Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Big O Show

Let me begin my Oscar review by saying that I missed the first 90 minutes of the show due to family obligations, but since I wrote the preview without seeing 80% of the nominated movies, I don't see anything wrong with writing a review where I missed half the show.

I thought Jon Stewart was fine, if not memorable, as a host (insert trademark Stewart shrug here). In the portion of the show that I saw, many of the presenters were announced over the public address, and Stewart just kind of showed up every now and then and threw out some lines, some of which were pretty good. I am a big fan of "The Daily Show," where he is working with a very receptive audience, has visual aids, and can laugh off or mug his way through a bad bit. At times on Sunday night he looked like a small screen genius trying to work the big screen crowd. The Oscars is a three-and-a-half hour marathon that needs a showman, a song-and-dance man, which is why Billy Crystal and Steve Martin were so good (was Steve Martin good? I don't remember, but for the sake of this argument, let's pretend he was).

The Academy does not like to be lampooned directly, so you got uncomfortable silence when host Chris Rock stepped over the line and worse, confused silence when David Letterman went for the absurd with his infamous Uma-Oprah (which I really liked). These people are there to be worshipped and fawned over, not made fun of. The Bjork-Dick Cheney joke went over so well because the target was not a Hollywood personality (I didn't see it, but I laughed out loud when I heard it later). The only taped piece that I saw was the satire of the over-the-top publicity campaigns that the studios engage in to promote their films. It was right on and had a "Daily Show" feel.

I was very happy that I did not miss the performance of "Hard Out Here For a Pimp," but the production number did not do justice to the song. Three 6 Mafia was in the Kodak thizzle fo' shizzle, my friends. As one critic pointed out, the song has such a big role in the movie "Hustle and Flow" that it is almost a character. In the film, the woman who sings the chorus is a pregnant hooker who has to be intimidated into singing it with the necessary passion, not some glammed-up babe in a Marilyn Monroe dress. And those dancers had about as much street cred as Joan and Melissa Rivers. Three 6 needed a posse out there onstage, not the touring company of a "Guys and Dolls" revival. But I guess seeing George Clooney, Heath Ledger and the rest of the front row getting sprayed with malt liquor would have been too much to ask for. Oh, and you may have figured out that the line in the chorus isn't really "witches jumping ship." I predict that the line, "It's hard out here for a pimp" will now enter the American lexicon in the same way that "brokeback" has over the last few months. If you doubt me, just try to make it through the week without saying or hearing it at least once.

Three 6 Mafia made up for the sterilization of their musical number with their acceptance speech, which was more of a performance art shoutout. I half-expected the censors to dump the whole thing because they couldn't figure out what was actually being said. It was a great moment for Queen Latifah as a presenter, too (yes I know Eminem won a few years ago, but this was even more of a breakthrough). There were other good speeches, but this was the best because as good as Reese Witherspoon, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Clooney and others were, you have to think that they have been rehearsing for that moment for a long time, but you'll have a hard time convincing me that DJ Paul, Juicy J, Crunchy Black and Lord Infamous spent hours standing in front of their bedroom mirrors saying "I'd like to thank the Academy ..." into a hairbrush.

Stewart took a pretty good shot at the Academy at this point, noting that Three 6 Mafia now had one more Oscar than Martin Scorsese. Now, you might think when a group with the word Mafia in its name wins an Academy Award, Stewart would make a joke about Hollywood and organized crime syndicates (something with a horse head or a baseball bat for instance), but Stewart is a Jersey boy and he knows very well that there is only one group more thin-skinned than the Hollywood elite and their reaction might be a tad stronger than relegating him to a bad table at Spago.

My second favorite speech was made by the director who won for Best Foreign Film. He spoke passionately in a few different languages, but when he ordered that the cameras be put on his young stars (they had already been there), I had to roll my eyes. He did everything but yell "Cut!" at the end of his speech.

Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep showed the young pups a thing or two with their brilliant duet of Robert Altman-inspired dialogue in tribute to the great director. Ditto for Jack Nicholson, who owned the stage as soon as he stepped out to present "Best Picture." Contrast that with Jennifer Garner, who nearly wiped out as she approached the podium. It's not easy to show star quality without the aid of perfect lighting and multiple takes, even Dustin Hoffman admitted to being flustered.

Now, about this big upset win by "Crash. I made only two hard predictions in my preview and nailed them both, "Crash" and Hoffman, but I have to admit that my thoughts on "Crash" basically parroted the views I heard expressed by Washington Post film critic and novelist Stephen Hunter. Call it plagiarism if you like, but I heard plenty of arguments for "Brokeback Mountain" that I I disagreed with and did not use in my prediction.

So, all in all, it was a good show, worth watching, and I like that we see some new commercials, just like the Super Bowl. The final thought I was left with was, "Maybe I should see the other four movies." I'll be sure to let you know when I do.

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