s still one hell of an honor. It’s just that YouTube can potentially deliver your work to a mass audience and gets you to the next place you want to go as a filmmaker.

Oscar goes to another movie I haven’t seen. “The New Tenants” is won buy one older man in an impeccable tuxedo, and another one who looks a little like the opera director at the end of “A Night At The Opera,” after he’s been forced to take to the stage in Groucho Marx’ waistcoat.

Yes, of course: they guy in the bad tux talked so much that the Proper Tux guy got shut out: the mike is turned off before he can even lean in. Bad form.

Ben Stiller in the “Avatar” makeup. They should probably have given this whole idea a miss. Way too predictable. Everyone watching was expecting this to happen at some time. There’s just no way to do it. Maybe have Bob Newhart (star of “Catch-22”) come out in the makeup, and introduce the category as though nothing’s odd?

(On top of everything else: Stiller is wearing a “Ninja tux” — black on black in black.)

Ugh. And he’s going on and on and on. The bit was over two seconds after we saw you. Just let it go.

Best Makeup. A hard one to predict. Star Trek has some of the most dramatic (and signature) makeup, but is this the sort of work that the voters respect? Do they prefer invisible subtlety?

Oh my god. THE BIT IS OVER, Ben. JUST READ THE NAME.

Cool, “Star Trek” wins. Well-earned. It’s not just about producing makeup that looks lifelike, but making complicated appliances that actors can actually act through.

Three people on stage. I think they’re doing the “official spokesperson” model of acceptance speeches, which is the way to go.

Tuxedoes: neither is a proper tux. But the guy wearing the Kangol cap can at least be given points for getting out a “Happy Anniversary, baby!” before losing the mic.

(Assuming it’s his wedding anniversary, and not the anniversary of the time they beat that train conductor to death in Attleboro, Mass.)

Nomination reel for “A Serious Man.” I don’t think this can win Best Picture. The other day I was thinking about what this movie represents in the Coens’ careers. It marks the point at which they are officially in the business of making movies that interest them. Where they’ve definitely won the ability to shoot any script they want, so long as it comes in under a certain spreadsheet-proven budget.

This movie is significant because it absolutely defies easy marketing or description. I can’t tell you what it’s about, except that it was dazzling and profound. But how does a studio sell a film like that? We can roll our eyes at the business of moviemaking, but unless someone can put this brilliant movie into a 30-second presentation that pulls me in, I’ll probably never see it.

The Coens went on my “the name is all I need” list a long time ago. But I wonder if I would have gone to see it based only on the trailer.

9:27:05 PM
Is it my imagination, or did Alec Baldwin look a little…grim…while introducing Tina Fey and Robert Downey Jr.? There was some sort of expression on his face as he turned from the camera, as though his subconscious said “Okay, you don’t have to be Mr. Happy Host any more. Go on backstage.”

Hmm. Took a minute before it became obvious to me that they’re doing a fake “Writers and actors are often at loggerheads” bit as opposed to a “two entertainers are trying to get through a lame comedy thing” bit.

Best Original Screenplay. I can’t pick from these. Three of these screenplays are my favorite. I can’t imagine a script I like better than “Basterds” or “Serious Man” but I’d be happy to see anybody win.

See? “Hurt Locker” wins and I’m happy.

(Mark Boal: slight point deduction on the tuxedo. Proper tie, but comically-exagerrated collar. Remember, people, tuxedoes are about the compulsories, not the freestyle part of the fashion competition.)

Could Robert Downey keep the gum out of his mouth for the five minutes he was on stage?

Matthew Broderick and Molly Ringwald can only mean: John Hughes tribute. A worthy subject for an “away from the memorial montage” tribute. His screenplays were remarkable. I was the age of his characters when his movies came out. If you’re not my age, it’s tough to fully appreciate how good these flicks are. I think in many ways, a movie like “Ferris Bueller” or “Breakfast Club” has the same resonance for me as “La Dolce Vita” has to Roger Ebert.

Netflix “Don’t You Forget About Me,” (available on DVD or via instant play) a documentary about JH’s work. The framing conceit (plucky filmmakers pile into a van and try to get an interview with the reclusive Hughes) is…forgettable, but they fill the movie with lots of interviews with filmmakers and actors, each of whom has something interesting to say.

