February 28, 2013
Oscars, Shorts, Frames, Goat and Pig
Seth MacFarlane was, in my opinion, the best Oscar host since Billy Crystal first did the gig. Good-natured and clever, MacFarlane had none of the meanness and ugly stupidity that Ricky Gervais brought to the Golden Globes for three deadly years.
Nor did he show the smug condescension of David Letterman, or the doesn't-he-get-this-business missteps of Chris Rock (remember him taunting Jude Law because it happened that three of his movies were released in the same year? Rock seemed not to realize that actors don't control release dates, and that you don't make fun of an actor for working.)
MacFarlane never took himself seriously – or, for that matter, the film business. His musical number about boob shots was hilarious and dead on – especially when it climaxed with a list of all the movies in which Kate Winslet has flashed us – contrasted with the fact that Jennifer Lawrence has never bared her breasts on camera.
MacFarlane reveled in the fact that the show was live; he really was hosting a get-together, rather than reciting lines. And when he sang and danced, he was good at it. Bring him back! (Heck, I liked him so much that now I'm even going to see his movie Ted, even though it's probably as bad as the promos made it look.)
There were some incomprehensible awards – how does Life of Pi get best cinematography, when it was mostly created inside computers?
Why does anybody give Quentin Tarantino an award, knowing it will force us to watch the ugliest conceited fool (or the most conceited foolish ug) in the history of show business as he congratulates the Academy for being smart enough to realize he was best?
Jennifer Lawrence – who earned her Best Actress Oscar twice this year – was refreshingly real. She tripped over her hideous dress (everybody always wears hideous dresses – it's the designers' vengeance for actresses' being so much more famous and beloved than they are) on the way to the mike, and then told the audience to stop their standing ovation.
"You're only standing up because I tripped," she said – which was true, but how many actors are grounded enough to understand that, and say so?
Though I've seen enough of Daniel Day-Lewis's performance to know that he completely missed Lincoln's voice (even when he orated, Lincoln never sounded like an orator; Day-Lewis's every word sounded engraved on stone), Day-Lewis gave the best acceptance speech I've ever heard.
Charmingly, he pretended that he only got the part in a straight-across swap with Meryl Streep, who was originally slated to play the part. But even after the joke (which he brought off superbly; who knew, given the roles he plays, that he had a sense of humor?), his speech was an exemplar of modesty and charm. Bravo, Mr. Day-Lewis!
Note to award recipients: Never, never, never list the other nominees in your category. Yes, during all the pre-Oscar publicity you kept bumping into them and you want to show how modest and generous you are by saying how honored you were just to be nominated along with them.
But you just won, so listing their names not only sounds like gloating, it is gloating.
Let them modestly retire and leave the focus on you. Thank the people who helped you and the people you love. Don't mention the other nominees in any way, because nothing you can say to or about them changes the fact that you just beat them.
Argo was a perfectly appropriate winner of the Best Picture award; Ben Affleck is emerging as one of the classiest directors in Hollywood, as well as being a good actor in the kind of role he now takes.
Affleck's film was honest about history; it was also generous to the actors who shared the screen with him. When Affleck directs, everybody shines. That's rare in Hollywood, especially when star directors work so hard to draw attention to their own work, at the expense of their actors.
I didn't get a chance to see the live-action and animated short films until it was too late to comment on them before the Oscars.
My wife and I, along with our friend, director Andy Lindsay of Barking Shark Productions, happened to be the only people sitting in those way-too-low chairs at the Carousel Theater, so we treated it like our living room and commented to each other throughout – especially during the silent films.
Sometimes, pretentious twaddle outnumbers good films in this category, but this year was exceptionally good. And because you can go online and see all the nominees for free – http://theoscarshorts.shorts.tv/
– I'm happy to tell you which are especially worth seeing.
In the animated category, Fresh Guacamole takes only two minutes – now that's a short. The joy of it is in the visual surprises as the ingredients of a guacamole are chopped up and mixed together on camera. No, there's no deep meaning; it's just plain fun.
We saw Paperman in the theaters; it's still a wonderfully charming love story about an office worker who turns his piles of paper into airplanes as he tries to get the attention of the woman he fell in love with during his morning commute.
I'm not a fan of The Simpsons, but Maggie Simpson in "The Longest Daycare" was funny and sweet.
Adam and Dog was long, long, long, with one lame "sweet" moment at the end. Mostly it showed the filmmakers' utter inability to imagine what Adam's and Eve's life might have been like in the Garden of Eden; in their movie, it was dull enough that getting expelled must have come as a relief.
The brilliant jewel of the animated shorts was Head Over Heels, in which a married couple share a house. But the husband's floor is the wife's ceiling, and vice versa, so they never seem able to agree on anything.
Not a word is spoken, but we hardly need words to show us the pain of their loneliness and loss, and then the joy of their rediscovery of each other. It was funny and then it was moving; it does in only twenty minutes what The War of the Roses failed to do in two tedious hours: Show us a marriage in cardiac arrest, and then give it CPR.
(In the theatrical release of the shorts, they also tacked on the non-nominated sequel to the unbearably bad Gruffalo sequel; we walked out and had a snack at Red Mango, then returned for the showing of the live-action shorts.)
The live action shorts are actually harder to bring off, if only because compressing a story with real actors is hard. The Buzkashi Boys was an interesting look at the lives of children in Afghanistan, but the story felt pointless.
Equally pointless, but also interesting, was Asad – a look at the lives of children in Somalia. As cultural artifacts the films are worth seeing, but don't expect to feel like their endings accomplish anything.
Death of a Shadow is one of those sci-fi steampunkish stories where you don't really understand what's going on till the big reveal at the end.
No, kids, that's not how it's done – in good sci-fi, you must let us know the rules up front, so we understand enough to care what happens! (Good example: Looper. Hideously bad example: Cloud Atlas.)...continued on page 2