Former castmembers gather on stage. You forget how well-cast his movies were…they were full of good young actors who’d ultimately become good adult actors.

Lovely: acknowledging the family in the audience. Let them see how well-loved JH was and is. 59 is way too soon to go. Academy Awards producers: you’re invited to cut parts of the telecast to keep making room for things like THAT.

Reel for “UP.” The most heartbreaking opening ten minutes of the 2009 season. I’ve heard enough about it that I still haven’t actually seen the movie…I have it on Blu-Ray and it’s been there on top of the player for months. But I’m kind of not ready, yet. I’m just waiting for a day when I can afford to be moody and depressed for hours afterward. I’ll get to it.

9:07:43 PM
Cameron Diaz and Steve Carrell talk about Best Animated Feature.

Cool, they’re “interviewing” the castmembers. I love things like these…I’m fascinated by the problem it presents to the filmmakers. It took them years to make their animated features, but they suddenly need to create out 30 seconds of finished, HD animation in practically NO TIME. And can you get the voice actors back?

It’s worth mentioning that two of these features were stop-motion. I don’t even want to think about the pressure on the makers of “Coraline.” They used an interesting technique where they “animated” all of Coraline’s facial expressions and rendered them on a 3D printer. So in addition to moving the model between frames, they also needed to swap out faces. Did they still have the full palette of faces on hand, or did they need to re-build them all? I’m really keen to hear about what the last month of these filmmakers’ lives were like.

In any event, it’s great to see new “Coraline” performance.

Have we seen Neil Gaiman’s tux and Amanda Palmer’s dress? I love how at the Golden Globes, NG was only identified as “…and guest,” which is the sort of thing that will happen when your date is wearing a nigh-seethru dress, I suppose.

“Up” wins. Pete Doctor, on a nonregulation tuxedo. But a simple error: point deduction on the neckwear but otherwise a classy number. As was he and his speech. How do they maintain their elan and composure? He used limited time efficiently, thanked graciously, acknowledged his team, and left with a smile. I’d probably try to do a flip like Cuba Gooding and one-armed pushups like Jack Palance, and crash like James Dean.

Best Original Song. This category always irks me. It’s never about “what songs was most important to the movie and was the most imrpessive achievement as a movie song? Instead, it generally an extension of the Grammys.

I am also, might I say, sick and bloody tired of the same undermelody that Randy Newman throws into nearly all of his movie tunes. Away from the theater, he’s a fantastic composer. It sometimes seems like he regards his movie work as some sort of corporate gig.

It really has to go to “Crazy Heart.” Of all the nominated songs, “The Weary Kind” was the most important to its movie.

I don’t know why they’ve stopped having artists play their songs during the telecast. Isn’t this the great opportunity to have top-drawer musical acts out there entertaining people?

Yes! It goes to T-Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham (T-Bone not in a tux, Ryan in a proper tux). Isn’t it great to see (at times) highly improbable people up there getting nominations and awards? When Catharine O’Hara and Eugene Levy were in SCTV, did they ever think in a million years that they’d be playing and singing a song, in character, in front of one of the world’s largest live entertainment audiences, in nomination for one of the most prestigious awards in all of entertainment?

District 9’s nomination reel plays. Another movie that would never have made the cut if there were only 5 nominees. But for different reasons: the Academy never would have been that creative. Definitely a worthy nominee and a worthy winner.

8:53:33 PM
I think Neil Patrick Harris is angling to replace Martin Short when the position becomes vacant. On top of that, I’m starting to experience Neil Patrick Harris Awards Show Fatigue. I started off at “Hey! I had no idea that he was such a great entertainer” and spent too little time in “Another great turn by Neil Patrick Harris on an awards show” and am now in that place where I simply acknowledge that he seems to be on stage singing to celebrities. It doesn’t really penetrate.

Nice opening number but crimeny, we have a host to introduce the hosts? And THIS is why they didn’t have time to honor the lifetime awards recipients in the actual show?

Our real hosts take the stage. Note that they are both wearing proper formal attire. I think this is about the last time we’ll see men in real tuxedoes this evening.

I’m sorry in advance for honking on about the menswear. But I insist that in men’s formalwear, you’re scored on the compulsories and suffer point deductions for freestyling. A tuxedo consists of a black jacket, black pants, white shirt with a full collar, and a bowtie. It should be impeccably tailored. The Oscars isn’t a place to show off how “cool” you are, or how much of a rebel that your publicists says you should tell people you are, or any such nonsense. You’ll just look foolish.

I’m also not a fan of the trend of substituting a cravat for a bowtie. It just doesn’t scream “formal attire.” Instead it says “Blues Brothers impersonator working at one of the Universal Studios theme parks.”

Hmm. The standup routine isn’t working. Steve and Alec aren’t really playing off of each other…they’re just taking turns reading jokes.

I keep thinking the guy sitting next to Streep is the dude who played the restaurant critic on “Frasier.”

Wow, it’s tough to make a solid joke about “Precious” but Steve’s “She and I both played people who were born a poor black child” delivered.

I wonder how long we’ll have to wait to see Steve Martin in a loincloth and blue body paint? At the 1998 Spirit Awards it was in the middle of the second hour.

Yeah, I’m definitely getting a “National sales conference in which the company’s director of marketing and the VP of Sales get together to work up a little skit to kick things off” vibe from these two guys. They’re not really working together in any fashion and between gags, there’s an almost audible “(okay, next joke)” on their lips.

Penelope Cruz presents Best Supporting Actor. Always the best award to present and receive: the first award of the evening, well before the director of the show starts feeling the pressure and you can really drone on and on.

Bloody hell: they’re playing a really long clip for each nominee. Again I wonder why they made such severe cuts to other parts of the show to make room for this stuff. I really want to see spontaneous, truthful moments played out on live TV. I do love seeing these performances. But at the start of the show I worry about what they had to cut from the show to make room for them.

Whoof. So we end the package with the child molester clip and the Nazi clip?

Yup, Waltz wins for “Basterds.” Wearing a proper tuxedo.

The Supporting awards are always the most fun of the bunch because almost anything can happen. I think this was a “Great signature supporting role, and an actor who might never get another chance at a role like this” award.

Aw, look at his hands shake as he’s led off the stage. Classy speech. It’s probably just now sinking in that “Holy ****, I won an Oscar!!!”

Best Picture reel for “The Blind Side.” Would this movie have had ANY chance whatsoever if the Academy hadn’t adopted their new “Any talkie released in 2009 gets nominated for an Oscar” policy. It’s your basic “Thank God for white people!” plot, isn’t it?

iPad commercial! Oh, man. This is TOTALLY going to get freeze-framed and analyzed all night tonight.

8:31:51 PM
And we’re off!
4:51:31 PM
Well, I’ll be damned! It worked great, first try.

All righty, then! I’m off to dinner. See you back here sometime around 8-ish.

4:47:48 PM
My apologies to the folks who look forward to my obsessive-compulsive annual Oscar predictions. Alas, in the past two weeks I’ve been fixated on a different obsession entirely: the handmade design and construction of more than a half a dozen movie-accurate ballgowns, so that each of my seven cats can appear at my Oscar party dressed as a different Disney princess. I would have had time to do the Predictions as well but good heavens! I don’t know why Miss Twistyfur was in such a squinchy mood. Getting her measured and fitted for her Ariel mermaid tail took, like, a million trips to the craft store and the emergency room!

Well, it was worth it. Everything has to be perfect for this party. I can’t wait to see the look on my other 13 cats’ faces when my seven little Princesses make their appearance!!!! ZOMG!!!!!!!!! :) :) :) :) :)!!!!!!!!!!!

So the predictions aren’t happening. The OscarBlog will go on as scheduled, though. In fact, I’m working on another little craft project as I write this: a liveblog AppleScript for MarsEdit. I could LiveTweet it or commit each of my pithy comments to a different blog post, but a flood of individual posts tends to annoy people. Traditionally, I prefer to accomplish that effect through my actual writing.

All of my deathless commentary will appear right here in this blog post. Just hit the Refresh button occasionally. The newest comments will be at the top of the page.

I don’t know if the whole script actually works yet. I’ve tested everything but the crucial “Automatically update the blog post” part of the script. This here will be the first live-fire exercise of the whole script. If all goes well, then the only thing I’ll need to do after this is throw together a few bits of CSS to style these posts up nicely.

Okay. Push the button, Frank…